Tuesday, 5 October 2004

bright lights and white tiles

b4b.jpgThe bright lights reflect off the white tiles and the mirrors and hurt my skin. I have been awake all night and I am exhausted. My arms are hurting where I have been cutting myself. I am crying enormous gulping sobs that I am trying to stifle by pressing my hands over my mouth, but which burst out despite myself. I am looking for somewhere to hide, but there is no-where to go where I can be alone. A woman comes up to me and asks "Are you alright?". Then she corrects herself - "Clearly you are not alright. Is there anything I can do to help you?". I shake my head and by hyperventilating manage to get the sobs to stop for long enough to say "No, thank you". She looks at me for a second or two, worried, and then turns away. I go in to one of the cubicles and I lock the door and sit down on the lid of the toilet and try to get myself under control.

I am at the station and I have missed the train that I have been awake all night waiting to catch. There is another one in an hour and fifteen minutes and it feels like time has stopped. I have gone in to the ladies toilets to find somewhere to hide from people's prying eyes. I am conscious that people are looking at me curiously and I am fighting a desire to run and run until I find somewhere safe. Only there is no-where that is safe, as partly I am running from myself.

I was in my first year at college and I had fallen in love with a friend from school who had by co-incidence got a place at the same college and by a double co-incidence been placed in the same halls of residence. We spent a lot of time together and I started to think that my feelings might be reciprocated. One night we went out for a few drinks and then came back home and sat in my room. We started cuddling and progressed to lying on the bed, kissing. I was happy - clearly he was interested in me as more than a friend. However ... as the kissing progressed I started to get uncomfortable. He was obviously very aroused and didn't pick up that I was becoming unhappy with the speed things were going. I didn't want to upset him or make him think I wasn't interested ... but finally I spoke up. I said "I don't think this is a good idea". I can hear the words aloud in my head now. He didn't pay any attention. I lay under him, scared. Suddenly everything had shifted. He wasn't behaving like my friend Kev. He was behaving like a scary stranger. He said "This won't take long".

Afterwards he lay on top of me for a while, before rolling off. I can still feel the physical sensations - him flaccid against me, the sticky dampness between my legs. I didn't know what to do. He said goodnight and went back to his own room. I lay down on the bed again and after a while got up and had a bath. I thought about it. We were friends. I loved him. He couldn't have heard me. I could have pushed him off. I could have shouted out. But why didn't he stay and hold me afterwards? Or talk?

But that wasn't the worst bit.

The worst bit was that he didn't want to be friends any more. He told me that he wanted to be part of the 'JCR' crowd and that I wouldn't fit in with them. We had to organise accommodation for the next academic year fairly soon afterwards, and he told the other people in our halls of residence that I was unstable and that he had serious reservations about sharing a house with me. And when we went home for the christmas vacation, he told all our mutual friends at home that we had had a one night stand and that 'it didn't mean anything'.

I felt effectively cut off from all my support network. I felt that I couldn't come out and tell people what had happened, as I wasn't sure what actually HAD happened. I liked him a lot. I'd been happy kissing him. I hadn't made more fuss, or pushed him strongly away. I didn't want to say "I was date raped by Kev". It is a terrible thing to accuse someone of. So I kept quiet. I did try to talk to my mum about it. I explained what had happened and she said "Perhaps he couldn't stop", which was no help at all. If he had still wanted to be friends afterwards, if he had been prepared to discuss what had happened then I would have been okay. But he walked out of rooms when I walked in to them and he made it clear he didn't want anything to do with me. Life became very difficult as the interactions between us had an effect on the people we lived with. By this time they were probably believing his statement about me being unstable - by this time, I was.

As the year went on, I became more and more distressed. I started buying a bottle of cheap brandy every week with my shopping and drinking it alone in my room. I bought a sharp kitchen knife and kept it under my pillow and when I felt bad I would get it out and hold it as I sat rocking. It made me feel safe. If I felt really bad, I would put it against my arms and draw it along, making cuts that stung.

My work started to suffer. I was still suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome at the time, so my tutors attributed it to that and no-one asked me what was wrong. I don't know if I could have explained if they had. I started going away at weekends, using up all my student grant on train fares. I had a succession of one night stands, not enjoying them, but to prove that I was attractive and worth something. It didn't make me feel any better.

Towards the middle of the summer term, I steeled myself and had a conversation with Kev. It didn't go well. He asked me why I had told our friends at home that we had slept together. I replied that I hadn't. He told me that Richard had know about it and had asked him about it. I reiterated that I hadn't told anyone. He was angry with me, blaming me for everyone knowing. I didn't understand why it was a problem for people to know and I didn't understand why he was blaming me, when it was him who had essentially used me, sacked me off and then told everyone I didn't mean anything to him. So I decided to go to see Richard in Birmingham and confront him about what had been said. I was starting to doubt my own memory of what had happened.

This is how I ended up in such a state in the ladies room at the station.

Richard said he had been joking with Kev when he had asked him how we were getting on together at college ... he had been really surprised when Kev came out with a blustering justification of his version of events. Our conversation gave me a handle to hold on to. I was still in a very bad state - I can remember standing on top of a very high wall in Birmingham city centre and wondering if the drop was tall enough to kill me outright if I jumped off it. I decided it wasn't, so I didn't jump. After that I did start to pull myself together slightly and begin to realise that I hadn't done anything wrong, but had been treated appallingly.

Towards the end of the year I met someone visiting from another college and spent a weekend with him. It wasn't going to go anywhere, but he was a kind man and listened to me as I talked. I managed to tell him what had happened and somehow that lanced the worst of the wounds and gave me some self-esteem back.

In my second year I went in to a shared house with Kev and four others - I was determined I wasn't going to be pushed out of my group of friends because of him. It was very hard. In a way though, I succeeded at university BECAUSE of what had happened rather than despite it. I was determined that I wasn't going to drop out because of him. So I didn't ask for my accommodation to be changed although in retrospect I could have. It would have meant explaining what had happened and I still couldn't admit that even to myself. I took it a day at a time and if some days I couldn't get out of bed and on other days I needed to cut my arms, I got through it.

In the end, I graduated with a 2.1 and later went on to do an MSc. I understand from mutual aquaintances that he is an estate agent in London, which I try to view as a kind of poetic justice.

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