Disclaimer: I want to make it clear that I am aware that other people’s lives do not revolve around me and what happened to me. I know that people have their own lives and feelings. I know that especially people who had their own relationships with my rapist are entitled to their own feelings about the situation and that it might be what is best for them to remove themselves from it. My wish for others is that they take care of themselves. I believe in taking care of ourselves first and foremost. My hope in sharing this is to share my feelings and experience for myself, for those who can relate, and for those who want to understand.
Where in New Jersey are you from?
Never heard of it.
You know Red Bank?
You know Sandy Hook?
Rumson and Fair Haven are the towns you drive through to get from Red Bank to Sea Bright that you didn’t even realize were there.
That’s a conversation I’ve had many times. If you’re from there I imagine you have had conversations like that, too. And if you are from there, you know that Rumson and Fair Haven are two different towns and you might have an opinion on their distinctiveness. For the purpose of making this simple, I’m going to call our community Rumson-Fair Haven. Because as I’m sure we can all agree, it is one community, and even together, Rumson-Fair Haven is a very small place.
Everyone knows everyone. You can’t go to the Acme without running into people you know. You also know the employees because most of them live around town. You wave to the people you pass on the sidewalks. If you walk down the main road for two miles you will pass the streets most of your friends live on. And before you call the local police station to report your rapist you check the names of the officers to make sure none of them are his friends.
When I first shared that I was a victim of rape, I did not share my rapist’s name. At the time, I believed I was more or less aware of who would know who it was about because the intercourse had been a secret and my rapist made it clear his intention was to keep it that way, so I naively believed that everyone who knew it happened had heard it from me. I should have known better; it’s a small town. People talk. I learned that was not the case, although I have no idea to what extent I was wrong even still.
I tried to be careful not to reveal too much. I was protecting his identity. At first because I was still convinced we were friends and then because it was something I innately felt I was supposed to do. Keep it secret.
Early on, I was blamed for what I believed was anonymously revealing something that, even contextually was only secondhand information about someone else. I quickly removed it, but that interaction made it clear to me that there were people in this town who did not like what I was doing because of the impact it had on them. I have always tried my best not to drag other people into this. I tried. If you ask me, it’s not about them. But I guess that in a small town that can’t be the case, because there are people everywhere who you have to wonder what they’ve read and what they’ve heard and what they know and what they think. I guess it would be naive for me to pretend I’m the only one experiencing that sense of uneasiness.
It is hard for me to visualize the extent to which people in this small town care. Especially because of how it has played out in court, I am burdened by a nagging sensation that nobody gives a shit. I know that’s not fair. I know that is at best an oversimplification of the legal process and certainly not the fault of the people in the community. I know that so many people from Rumson-Fair Haven have privately and publicly shown me that they do, in fact, care. I have not forgotten. It always meant a lot to me.
But I only know what I know. I don’t know if they think about it. I don’t know if they talk about it to each other. I don’t know if they speculate about it. I never wanted to make this something people gossip about. I wanted to feel known, and I wanted to help people. There were two, maybe three times I was either asked who it was about or it was brought to my attention that someone was guessing. And those were some of my close friends who didn’t even know who it was about.
Making the decision to reveal my rapist’s name was probably the most difficult decision I have had to make in this process. I knew naming him could affect others because of their associations with him. Because it’s a small town; people know who he hung around with. Some of them had made it abundantly clear that they did not want to be involved, and I wanted to respect that. I was also opening myself up to backlash. Because everyone knows everyone. And I knew it was possible there were people out there who would take his side.
I knew people from my small town might not go out of their way to let me know they support my rapist but that if I run into them at the grocery store they might not have the same self-control. I already didn’t know who I could trust. And that was only intensified.
Ultimately, I decided to reveal his name anyway, despite those and many other concerns. And I can confidently say in hindsight that it was the right decision for me. But it did make going to Rumson-Fair Haven even more uncomfortable.
Going home is like stepping onto a battlefield. I never know who I am going to run into. My number one fear of course is running into him or his family. But for everyone else, I don’t know what I’m in for. I was met with a lot of support, and I would be relieved and happy to run into people who have let me know they are allies. But what if I see someone I know and they’re cordial but say nothing? I will wonder if they know and what they think. If they pretend they don’t see me, I will wonder what that means. And I am constantly prepared for the worst. Because I really don’t know.
I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know if people have changed their opinion of him or if they’ve confronted him or what they would do if they saw him. If they haven’t told me, I don’t know that they’re on my side.
Although it’s a small town, some people are closer to the situation than others.
There are people who are so close that their silence speaks volumes.
Other than my rapist and his family, those are the people I fear running into the most, and/or wish I could run into and get it over with.
Generally, for my safety and sanity I have to assume that if I am not aware whether I have someone’s support then in fact I don’t have their support. Specifically with people who were part of or connected with our friends group, making that assumption feels more like drawing a conclusion. Because although those people have all the more reason to be compelled to remain neutral, as far as I’m concerned neutrality is effectively taking his side. Neutrality is equivalent to forgetting anything happened, and on my side that’s not an option. I wish it was. But it is not possible. I don’t get that luxury. Because of him. Because of what he did. And it matters. And if as far as I can see someone has ignored what happened, that person is not someone who cares about me. And when those are the very same people who I believe did care about me in the past, it hurts that much worse.
I remember when they cared. I know what that looked like and how they acted. And I can see how it’s different. I might not know what the look on their face means exactly. I might not know precisely what they think of me. But I know who has been there and who hasn’t. And this hurts.
I try to step in their shoes and recognize that they may have known him, trusted him, and that it might be shocking and confusing and painful for them. But the thing is, I’m already in their shoes. I knew him. I trusted him. He was a part of my life. I never believed he was capable of this. I know what that betrayal feels like. The betrayal isn’t something I did just because I am the one who shed light on it. The people who understand what this betrayal feels like — the ones who knew him — are the ones I craved the most when I was coming to understand it.
When I go there, Rumson-Fair Haven is filled with echoes of the silence of the people who once knew us and at best chose to stay out of it. I think I’d rather know where I stand than not. I’d rather know how to react in the happenstance run-in — whether “it’s nice to see you! How have you been?” or politely walk the other direction.
But I only know what I know. So I go back to my small town when I have something to do there. I pass the streets of these people. I pass the street of my rapist. I pass by the places I spent time with him and all of them. I go back to the house I was raped in. I show my fiancé around the places I grew up frequenting and try to focus on the nostalgia rather than the triggers but as always they are one in the same. And I hope, as I walk along these familiar streets, that when I run into people I know, which I will, that they aren’t friends with my rapist.