This blog post is a mite different from anything I’ve shared on here. It’s darker, a piece of me I still actively sometimes struggle with. The other day I mentioned the effect a past experience had on me to a friend. She asked me a crucial question, during our conversation and I truly wanted to laugh. Not that the experience or the question was in any way humorous. It’s just that the question highlighted how little value the Jamaican culture places on mental health and well being. As a whole, the average Jamaican isn’t counselled following a traumatic experience. We simply ‘move on’ or learn to cope. Invariably, some of us better than others.
So why share my experience now? In highlight of the above-mentioned. That ‘average Jamaican’ who wasn’t counselled after an experience that not only left me racked with fear, but spearheaded decisions made thereafter and continue to plague me today. I walk around with an ingrained fear for my daughter and my sisters, and though I casually discuss these fears in relation to crime ever so often, it remains a part of my everyday life. I often wish I did have someone to talk to. I’m about to celebrate my twenty-ninth birthday in a month and this experience occurred thirteen years ago. While I have moved on from it, I’m not over it. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
The Back Story
I lived with my mother and three younger sisters in a community in Linstead, St. Catherine. While my dad lived a few minutes away, he was ever-present in our lives. He was never farther than the end of a phone call. We saw him a few times a week even though he worked in Kingston, heading out before dawn lit the morning sky and returning only around dusk.
I was sixteen, having started fifth form about a month before. My mother was out that night, not yet back the market, where she sold goods. As I contended with some family issues, the need arose to venture into a neighbouring neighbourhood to the shop.
I remember that I was angry, and annoyed at the situation and at having to go. I felt it was avoidable, and left on my shoulders. I never particularly liked the community I was venturing into, certainly didn’t appreciate the distance. So, I called a friend to accompany me. I should mention said male friend was twice my age, and more or less, tongues wagged as they usually did that we were intimately involved. We weren’t.
But the closer we got the more people talked, and if you know Shandean, then and now, you know I didn’t well care what anyone thought. When I asked him to come with, he came, only asking briefly my reason for needing to go. On the way to, I vented. He listened. That’s all I needed. On our way out of the community, we ran into my mother coming in. I told her where I was going we continued in opposite directions. She too was okay with my friend going with me.
We got to the shop, made the purchase and began the trek back to my house. We’d fallen silent by this time, and walking into the ‘lane’ on either side of the fairly narrow road. It was bare except for us. It wasn’t unusual, it didn’t bother me. People had their doors open. You could hear chatter and televisions blaring as you walked by. In the distance, you could hear that it was busier the farther you walked.
My house was perched at the top of a small but steep hill. Just before the hill started, the road split into two. The tangent hill was small too, but a steeper. When the white Corolla appeared, I noticed it was unfamiliar and wondered passively why it was so heavily tinted. It slowly made its way towards the exit, towards us. The speed wasn’t unusual. The rough terrain of the road required vehicles to move in a similar fashion. I simply removed myself from the way.
My friend had by this time ventured a meter or two ahead, still on the opposite side of the road. The car inched its way past me. When the back door reached me, I heard it.
The tires screeched, noisily bring the car to a halt. In a huff of marl dust, the back door of the car swung open and a man, with his face covered with a black handkerchief, alighted quickly and rushed to me.
I started screaming immediately and uncontrollably. Instinct caused me to recoil from his grasp retreat hastily, except it was into the arms of the driver. He wrapped his arm across my upper body and began to pull me. In flight mode my body went rigid, refusing to be pulled inside. Cold metal pressed against my face as he let go my body in favour of my arm, threatening to hit me in the face with the gun if I didn’t stop screaming.
I wanted to.
I tried to.
This happened in seconds.
Although I was occupied, I didn’t fail to notice that my friend started running at the sound of the screeching tires. Two men gave half interested chase. It was over before it started. He got a small distance from us when he realized I hadn’t moved. He stopped and turned back.
Vaguely, I registered the two men who held me panicking at my screaming. At around 8pm on a Friday, I assumed they knew someone must be watching. One man seemed to grasp the fullness of the situation when he tried to explain to the driver with the gun that it appeared I had “ago” and wasn’t in control of the screaming.
