My Name Is Hannah Fogel

I am a survivor of sexual assault and rape.

This is my story.

       September of first year I was recently single, had a fresh kick of confidence from having moved out, and was ready to meet new people.

       I met Jack about three weeks into the year.

       It was a typical Friday night in res, complete with forbidden drinking games in a tiny dorm room stuffed with people. Jack and Alyssa were hometown friends of a couple boys on my floor, one of whom I’d hooked up with a couple times. As the evening progressed, my bottle of rum started to empty and Alyssa and I started to warm up to each other. There were plans to go to a house party in the student ghetto. Alyssa first wanted to pick up someone she knew from another residence, and excited as I was about my new friend, decided to leave with her and Jack.

       The blurriness of the night starts here.

       After fruitlessly searching for I-don’t-know-who in I-don’t-know-which-res, I realized I was much too drunk to wander into the university district looking for a house party. As someone who was shitfaced and tended to be more reckless, I remember being quite proud of myself for saying,

       “Guys I think I’m too drunk; I’m going to call it a night.”

       I’m sure Alyssa was then quite proud of herself for saying,

       “Aw, okay honey. Jack, can you make sure she gets to her room safely?”

       I still sometimes find myself blaming her.

       The following unknown amount of time (maybe an hour? Maybe less?) is preserved in my memories as mere visual flashes, distinct thoughts, and sentences:

       My disappointment at finding my room empty: my roommate was still out.

       Thanking Jack for taking me upstairs, but him following me into the room anyway.

       His over-6-foot frame towering over me to try to kiss me.

       The image of my hands on his chest trying to push him off.

       My surprise at how weak I was.

       “I don’t want to.”

       My shirt and bra were gone.

       “It’s fine”

       “I’m still in love with my ex.”

       “Me too, we’ll do this together.”

       “I don’t want to.”

       Tears had started at some point.

       “Just suck it.”

       Think of something to make him stop.

       “I’ve been hooking up with your friend.”

       “I don’t care.”

       Maybe if you’re more crass?

       “I’ve sucked his dick, isn’t that weird for me to suck yours?”

       “Just suck it.”

       His pants were gone.

       His erect penis was in my face as he shoved on my shoulders.

       “Tell me it’s big.”

       It’s really not.

       I tried. I gave his disgusting pink dick a lick.

       More tears.

       “I really don’t want to. Please.”

       “Just suck it.” “Tell me it’s big.” “It’s fine.” Those sentences were repeated a lot.

       Lots of tears. Sobbing.

       “I miss Jo.” I wailed for my ex-boyfriend.

       His frustration with me.

       I think I puked in my recycling bin.

       He was gone.

       Half-naked, I curled into a ball and drunkenly sobbed until my roommate came home.

      The next morning I called the ex-boyfriend I was still in love with, the Jo I had wept for in anguish hours prior, and told him what had happened.

       John was the only peer to take my sexual assault seriously for the next year.

He convinced me to talk to my floor don, who then set up an appointment with some sort of residence coordinator a week later.

       A week may not seem like a long time, but in residence gossip travels just about at the speed of sound, and by the Friday afternoon appointment I’d already accepted my title of “floor slut”.

       “Oh my god Hannah, you’ve hooked up with Jack now too? Hahaha didn’t you just suck Kevin’s dick, like, a few days ago? K, and who else has there been…”

       Listening to Susan list off the people I’d flirted with over the past month was a lot easier than the moment my don came into my room with a sheet of pictures of everyone named Jack who lived in my building, asking me to identify his red-haired smiling face.

       I did try to go to the Student Wellness Building one rainy afternoon, but it was closed.

       I did try to defend myself when it came to Susan’s jeers, but I was one lonely voice.

       I did want to talk about it with John again, but I thought it would be wrong to talk about something akin to a hookup with the ex I was still in love with.

       So by that Friday afternoon appointment I was regretting having said anything.

       “Your don told me what happened last weekend, is there anything you’d like to add?”

       “No, no, you know what, I think I may have over-reacted…”

       “Do you feel safe?”

       “Oh, yes…”

       “Would you like to press charges?”

