I’ve been asked this question a lot lately. I’ve been meeting with women to discuss the V-Day event that I am organising in Schaffhausen/Zurich. Most of them are familiar with “The Vagina Monologues,” as it is quite a popular play, being staged in locations world-wide, in addition to V-Day events. But many women are new to V-Day. When I started to work on this campaign, I thought about this. How did I get involved with V-Day? Why is V-Day so important to me?
It started about four years ago when I was in Thailand. I was looking online for an organisation that helped women who had suffered violence from men, in this case, rape. I was doing this for one of my closest friends who had suffered violence in this way while we were living together on Saipan Island five years ago. I was a “secondary victim” of this violence and we both went into counseling after it occured. She returned home after our school year completed, and I went on to Thailand. Although she was living her life, she still suffered from anger and other issues related to her attack. Her mom had emailed me and asked if I knew about anthing that would be able to help her. After doing some research, I discovered the V-Day website and read about it’s goal to raise awareness and stop violence against women.
Last night I was woken from a dream. In this dream, Ali and I were mid-conversation about something I had written and there we were, having a discussion over this piece of writing. A sound invaded my sleep and I awoke, slowly adjusting my eyes to the night time glow throughout my room. It sounded as if someone was in my room. There was a crinkle of paper and something fell. I held my breath and images from that night, five years ago, flashed in my mind. I was lying flat on my back. A man was outside my window, banging on the metal storm bars which I believed would keep him out. I prayed that I would fall asleep to the hum of the airconditioner over my head as I heard him circle our pink house that we had so eagerly moved in to a month earlier. He was banging hard against the door now and knowing I had bolted the lock before coming in, I felt at ease that there was no way in. I prayed again for sleep and found myself entering into the realm of dreams. The next morning I woke to the sun peering through my lace curtains, mouth parched. I tip-toed into the kitchen in my underwear and tank top and grabbed a popsicle out of the freezer. As I walked back to my room, I hesitated. I wondered if she had heard the raucus from the night before. Should I check? No, she liked to sleep in on the weekend and I was still tired myself, I didn’t want to disturb her. I would ask in a few more hours. I crawled back into bed where I finished my popsicle and drifted back into sleep. Thankful that the night had passed and I was safe in my bed while the sun shone brightly through my curtains, hiding the memory of that shadow of the man who had tried to knock through them the night before. This was the memory of being frozen in that place, unable to move from fear.
Last night I found myself in the same state as the paper crackled and what I imagined was beneath the feet of an intruder in the middle of the night. I saw the shadow of the man standing over me with a knife, as he did her. I saw him take off his clothes and climb into her bed with one hand on the knife at her throat and the other peeling her clothes off before he forced himself on her. While I slept in the room next door, in a place where I was safe. Last night my eyes darted about the room and I couldn’t move. I imagined all the ways someone could enter my apartment because that noise, it was in my home. I wanted to squeeze my eyes tight and wish it away. I knew my phone was next to me. I could phone someone. Who would I call? Since that night five years ago, I have slept with the phone at my side, although he had cut the phone lines then, leaving no way to call for help.
I knew I had to pull myself out from this fear. I recalled the therapist after the attack, urging me to move forward and find ways to move past my fear. To make sure that I wouldn’t freeze up in fear again, she called it the “hiding under the blanket syndrome”. I reached up and slowly moved toward the light switch, afraid that if I knocked anything in the apartment, the intruder would know where to find me. Had he gotten in through the bathroom window? The living room? No, the bathroom window is too high to reach, I thought. But he had gotten through our storm windows. He had gotten the W-D 40 from our car and used it to unscrew our metal storm windows in the living room. He had cut the phone lines, unscrewed the metal bars, broken the window with his fist and slipped through, cutting himself, leaving blood on the shards of glass beneath the window frame. He had climbed through the impossible. Anything was possible.
