This is a particularly difficult time of year for me. I had written no more than two weeks ago that I wouldn’t go into any traumatic stuff unless it came up in my art- knowing that at some point it probably would. Well, it did. In spades.
I feel compelled to share with with anyone who wants to read it. Partly because a close family member shared her own experiences with a group of total strangers, breaking down those barriers of shame and secrecy that bind survivors of trauma of this kind and in effect, handing back the shame and the ownership of the event to the perpetrator rather than having to carry the weight and burden of it herself. Now is my time. I have done a lot of work on this but still on this date, every year it rears it’s ugly head, as today is the anniversary of the event. I have talked about it many times in the past, but somehow this assignment, having to draw my feelings on this day brought up so many feelings that for the first time I was able to actually work through and come through the other side, realising for the fist time that actually feeling those feelings doesn’t lead to imminent death and doom as they feel like they will, but relief and even joy!
On 21st May 2000 I was 19 years old and my life changed completely in just a few hours.
The previous day I had been standing at the bus stop wielding a huge carrier bag of poster paints that I planned to make a mural on my bedroom wall with. the bag broke and out tumbled the several bottles of paint prompting a well dressed man to ask me, as we chased the paint bottles across the pavement, if I was an artist. I had no problem in those days with describing myself as such and proudly announced that I was. He said that he was looking for a local artist to do a collection of works for his practice- Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture- not far from where I lived. He asked if I could bring my portfolio over to his practice the following afternoon so that he could see some of my work and if we decided to go ahead with it, I could measure up the space he wanted work in.
I was utterly elated at the thought of actually doing some paid work and phoned my mum when I got home who did the worried other part and said to bring someone with me to the place for my own safety. I was gung ho about it and said something along the lines of ‘For God’s sake mum, I’m a GROWN UP. I can do this by myself!’.
The following day came and I gathered up my work and headed down the five/ten minute bus ride to his place of work with my art folder, just a small one, A3 to show him some of my work and was trilled when he said that he loved it and wanted to spend around £1000 on a few pictures for various spaces, something that to me at the time was riches untold.
He was a Chinese guy and obviously first generation in this country, his English was good but not perfect, he said his name was Charlie and I thought that he probably had a name that was difficult to pronounce and went by that name and didn’t question it. He then asked if I would join him for dinner, and in my naive head believed that this was just part of the process, he was going to ‘seal the deal’ so to speak, and build a business relationship, so I gathered up my work after measuring the space and off we went on the bus into the city centre to his favourite Chinese restaurant.
I began to feel uncomfortable when he began to buy me drink after drink, alcoholic and seemed to be trying to get me drunk. Like in the films, I was pouring drink after drink in the nearest plant pot when he wasn’t looking because for some reason my head told me that I needed to keep my its about me and didn’t feel comfortable. The food was awful, loads of slimy stuff in big bowls with whole octopus corpses floating in them and other gross stuff that I did not want to touch, so I pushed a few things round my plate, at this point really wanting to leave.
I told him that i had to go and meet a friend- at this time it was about 6pm and I made moves to go. He stood up and pushed me back into my chair and said that we needed to go back to his shop to finish talking business and to measure the space. I said that I HAD measured the space and that I really had to go, but he was insistent and because of other experiences in my life I didn’t feel that I could walk away or escape. This is something that has plagued me for years, that I didn’t just leave that i stayed that I didn’t ask for help, that I didn’t fight back.
He paid then held me hard on the elbow and arm and steered me back to the bus stop.I KNEW exactly what was going to happen, I knew it and I didn’t run, I still didn’t run, I still didn’t shout, or cream or fight back. I was frozen with fear, the scream was lodged in my throat, I had this learned feeling that to go along with the whole scenario was somehow going to keep me safer than if I tried to fight against it.
He sat in the aisle seat on the bus, trapping me against the window and when we got back to the shop he pulled down the shutters once we were inside and locked us both in and locked the door. He put the key in his top pocket.
Then he turned nasty, he started insulting me and forced me up the stairs to his bedroom which was in the flat above the shop. It was vile in there, probably because of how I felt, but he stripped me of my clothes completely and took them away then began hours of him raping me and telling me how gross I was and me laying face down willing thoughts of politics into my head to dissociate away the shame and pain and fear and terror.
I don’t know how long exactly this went on, this raping and insulting and terror but i know that when I finally got my clothes handed back to me I was a numb, frightened wreck, but I had to keep up this pretence that it was ok, that I was ok, that he could trust me to let me go, that I wouldn’t run to the police and tell on him.
He wouldn’t let me out of the shop and kept trying to drug me with tablets but I refused to take them, he said he would phone me a taxi in the end after I begged him to let me leave as my friend who I was meeting would be worried he said ‘I will call you a taxi, it isn’t safe for a girl to be out on her own at this time of night’ (!) . I watched as he unplugged the phone and then denied that there was an outside line and really began to fear for my life.
