Denim Day--How do I look?

When Derek raped me, I was 22. I was a skinny 22 years old. I wore my dark hair short. It framed my green eyes. I didn’t know how beautiful I was. In 1972, my world revolved around men, and how men saw me. A beautiful woman didn't matter in that world. How men saw me mattered.


I broke up with my boyfriend that summer. Derek broke up with his girlfriend too. We were at loose ends. Before that summer the four of us went on double dates to the Prince of Wales pub and Chinese restaurants. Derek was blond and wiry. Derek’s girlfriend looked like a delicate blonde princess. They made a lovely couple until they broke up. Derek asked me on a date so I went. I wasn’t just at loose ends, I was sad and heartbroken. I felt glad of a distraction.

Derek is not his real name. I tell Angel, (my therapist) I don’t remember his name. Angel is not my therapist’s real name either, but she has pale blue wings tattoed on her feet. I tell Angel, I didn’t like him anyway. He can’t hurt me because he iss nobody to me. He is less than nobody. I almost don’t tell Angel about this rape. I mention it almost in passing. I don’t know it iss a rape even.

I use those minimizing words to deny it. That’s me telling myself—this was so nothing, it didn’t even happen. It wasn’t a thing. I patched it over with all that talk of “He was nobody to me.”

Angel guides me through Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Each Monday afternoon for the past two months, we take our time machine down trauma memory lane. I hold a buzzer in each hand. We set off to what Angel calls a “target event.” The buzzers alternate a slow rhythm.

Often, at first, these events are painful to visit. I must be willing to accept that these painful things happened. That’s hard for me but the buzzers help. (Each buzzer triggers an alternating side of the brain.) Each buzzer session lasts two minutes. We do a few sessions as we work through the target. After the first sessions of being with the pain, being with the feelings of being stuck in my young past with no power, my present adult self comes through. Sometimes my present mind appears like a powerful guardian, sometimes she brings a cheerful voice to banish the stuck places of trauma that linger in my body and soul. Like that time I was 14 and being “interfered with” on a ride home in a truck. In the truck target, my adult self cheerfully says, “Hey guys, stop the truck. I gotta go. I just saw a butterfly. I gotta go follow it. You guys go on ahead without me.” It’s hard to describe, but it feels powerful. I can feel myself letting go of old hurts, feel myself healing.

Today I describe the rape with no interest. It’s not something that hurt me, so why spend time on this. I want to move on to the next target. I keep looking at the clock. “Let’s move on.” my body language says.

I tell Angel the date was sometime in late June. We went to a Chinese restaurant— the Yangtse River on Bridge St. After dinner we walk down Union St. and past Castle St. where I live. I remember I don’t feel a real connection to Derek. I don’t feel any chemistry, but I stay on the date to put off going home alone.

We walk out east of Castle St toward the beach, but we don’t get farther than the grassy roundabout. Derek’s kissing me and he pulls me down onto a patch of grassy median. I don’t want to get down on that wet grass. It’s late — even for Scottish summertime. It’s getting dark. I see no one walking—no traffic. I resist, but he pulls me down. I say, “What?” Before I know, I’m lying on the grass and Derek’s sex organ grinds and pummels into me. It happens fast. The wet grass feels cold under me.

Angel and I do more sessions with the buzzers. I feel Derek holding me down. I feel numb. I feel shock. This is not how I expected my evening with Derek to end. There is no seductive talk or foreshadowing of a sexual event. It’s happening out of nowhere.

I feel frozen in my body. I don’t have a strategy for this moment. I’m not prepared. I have no sense of what to do. I freeze—until it’s over. This interaction feels cold and weird. This whole thing happens without Derek speaking. I’m getting no cues from him. I disasociate. Derek’s pummeling away at me. It lasts two minutes . After the rape, Derek says nothing. For me, I can only go home, numb with the understanding that there are worse things than going home alone. I tell no one about this.

I say to Angel, I must have been wearing a dress because I usually wore jeans in those days. I can’t think how my jeans could have come off.