I hit the light switch as I sat up in bed to scan my room, listening for more sounds, more movement. It was there, the culprit, it lay flat on my floor. The map of Switzerland had fallen and crinkled its way to the floor. I was safe. The only intruder, was in my mind, in my memory.
Five years ago I prayed that I would fall asleep so that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. And I did. While I slept a boy turned man just months prior to the incident made his way into our home and into my bedroom. He stood at the end of my bed and watched me sleep. He took his shoes off and placed them by the door. He walked to the edge of my bed. Then he changed his mind. He left his shoes and went into my housemates room. He stood over her with a knife. She woke up. He raped her. Then he made her crawl on her knees, knife at her back, into my room to retrieve his shoes. I slept while she believed that he had attacked me first. The next morning, I was woken a second time. She was at my door with our neighbour. When she told me that she had been attacked and raped. I didn’t believe her. How could it be true? The door was locked. There were bars on the windows.
I sat next to her as she told the police, in her grey pajamas, what had happened to her the night before. She remembered every detail and she spared them none. I sat in shock, unable to speak, unable to comprehend her strength. How could she remember? How could she share these details? The boy had turned on the light to dress himself before leaving. His torso was covered in tattoos. When he left, she rolled over and wrote them all down on a paper near her bed. Then she went into the bathroom and stood in the shower and held up a sign through her bathroom window, waiting for the neighbours to wake up. The sign said HELP. She thought he was still in the house. She thought he may have been in my room.
I held her hand at the hospital as they went through each step of the rape kit. I remember how much she hated that, after already being violated, it felt like it was happening all over. I stayed with her at the police station while they took pictures of her bruises. I sat at one table as they typed my statement. The click clack of the typewriters battled with each other. On the other side of the room, hers kept going long after mine stopped.
I sat with her in the car when it was raining and the detectives thought it would be a good idea to identify the intruder from a car with tinted windows in the black of night. At the last minute they changed their mind and took her into a room by herself to identify him on her own. I was scared for her.
Then I locked it all away. I never wrote about it in my journal. I didn’t want to believe it had happened. I didn’t want to look back at the experience. We both went to a counselor. We took our things from the pink house, quickly filling garbage bags and taking them with us to stay with friends until we could find a new apartment.
I wrote a letter to a friend to try to tell her what happened. The details were scattered and incomplete. I thought it would be good for me. I later asked her for that letter or a copy of it, but she never responded. I wanted to read it. I wanted to heal.
This is the first time I have written about it. I have been forced to confront myself with the memory as I speak to women and tell them this is how I found V-Day. Years later, she needed an outlet. I wanted to find her one. I wanted to help her. I think I always felt a little responsible or quilty because it happened to her instead of me. Our therapist said that I was a “secondary victim.” I didn’t really know what that meant except for that she said it was ok that I had this fear, the break-in had also happened to me, but in a different way. I wanted to be strong for her. She was so amazing. I remember sitting next to her while she retold explicit details to the police about her rape and I just thought about the zombie that I would be if it had been me. I really didn’t know how she was doing it.
We left the house and never went back. We never talked about the attack, we skated around it. I wanted to be there for her when she went to court, but the school wouldn’t let me go. Luckily her now husband was able to be there with her. Her rapist got something around 5 years in a state prison in Hawaii. He was elibible for parole in 3 years. He had several charges against him. Breaking and entering. Assault with a deadly weapon. Rape. It was all premeditated. They found a log outside our bathroom window that he had been using to look in on us while we showered. They found the scissors that cut the phone line and the W-D 40 that had been taken from our car. Three years. Katie has that experience inside of her for the rest of her life. Every year on or around the date I call or email to remember with her. We don’t talk about it, but we know. We remember. We will never forget.
So why do I think that V-Day is so important? Why do I think that vaginas should be celebrated and not abused, violated and battered? Why do I think it’s important to stop violence against women? For Katie. For myself. For all the women who have suffered and all the ones who haven’t. It is our right as women, as humans, not just to survive, but to live.
names and details have been used with permission
This post has been cross posted on my V-Day Zurich blog.