       “No! I wouldn’t want to mess up his life…”

       “Would you like me to implement restrictions so that he can’t visit your floor?”

       “Oh no, no, he’s friends with people on my floor, that wouldn’t be fair…”

       “Do you require any further counselling?”

       “No! It was just a bad drunken hookup; I’d like to just forget the whole thing.”

       And for the most part I did. First year continued on as a blur of loving my classes, making new friends, working, exercising, floor gossip, and getting lost in my own on-again-off-again relationship with John. Plans were made for that summer: I’d go to work in Algonquin Park at a resort one of my new exciting friends had worked at the previous year. I would start in May, and she’d come up in June after finishing a summer course.

       The job fucking sucked. The food sucked, the work sucked, the bugs sucked, the lack of communication to the outside world sucked, the boredom sucked. The people: they only half sucked. I was the youngest there – a baby 18 year old who had to use a fake ID when going into town for beer runs – and was treated as such. Being called “sweetie” by the baker wasn’t so bad, but what really bugged me was how one of the cooks, Andrew, would change the subject when I was around. Thirty-three years old, tall, man-bunned, a “free spirit” who’d been travelling and cooking his entire adult life. I’d approach the campfire and if the conversation was surrounding sex, Andrew would speak up, “shut up guys, the kid’s here.” Wink at me.

       One night, a couple beers in, I was sick of it. I demanded that he give me a cigarette – normally having offered one to everyone but me – and let him know that I was a sexually active adult who could join into the conversation if I wanted to. He just laughed at me. “Okay, sure thing kid.”

       After less than three weeks there I decided I could not do it anymore. All I wanted was to work in a café in my beautiful, loud, polluted, blackfly-free Toronto. The night before my parents came to pick me up I stayed up late in the TV room watching some hockey game with the guys. The game ended, most people went to sleep to be refreshed for their 7 am shifts, but Andrew had the next day off, and I couldn’t stand the thought of calling it a night and going back to my tiny mouse-infested cabin just yet. I accepted his offer to go back to his cabin for another beer. After all, he saw me as the “kid”. The tone between us was brotherly. I didn’t feel unsafe with him.

In his cabin, we did have fun hanging out. We chatted about the girl he was into, his plans for doing something real with his life, my John, how terribly I’d been eaten by the bugs here, we ate those gross licorice candies that people normally pick off the gingerbread house to avoid – his favourite –, listened to music, had another beer or two. 2 am rolled around and I decided it was time for me to go to bed.

       “Do you mind walking me back to my cabin?” I lived about a 10 minute walk away, through pitch black woods and swamps.

       “Fuck no, I’m tired.”

       “Ha ha, okay, can I borrow a flashlight then?”

       “You’re leaving tomorrow, you’ll steal it.”

       “No I won’t, I promise I’ll get it back to you before I leave.”

       “No, I’m not lending out my only flashlight.”

       “Okay… well if you don’t want to walk me, what am I supposed to do? I literally can’t see an arm’s length in front of me out there.”

       “Stay here.”

       “…I have a boyfriend.”

       “Doesn’t have to be like that, kid.”

       I lay down in the bed with him, trying to be as close to the edge as possible. He pulled up close and spooned me. Minutes later his hand started caressing my leg. I politely put my hand on his and moved it.

       “Oh, what? Sorry kid, I was just dozing off. Didn’t even realize I was doing that.”

       Minutes later it started up again. It’s fine, he’s just doing that in his sleep.

       But the hand moved north, to my breasts, which he began to grope over my shirt. I wiggled out from under him, almost falling off the bed.

       “Um, I have a boyfriend.”

       “Heavy petting isn’t cheating.” He smiled coyly.

       I had to laugh at that. “Well I say it is, and I think John would agree, and that’s kind of what matters.”

       “Okay, okay. I’ll be good. Come on, let’s go to sleep now. I’m tired of all this talking.”

       I gave him another chance, starting to doze off myself, but soon awoken by the feeling of his boner poking through the fabric of his jeans, resting on my ass. He tried to kiss my neck. I started to squirm away again.

