At Christmas, I met up with the man who raped me eight years ago. I’ve sat on the conversation I had with him for seven months, telling few people about it, and never writing it down. It has felt too personal a tale to send out into the world. But now I have had time to process it, I feel I ought to get it penned on paper.
I learned a lot that day, as I nervously sipped my steaming mug of black coffee, sitting opposite a man I hadn’t seen in years. A stranger, he seemed, despite the fact that I had once loved him. Now a shagged man sat before me, stretched, like an old cotton gown, forced too many times over an ever-growing expanse of flesh. When last I saw him, he seemed young, with still a bounce in his step and a glean in his eye. Now his hair greyed, and his eyes shone with nothing, drooping and reminiscent of a weathered blood hound. Glasses sat where once there had been no aid and wrinkles pulled the skin on his mouth down into a grimace.
His name is Paul, and he is my ex-boyfriend. We were together for four years. On 26th August 2012, he raped me, violently, at his dad’s house. Before that night there had been physical and mental abuse. Sometimes the emotional damaged is harder to detach myself from than the physical. There was cheating and incessant verbal cruelty.
A year after the rape, in August 2013, I moved to Australia to remove myself from his reach and didn’t hear from him for three years. December 2016, after three years apart, I saw him again, briefly, for a drink. I never once mentioned the rape or the abuse. I was still in love with him and struggled with the idea of a confrontation. All I wanted was to see him again. That December, I realised I was simply mourning our relationship, and that he was not the person I missed. Finally, in the winter of 2019, after no contact for three years, I asked to meet up, and I travelled to Oxford to confront him.
Charlotte, my best friend, accompanied me to a bar in the heart of the city, where I ordered a coffee and tried to stop the tremor in my hand with slow breaths that threatened to turn shallow and laboured.
‘Will you hug him when you see him? I don’t understand how this is going to happen,’ Charlotte asked.
‘No, I’m done with niceties, this is the last time I intend to see him,’ I replied resolutely. Paul had been a lingering black cloud hanging over me for far too long. He will always be my rapist and never a long forgotten ex-boyfriend. There will always be a tiny nougat of space taken up by him in the dark recesses of my mind. Sometimes it felt like everything stopped on 26th August 2012, arrested development. As though my heart was wrapped in thorns and the only way to break through the thick vines was to have this conversation and sever him from my life.
I fiddled with my cup and glanced around nervously, hardly daring to look at the door, until there he was. Sat in front of me, like a wilting flower on its last legs of life. I didn’t recognise him to begin with, I thought he was an old man who’d lost his way.
‘Oh wow,’ I greeted him shakily, ‘you look so different.’
He started laughing, the creases at the corner of his eyes betraying the years we’d spent apart. ‘It’s the glasses,’ his face was bright red, his skin slick. ‘Now I’m old, apparently. My hair is falling out and I can’t see properly anymore, so I just thought, fuck it, I’ll get some glasses. Katie kept pushing me to do it, so I finally did it, because I was having to get up close to the telly every time I wanted to see anything. It was bloody ridiculous.’ On and on he went about his glasses, while his face grew redder and more sweat formed on his brow. Dry spittle huddled at the corners of his mouth and I stared in mute wonder that once up on a time I’d found this man attractive.
‘So, Katie and I broke up, because I fell in love with another girl. But it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t mean to do that to her, did I, Hannah? I’m just a fucking horrible person, aren’t I? So, I met this girl at work, and she was the most gorgeous woman I’d ever met, but it was so fucking complicated. She has this ex, he was abusive as fuck. If I ever met the guy, I’d fucking destroy him, how dare he do those things to her.’ I glanced at Charlotte, incredulous. ‘So, she was hot and cold, on and off, with me and him, couldn’t decide what to do. I was helpless, Hannah, honestly, I fell hard for her through no fault of my own. She is fucking unreal. I bought a house and moved Katie in with me. But then me and this girl, Britney, wanted to run away together. How crazy is that?’ Rhetoric, apparently, I tried to respond but on he barrelled. ‘So, I found us a flat, right out in the sticks, about an hour’s commute from the city, and I spent all my money on filling it with furniture she liked, all the while she’s still in contact with her ex. And the day we did it, Hannah, I couldn’t believe it. We got there, to that house, and looked at each other. I thought what have I done? I couldn’t look at her, and kept thinking of Katie, crying alone in the house I’d bought us. And Britney left. She fucking left! Because I was upset that we’d made this huge decision. I wanted her still, but I needed a night to get my head around it. She got her ex-boyfriend to come pick her up from the middle of nowhere and left me with a flat with rent I can’t afford, too far from Oxford to justify the petrol, and with a house in the city that I can’t live in because my ex lives there. What the fuck am I supposed to do now? I don’t get why these things keep happening to me.’ I took a deep breath and smiled a tight-lipped grimace in his direction.
I won’t give him the excuse of being nervous. This is Paul. Narcissistic. Everything is about him. I’d never quite realised how much he could talk about himself until this day. And now I didn’t have the rose-tinted glasses of love blinding me, I saw what a horrible person he was. I look back and remember entire evenings at parties where I’d put my hand up in the air, like a bashful child in school, just to try and get a sentence in between his neurotic monologues.
‘So, I tried to kill myself twice in the past year,’ he continued. I wondered whether he would get a drink, with his mouth inexplicably dry and sweat pouring profusely from him. ‘The first time I was in a tree, with a rope around my neck. I called Samaritans and they talked me out of it. Then I tried another time. I got the noose and tightened it around my neck. I tied it to a branch but when I jumped off my feet just landed on the ground.’ He exploded into hysterical laughter. ‘Can’t even bloody kill myself, can I? Idiot. I took that as a sign not to do it.’ I don’t want to bore you with all he whittled on about but I assure you, he stretched on and on, telling me all about the terrible things that had befallen him. About how nothing was his fault and how irrevocably cruel the world had been to him.
