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Oct 23

Celia’s Story: I am not a Soldier

I have a disease that belongs to those of war, to those who’ve seen the blood spilled over a hill that everyone wants. A strategically placed mound of dirt, now covered in blood, a hill that will turn the course of a war in someone’s eyes. An important someone who isn’t there to feel the fight. An important someone who is staring at a piece of paper with little plastic bits, like a monopoly game, but the loser doesn’t forfeit a boardwalk, the loser dies. But, by winning that mound now made of flesh and blood and bones one powerful country can claim victory over another, and these young men are all willing to die due to that final hill.
Those sights and sounds and smells are what leads to the acronym PTSD. A disease caused by witnessing, participating, experiencing the horrors that hill contained. That the many hills contain. It’s not considered a civilian disease, we don’t experience those horrors, but we do. I know. I know because that acronym has been assigned to me now. I didn’t fight for a strategic hill. I fought for my life in another way. I fought for my body, my dignity, my sense of self. But, I lost.
As a 59 year old woman I was raped. I was raped by four men who felt that shaming a woman was their right, their privilege. My clothes were torn, my body was ripped apart. I remember their scents, the lotions they splashed on their faces before they left their homes in the hopes of attracting someone. They didn’t attract me and I paid for that.
They’d wanted my camera bag, the most precious items I owned were my cameras. They were my tools in life. My way of capturing the beauty of an island I moved to with so much hope. A retirement so many dream of, a tropical paradise with sandy beaches and swaying palms. Turquoise waters so clear you could see for dozens of feet, maybe more. I recorded the sunsets, no two were the same. I photographed the young lovers as they kissed while sitting on the sand with blue skies overhead. I photographed young children learning to play games, their laughter contagious, their joy captured on film.
I had that bag with me, it contained all my cameras, lenses, batteries, my id, my money, everything that made me, me. But, it was almost 9:00 and I’d stayed out a little too long. There had been a singer at a popular club who had the voice of a lover reaching out to another and I just had to take his picture. But, they saw me, my camera, my bag, me.
I walked quickly in the opposite direction. It didn’t matter. Anywhere I’d go at that point in time had dark spots, alleys, doorways, storefronts. I hailed a cab, it didn’t come soon enough. Pushed against a wall, they made kissing sounds, and soft sounds, they giggled like schoolboys, but filled with menace just the same. I fought them for my bag, for my cameras. I lost.
But they weren’t finished. They dragged me into an empty parking lot and then one simply lifted me and dropped me straight to the ground. No soft sounds now, just laughter, words of encouragement in a language I didn’t understand. One was already ready, but unhappy that I wasn’t wet, I was flipped onto my stomach. My face was pushed into the ground so hard they broke the cartilage and bones that held my teeth in. I would lose two of them several months later. I’m expected to lose more as time goes on. Arms then wrapped around me and pulled me so my behind was in the air. Hands held my face into the ground. The pain was unbelievable, and I tried so hard to fight. But, no-one heard me with my face in the gravel. Then they decided that for moisture they’d pour beer on me there. Beer so the one could feel more comfortable as he tore into me.
The one who’d been holding my head at this point then pulled me up so that I had to take him in my mouth. I didn’t understand what he said, but I knew what he meant. I’d best not hurt him, I’d die if I hurt him.
One more came into me from behind and they poured more beer. Having finished the man in front my head was dropped and I was left to just feel. When the last one was done he spat on me. One pulled down my dress, but took my panties with him. They kept laughing, but it was dying out now. I had no strength to move so one kicked me to make sure I was still alive. Then they left.
I don’t know how long I laid there. I didn’t feel like I’d ever move again. Ten minutes, two hours, I don’t know, but I finally pushed myself up. I couldn’t sit, but I could lay on my hips. I had no money, no bag, no id, and no idea where I was. It wasn’t until I started to walk that I realized that I was just two blocks from where I had photographed the singer. I went there and tried to tell the few people still there that I’d been raped. No-one understood what I said, I was pushed away, literally. I was bad for business.
I went to another bar and again tried to tell people I’d been raped. But all that happened there was a man offered me a shot, I drank it and I walked away. I kept walking and I’d see a couple, or a person by himself, but no-one wanted anything to do with the woman with the cut face, the messed hair, and the blood on her legs. It wasn’t until days later that I realized I must have stunk of beer as well.
An ambulance arrived, out of nowhere. A woman stepped out. I told her what happened, I don’t think she understood me. But, no hospital for me, they took me straight to the police station. After trying to answer questions from four or five men who only spoke Spanish, finally one man appeared who spoke a little English, but it was clear he didn’t believe my story. Then another man showed up, and my landlord’s daughter was with him. They must have gone to my home when I told them where I lived. Thank God she was there, because the man was a doctor. He took me into a room that had a stretcher, and with four male police officers present, he examined me. The rape was confirmed and I was sent home.
I had been in AA for a long time, but I drank for three weeks solid. I kept seeing their faces, smelling their scents, hearing their laughter, feeling the spit, smelling the beer, and living the pain. During the first week it was reported on the local news three times. Each time was different. It was also reported in the local newspapers, three times, each one different. The final newspaper report stated that I was walking the streets at 1:00 in the morning, was upset my bag had been taken, but no signs of violence was evident.
Expats divided in their theories of what happened. They decided that it either didn’t happen, because these sorts of things don’t happen on the Island of Paz. The other group decided that, due to my walking the streets at 1:00 in the morning by myself, I was asking for it. But, four special women knew I told the truth and they helped me to heal as best they could.
But, now I’m on that hill made of dirt, blood, and bones. I may not wear a uniform, but I’m a woman and that seems to be all that is required. I still have nightmares, I still feel it, I still hear them, I still smell them and it’s been over two years now. I take lots of medication for my diagnosis. I have PTSD and I never went to war, the war came to me.

 

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WYR

When You’re Ready.org is a community for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories.

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