As I faced my own struggle, the driver turned to my friend, calling him over to where we were. I was able to hear a small bit of the conversation going on meters away from us. They were telling my friend to run. Run fast or the would kill him. It dawned on me that they hadn’t as yet attempted to rob either of us and if they were telling him to leave me, it only meant one thing.
My life flashed before my eyes and a fresh wave of fright gripped me. I counted four men, and in that moment, as a sixteen-year-old girl, I had one thought.
“Why the fuck was I still a virgin?! Now I was going to be raped painfully and killed by four men!”
It was that specific thought that caused me to lose control of my bladder. I tried desperately to form a sentence, to inform my friend that I had peed myself. But somehow the words wouldn’t form, no matter how hard I tried.
This entire time my friend talked to the men who held onto him calmly. Agreeing and attempting to placate them, asking what they wanted. Again, they encouraged him to run. He stood there calmly responding that he wouldn’t do that. At this point, he handed over his two cellphones and some cash, encouraging them to take them and go. The two men who held me then called their friends and my friend over, telling him to come “shut me up”.
He talked me down just enough to make out my words. When he finally got wind of what I said, he looked down. The men also looked down. As if I was now tainted, the driver let me go, while another chuckled.
Within seconds, they retreated. The driver squeezed my butt and discovered my phone there. He took it before each of them entered the car and sped off.
When they left, my friend said something about calling the police and dashed into a neighbour’s yard, calling out to them. I know they heard him, still, it took them a while to respond.
As if automated, I simply climbed the hill and within a minute, entered my house. I said nothing to anyone. I simply retreated to the bathroom, changed my clothes and slid into bed. A few minutes later, I heard my friend knocking up my mother, asking her where I was.
Confused she told him I went to bed. They talked a bit about what happened, and then about the fact that I simply walked in as if nothing happened. My friend was furious. Apparently, his call to the police station ended with the police saying they couldn’t come immediately. They also wanted to know what kind of guns the criminals had. I didn’t care. I just wanted to sleep.
By the way, the police never bothered to show up.
I don’t remember if I actually slept that night. What I remembered clearly was that the following morning I erupted in a fit of uncontrollable laughter that frightened my mother and sisters.
Monday morning I went to school and word spread among classmates about the ordeal. One guy saw it fit to comment ” Next time if they’re gonna rape you just set good.” Others laughed and he continued about how much it would be wise to not fight off someone if they were raping you. As the day wore on, and the news passed around, another bit of news was also passed.
About three hours after the attempt to take me they went to another community and come upon a boy and girl walking. This girl wasn’t as lucky as I was. The guy took a few hits to the face with a gun, and when they told him to run, he did. Her body was found the following morning. She’d been raped and her throat slashed.
The months that followed were terrible. I was fine during the day and kept it together. At night, my memories and thoughts tormented me. Nightmares plagued me. More often than not, I would call or text my friend between 1am and 3am. He became so used to it, he would wait by the phone for my message. Insomnia was the norm. But I forced myself to continue throughout the day as normal. Whenever I caught a glimpse of a car that looked like the car, I would feel frightened. My heart in the back of my throat.
Two years after the ordeal, I made the decision to have sex for the first time. I didn’t do it because of peer pressure. I didn’t think I was in love and going to be with the person forever. I just wanted two things. One, to not be a virgin anymore, and two so that I could stop feeling the fear that someone else would decide when or how for me. I wanted to stop holding my breath. I wanted it to be my choice before someone else took it.
I had amazing friends and wonderful support in them, but I never felt I could share this with them. It was my cross to bear and I felt like everyone else around me was over it, so I should be too, or at least pretend to be so as to not appear weak. But when I went home, my thoughts and nightmares filled the voids.
I’m sharing this now to increase awareness. Other than my friend that was there, not once, did anyone ask me if me I was okay, without meaning physically. Everyone simply assumed I was, so I felt compelled to be. I shudder to think of all the children and people who have had traumatic experiences and never even suggested professional help. As a whole, I don’t think we acknowledge the realness of mental illnesses, including the very real Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A few months ago I came across a car in the likeness of the one from that night. I was afraid. I felt panicked and for a few weeks, my nightmares returned.
We assume that if the physical is unharmed or better, all is well. It’s not true. Please check on the persons around if you know they’ve been through a situation. For me, my parents didn’t know any better.
We can educate each other going forward.