Somewhere in South Africa are two men I have grown to hate. I have never met either of them. They raped the woman who is now my wife. She was 14 at the time. They were in the army. White boys. German-speaking.
Even if she wanted to, it is probably too late for my wife to lay charges against these bastards. But it is not too late to remind them of the harm they did to a child 26 years ago. If they read this, they will know that I know. Even if nobody else recognises who they are – and the aim of this is not to reveal their identities – they will remember what they did on that hot summer’s day in 1987 next to the swimming pool at a house in the Johannesburg suburb of Robindale.
Sandy (not her real name) never pressed charges for the same reasons that so many rape victims don’t. Guilt, shame and fear kept her mouth shut for way too long. It was only years later that she told her parents what had happened. She is still angry with them for not picking up the signs at the time.
So how old are you now, guys? Mid-forties, I guess. Your kids must be in high school. I’m sure you both live in nice homes in affluent suburbs. Life has been good. I’m sure it still is. Relax, kerle. Have a beer. Wipe that sweat from your upper lip and stop trembling. I’m not going to bust you. All I want to do is remind you that somewhere out there, maybe even in the same suburb as you, is a woman who is profoundly damaged by what you did to her all those years ago.
And then there is me. Your actions have affected not only Sandy’s life, but mine, too. This story, then, is my way of saying, “Fuck you”.
First, let me tell you a little about what it’s like living with a woman who has been raped.
Ours was one of those whirlwind romances, meeting, dating, moving in together and marrying within a few months. Some of our friends said we were mad, that we should take it slowly. Others said life is short, go for it. Looking back, I realise now how little we knew about one another.
One thing I noticed early on is the frequency with which she made sweeping generalisations about men. We would be light-heartedly arguing about the differences between the sexes when she would suddenly grow angry and say something like, “Men are all the same. They all cheat. You’ll cheat on me, one day.”
Once, she said: “All men fantasise about gang-raping a woman”. First I had heard of it. And certainly not something that had ever crept into my fantasies. I told her to stop her irrational negativity towards all men. Every time this happened, I would suggest that she rephrased her sentence. “Why don’t you say ‘some men’ or even ‘most men’? How can you accuse all men of something just because of the actions of a few?”
But it continued. All men go to strip clubs. All men visit prostitutes. All men are misogynists.
Sex with Sandy has never been an altogether comfortable affair. She has never used the phrase “making love”. When I used to talk about us making love, she would laugh cynically and say, “What’s love got to do with it?” To her, it was “fucking”. Still is. I no longer mention the words “making love” in the context of sex. Knowing what happened all those years ago, I can almost understand how she may never want to equate sex with love. For Sandy, sex is not a tender, gentle thing. It is a rough, almost brutal, act.
Something I still struggle with is the post-coital crying. It doesn’t happen all the time, but now and again Sandy breaks down and weeps after having sex. When she cried the first time, I thought it was something I had done. Or hadn’t done. Many times, I have asked her what’s wrong. I have begged her to tell me why she is crying. To let me in and share what’s going on in her head. But she never does. At most, she will tell me not to worry. That it’s nothing. It’s painfully clear that whatever it is, she doesn’t want to talk about it. Frustrated, confused and angry, all I can do is hold her until it passes.
Some time after we met, I made the stupid mistake of asking her how many men she had slept with in her life. She asked how many women I had slept with, and I told her. She said she had slept with roughly the same number. I was appalled. Not because I had slept with an inordinate number of women, but because I am one of the millions of men who succumbed to the patriarchal propaganda that says a woman who has slept with a substantial number of men is a slut, a whore, the type of woman you simply don’t marry. I felt as if I had been duped.
She also told me that she had slept with around ten boys/men by the time she had finished matric. I was coldly derisive, asking her what it had been like to be known as the school bicycle. She wept and shouted and threw things at me and it was a frosty few days that followed.
A few weeks later, the subject came up again. This time I listened to what she had to say. Sandy explained that after she was raped, she felt the only way she could hope to carry on living would be to have sex again. On her terms. She said it was a bit like falling off a horse and having to get back on to conquer your fear.
Having casual sex was her way of devaluing sex, of minimising the significance of sex. By engaging in a string of meaningless physical relationships, sex to Sandy became of no more consequence than a workout at the gym. In doing this, she convinced herself that the rape itself had simply been a physical assault. I don’t know how effective this was, because 26 years down the line, Sandy is still obviously damaged.
I am quite a tactile person, but Sandy struggles to show affection. She isn’t one who hugs or touches easily and this has been the source of many arguments. “How do I know you love me if you never show it?” I will ask, frustrated by her emotional distance. Our sex life is so erratic that I am no longer sure she even enjoys sex. And who could blame her if she doesn’t?
Sandy drinks too much and takes sleeping pills at night. She also suffers from depression and shows symptoms of a borderline personality disorder. And she tried to kill herself a few years before I met her. She still talks a lot about suicide. I don’t know what to do.
It’s been months since we spoke about the rape. Perhaps she still needs to talk about it. But I don’t know what more there is to say. It would be easy for me to say, “It’s been 26 years. Get over it.” Somehow, I don’t think that’s what she needs to hear.
All I can really do is keep trying to understand what it is like to be her. This isn’t always easy, especially when I’m being singled out to take the rap for the sins of other men. Sometimes, when things are bad, I think it would be best if we got divorced. My life would certainly be a lot easier if I had to share it with someone less damaged than Sandy.
So, Mr X and Mr Y, what did you think of my little story? Took you back, didn’t it? I bet you thought nobody would ever mention the bit of fun you had at my wife’s expense so many years ago. Least of all on the Internet. Oh, and in case either of you is wondering, the scar on Sandy’s thigh has never healed. Do you still have the bayonet? DM
The identity of the writer is known to Daily Maverick.
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