Eventually he agreed to let me go, there was a phone box about 50 yards away from the shop and I told him that I would call a taxi and then go and wait on the corner for it He finally agreed and unlocked the door and shutters. Then the final insult, he pulled me into his face and kissed me. I had to reciprocate though it nearly killed me to do so. I had to keep up the pretence that it as ok, that I was safe to let go. But that kiss, the feeling of his tongue has never left me.
I walked slowly to the phone and to my horror it was out of order. I faked a conversation with an imaginary operator and pretended to arrange a taxi hen walked, still with him watching me from the shop, to the corner, at which point I broke into a run and ran up the road round the corner, banging on doors begging for help only to have door after door slammed in my face.
Eventually, just by luck, a black cab saw me and pulled over and I got in and went home.
I got home to an empty house, my house mate was out and I burned myself with bleach and boiling water in the bath. The next day I painted a monster on my bedroom wall that was so terrifying that I couldn’t sleep in there for the rest of my time in that shared flat.
After I painted that monster, I didn’t pick up a paintbrush for years. Or a pencil, or write anything. My creativity had been stolen from me completely. Eventually started to draw again but I could never connect to my drawing in the same way, the same with painting, there has always been a disconnect between me and what I was creating, like I was creating without the creativity.
This first exercise in my degree course was to draw feelings. To take four pieces of A1 paper and to fold them into four A3 quarters then to take the words Anger, Joy, Calm and another emotion- I have chosen Anxiety as I had it in spades at the beginning of the exercise. Then I had to draw using one colour in each of the four corners of the paper and one type of drawing medium, I chose oil pastes, soft pastels, ink and coloured pencil; and to show dark and light, heaviness and lightness of pressure and to convey those four emotions as they feel to me.
I started with anxiety as this reconnection to the feelings around drawing was making me icy cold with fear and with the tie of the year being as it is the anxiety levels were very high. I started off in the top left and corner with charcoal, then clockwise, black oil pastel, brown pencil and purple-pink ink. As I worked through this anxiety I started to feel anger. Anger that this had happened, anger that I have spent so many years not connecting to my art, the very thing that kept me going throughout my childhood and teenage years. Anger that it was stolen from me. So I proceeded then with the Anger page. After anger came a feeling of calm as I began to get into the flow, then finally joy.
I have decided that this date no longer is the anniversary of the rape, it is MY anniversary, the anniversary of the day I got my feelings and my creativity back. the day I made that commitment to myself that NOBODY can take that away from me again.
I was actually feeling guilty, after the initial excitement of the gift of the art studio had been promised to me, I started off feeling excited and happy and full of beans but after a day or two I began to feel terrified. This time of the year reminded me that I am not worthy that I do not deserve nice things, that I am a failure that I let people down. NO MORE.
I AM WORTHY. I DO deserve this art studio, I WILL succeed, I already am a success in so many ways, I do not need to feel guilty or ashamed or fearful, I have done nothing wrong. This is HIS shame not mine. I DESERVE GOOD THNGS.
So this date. The 21st May 2016 is the day that my feeling for art came back.
here are my feeling pieces throughout this process:
I thought it was fascinating how the feelings pictures moved from spiky jagged edges to soft swirls and calmer colours. It was not an easy process but a very fruitful one and though at first I felt frustrated that I wasn’t drawing something technically difficult like a portrait, it was almost more difficult drawing from the heart. I’m going to leave you with a poem I wrote about the rape a while ago where I felt angry, it was something that was very much in my head whilst I was drawing the anger picture. Though now I don’t feel like it is a life sentence, it is a life changer for sure, but now I have my day back I feel ok sharing this knowing that it is a thing of the past, my future is more colourful and joyous.
Vitriolic Hate Poem
I fucking hate you
you evil piece of crap
worthless, vile cretin
and you share this earth with me
have the audacity to breath the same air
buy yourself nice things
and probably don’t even think about what YOU DID
I really fucking hate you
not even “what you did”
or “how I reacted”
with your roving eyes
sweaty, stinking skin,
Is that all you thought about?
I suppose I was an easy fuck?
what value has a life like that?
more than yours.
more than yours.
and God, what “lesson” should I learn from this?
what clever part of the plan was rape?
are you making him pay for his sins?
does he pray to you to “let go” like I do?
was that his drug of choice?
I don’t want a life sentence
for some crime I never committed
Instead let me commit one.
let me tear him apart, limb from limb
pull out his nails, is eyes, his tongue
let him feel REAL pain.
tattoo “pervert” across his face
for the world to see who he really is
put a gun to his head,
show him real fear.
make him remember it every fucking day until he dies
Give him a feeling of terror when he hears footsteps
in sync with his at night
make him lock check lock check lock check the doors
make him afraid to be touched
scared to be held
and then help me let go
please help me let go
I cannot carry it any more.
But I want you to imagine now after reading that that it was a poem that was written about a closed fist, an angry closed fist with no potential, that fist has opened now and can hold things, pain, joy, sadness, elation, calm, peace and above all a pencil. That is where I am at.