The Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center is quiet. It is too quiet after the sobs and the sirens and most of all the loudest sound you’ve ever heard – your own heartbeat. The sound of pumping blood was racing, pounding, echoing in your own ears. Before it was beating so loud it felt safe. You’re still here, it kept saying. Still-here, still-here, still-here. It has subsided now and you’re left all alone.
The center is too quiet and too soft. They take you to a room that is lavender top to bottom. There are stuffed animals in the corner and there are softly lit lamps. You do not want to be here. You want to be in a small white room that is clean and obvious. You want to shower. You want to sleep. The last thing you want is to be talking to a counselor in a lavender room on a lavender couch near a vase full of daisies.
At first they don’t ask you what happened. The police already have. They’ve asked you and asked you and police officers have recycled their way around your apartment questioning Him and then checking on you. They don’t seem to know any better than you do what’s happening so you talk to six different men, intimidating men, big men in big navy blue uniforms. You have to tell them again and again while you’re crouching in that same bed and rocking and crying and being stuck in that twenty minutes for another two hours. You’re so sure that they’ll help you if you tell it just right. You’re scared of them but they’re all that you have.
When the police take you to the center, you must be in shock. You must be. And you’re definitely still drunk, or maybe already hungover, because your head is pounding and your eyes can focus but barely and walking straight takes effort. You don’t want to be drunk. You don’t want anyone looking at you. And you worry because you’re surrounded by cops and you’re drunk and you’re only twenty and at any minute they could turn on you. They could turn and get you. And they’re all that you have.
The nurse finally comes in after the counselor has sat with you and you know because you’re not stupid that they’re trying to soothe you before it begins. These women sitting here in the middle of the night means something big is happening now. And you’re scared to death when you realize strangers are trying to calm you. Soothe you like a wild animal. And it terrifies you that this is actually a necessity and that you need strangers and soft words and you don’t even know it. You need it even though it feels like hell.
The nurse has a clipboard and she asks you questions, and they say you can stop anytime, but you want to go-go-go because after every page that she scribbles through she turns to another one and you’re barely keeping it together and your mind’s so quiet like it never is. Between questions you don’t think. You don’t think anything or see anything in your mind or pray or listen. Your brain sits in nothing and waits for the next line of her form.
She repeats horrible words to you. Horrible phrases, wanting to know if He touched your anus or forced you to touch His and you hate the word ‘anus’ and you’re appalled that they are asking you about yours and His and what happened between the two. You hate words like ‘anus’ and ‘fingered’ and ‘penetrate’. You’ve always hated those words, and now they’re saying them to you over and over again and asking you what you know about a span of minutes prior to a 9-1-1 call made by your roommate. They want specifics. You don’t want to be associated with those words, or hear them or speak them and it crosses your mind that He doesn’t have to talk about anuses or penetration and that He doesn’t have to talk at all. He’s in a cell and it’s sterile and obvious and you wish you could switch places and make Him do all the talking of these awful words at this 2am in this lavender room.
It feels like nothing’s happening. In the minutes between the call and the cops at the door, everything happened. You began breathing again and your voice came back and you’re screaming and thrashing and your roommate is scared of you and has locked you both in so that He can’t get you except there’s no lock on the door so he’s pushed a chair up to the knob. When you scream he says “He can’t get you, you’re safe” and he’s angry as he says it and it’s just a chair – just a chair – just a chair before the door which is the only thing that separates you from Him and He’s in the living room just a few feet away. You hate your roommate for being scared and for not hugging you or holding you down or even sitting on the same side of the room. You hate him for telling you that the chair against the door will protect you. You know now you can’t protect yourself. What good is a chair?
When you finally leave the lavender room, they take you to a stainless-steel exam room. It feels safer and real, even though you have to spread your legs for strangers, they’re women and they’re looking and the lights are on bright and you can be silent and somehow this is so much safer the lavender room. The clinical white walls and fluorescent lights are exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
You lie on the table for a long time and they search for DNA like it’s hiding on you and could be anywhere. They search for DNA like you’ve been rolling in gold dust and like a fool you went and shook it all off. Not much is left, but if in some tiny crevice, armpit, touch of the lower back, tongue, abdomen, tussle of hair – if they find one tiny speck of illusive gold powder, you will all have struck rich.
The nurse finishes her form. You dress and by the time you leave, the cop that escorted you is sound asleep in the lobby. You wish he wouldn’t slump over like that because he’s going to save you. You wish he’d been reading a paper in the pastel waiting room like a worried father. Like your father would have done at 2 am in an airport while he was waiting for his airplane to arrive. You don’t wish your father was here, because you have decided this is a dream. None of this is really happening which is why everything feels surreal and nobody’s familiar. When you wake up you won’t remember their faces, this story. You won’t remember these people at all because not one of them is real.
Leaving the center is like leaving a cottage. It should be a cottage with a smoking stone chimney and pebble-framed windows. It’s a lavender cottage and two women are waving you goodbye like you’re leaving on stop in your fairytale and they’re wishing you the best.
Outside, it is night. There are no lamps or fairytale wonders and the coastal air is cold and wet. Big swoops of black air tumble in and out of your lungs, expanding and alive and it would feel wonderful, and you would stand here breathing this air all night in and out in that reassuring beat from your ears. You would live in this breathing and you would rejoice in each breath. You would cherish this moment if you hadn’t just realized you never breathe in your dreams. If you hadn’t just realized this whole night did happen, everything has been real.
Heather is a graduate of US Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies program in creative writing. Heather is currently writing a book about the five years spent working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Heather now works with students at a graduate school in Berkeley where she lives with her exchange-student husband and two rambunctious rescue pups.