My Rapist Died This Morning.
“He’s gone. Rest in peace. Sunrise this morning.”
A mutual friend had called me the evening before to tell me that Tony was in ICU, in an induced coma, fighting a blood infection which had turned his skin purple and was shutting down his organs one by one. We feared the worst. I’ve heard doctors talking of how organs shut down. I’ve just never heard any mention of them restarting.
I spoke with Tony’s wife. She was being brave. Saying all the things she’d heard others say in this situation. Like prayers we learn by heart as children, we borrow words and phrases from others, we repeat them over and over, and it brings us comfort.
“He’s fighting. He’s giving it all he’s got.”
I murmured soothing assent, all the while thinking how could that possibly be true when he had been medicated until comatose and his kidneys were leading the rest of his organs on a determined march towards the exits.
I told her I would stop by a church on my way home and light a candle for Tony. I would also light one for her and their two daughters.
“Tony would love that,” she answered, “I’ll tell him you did that and he’ll imagine you in a sexy black dress with a black veil over your face, like Sophia Loren or something.” And she laughed, a kind laugh. The laugh of a woman who is desperately trying to inject light into a room where the curtains have been drawn tightly and death sits patiently in an armchair, waiting.
“I know he would,” I replied. I had played so many roles in Tony’s fantasies.
I first met him when I was 18, and he was much more experienced at the game we were all playing. Tony had a girlfriend, but we all learnt to ignore her. Tony had a cool house that overlooked the city, a large pool, and speakers blaring out of the rock wall. Tony gave the best parties. He never said much, but he would always appear at your side to top up your drink or pop a pill under your tongue.
His gaze was intense but polite, and he was always quick to smile or laugh. His lust was obvious, but never overt.
Or so it had seemed to me.
I flirted with Tony because my teenage self lusted after her reflection. I wanted Tony to want me because I craved entrance to his world of cool parties, cooler drugs, and wild abandon. I followed Tony willingly into a bedroom one night and then I blacked out.
Somewhere in the chiasma between consciousness and unconsciousness, I became aware of his weight on my naked body. My eyes opened to a performance which was finishing, whose beginning and middle acts I had completely missed. I began to scream and scream and scream. My girlfriend found us like that. Me, naked and screaming; Tony standing by the bed, his arms opened wide, imploring.
My girlfriend moved me swiftly into the bathroom, away from Tony and straight under the shower. I always wondered at her response. Her immediate instinct was to get me clean. Or maybe she wanted to bring me out of whatever stupor I had been in. I remember Tony’s panicked entrance and my girlfriend’s protective stance as she pushed him out of the room with one hand and calmed me with the other.
She spirited me out of the party shortly after. I sobbed hysterically the entire way home.
When I woke the next morning, an eerie calm had descended on me. I asked my girlfriend to take me to Tony’s shop.
He saw me coming and a panicked look passed over his face. He signaled for me to follow him and we sat down on some stairs. All I had brought with me was the next few words I would utter.
“You raped me.”
I waited for the backpedaling and blaming to begin. I thought accusations would be directed at me. Counterattacks would be launched. I was uninterested. We were not in court where I would need to sit meekly and submit to victim-shaming or a character-assassination based completely on the length of the skirt I had been wearing until he had taken it off my insentient body.
I was so angry that he felt he could lay claim to my body. I wanted him to blame me for what had happened so that my rage could embolden me.
Except he didn’t. Tony gave me no indication that he thought something wrong had happened between us. I had walked into that room with him. His only regret was that I had not enjoyed the experience. He asked me if I could meet him later. He wanted to make things right.
That’s when I realized that we would never view what we had experienced in the same way. I could fuel my righteous anger and hurl it in his direction, but it would not hit its intended target. Sensing there was nowhere for it to land, my anger seemed to fade away.
I walked out of Tony’s shop and I didn’t see him for a long, long time. Many years later, our mutual friend invited me to a dinner at Tony’s with his new wife and young daughters. It had been almost 20 years and I was curious. We greeted each other suspiciously, both of us searching the other’s face for the place our last conversation had ended.
I stared at a man who was just as bewildered as the last time I had faced off with him. A man who was still flirting with me in front of his partner. A man who now had two daughters he would need to protect from men like himself. A man who honestly believed he had meant me no harm.
I can’t quite qualify how I ended up on such good terms with my rapist. I enjoyed my evenings with him, his family, and a group of friends I’d known for almost 20 years. I didn’t pay him much attention when he flirted with me or when his wife would say how much he fancied me.
I ignored him when he pulled me aside after one dinner where my single status was once more on the table for discussion and asked me, “How good are you at keeping secrets?” He would also ask me to play the grand piano he had bought. I would sit at this beautiful black piano and play for everyone. Tony stood to the side, his head slightly bowed, in reverie almost. There was a look on his face that touched me deeply.
We all make some interesting decisions in life, including my willingness to take a small part in his life. How did I end up here?
My rape wasn’t the violent stranger rape that so many women are subjected to. I knew my rapist and I know I walked into that room with him. I abdicated my ability to make any decisions about my body the moment I drank more vodka than I could handle and swallowed what had been placed on my tongue. I had brought my shadows out to dance with his.
I didn’t stop by the church and light those candles. Maybe because I remembered that a flame casts no shadow. Maybe because it was finally time to let the light dance with the shadows.
Or it could have simply been because my daughter told me not to. “Mum, you’ve lit a lot of candles in your time. I’ve watched you pray in temples and churches all over the world. It just doesn’t work out for you.” She patted my arm, reassuringly, giving me permission to do nothing.
Instead I thought of Tony, lying on a bed in a coma, standing on a threshold. Would he walk into that room?
The text message came shortly after my alarm went off this morning. The nurse had opened the curtains at sunrise, and as the light filled the room, caressing his face one very last time, my rapist died.
Rillos Soklea is an intrepid traveler, learner of languages, and speaker of her heart. Her favorite journey is the one which brings her closer to her truth. Currently residing in the most isolated capital city on earth, she is patiently awaiting life’s next adventure.