I was raped more than 40 years ago. I never told Salon.com

When a girl . . . a woman . . . imagines the hand-over-mouth scenario, it’s the unseen guy hiding in the back seat of the darkened car who suddenly looms into the rear-view mirror. “Shut up and drive,” the backseat guy always says. This wasn’t that. Had I pulled the boy’s door all the way closed? Was he safely asleep? Were my neighbors home next door, could I get away with yelling or maybe kicking over a chair? Could I somehow get to the kitchen counter, where one big damn knife sat beside the breadboard? No. No options.

I was wearing a long skirt; Mom had collected my grandmother’s quilt pieces and made a prairie skirt for me the year before. I’d worn it today, with knee socks and a cotton turtleneck, because it was cold, because the suitcases were still missing. I also wore an old flannel shirt of my ex’s; I’d layered up to bring in the wood and get the stove going.

Ned’s hand went under the skirt, furiously — I heard the muslin lining rip and felt my underpants being yanked at.

I rolled, I twisted, I tried to jam a knee into his crotch. But he had the advantage and he took it. He ripped at my clothes, yanked at my hair, never touched my breasts, never kissed me, never said another word, although he muttered to himself and at one point made a grunting sound, frustrated at the elastic in the underpants, the fact that they didn’t slide down easily. He’d moved his knee off my forearm, getting a solid purchase on the floor, his legs between mine. Both my arms were free for seconds; then he put his own forearm on my throat. Screaming, if I could’ve gotten the sound out, would’ve brought my child into the room, half asleep, curious and then scared. No, I thought. This is happening. Let it. My hands fell to my sides as he drilled away at my body as though he were mad at it.

It seemed to last forever, but I’d guess five, ten minutes tops. In those minutes, I literally stepped out of my head, my eyes closed tight, wondering if I’d have an involuntary physical sexual response, praying to God that I wouldn’t. A slab, I thought. I’m a slab. Be a slab. Slab. I felt the tears on my cheeks, my face burning as it often did when I was refilling the wood stove with a fire already in it.

Since the divorce, I hadn’t lived as my mother had asked me to — as though there were a moat around my house. I had relationships, a casual overnight or two with a couple of guys I liked, no strings. I cared deeply for two others; their opinion of me, their affection for my kid, mattered. I went out to dinner; I went dancing, and I worked really hard at being a mom, packing lunches, skiing with him on Saturdays, making sure he called his daddy every night. Staying late at my job when I could, hoping to turn it into something that paid more. I didn’t envision a future with anyone — I was still getting used to the present. Sometimes I over-drank (too much for me was a third; a fourth was a train wreck; a fifth was catastrophic). If my boy was with his dad or grandparents for the night, I was often out, but usually in a group, not a twosome — my friends Tom and Ellen kept a close eye on me, rarely letting me drive back to my house if I was drunk, tucking me into their guestroom instead and ragging me mercilessly in the morning.

I also knew in that moment that I wasn’t going to call anyone — not a cop, or my ex, or any friend. Mostly, I knew I had to get up off the floor; the fire was low in the stove, it was getting cold. There was a tiny Lego block stuck to my back. My underpants were all the way off, the turtleneck pushed up, the skirt pushed up, the knee socks oddly still in place. I had to move.

Slowly, I got up, rearranging my skirt and the two shirts. I bolted the front door, shut off the outside light and the ones in the living room. In the kitchen, where the little stove light was always on, I reached into the cupboard where I kept the liquor and poured myself a water glass of scotch, which I’d always hated, and chugged it. It immediately came back up and I vomited into the kitchen sink. Running the hot water, dumping a bottle of vinegar down the drain after it, I cleaned the sink. His gloves. His gloves were on the kitchen counter. Black leather, lined in something pricey—mink? Rabbit? I tossed them into the wood stove. Then I tossed my underpants in, too. The coals sparked and hissed, a flame rose up, then settled again.

I let him into my house. I poured him a glass of wine; did I pour him a second? A second for myself? Did I smile in a welcoming way? What I was wearing wasn’t attractive — was it? Did something I said or did tell him that what he was thinking was OK with me? Did he worry now that he’d run into me in town in City Market or the Red Onion? Did he really not have the suitcases at four? Would he tell Jack? Did he drive home thinking he’d have the cops on his ass in the morning? Divorcee, two wine glasses, a one-night stand with a small child on the other side of the wall. It was like throwing a rock into a lake and watching the circles widen.

I stayed in the shower until the hot water ran out, then stood in the cold water as long as I could stand it. The air coming through the open window was arctic. Barely toweling off, I pulled two pair of pajamas from the suitcase, put them both on, then went to bed, certain I wouldn’t be able to sleep, stunned in the morning when the alarm went off.

And I never told anyone. My best friend didn’t know; my shrink didn’t know; my brother and sister didn’t know. I only told my husband and son a few months ago. The looks on their faces, their clenched fists, and their thoughts, their words— I’ll kill him, I’ll find him and kill him —these hurt my heart as surely as an arrow might have. These men who love me, both now helpless and raging, unable to turn back time.

40-plus years? You think the passage of time changes anything? Please. There is no memory I don’t retain, no bodily feeling, no emotional one. I can tell you how the wood snapped in the stove, how the man’s hand smelled when he put it over my mouth, the colors in the quilted skirt, the way I wore my hair back then, how long the purple welt on my forearm lasted, how the scotch tasted coming back up, how the shower water finally hit me like needles. That night is a broken bone that heals; you can never really fool yourself into believing it didn’t break in the first place.

Could I have saved someone else by going to the cops, by calling the sheriff, by howling the truth to anyone who’d listen? Would anyone have listened? Would Jack have walked away, in disgust or even shame? Would my former husband have claimed my child because obviously I was an unreliable parent? Would my parents have been broken? The consequences, the blowback, even in pre-internet days, seemed endless and ugly. How many of us, from childhood to dotage, still stand in the shadows and firmly resolve to stay there?

So — are we at a watershed moment? Are the revelations, the sorrow, the shame, the defenses, the creepy covert investigations of women daring to speak out, the onlookers who decide who’s a perfect victim versus who’s a questionable one, the survivors who name names (including their own), the men we thought were good guys who turned out not to be — is all this indicative of some kind of magical vanguard that will change the workplace, the home place, the working conditions of women and girls and boys in restaurants, hotels, theaters, summer camps, high schools, offices, even churches?