Within less than one week of losing one pop icon to health problems exacerbated by addiction and domestic abuse, another pop icon publicly reconciled with her boyfriend who continually punched her in the face. It’s been hard to watch and hard to hear. I have had to distance myself in the wake of the GRAMMY performances and Whitney Houston’s death. In barbershops, subways, dining halls, and office buildings, I’m hearing the same refrain from people who look like me, girls and boys alike.
It’s good to finally see Chris Brown on his feet! Why won’t they let Bobby attend Whitney’s funeral?
Every time I hear these sentiments, I wonder about my future as a black woman looking for love. I wonder about my family, and a culture that can root for a boy who publicly abuses his lover. I think about the poor example my fave current pop icon is setting by “reconciling” with her former abuser. I am filled immediately with anger, and then with sorrow, followed by empathy.
Yes, a strong sense of empathy. Because I have been there.
The summer following my freshman year at college, my grandfather made me get a job. I was content to lay around his house for 2 months, soaking up the sun, but he demanded that any able-bodied adult in his house work. I reluctantly began a part-time summer career in retail at a wholesale warehouse. I was bored out of my mind. Most of the people working there couldn’t speak or spell or compose proper sentences. I instantly bonded with my supervisor, who was slightly older, super sexy, and going to top-tier university. Our short affair ended badly, after learning that he had placed a bet that he would be the first person in the office to date me. The next day I also learned that he had a fiancee’. Apparently everyone knew but me.
Summer romances are just that, and I didn’t feel that bitter. I tucked the experience in my mental accordion file labeled Boys Suck and went about my business. We kept in touch minimally. It didn’t seem like a totally bad idea to invite him to my 20th birthday party. I actually didn’t think he would show up.
Actually, he showed up hours in advance when I was all alone. I was surprised, but didn’t care much. I was in an outrageously good mood due to some Smirnoff Ice. He stayed for less than an hour.
The whole hour was a blur. Actually, it wasn’t. I remember every excruciating detail. The flirting. The insults. The confusion. The rape.
What do you do when you’re raped right before your birthday party starts?
You pretend it didn’t happen. People are waiting on you. People are expecting you to smile.
I don’t know how I made it through that weekend. I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what I was feeling or analyze why I pretended to go on with my life because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.
I finally broke down and told my favorite aunt and my dad, thinking that I would find some comfort, or better yet, anger.
What I got was the opposite. My aunt told me that most rapes were the girl’s fault for making poor decisions or dressing provocatively. She wanted to continue shopping at the discount warehouse where my rapist was a supervisor. After all, it wasn’t his fault. We would be out and she would stop by the store unannounced on the way home. I ended up repeatedly unloading a cart, looking right into the face of a man who took away my safety and sense of self. I was made to feel dirty, weak, and UnChristian for not immediately forgetting and moving past it. I forced myself to do something so perverse that it began to feel normal. And normal makes people happy. A girl who talks openly, with raw emotion, about the bad things that happened to her is a nag, a bore, a bitch. She is not fun to have at family gatherings. She is not fun to interview because people do not like what she has to say. In one of her shows Oprah talked about having to make breakfast for a family member everyone knew had raped her. I was appalled by the story, and even more disgusted to realize that I had basically done the same thing. I was hoping Rihanna wouldn’t fall into the same trap (she seems so rebellious and strong), but that’s an image. She is a young girl in an abusive relationship who the whole world told her to forgive. So she forgave him.
My only prayer is that she, and all the faceless nameless girls in the same situation, can later learn to forgive themselves.