       “Shh, it’s okay, I get it, you’re playing hard to get,” he whispered playfully, “but stop fucking teasing me.”

       Again, this was laughable. I sat up. “I’m not playing anything, I’m saying I don’t want to.”

       “Come on, don’t tease me.”

       The urge to please kicked in. You have to give him something. I lay back down with my head on his shoulder, let his boner poke into my leg, and I stroked his chest. Maybe this is comfortable enough for him to fall asleep? I sure could right about now…

       The feeling of a hand pushing on my head and the sound of a belt coming undone.

       Laughable. “I’m not doing that.”

       “Are you fucking kidding me? You expect to come here dressed like that and not suck my dick?”

       ‘Dressed like this’? I was wearing leggings and a sleeveless white blouse. I’ve babysat in this outfit, my mum has complimented this outfit… I’ve freakin’ gone to church in this outfit!

       “Don’t be such a fucking tease, you cunt. Just give me head.”

       He was getting angry, and this was getting scary.

       I stood up and turned on the light. “Walk me to my cabin,” I demanded.

       “No.”

       I stumbled home in the moonlight.

       Returning to Toronto, the thought of that night filled me with guilt. I felt like I’d betrayed John. Felt like I’d cheated on him. Why? Because I actually was pretty close to giving in and sucking Andrew’s dick. Not because I’d been attracted to Andrew – ick, definitely not, he was 15 years older and a loser by my definition –, but because he wanted me to and felt entitled to it. If he’d felt that entitled, maybe I had done something to lead him on? Maybe I didowe it to him?

       I leaked out bits of the story of that night slowly to John over the course of the next couple weeks. Somewhere along the way, the realization hit – I’d been sober saying no to Andrew (or at least, a hell of a lot more sober than I was the night with Jack), and he still didn’t listen to me. What had happened with Jack wasn’t my drunken mistake. He was my first experience of a man trying to take advantage of me in a vulnerable state. Andrew was the second – the vulnerable state being that I was marooned in his cabin – and unfortunately he was not the last.

       That summer was horrible. I’ve had a skin-picking compulsion since I was a child, but it only got bad starting then. Anxiety-filled hours after a shower, sitting in my rocking chair as my hair dried, scratching at my arms until they were streaked with blood, staring at my naked self in the mirror, hating my body. I’d spent years in elementary and high school wishing to be thin and “hot”, and yet here I was hating the big breasts and round ass I’d grown to love with so much of John’s help. I remember wishing I could be flat-chested like other girls so I would go unnoticed. (The irony wasn’t wasted on me, I found it delightfully morbid that when I finally found myself attractive, I wanted it to be taken away again.) I hated every guy I met at parties, every male customer in the café who’d try to flirt, every man on the street who’d smile in greeting. But worse than hating them, I truly feared them. My breathing and heart rate would quicken until the moment had passed, blowjob un-demanded of me.

       I started to have flashbacks. The shower was a scary time for me. When I closed my eyes to lather my hair, Jack would be there. And Andrew would be waiting for me behind the curtain. Ashamed that I was having these delusions, I’d force myself to keep my eyes closed, not allowing myself to open them and see that I was safe and alone. I would force myself to stand in the shower with Jack standing next to me, about to touch me, trying to find a way to convince myself I was safe without resorting to needing the physical proof. Most of the time I wasn’t able to do this, and my knees ended up giving out under me, so I would curl up in a ball in the bathtub under the running shower, as my closed eyes that saw things that weren’t there leaked out tears.

       John has caused me a lot of pain over the years, has hurt me a lot (as I’m sure I have to him), but I will always, always, be grateful for his support that summer. There was one night we were having sex, and I started to feel anxious, felt the fear crawling into me, so I flipped onto my front so that John wouldn’t see me cry. The impulse to please was so fixed in me I was ready to let my boyfriend fuck me doggy style so he could get off without my crying disrupting him. Of course he noticed, though. Of course he thought it was messed up of me. And of course he held me as I cried and helped me feel safe again.

John has suffered with depression ever since high school. His go-to suicidal ideation was always jumping in front of a subway car. That summer I joined him on that hypothetical subway platform.

