Friday, October 12, 2007

No joy here

This post is going to be long and intense. If you're going to comment, please understand how sensitive all of this is. Thanks.

I was raped shortly after my 30th birthday. I was involved in an abusive relationship, and that is what the violence finally escalated to. I remember cataloging my bruises in the shower the next morning and realizing I could no longer be with this man. After years I finally ended it. I was unable to put it behind me, though, because the rape left me with health issues.

I don't think about the rape every day anymore. But it does come up regularly. For example, it was top of mind as I watched The Brave One. It's been part of every relationship I've had since. It's there. It's always there. Like a birthmark or a vaccination scar. It's part of me.

So is my niece. What she's done has confused and hurt me. I'm having a hard time processing it.

This past summer she graduated from 8th grade. The photos are still in my camera. She had a terrific summer with her gang of girlfriends. There's one girl that she's close to, but they have a dramatic, incendiary relationship. We'll call her "Jane."

Jane has had vision problems since birth, and that's a card she often plays to get her own way. One day, when the two of them were alone and arguing, my niece decided she was sick of hearing it. She said something to the effect of, "So what if your eyes bother you? I was raped!"

Jane wanted to know who did the deed. My niece named a boy, known around town because he'd been caught shoplifting and breaking into the school. As the summer went on, Jane kept pressing my niece for details. Rather than admit the lie, she kept embellishing it. She believed it was between her and Jane.

High school starts. My niece is getting straight A's. She seems to be enjoying life as a freshman. We thought she was adjusting well.

Until the call came from the school principal.

Seems that now that they're in high school, Jane's been making lots of new friends. Two of them mentioned how cute that particular boy was. "Stay away from him," Jane warned. "He's a rapist." These two girls, who barely know my niece, went to the principal.

My niece is a 14 year old virgin. She's never had a date. The only boy she's ever been interested in is John Mayer. She's curious about sex certainly, but has no up-close-and-personal experience. She barely knows the boy she named.

She cried and cried in the principal's office when she was confronted, in front of her mother, Jane and Jane's mother about the lie. The school has mandated that she get counseling.

I love my niece. She is very smart, funny as well as clever, and curious about the world around her. She is very gentle and patient with her kid brother (I love him, too, but he can be a handful). She is very sorry that she got caught in the lie, heartsick about the pain it's caused her parents, and unhappy because she's grounded until further notice.

But she doesn't seem to understand the horrible, horrible thing she has done. False rape accusations diminish what happened to all of us who have survived it. She's only 14, so I've never told her what I went through or how it felt, but I'm sorely tempted to. Rape is nothing to aspire to, nothing to joke about, nothing to co-opt. Rape is desperately serious.

Likewise she doesn't seem to understand what she's done to that poor guy. She seems to think that since he has an arrest record, his reputation was already ruined. She doesn't get that what she accused him of is heinous on a whole new level.

She also doesn't seem to realize that her reputation will be forever changed because of this. She's now either the girl who got raped, or she's the girl who lied about rape.

My niece says SHE didn't report him as a rapist, Jane's friends did. She sees herself as a victim in this, embarrassed and betrayed by Jane. (And yet she and Jane remain friends. Go figure.)

I am, quite literally, sick and tired. I don't feel well and I had a busy day at work. I know I should call and talk to my niece but I can't right now. Whatever I say to her will stay with her forever, and I'm too angry.

My niece works in a soup kitchen. She goes to church regularly. She writes well and has a wonderful sense of humor. She's a good student and an avid reader. She's endlessly respectful and helpful to my mother (her grandmother). I am trying to remember all those many good things, all those things that make proud of her.

Because I love her, and can't bear to think of her as a girl who tried to gain the upper hand socially by portraying herself as a victim of violence, as "The Girl Who Cried Rape."

Friday's Feast #19

Appetizer When was the last time you were surprised? Yesterday. My niece, a high school freshman, is in trouble in school. I know every loving adult says this, but I didn't expect this at all!

Soup Fill in the blanks: My eyes are a pretty shade of green, but I wish they were not so very, very near-sighted!

Salad If you were a Beanie Baby, what would you look like and what would your name be? I'd be a tiger cub, and my name would be McAndrew. When I was a little girl, I slept in a tiger costume. My dad's nickname for me at that time was McAndrew. (I don't remember why he called me that, but I liked it.)

Main Course Name two things you consistently do that you consider to be healthy habits. I walk and take the stairs whenever I can. I have begun swapping out cans of cola for bottles of water.

Dessert What brand of toothpaste are you using these days? Do you like it? Why or why not? AIM. It's fine, but I don't have an undying loyalty to it. I chose it because it's formulated with baking soda.

For more information, or to serve up your own feast, visit