Angel tells me about Denim day. Denim day brings awareness to myths and attitudes about sexual assault. Denim Day started after an Italian young woman was raped and her rapist convicted. Later a judge overturned the conviction because her jeans were so tight. The judge said she must have helped the rapist take them off and this makes it consensual. Denim Day is a day when folks wear denim to the workplace to support destroying myths about sexual assault.

So, it doesn’t matter if I remember I was wearing jeans or a dress. “This was rape,” Angel says. "This does not sound consensual to me."

I tell Angel how I was always nuts about men, how I always desired relationships with men. I tell Angel I was passive because of this. I'm telling Angel this is my fault.

Angel explains that my body freezing the way it did is an act of self-defence. I tell Angel, I was waiting for him to talk to me. I was passive, waiting for him to take the lead--waiting for cues. I tell Angel, he was not a big man, not like some big-ass American, just a slender Scottish lad. Angel says, he was still stronger than you. You did what you had to do to survive. Your experience and attitude to men left you vulnerable to this, but this was not your fault.

Today, the buzzers don’t quite do their usual work. Guardian Lainie does not appear. Instead angry Lainie appears to defend her long-time ago self, “What the hey? I thought you were my friend. What are you doing?” I tell Angel I feel sad I can’t help my younger self break away from this painful event.

I try to bring a kick-boxing move to the target, but I keep coming back to the relentless pounding of Derek’s compulsion. He does not look at me and he does not say anythingng anything. He sees me as an object.

I tell Angel I feel angry because I’m a human being and Derek is a human being too. Angel says, “Sometimes in EMDR, we can only try to comfort the younger self. Maybe you can help your younger self recover from this. Maybe that’s your path. You can bring compassion to your younger self. You can realize thisas not y is not your fault.”

After each session we have a ritual where I put all the remaining unresolved yukkiness into the medicine bowl of Amitabha, who is my personal Buddha of compassion. Amitabha’s body is orange in color. He wears a black hat with a red flower on it. He radiates a strong, gentle smile. Amitabha’s bowl gets big and today I toss into it my lack of power to change this event — my lack of agency. I toss into the bowl my denying words. I offer them to dissolve into the medicine. I toss into the bowl the greater awareness I feel that one day a long time ago on a grassy mound a man raped me. I don’t feel sad and bitter Instead I feel a weight lifting from me and falling into the bowl. I can offer this to Amitabha. Amitabha’s bowl gets small again, and now Amitabha himself gets big. He gets big and broadshouldered and he wraps those big gentle orange arms around me. I bathe in his compassion.

We end with the buzzers alternating in one hand to the other. Now I go to a safe place—a place where I feel at home. I go back in time to my Granny Logan’s kitchen where my teenage cousin Sheila irons laundry. Sheila plays her transistor radio. Radio Luxembourg comes through on the tranny. Some wild Elvis song plays. I pick my nose with relish. Sheila says, “You don’t have to unpack your trunk. You don’t live here, Elaine!” I laugh and laugh. Sheila can make me laugh any time.

After winding down the safe place vision, Angel passes me my jacket. We talk about what a funny April day it is today—one minute hot, one minute rainy. Now the clouds gather again.

I hope you reach your car before the rain falls, says Angel.

Thank you, I say. I’ll see you next week.

I walk down the tall stairs of the building on Coffman St in Longmont. I walk out the heavy, heavy doors.

When I leave the building, I look down, I see the dark raindrops hit the ashphalt. I don’t mind. I like the rain. I feel grounded. I feel soft and open and relaxed—the rain washes away my old fears.

I walk to my car. I walk slow. I savor the moment. I'm not sure why, but I feel Angel and I did good work today. I drive home. I take my dog for a long, slow delicious walk.

I don’t get to savor the moments for long because I have to lead a global business meeting tonight. It’s one of those meetings where everyone talks at the same time. I’m in charge of moving things forward--getting us through our work.  I worry we won’t get through is, but somehow we get done with the planned work.

After the meeting, I want to curl up on the couch and watch tv, but first I want to write this.

Why so urgent? Because tomorrow is Denim Day. I want to offer this Denim Day. I didn't have agency in 1972. I didn't stop myself from being raped, but today I have agency. Today I can write about this. I can speak about the unspeakable.