       Returning to school was difficult. The shower flashbacks were much worse in this new place, John and I were doing long-distance, and I hadn’t spoken to the girls I was going to be living with much over the summer. My housemates didn’t understand the extent to which the assault a year ago was affecting me now1.

Jen didn’t understand suicidal ideation.

       “But, like, everything is okay now? Over the summer I just had a realization that I shouldn’t waste time not being happy.”

       “That’s really awesome to hear, Jen, I’m so happy for you that you were able to find that peace! But I don’t know, I just don’t feel okay right now. I feel anxious all the time and I don’t know… not safe? It’s hard to explain.”

       “Why don’t you feel safe? If you ever see Jack at a party you can just leave. I think you need to just be happier. This summer while in Algonquin I started meditating…”

       Kelsey would roll her eyes at the new topics I’d taken to heart.

       “…you see that’s the problem with rape culture in our society…”

       “Oh man, Hannah, are you talking about more feminism shit? Make sure you don’t go on a rant again at the kegger tonight. It gets kind of embarrassing.”

       And I grasped at ways to feel in control again.

       I flirted. Hard. So much that one night I let one guy come home with me, making it very clear that I was in an exclusive relationship, and was not going to cheat on John with even a kiss. That night while this guy lay my bed with an unattended-to erection, mildly frustrated that I had been serious when I said we weren’t going to hook up, I giggled gleefully to myself. I had said no. I had been heard. Finally.

My housemates really didn’t understand when I tried to explain that one.

       Later in the year my relationship with John was back at its rocky antics again. We were on a break and it was Bunny Hop, the Easter-themed bar crawl. By bar number three, I was having a great time. It was my friend’s 20th birthday, I was making drunken friends, seeing people I recognized and liked from classes, not concerning myself with the looming breakup and exams. As I waited at the bar to order yet another shot, I noticed a pen on the floor. I picked it up, and at eye-level behind me hung the lanyard to which it belonged on a man’s wide chest.

       “Hey! You dropped your –”

       I’d looked up at the face.

       “You’re Jack.”

       “Eyy, you found my pen! Thanks cutie. Yeah I’m Jack, and you are…?”

       He’s flirting with me???

       I took a deep breath. I’d been daydreaming about this moment for quite some time.

       “A year and a half ago you sexually assaulted me,” I said as calmly as I could manage, and then I took a swing at his grinning face. I had to jump a little to cover the over-one-foot difference in height – that wasn’t part of the daydream.

       “What?”

       “I said no!” Embarrassed by my little jump, I shoved him in the chest this time instead. He stumbled back and I felt the crowd separate like the Red Sea. The music even stopped. Security took a step forward.

       “You fucking sexually assaulted me a year and a half ago!” The shoves continued as I repeated to scream at him.

He looked scared and confused. He turned for the door and bolted. The security guards looked at me, and I gave them a nod to let them know I was alright. The music had started up again. It had probably only been a coincidence and the song had just happened to end, but I’m a sucker for symbolism. Shaking visibly, I got a guy to buy me a shot of rum, which I immediately downed.

       I broke the on-a-break law of silence and texted John telling him what had just happened. He didn’t give a reply I’d been hoping for. I guess support through a sexual assault is only a stable boyfriend’s duty.

       The next day over a hangover breakfast in the dining room with my housemates, I proudly relayed the events of the previous night. They also didn’t react how I’d hoped: exchanged awkward glances, even a flinch when I said that security almost got involved. I kept going anyway:

       “But the thing that really bothers me, is that he didn’t even know who I was. I don’t even think he knew which night I was talking about. I’m thinking about messaging him on Facebook, just explaining who I am. Like what if he doesn’t even know that what he does is assault? What if he does this to lots of girls and doesn’t know the consequences of his actions?”

       How Jen thus responded is the reason I am no longer friends with her:

       “Ooh, Han… I don’t know about that. I mean, what you did last night is already kind of embarrassing. What if he spreads rumours about you? He knows people we know.”

       Stay quiet about my assault for fear of the story being turned against me and what people might think of me? Great, I live with THE sexual assault stigma.

       After that moment, I gave up on trying to have my housemates as a support system.

