Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dear Ray,

I imagine you’ll be surprised to hear from me after all this time. The last time we saw each other was eighteen years ago, when my father was in the hospital dying of cancer, and you came to see him, to say goodbye. I know it meant a lot to him that you came. I wonder, though, what he’d have said, what he’d have thought of you if he’d known that you’d raped me.

Even now, twenty-eight years later, my memory of those events is vivid. I was babysitting your kids while you were away visiting your fiancée. You were known as quite a ladies' man—a different girl every night, they said—and everyone was surprised when you announced that you were going to marry again. During the week that you were away, I stayed at your house, looking after your daughter and son. From my first day there, I was concerned for your daughter, Andrea, because she seemed acutely distressed, as though she was constantly on the edge of hysteria and at any moment she might start screaming and not stop. I even called my dad and told him that I was worried about her, and asked him what to do. He suggested that I gently broach the subject with you. But don’t pry, he said. I remember that she had to take those sitz baths every night, sitting in a pan of warm water with baking soda in it, because she had some kind of rash around her genital area.

You came home early. You were due back on Saturday, but you came in on Friday night around 11 o’clock, surprising me. I was in bed, reading. I even remember what I was wearing: a dark green oversized shirt of my father’s that came to the tops of my thighs, with a pair of panties on underneath. I was embarrassed to be seen like that, disheveled, in my pajamas. You said it was too late to take me home, and you invited me into your bedroom to help you unpack, and so I sat on your bed chattering gaily at you while you took things out of your suitcase. I was fifteen years old. You were thirty-eight.

After you finished hanging up your clothes, you sat down on the bed and told me about breaking up with your fiancée. You said you were sad, and you asked me for a hug. I was glad to give it. I’d always liked you. You treated me like I was special—almost an adult—and the way you said my name with your beautiful accent made me feel like I was some rare, exotic creature.

When you embraced me, I hugged you back, and though it felt a little awkward, I hoped I was giving you the comfort you needed. And then you asked me to lie down with you, and although I didn’t really want to do it, I complied. It didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know how to say so. You lay there for a moment, holding me, and then you rolled on top of me. I asked you what you were doing, and you said I was so beautiful that you couldn’t resist me. I remember my growing alarm. I didn't feel outright fear, though, because I trusted you.

I remember your knee pressing my legs apart, and your hand between my thighs, pushing the crotch of my panties aside. When I realized what you intended, I started to struggle. “No, Ray. No. No. Don’t. Please stop.” I said it over and over. I tried to push you off me, but you had me pinned underneath you, and you didn’t stop. You took your penis out and began to penetrate me, and I realized then that the only way to make you stop was to start screaming, but in that moment I thought of Andrea asleep in the other room and I didn’t scream. I said no no no no no , but in order to spare your daughter the trauma of waking up to find her father raping her babysitter, I didn’t scream. That decision seems so ironic to me, now, it seems so naive, because now I realize that you must certainly have been raping her, too. Thankfully, you didn't take long. I remember going back to the spare room, feeling dazed and disquieted, and going to sleep.

Here is what I should have said to you years ago: You raped me. I was fifteen years old, babysitting for you, and you raped me. You were 38, my father’s best friend, and you raped me. You pinned me down on your bed and penetrated me while I pleaded with you to stop. It doesn’t matter that ten years later when you came to my father’s bedside as he was dying I went back with you to your hotel room and fucked you, because at that time I was trying to take back what you had taken from me. I wouldn’t go with you the first night, do you remember? It was going to be up to me that time. I had the power. I got to decide. It was stupid, but I’ve forgiven myself for it. It didn’t fix my memory of the rape. That is still with me.

I have not forgiven you. How old are you now—66? I hope this letter finds you weak. I hope it wounds you, that it sends you into a spasm of shame and despair from which you will not easily recover. I would like to take something from you the way you took from me, because since that day I have never forgotten what it's like to have my humanity, my physical integrity, my personal autonomy suspended while someone uses me for his sexual gratification. I have never been the same, and for that, Ray, you really should be ashamed.

And how is your daughter, Ray? How did Andrea turn out? She was 12 or 13 then, so she’d be 40 or 41 now. Was she able to live a normal life? Is she successful in her career? Happily married? A mother? Does she still speak to you? She loved you so. Is she still alive? Did she survive your abuse? I’ve never seen a young person in as much distress as she was in. It has always bothered me that I didn’t do something to help her, but I was only 15, and it was a long time before I realized what you’d done to me that night was rape. It was even longer before I realized that you were almost certainly raping Andrea, too. I’ve wanted to reach her, to ask her if it was true. I've made a few casual searches for her over the years. but I haven’t found her. I might look for her again sometime. I think it might be important for her to know that someone else realized what was happening to her. I hope she's okay, but the girl I knew that week didn't seem like she was going to be okay. I hope she didn't go the way many victims of incest do - addiction, sex work, suicide. If she did, Ray, know that it was you that did that to her. Know it in your bones. If your daughter acted out the wounds you inflicted on her by harming herself in any manner, it is on your head. You are responsible, you repulsive excuse for a human being.

I never did tell my father. I was protecting him, too. Funny, that. I’ve told everyone else, though: my mother and my brother and my stepmother and all my friends, my boyfriends, my husband. They all know that when I was 15, I was babysitting for my father’s best friend, and he raped me. How many other women and girls did you rape, Ray? I can only imagine. I’ve thought of looking for your other victims, maybe putting ads in the paper or on craigslist, to see if anyone comes forward.

I hope you’re struggling now. I hope your choking on your fear that this could be a bomb going off in your life, but I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. I believe in redemption. Maybe it’s not too late to do the right thing. Maybe you should talk to Andrea, if you haven’t already. Maybe you should come clean.

This belongs to you, Ray. I’ve carried it long enough. It’s time for you to take it back.