That violación. Not enough pages in the world to describe what it did to me. The whole planet could be my inkstand and it still wouldn’t be enough. That shit cracked the planet of me in half, threw me completely out of orbit, into the lightless regions of space where life is not possible. I can say, truly, que casi me destruyó. Not only the rapes but all the sequelae: the agony, the bitterness, the self-recrimination, the asco, the desperate need to keep it hidden and silent. It fucked up my childhood. It fucked up my adolescence. It fucked up my whole life. More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me. I spent more energy running from it than I did living. I was confused about why I didn’t fight, why I had an erection while I was being raped, what I did to deserve it. And always I was afraid—afraid that the rape had “ruined” me; afraid that I would be “found out”; afraid afraid afraid. “Real” Dominican men, after all, aren’t raped. And if I wasn’t a “real” Dominican man I wasn’t anything. The rape excluded me from manhood, from love, from everything.
The kid before—hard to remember. Trauma is a time traveller, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before. Only fragments remain. I remember loving codes and Encyclopedia Brown and pastelones and walking long distances in an effort to learn what lay beyond my N.J. neighborhood. At night I had the most vivid dreams, often about “Star Wars” and about my life back in the Dominican Republic, in Azua, my very own Tatooine. Was just getting to know this new English-speaking me, was just becoming his friend—and then he was gone.
No more spaceship dreams, no more Azua, no more me. Only an abiding sense of wrongness and the unbearable recollection of being violently penetrated.
By the time I was eleven, I was suffering from both depression and uncontrollable rage. By thirteen, I stopped being able to look at myself in the mirror—and the few times I accidentally glimpsed my reflection I’d recoil like I’d got hit in the face by a jellyfish stinger. (What did I see? I saw the crime, my grisly debasement, and if anyone looked at me too long I would run or I would fight.)
By fourteen, I was holding one of my father’s pistols to my head. (He’d been gone a few years, but he’d generously left some of his firearms behind.) I had trouble at home. I had trouble at school. I had mood swings like you wouldn’t believe. Since I’d never told anyone what had happened my family assumed that was just who I was—un maldito loco. And while other kids were exploring crushes and first love I was dealing with intrusive memories of my rape that were so excruciating I had to slam my head against a wall.
Of course, I never got any kind of help, any kind of therapy. Like I said, I never told anyone. In a family as big as mine—five kids—it was easy to get lost, even when you were going under. I remember my mother telling me, after one of my depressions, that I should pray. I didn’t even bother to laugh.
When I wasn’t completely out of it I read everything I could lay my hands on, played Dungeons Dragons for days on end. I tried to forget, but you never forget. Night was the worst—that’s when the dreams would come. Nightmares where I got raped by my siblings, by my father, by my teachers, by strangers, by kids who I wanted to be friends with. Often the dreams were so upsetting that I would bite my tongue, and the next morning I’d spit out blood into the bathroom sink.
And in no time at all I was failing everything. Quizzes, quarters, and then entire classes. First I got booted out of my high school’s gifted-and-talented program, then out of the honors track. I sat in class and either dozed or read Stephen King books. Eventually I stopped showing up altogether. School friends drifted away; home friends couldn’t wrap their heads around it.
Senior year, while everyone was getting their college acceptances, I went another way: I tried to kill myself. What happened was that in the middle of a deep depression I suddenly became infatuated with this cute-ass girl I knew at school. For a few weeks my gloom lifted, and I became utterly convinced that if this girl went out with me, if she fucked me, I’d be cured of all that ailed me. No more bad memories. I’d been watching “Excalibur” on heavy rotation, so I was all about miraculous regeneration. When I finally got up the nerve to ask her out and she said nope, it felt as though the world had finally closed the door on me.
The next day I swallowed all these leftover drugs from my brother’s cancer treatment, three bottles’ worth.
You know why I didn’t try again the next day?
Because my one and only college acceptance arrived in the mail. I had assumed I wasn’t going anywhere, had completely forgotten that I had any schools left to hear from. But as I read that letter it felt as if the door of the world had cracked open again, ever so slightly.
I didn’t tell anyone I tried to kill myself. Something else I buried deep.