       John and I broke up for good a week later.

       Very suddenly, I was alone.

       The saying about doors closing and windows opening can be quite true if you’re looking for it. My housemates moved out after exams, but I stayed in Kingston to continue working at a café and to start a summer research assistant position with a professor from Faculty of Nursing. My fellow baristas quickly became my best friends. My John door closing created the gust of wind that opened my Olga and Michaela windows – best friends from childhood that I’d let slide to the side burner while focusing my energy on my relationship with John.

       I had my support circle set up; I was managing with the breakup as best as I could, and I was surviving, even living a little.

       Six weeks post-breakup I found out about Lara.

       Scrolling through Facebook, I saw a post on John’s wall that looked suspicious. After confirmation from a mutual friend, I ran to the bathroom and threw up.

       He was in a new relationship.

       Now I could rant and rave about all the reasons why this was cruel, and unfair, and painful, and mean of him, but that’s not the point. I don’t even care anymore. Heartbreak is easy to get over.

       The point is, I was vulnerable again.

       And that vulnerability was about to be taken advantage of.

       That day actually ended up being one of my summer highlights. After I pulled myself off the bathroom floor, I met my friend Ruth at her laundromat, we discussed the issue, and then she expertly distracted me with bridal magazines, V for Vendetta, and promises of lunch on a patio. Walking her clean laundry home we passed a tall, red-haired, bearded man. I recognized him as the guy who hosts karaoke night at a local bar.

       “Hi Robbie! How are you?” Ruth greeted her friend, and I introduced myself. They discussed plans to meet for a beer the next day, and he continued on his way.

       Ruth and I ate delicious pizza on a patio, went for a scenic walk to the pier, met a friend and discussed books, and threw a Frisbee around while wearing dandelion crowns. I was sunburnt and happy. It was a very good day. John was dating someone new, but I had amazing friends, and I was happy.

       The next day I was determined to keep my cheerfulness going, and joined Ruth and her friend Robbie for their beer – it was trivia night at one of my favourite pubs. Turns out I’m terrible at trivia, but the two of them are beer snobs and I was able to impress Robbie with my view that Toronto breweries try too hard, and that makes them very hit or miss. He took down my number, saying that we should go for beer again some time. That’s how he and Ruth are friends; he didn’t just ask me out on a date, right?

       After our team lost at trivia, Robbie told us about a new whisky he just bought, and that we had to try it. Ruth loves whisky almost as much as beer, so the three of us went back to his bachelor apartment. I followed him into the kitchen area to help with glasses and ice cubes as Ruth stayed on the couch, at which point he tried to lean down to kiss me. I dodged away and joined Ruth. John drama aside, I was not attracted to this guy. I had a type, and tall and ginger was not it. Also the long beard grossed me out.

       A few sips into the whisky, Ruth started to sway.

       “I’m so sorry guys, I’m a bit drunk.”

       “Aw sweetie, don’t worry about it, we’ll walk you home!”

       We dropped Ruth off at her apartment, and started walking in the direction of both our homes.

       “So. Why did you pull away when I tried to kiss you?”

       “Ha ha, oh that… okay baggage time: I got out of a four-year long relationship six weeks ago, and I just found out he’s dating someone new. So I’m not really in a good place to go kissing people and starting something new.”

       “Oh fuck, yeah, I totally get that. Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it. You hungry? I make a mean grilled cheese. You could tell me about this douchebag while we make sandwiches.”

       “I don’t know…”

       “Come on. Grilled cheese. I don’t expect anything from you. We could just make out a little.”

       I agreed. Went back to his apartment.

       There was no grilled cheese making. We continued to sip on the whisky that we’d abandoned shortly before, and when the conversation lulled for a moment, he kissed me.

       Okay, sure. This is fine but no further.

       His hands moved to take my shirt off. I smiled, pushing his hands away. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I should.”

       “Yeah, no problem!”

       But a minute later the clammy hands were back under my shirt, pulling it off.

       Okay, sure. This is fine but no further.

       It continued this way. He would try to push me a bit farther, I would say no, he would agree, but then try again, and I would give in. Eventually I was on his bed, naked, three fingers tactlessly and painfully being shoved inside me.

