Biography / Rape / Recovery / Survival

Cleveland: Not a happy ending – yet

News out of Cleveland this week has been stunning. After a decade of captivity, three women who many had thought were lost forever emerged from a house of horrors. With them was a 6-year-old daughter of one of the captives, taken the day before her 17th birthday. Another had vanished at the age of 14. And perhaps most sadly, the third was in her 20s when she disappeared, so it appeared the police never made much of an effort to find her and wrote her off as someone who just wanted to go away.

Arrested were three men, and as of this evening, one of them has been charged with rape and kidnapping. Police reported finding ropes and chains in the house. It’s thought that the women suffered many miscarriages, some after beatings. And so far, that’s all that’s really known.

Of course, the mind speculates.

Ten years. What could have gone on for ten years? How does someone endure a decade of abuse and torture? And, to me, most importantly: how does someone recover from that?

As I thought it over at work Monday morning, I felt the too-familiar feeling creeping back. A constricting in the throat and the shortness of air. Every muscle drawing tighter, like I might spring from my seat and run away.

And then I knew why.

As I sat there, wondering how someone endures a decade of being captive, I realized that I had also been held captive. Not for ten years, thank god, just for a night. Just for six hours, give or take. Just from sometime before midnight until dawn. But make no mistake, for those hours, I was captive. My hands were immobile and, at times, I was chained to my own bed. It wasn’t ten years, but it felt like forever.

I was held captive. I just never thought of it that way before.

I’ve already come to terms that I was raped and I was choked. Doing that wasn’t easy, either. While I never forgot about the rape, I pushed it aside, like someone tying to clean a messy desk by pushing all the clutter to the floor. The clutter didn’t go away, I just didn’t see it anymore. And while I never forgot, for the longest time I couldn’t remember why I had felt so scared for my life.

It took 15 years for me to remember why. Fifteen years to remember the hand clasped to my throat, my struggling for breath and the booming voice ordering me to never say no to him again. Fifteen years to remember what it was like to not know if I’d live to see the sun rise and to wonder what my parents would do when they found out. Fifteen years to remember what it was like to think I as about to be murdered.

I just never thought of it as being held captive, but I was.

For those hours, he made sure that I couldn’t move my hands. I was unable to fight him off, open a door, dial a phone, protect myself from his blows or even cover my eyes. I was helpless.

In fact, I was kidnapped, at least by the definition of my state. “A person commits the crime of kidnapping if he or she knowingly restrains another person with the intent to do 1 or more of the following: … (c) Engage in criminal sexual penetration or criminal sexual contact with that person.”

Raped. Strangled. Kidnapped. It was horrifying to live through. It’s horrifying to realize. It is the reason why I can’t read a news story at work without feeling like I won’t be able to breathe, and why I have to run from the room when some television show or movie wants to titillate its audience with a depiction of sexual violence.

And that was just six or so hours.

Years. These women endured years — about 87,672 hours.

How do you ever recover from that?

And yet, at least one of the women was shown in the hospital, hugging her sister and smiling. Actually smiling. If you didn’t know the story, you would have never guessed that she had just escaped a decade of captivity and horror.

I know, though, that one smile at a hospital does not a recovery make. I know that there will be months and years and maybe a lifetime of recovery ahead. I have at least an inkling of how hard it will be.

So when people say things like, “A happy ending!” or “It’s all over!” — I have to hold myself back. Because, yes, it is the happiest ending that could have happened, given what those animals did to them. But it is not yet an ending. It is not over.

The work is just beginning.

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