It had been a rough five months leading up to that warm August day in 2016. I had been unemployed and living on a tiny savings and then in that last month before getting my job, I relied on the kindness of my landlord and the Jewish Community in Boston, while I waited for a job to come through. Which it did, finally, in July.
From July 19th to that warm August day, I thanked the universe for the gift of being able to pay rent and to get up each morning and do work I loved. I had landed a job as a account manager at a hip marketing agency in downtown Boston helping teachers learn Microsoft technology so that they could be both better teachers and could meet students in their native technology comfort zone.
I felt free. Alive. Finally comfortable living in the Boston area, which was still a new town for me after living in Colorado and California for so many years. While still foreign, the new job gave me more confidence to explore the city and to try new things. Perhaps, being cocooned in Boulder for so many years had made me less afraid of the dangers that lurk “out there”. But my new company was filled with people like myself: active, creative and passionate about living life to its fullest. I let myself trust and believe in the goodness of the world and in the city that seemed to embrace me.
Before moving to Boston, I suffered what seemed like an endless barrage of tragedies: surviving three brain tumors and three subsequent surgeries, losing my identical twin (and what felt like my entire world) and then only a few short years later having to undergo a radical hysterectomy due to advanced disease, before the age of 40, leading to the inability to ever have my own biological children. It was also during this time, that I loved and lost another important person in my life-my significant other of five years. The ending of our relationship was the impetus for my move from Boulder, CO to the Boston area.
That warm August day, the day I decided to find a local massage therapist to alleviate some of the post-surgical back pain, was a pivotal one for me. I had waited many months to be able to do something nice for myself. There were days in those months before I got my job, where if I was able to eat one healthy balanced meal, that was an accomplishment. So, you can imagine, how proud and excited I felt having the money I needed to give myself something a little extra.
Having gone to massage therapists for more than 25 years, I was no stranger to the licensing process or questions to ask the therapist before going to a session. That day, I researched local massage therapists in Somerville and found Karma Bodywork. I read the testimonials from women, I looked up the therapist’s license number and then I spoke to him on the phone. It all seemed to line up with all my previous experiences. Sure, he was a new massage therapist trying to get his practice off the ground, but, I had gone to massage therapists before in similar situations. Had I not spoken to him on the phone, I know I wouldn’t have gone. I would have decided going to a home office wasn’t necessarily the safest move. But he was disarming on the phone. He spoke clinically about Swedish massage. He also told me he was Jewish and from NY (two things we had in common). Growing up in a tight-knit Jewish community in NY, the people had always been good to one another. Was it naïve to think I was safe? This is the question that has plagued me since that day, as it plagues all survivors. And yet implicit in asking the question is the notion that somehow it is the victim’s fault. And, I can say with certainty I have zero liability.
That warm August day, I breathed in deeply as I walked from my condo to his apartment building only a few blocks away. I didn’t expect him to be waiting outside. And I felt a bit taken aback that he seemed to recognize me. But, of course there is Facebook and no one is really anonymous anymore. Still, the little hairs on my neck stood up. This is the part of the story, where I, like so many survivors, wish I could turn back time because I would have paid attention to those hairs and quickly walked the opposite direction. But, I had waited so many months. And he said all the right things on the phone. And the testimonials from other women seemed positive. Maybe those little hairs were wrong.
When he greeted me he had an unassuming, gentle, hipster style. Wearing a red knit cap, a black fitted t-shirt and jeans he looked like any other Somerville hipster. He led me to his apartment. We sat at this kitchen table. He explained his approach to Swedish massage. He asked me if I had an issue with thigh work because it was intimate. I still had no inkling of what was to come. The alarm bells didn’t go off completely until he commanded me to take my underwear off. What had been optional was now an order. And well, dear readers the rest is a terrible blur.
A blur that is no one’s business. Or it shouldn’t be. Except, my rape and the actions I have taken since it happened have made my private parts very public. My pain and suffering have become critical to the indictment of this man on rape charges and have led to three other women coming forward with almost identical experiences.
It led me to tell my new employers that I was raped and needed to go to the police station to file a report. It led to a drastic change in how they looked and treated me afterwards.
In one instant, I went from Jenna the competent, fun and capable manager to a rape victim. Do you know what it is like to have people you barely know picturing you being violated? To know that my own bosses now had this visual? To know that I was and would never again be just the woman they hired?
But, that wasn’t even the worst part. It would get so much worse and my life would become unrecognizable. The constant flashbacks throughout my day, seeing my rapist at the Dollar Store across the street from my home and at the café only a few doors down from there. Knowing he was only a few blocks away and that I would never feel safe. That he could pop up anywhere at any time. Having to take Ubers to work for fear of seeing him on the T and then being fearful of male Uber drivers because what if they too turned out to be predators and I again trusted one of them to my detriment?
It led to the loss of several female friends who implied that I had no discernment skills and that I should never have gone in the first place. “Perhaps, now, I’d finally learn my lesson not to trust at all.”
It led to me becoming a recluse and prisoner in my own home and eventually to me leaving the state of Massachusetts.
It led to constant flashbacks of his hands and his mouth and the look on his face when he followed me to Whole Foods after the attack.
Night and day became undistinguishable. Flashbacks, nightmares. What was the difference?
This is what the court wants to hear. The impact the rape has on the survivor. And this blog is an attempt to do just that.
I am irrevocably changed in ways that have made my footsteps heavier in this world. A world where even going to a professional massage therapist has life altering consequences. A world that asks women to protect themselves at all times from men and yet there is nothing in our society that prevents men from raping in the first place. A world where the right to a fair trial makes the trial process unbearable for the victim as it draws out over years forcing the victim to live in limbo and at the mercy of what is just and right for the man who has violated us. Our power stripped from us first by our rapist and again by the justice system. We are the faceless, nameless ones who have to try to go on with our lives, while our rapists wait for what’s fair- FOR THEM. And then there’s our day in court, where we will be called to testify about the violation of our bodies and souls to a room full of strangers where we talk about our vaginas and breasts while big, hot tear drops fall from our eyes and we tell ourselves over and over again he can’t hurt us anymore.
That will be my experience soon, this November, when I am called to testify ( please God give me strength).
I Want to Believe
Besides writing about how this rape has impacted me, I want more than anything to get back to the woman I was. The woman who believes in the goodness of people. I want to meet her on that warm summer day two years ago and tell her she didn’t do anything wrong. That it’s ok she didn’t run and then froze on the massage table out of sheer terror. I want her and every other woman to stop perpetuating rape culture where women are to blame and to instead take issue with the thing that makes it possible to violate another human being. I want her to know that her new normal is ok too and that I am in awe of her strength to stand up to this man and to help stop him from hurting other women even though there have been more victims since her attack.
And I want to tell those other women. I am so sorry. My heart is with you. We will see justice. There will be a reckoning. But we will have to be strong and speak the unspeakable. I promise we can do this ladies. I promise these scars will fade.