       I tried to get out of it around this time:

       “I should probably go, I have to be up early tomorrow for work with the researcher.”

       “It’s fine! We’ll set an alarm.”

       “… Okay fine, but can we just chat for a bit?”

       Ironically enough, we discussed rape culture. We talked about how hard it must be for male survivors of rape to be verbal about their experience, with the stigma that men always want sex, and that a woman taking advantage of them should be “a dream come true”. I think I even mentioned that I’d been sexually assaulted before.

       To my disappointment, we started up again. He moved to perform cunnilingus. As I worked on faking an orgasm, I also worked on a game plan. No vaginal sex. It looks like this is happening; there’s no stopping anything here. I’ve let all this happen; I didn’t even want to kiss the guy. I have to set boundaries with him. I will not have vaginal sex with him. If I finish him with a blowjob, I should be in the clear. So I started pleasing him. I faked the orgasm. I performed fellatio. I pretended to enjoy it. But he wasn’t climaxing, so he kept going back to roughly touching me. And it hurt. “More gently,” I directed. But he continued to jab me with his fingers. Two times I ran to the bathroom, dabbing blood that leaked from my vagina

       And my plan started to fail. He started trying to push farther, push for vaginal sex.

       I tried being sweet. “I’m sorry, but not tonight,” I cooed.

       I tried being pleading. “Really, I don’t want to. Can I just finish you with my mouth?” I bargained.

       Fuck. It’s happening again. I’m saying no. He’s not listening. How is this happening again? I gave in. I gave him what he wanted. How can he keep wanting more?

       I’ll try something new. I’ll be firm. Like I’m dealing with a dog or a misbehaving child.

       I sat up straight in the bed:

       “NO. I’m not having sex with you.”

       Good for you, Hannah! That was very clear. There’s no way –

       “Oh, you like to take charge, do you? Damn, that’s sexy. Come here.” And he lunged at me again.

       Out of a bedside table drawer came a condom. Okay, this is happening. No way to avoid it anymore. Be sexy – yep that’s it, get on top, arch your back, guys seem to like it when you squeeze your own boobs… WAIT. NO. I had said to myself, NO SEX, right? I didn’t even want to kiss him. No.

       I jumped off and ran to the bathroom again without a word. Sat on the toilet lid, shaking. There was more blood coming from my vagina. Maybe I can tell him I got my period. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Deep breath, here we go.

       I left the bathroom. “Sorry about that, I think I’m just getting my period. Can we just go to sleep instead?” I really wanted to leave, but I’d already tried the waking-up-early excuse, and he’d found a solution. I remember not wanting to be rude or hurt his feelings.

       I lay down at the edge of the bed, the farthest I could from him, and he scooted up close to me and spooned. I fell asleep, dreaming about my outfit I’d run home to change into the next morning…

       And then I woke up.

       I felt something.

       He was inside of me.

       His tactless fingers again?

       No. It wasn’t his fingers.

       I woke up and he was inside me.

       I woke up and he was inside me.

       I woke up and he was inside me.

       I repeat these words now because they repeat on a loop in my head, constantly.

       They are on repeat when I am at work.

       They are on repeat when I am in class.

       They are on repeat when I walk down the street.

       They are on repeat when I am at the bar with my friends.

       They are on repeat as I feel a panic attack coming on.

       They were on repeat as I popped tablet after tablet of Tylenol 500 when I tried to kill myself a couple weeks later.

       I woke up and he was inside me.

       I lay still as he thrusted away into me, exhausted of saying no all night. He reached around me to the lube on the nightstand, and digitally penetrated my anus.

       I was so disappointed that my past relationship never wanted to try anything adventurous, I thought as he moved to perform analingus, his scratchy long beard tickling my thighs. Shouldn’t I be enjoying this? Why am I not enjoying this?

       When he finished with a grunt and a sigh, he stayed right up close to me, holding me. I was still at the edge of the bed, facing away from him. “Thank you,” he whispered in my ear, beard against my neck, “I haven’t cum in so fucking long.”

