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What Happened When I Saw My Rapist Ex-Boyfriend in a Bar

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, domestic violence or emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Last night, I had dinner with some friends and went out to dance in a bar known for its rock music. I wanted to have fun. As soon as I entered, I was hit with the darkness and the lights, the smoke in my throat… his face. His face; my abusive, rapist ex-boyfriend was standing there, less than a foot away from me. It’s funny; I’ve always wondered what my reaction would be if or when I saw him again, in the street. I’ve imagined running away, pretending not knowing him, pretending nothing happened or punching him, even though I’m not a violent person and I hate violence.

I just hid my face with my hair and pinned my eyes to the floor. It felt unreal. For many times over the past three years, I’ve thought I had seen him somewhere. I’ve sensed his smell in a far-away country. But this time, I know – it was him.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe; my chest was moving, my hands went numb. I told my friends I needed to go get some air — they don’t know about my rape or my anxiety attacks — and they stayed, thinking I just wanted to go see my (new) boyfriend. I felt grateful for that.

I almost ran across the bar, reaching for the way out, knowing he was there somewhere, maybe looking at me. I got outside and started walking as fast as I could. I could feel my heart hammering inside my chest. My eyes blurred from the panic. I was having trouble breathing and I wanted to rip my necklace off — I knew I was about to have an anxiety attack and all I wanted was a quiet and hidden place to calm down and cry.

I couldn’t — I still can’t — understand how we were in the same place at the same time, when there are hundreds of bars, clubs, cafés and restaurants in the city.

I found some stairs and I sat. They smelled like urine but I didn’t care. I just sat there trying to breathe, crying my pain away. I must have been there for 30 minutes. A woman approached me, her hands on my knees — she was worried. She wanted to know if I was OK, how I was getting home, where my friends were. I looked at her and smiled, the tears running down my cheeks. “I’m OK, it’s just an anxiety attack. My friends are nearby. It’s OK.”

I wanted her to stay with me; I wanted a complete stranger to hug me, to tell me it was OK, that he wasn’t near me anymore. But I assured her she could go.

Another young man passed by, concerned. Again, I assured him I was OK, “really.” He caressed my head so tenderly that I felt ashamed for being surprised that a strange man was touching me in a kind and tender way, and not in a disgusting way. He didn’t believe me, but I assured him he could go. “I hope you get better,” he said as he was leaving.

My boyfriend was already waiting for me. It was 3 a.m., I needed to go. I looked at my phone’s camera and I looked terrifying. I was pale and my eyes were swollen. I practiced my smile so he wouldn’t notice — I haven’t told him yet either. That’s what you learn to do to protect those who surround you from your pain, from your traumas.

So I ask, what can be more frightening than seeing your abuser or rapist when we were just going to dance to some rock music?

I just finished watching “The Haunting of Hill House.” In a marketing move, the show’s social media said that people who watched the series were fainting and being sick to their stomachs. I felt intrigued and watched the 10 episodes in just one day.

Horror movies don’t scare me anymore; they don’t steal my sleep. Those images that refuse to be deleted from my brain and the images that vanished do. The memory of his touch and of his bitter, mean words do. His face, his lack of empathy does. I’m not afraid of horror movies anymore.

Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

Originally published: January 23, 2019
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