By Faakirah Irfan
“One in four girls will experience sexual abuse by the time she is sixteen, and 48 percent of all rapes involve a young woman under the age of eighteen. It’s not surprising then, that in a society where sexual abuse of young women is rampant, many women never share their stories. They remain hidden and invisible.” ― Patti Feuereisen, Invisible Girls.
One of my very close friends sat across me, while I traced the sadness on her face. I found anger in her eyes that glistened with a spark that’d light up any person’s day. The first time she told me that she had been assaulted I felt nothing. I looked at her while she stared back at my face for a response. What are you supposed to do when someone tells you that they were raped? My friend, W, appeared miles away from me that day, even as we sat next to each other. I didn’t even know why she cared to tell me that and why that day?
After that day we didn’t talk about it ever. But every time I saw her face I just saw a child in her eyes, whose childhood was snatched away. But she had moved on, and so did I.
The next time she opened up to me about her rape was in class. One fine day she came up to me and told me everything that had happened to her. My heart raced the entire night as I collided with the realities of life I hadn’t known. I wept by the side of bed alone without getting inside the sheets to sleep.
She looked at me the other day and offered me a warm enchanting smile. I had my insides in knots because her face reminded me of that man who forced himself on her when she was 8. It reminded me of the medicines she took to kill herself. It reminded me of her in a room, alone, with cuts on her arm as her brother blasted through the doors. It reminded me of her as what she really was. Her smile burned the sanity in my soul.
But we all sat in class as we were taught stuff that’d never help me deal with what I was feeling that day.
She called me that day and said, “When he entered me as a kid, I wanted to try and remember that feeling. The feeling of being raped. It’s so silly that it had happened for five years and I had no idea how it felt. As a faint memory, I just realized that it happened. I can’t even remember the day I realized I was being raped, you know? It almost feels like it never happened. But on days when I look at myself in the mirror, I feel the wounds between my thighs that no one could see. I could feel his arms moving across my body, the traces of his smell. His eyes are all I remember. His eyes looked hellish.”
She dropped the call after this. I didn’t call back because one more word of her helplessness would kill the little trust I had in God.
For the next few days, I felt anger against any man who would look at me and then trace his eyes over my breasts. I felt anger towards any man who breathed around me. I felt scared that it could’ve been me. I realized the strength my friend must have had to shore herself up after a five year long sexual assault she had faced. And how supportive her parents must have been.
Then she revealed that day: “I told my parents when I was 17. I regret telling them now. I told them, I told my mother actually, of all people, so that she would stop shouting at me , so that she would love me , so that she could hug me, while I was rebelling as a teenager. Instead she restricted me. I remember she came to pick me up from the tuition that day, her face filled with anger as she escorted me back home. Even now I’m not allowed to speak about it as it might hurt them, but no one cares about how I live through this every day. They said it was not my fault. I knew the moment it happened that it wasn’t my fault. I don’t know why we say to rape victims that it was not their fault. As a human you realize it while you are raped, your opinion doesn’t matter. That’s why it’s called rape.” She giggled as she spoke.
I knew then that she wasn’t just a twenty-year-old millennial, but a destroyed soul. She said, “You know it’s funny how your parents, or family, or whoever cares so much when you’ve had an accident. They come to the hospital, they bring you flowers, and they treat you with kind words and chocolates. They talk to you about happy things. No one got me a flower or a chocolate when I told them I was raped. Instead they told me to fight it out. I remember covering my mouth with the cushion and shouting my lungs out in the night in the same bed that I was raped in years ago.”
I got her flowers the next day – red and pink. And a new cushion – one that would hug her in the night and not her muffled screams for help.
I asked her why she had never gone to a councilor or a shrink. She said, “I remember her, my shrink. I remember her telling me that it wasn’t my fault. She wasn’t actually a shrink but a teacher in college. She said that she’ll help; instead, she made a case study out of me.”
She called me for her birthday. We went to sit by the river on a cold December morning. She had gotten coffee in a tumbler and a cake. We sat by the river and she wept.
This was the first time I had seen her crying. It broke whatever happiness I had built in my heart. I took her cold hand and felt the warmth of her heart. She said, “He raped me on my birthday, when I had my birthday blue color frock on. I still have that frock. It serves as a memoir, like the soldiers keep their war uniform and batches safely, after the war was over. It serves that purpose for me.”
She got up and went towards the river, the blue frock in her hand. She looked back at me and smiled.
I wanted to hug W – this woman in front of me, who waved at me and had the strength of all the men and women I had ever seen.
I said to her, “How can someone with such a past be like you!?” She said, “No amount of crying could ever make the thing that happened go away. It gave me strength. I had gone through a sexual assault for five years. For a woman that feels like death. I was experiencing death again and again for five years. It makes you fearless; it makes you tough. Sleeping in the same bed, where you were raped in for the most part of your childhood, makes you fear the ghosts under the bed a little less.”
Faakirah Irfan is a law student at the University of Kashmir. She aspires to be a human rights defender someday. For now she can be recognized as the “seditious” research intern at the Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi, India.
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