       With less ease than the first time, I fell asleep again.

       And again, I was awoken by the feeling of him trying to enter my sore vagina.

Again???

       I ripped myself out of the bed. Not caring about hurting his feelings anymore, I started dressing myself, muttering something about not wanting to be late for work the next morning. I think I gave him a kiss goodbye as he protested, wanting me to stay the night.

       I saw a cartoon a couple months ago, it was called “I made my rapist eggs in the morning” or something like that. This woman tried going through the normal motions, thinking that she could trick herself into believing that she’d wanted to have sex with him; that it had been an enjoyable one night stand. Wouldn’t that be lovely? If it was just that easy? Because I tried that too. I tried to laugh about my “moderately sketchy” hookup. I even replied to his flirty text in the morning, something about his bed being cold without me in it.

        It took me about a week to let myself feel the gravity of what had happened. Originally, when I mentioned what had happened to my friends, they showed their concern.

       “Um, Han, someone had sex with you while you were asleep? That’s not okay.”

       “Are you alright?”

       “I know this must be difficult given your past.”

       But I downplayed it.

       “Yeah I think I know how bad it is, but I just can’t call it assault… I can’t have been assaulted again.”

       The event that happened a week later, that made me realize the gravity, was speaking to John on the phone. I wanted an explanation of this relationship he was in. It was the first time I’d heard his voice since we’d broken up. It was a very emotionally charged conversation: I told him that I’d officially given up on us ever having another future together. As he cried and we told each other that we still loved each other and always would, I whispered,

       “There’s something I want to tell you about.”

       “What is it?”

       “Last week… someone had sex with me while I was asleep. I don’t think I’m okay.”

       He was silent for a while. Then with a sigh he said,

       “Honestly, being with Lara makes that easier to hear.”

       He was jealous.

       I’d shared with him that I’d been raped, and all he was thinking about was the fact that I’d “had sex” with someone else.

       Yes, John showed his colours of being a jackass that night, but it made me realize two things: 1) I would be able to get over this guy eventually, and 2) I was sick of feeling not heard2; I needed to get help.

       A couple days later I took a break from data entry at work, did some googling and emailing, and contacted a sexual assault clinic. Several hours later, I hadn’t heard back yet and I was home alone. I started feeling very panicked. I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t okay. I sent John a text. I can’t remember the exact wording, and I have since deleted our conversation from my phone, but it was something along the lines of asking him for help because he’d been so supportive with my sexual assault in the past, but also that I’d understand if he couldn’t. He quickly replied with a “Hannah I can’t.” text. I understood. My loneliness in the living room that night was palpable, but I understood. I didn’t cry, just like I hadn’t cried when we’d spoken on the phone. I sat motionlessly on my couch in numbness. Twenty minutes later I received a long angry text from him, ripping me apart for trying to contact him at all. Then I cried.

       Dragging myself to bed that night, my year of suicidal ideation transitioned into planning. I fell asleep with dreams of bottles of pills and bathtubs becoming stained with my blood.

       When I woke up, I had a plan: after a meeting I had with my researcher later that morning, I would stop by the drug store and buy the biggest bottle of Acetaminophen they had. I knew from Pharmacology class that Tylenol was the most dangerous of the over-the-counter analgesics, especially when combined with alcohol. I found myself wishing I was on antidepressants, not to help with these symptoms of depression, but because it’s easier to overdose with prescription drugs. I giggled at this. Gee do I love morbid irony. It wasn’t just a giggle though, it was a smile. I felt elated at the idea that I could end John’s rejection and men’s abuse of me later that day. This is such a good idea!

       The meeting with the researcher turned out to be fantastic, though. I had been offered another position: this one actually in the hospital, working directly with patients. I left the meeting full of excitement for the coming weeks. My phone buzzed at this time: the sexual assault clinic had agreed to meet with me. Oh oops. I probably shouldn’t have sent them that message; I don’t need them, I’m feeling great!

       …Uhh Hannah, this morning you’d been planning on being dead by this time. Go see the counsellor.

       This realization made me laugh out loud. I booked the appointment.

       This is a difficult story to end, as it is continuing now. The last part of the story I will tell is my suicide attempt.