I started to think this was a bad idea. The narrative he told was still of him mistreating women. All he cared about was talking about himself and I made the decision not to share anything with this egocentric man. I considered getting up and walking out as he waffled on. I felt a sudden sadness sweep over me, that this had been the wrong decision, as I’d feared during the months I’d agonised about whether to do this.
‘Yeah, so the last few years of my relationship with Katie I didn’t even want to be with her.’ I zoned back in and saw a window in.
‘Is that how you felt about me?’ I asked. The first words I’d said in about fifteen minutes.
‘I suppose, yes. Probably the last year of our relationship I didn’t really want to be with you.’ I felt a sharp stabbing in my chest and did a three-sixty turn on my decision.
You’re here now, a voice whispered. Ask him your questions, then you never have to see him again.
‘So, what exactly did you want to ask me about the night -’ he paused, looking for the right words.
‘The night you raped me?’ I let the words hang between us.
‘Yep,’ he replied tightly.
‘Do you remember it?’
‘Barely,’ he admitted.
‘I do,’ I whispered, ‘every second of it. Why did you do it?’
‘I don’t know. Like I said, I barely remember it. When I drink I get so destructive. I can’t really tell you why I’ve done a lot of the things I’ve done.’
‘It’s so hard for me. I still hear your dad shouting through the door, shut the fuck up you two.’ My voice broke then. ‘It was so humiliating. I should have called out.’
‘You should have,’ he agreed. His eyes softened and there was something I recognised there. Something close to compassion, but not quite the acknowledgment of a human who is humbled. ‘Then maybe I could have been stopped. I’m truly sorry, Hannah, I just get this rage when I’m drunk and my past was never right -’
‘That’s not a fucking excuse,’ I bit.
He took in a sharp breath, curbing his reaction. ‘I know,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘I just mean, I never learned how to control my rage and it comes out when I drink.’
‘Stop drinking then,’ I replied evenly.
I was winding him up, I could see it in his eyes. ‘I can’t. I never will. I’m broken, Hannah, I always will be. There’s no hope for me. I was signed off work a few months ago with anxiety and depression. I try constantly to stop drinking and smoking and taking drugs, but I can’t. I don’t drink very often now, only when I’m taking drugs, so that’s a step in the right direction.’ His face was turning bright red again with the sincerity of what he was trying to get across.
‘Are you high now?’ I asked. His mouth was inexplicably dry, white foam flying from pursed lips, eyes wide with a message of utmost importance to convey.
‘No. This is me sober. Was there more you wanted to ask?’
‘The other abuse,’ I said.
‘What other abuse? The cheating? I’m sorry for that too, you never deserved any of it.’
‘Well yes, there was that, but I meant the physical abuse. Like when you pinned me down and choked me, on multiple occasions. Including the day after you raped me.’
‘What? I don’t remember any of that,’ he admitted, wide-eyed. ‘I didn’t even know that happened.’
I raised an eyebrow. Just an afterthought. My suffering nothing worth remembering.
‘I’m just a bad person, Hannah. I’ve figured that out now. And I don’t have any remorse, apart from for you. I’m really proud of you, Hannah. For everything you’ve done since we broke up.’
Don’t be fucking proud of me.
‘I want to forgive you,’ I said resolutely. ‘I don’t want to make you feel bad or continue with any anger. I’m willing to forgive you.’ His eyes filled with tears.
‘That’s so kind. I don’t deserve that.’
‘No, you don’t.’
‘If it makes you feel any better, I’ve learned a lot from today. I will take this forward with me to make my life better and treat people differently. I’ve hurt many people, but none more than you, and for that I’m sorry.’
‘The nights you never came home — and when you did you were violent or you’d cheated — I still have acute anxiety whenever my partner goes out. It’s such a severe hangover from my relationship with you. I can’t trust him fully and I struggle every year on August 26th. There is so much irreparable damage that I doubt will ever heal. I never want to see you again after this.’
‘I understand. I’ve come to realise that I am just a horrible person, I have no empathy, I have no remorse.’
‘So, you’re a sociopath?’
‘Yeah, probably. I just fuck up everyone’s life. You, Katie, Britney. But today I have really learned. I’ve taken a lot from this,’ he said. All about him, again. Today was about me moving forward, I don’t care how it’s affected him. ‘Katie is living in my house, with people going in and out all the time on my fucking new carpet. What’s she playing at? I own that house, could she be a little more careful about -’
Shut the fuck up, I wanted to shout at him. Scream until he shut up, shut up, SHUT UP. On and on he went, describing impossible situations in which he was an innocent victim. How nothing was ever his fault.
He never got himself a drink and finally he ran out of steam and walked out of my life for the last time.
In all the years that passed since August 2012, not once did he acknowledge the fact that he raped me. That was something I needed. I wanted him to know that the pain he inflicted is everlasting.
I will never recover fully from the trauma of that relationship, from the violent rape. The physical bruises disappeared from body but the emotional scars will remain, faded but immortal. Somehow it’s easier to know he treated me that way because he doesn’t care about anyone. He will never be forgotten. He took that privilege away from me the night he violated my body. Now he will always be my rapist instead of a forgotten ex-boyfriend, residing in the dark recesses of my mind.
I spent many hours in anguish leading up to that coffee, wondering whether I was doing the right thing. I don’t regret it, I am so happy I did it. I’ll never forget the night I was raped, but that was the final piece of the puzzle I needed to find the comforting embrace of closure.