       I’m not sure how I got to that point… I’d been going to therapy, working, spending time with my wonderful barista friends. I guess that’s how I wanted it to appear though. Because I remember on my breaks at the café I would open an incognito search tab on Google Chrome and research ways to kill myself. One sunny afternoon I left work and walked to the drug store. I saw a friend of mine busking outside and stopped to chat with him. He invited me to come swimming with him and some other people later that day.

       “Yeah, maybe. See you later!” Ha ha, no I won’t.

       I bought that big bottle of Tylenol 500.

       I calmly walked home, hating every man I passed.

       I cleaned my room, made my bed, took the password off my phone, got a big glass of water and a bottle of rum from the kitchen, pulled out a pen and some paper, and started writing my suicide letter.

       I am looking at the letter now; it’s the first time I’ve read it in months. I’d been planning on sharing it or parts of it here, but I am deciding against it. It is four pages filled with fear and anger, under the guise of being “level-headed”. I even wrote:

       I am not crying right now. I am not hysterical; I am of clear mind. I do not want to live in this present; I want to live in the future even less.

       There is morbid humour, apologies, and a sarcastic “good job team!” to Jack, Andrew, and Robbie.

       I took a whole page to write in large letters: I DO NOT CONSENT TO ANY FAMILY MEMBERS BEING CONTACTED UNTIL MY TIME OF DEATH IS CALLED.

       And so I started swallowing the pills. Taking big gulps of water, casually scrolling John’s Facebook. I knew that if I was scared, dying would be a mistake; being scared would mean I wanted to keep living. But unfortunately I wasn’t scared.

       Pill, gulp. Pill, gulp.

       The sound of the doorbell? It rung multiple times. I heard the door unlock and open. Shit, it’s my landlord who doesn’t understand personal boundaries.

       I ran downstairs to greet my landlord who was on his way up and tried to tell him that I wasn’t feeling well.

       “That’s okay! I just fix sink. I noticed last week is leaking,” he replied in his thick accent.

       I lay on my bed, suicide note and mostly full bottle of pills next to me, as I listened to the sounds of the landlord fixing my sink. We were separated by just one thin wall.

       Is it rude to kill myself with company over? Probably.

       I passed out; I actually felt pretty high.

       When I awoke several hours later I put the Tylenol in my medicine cabinet and the letter in my desk drawer with a sigh.

       I can’t say that was the last time I made a suicide plan. I can’t say I don’t make plans now. I can’t say I’m dizzy with relief that my attempt failed. But what I can say was that was a difficult period that ended. It came back – heck yeah difficult times came back – but that intense pain subsided at some point. I am now in an accelerated nursing program, I’m still working with the researcher and at the café, I volunteer, I spend time with friends, I work out, I date (in a sense), and yes I struggle. But I feel hopeful for my future. Not all the time, but the times I feel hopeless I just have to remember those hopeful times exist.

       Something my counsellor told me was: Hope stands for “Hold On, Pain Ends.” I now realize that I will feel safe and happy again. Maybe not later today, maybe not tomorrow afternoon, and definitely not for good, but moments of brightness will exist in my future.

       Anyone reading this who has gone through similar experiences: please know this too. Know that your experience matters. That you matter. That you are not at fault, that you should not be ashamed, that you are loved, that you will love, that you are good and kind. Know that resources exist to help you. Know that people exist who will believe you. Know that however you are feeling is a perfectly valid way to feel. Know that however you cope is a valid way to cope. Know that it was your experience and you can go about it however you so choose. Most importantly, know that you are in control. Someone tried to take that control away from you, but this is your life, and you are in charge.

       Thank you for reading 7000 words of my life.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

1. Referring to my unsupportive “housemates” isn’t all-encompassing; one of them has tried her best to understand, and I am grateful for that effort.

2. When I say “tired of not being heard”, I don’t mean to take the amazing people I have in my life who do listen for granted. People who have let you down are just easier to notice, unfortunately.

 Dedicated to Olga and Michaela, who save my life every single day.

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herHABITAT

A creative of all sorts. Do-er. Fierce.

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