A dear friend got in touch with me about a short, autobiographical story that they had written, and asked me to edit and publish it anonymously. I hope you appreciate the story they tell as much as I did. – Corey
I think it’s basically agreed upon that the summer (or at least a few months) after your first boyfriend will be some of the grimmest you’ll deal with. Most dwell on the relationship, drink a little too much, and partake in an ill-advised flirtation before crying… a lot; If you were dumped, anyway. This feeling of rejection is seconded only by the alien feel of separated parents – something I was a little more used to than most, with mine continuing an on again, off again pattern, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. I got unlucky: I got both at once.
I also spent an afternoon in a park with a crying friend, the afternoon the Olympics came to London, the fallout of which has shaped every part of my life for the following four years, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Hi. I feel like I should introduce myself, but I should mention that any identifying elements (names and places) have been changed, obviously, in the hopes that the identity of those involved will be protected. If you believe you know who I am, please keep this information to yourself- and I hope you’re wrong. So, for the purposes of the story, I’ll refer to my friend as Sophie and myself as, well, I. I should also add that this story is pretty grim, and that it deals with substance abuse, mental illness, suicide, sexual assault, and rape. Consider this your trigger warning.
I had met Sophie three years earlier at secondary school. I had been bullied out of one and barely fitted into the second, but found a niche with her and another girl- she crops up later, so I’ll call her Matilda. We were about as far from popular as it was possible to be, but we were ok with it. We gawked our way through school and when we finished our GCSEs, we split up and went to different colleges. It was sad leaving them, but we were there for each other through strange patches and stayed in touch. I, like many girls, found a boy, fell in love and when the relationship ended so did the first year of college. Sophie, Matilda, Matilda’s boyfriend and a friend of Matilda’s met up in a park one sunny afternoon- the afternoon of the Olympics.
I can’t pretend that I liked Matilda’s boyfriend- I had had a crush on her when we were at school, and looking at this smelly, toothless man left me feeling a little confused, and fairly sad. We walked about, ate ice cream and as the afternoon progressed, the others left leaving only myself and Sophie. I spoke a little about my now-ex boyfriend, and about the strangeness of losing my virginity. I knew Sophie wasn’t a virgin- she’d had a pregnancy scare before and had a strange relationship with a boy who lived on her estate. She didn’t seem to mind him, and they had sex, but she seemed utterly dispassionate about it.
This all occurred nearly four years ago, so I’m going off what I had said in a police report later.
We spent most of the afternoon talking, and I eventually found out that Sophie had been raped by a man who had lived near her when she’d lived in a caravan as a young child. She didn’t know exactly how young, but it was around the age of four. She also said that she knew of another girl who’d been around the same man, but had never said anything about it.
It took hours, and a lot of practising the phrasing, but I eventually convinced her to speak to the police about it. She struggled to say the word ‘rape’, and even typing it now makes my hands shake. We called an advice centre, who told us to dial 999. It wasn’t an emergency, obviously, but it turned out to be the right thing to do. We had meetings with the police the next day, if I remember correctly.
One of Sophie’s main concerns was that her family would judge her for what had happened. I tried to tell her that what had happened was in no way her fault- and to this day I have no idea if she believed me. She’d told someone else before, too, and they hadn’t believed her, something that has harmed her more than I can state. Incidentally, around 2% of rape allegations are false- so, dear reader, if a friend tells you something like this has happened to them then they are almost certainly telling the truth.
Sophie and I came to an agreement: she would tell the police everything, and she would stay at my house for as long as it was necessary. It was something I would regret.
My mum picked us up, got us food, and left the TV on in the background. I watched the ceremony continue, and felt increasingly like what was happening to me was not real. I felt like I was waiting for someone to yell ‘cut!’ so we could pack up our things and go home, and watch our characters on Eastenders, or something. I knew my life: I walked the dog, I went to work, I read a lot and that was about it. Nothing like this happened.
The next few weeks have mainly been blacked out by my memory. I know that we were interviewed by the police a lot, and in the following years they have kept my details to contact Sophie, should they need to. They took us for a final interview in a safe house in a nearby town. We’d always been together during the interviews. I was there for moral support, and at the end they would ask me if I had anything to add, or if anything had been forgotten, which I occasionally did. The final interview was different. I stood at the top of the stairs and asked Sophie if she wanted me to come in with her. She shook her head. I gave her a hug, and went downstairs. I sat on the floor- if memory serves, the room was unfurnished- and read Vogue. I have no idea how long I sat there, but it felt like years before I heard movement and everyone else reappeared. This was supposed to be our parting: Sophie was to stay with relatives and I was to return home with my mum. She looked shaken, and I know I will never understand the hell she went through. That summer remains one of the darkest periods of my life, and it is nothing compared to hers. I gave a final statement, alone, the following day and I assumed that it was – finally- over. Around a week later, Sophie returned
I know I gave her books, endlessly, in the hope they might distract her from what was happening. My mother and my sisters went to France, and Sophie and I fell into some sort of routine: I would walk the dog, go to work, miss my boyfriend and try to cope with Sophie. I can’t remember how she acted. Like I said, much of this has been pushed down. I knew that she wouldn’t be with us forever, but I felt more trapped than ever. We looked at refuge places for her when term started.
While my family was away, two things happened. The first was that we received our results for our first year at college. We both did abysmally, and I changed a lot of my courses. My mother was disappointed in me and we had a strained relationship because of that- I blamed her for my father leaving the week that I had my exams, and I think she was angry at me for not doing better. When I left for university, I think my family breathed a sigh of relief that I was out of the way.
The second thing that happened was that I finally snapped. When walking my dog, he snapped at me and I cried for hours, sitting by a barn. I have never studied psychology, so I don’t know if I’m mistaken in saying this but I believe I had a full breakdown. I couldn’t cope any more with Sophie’s face, and when I got home I asked her if she was going to return to hers. As it turned out, she had just been on the phone with them and had planned on returning soon- I’ve never known if that was true. The next morning, she caught the bus and left.
A few months later we had a spat and made up, but I think that there was a lot of depth to it that we’ve never discussed. We’ve never really spoken about that time- Sophie is like her family, who believe that if things are not discussed, they are not real. I kept things quiet, too, partly out of respect for her, partly because I didn’t know how to deal with them. I told a little to a close friend who I knew from college, and therefore had no idea who she was, but otherwise I was silent.
I was busy, too- I studied a lot, but I also had a frantic social life with a new group of friends. I got a boyfriend, dumped him, got a girlfriend, and dumped her after infidelity. They dated. We drank too much, we fucked each other and we tried pot. We were social justice warriors, notorious for picking fights if people made jokes about our sexualities, about mental health, about rape. They don’t know about my experiences, and truthfully I was still very alone. I just hoped enough noise would cover it up.
At some point, Sophie dropped out of college. I wasn’t surprised, to be honest, but she hid it from me and it was only because Matilda jokingly dropped her in it that I found out. Increasingly, we had little contact. I set her up with a friend of mine, and they were together for a while. I don’t know how or when that relationship ended, I just know that it did.
The summer of 2013 was actually as bad, in some ways. I was sexually assaulted by a man I worked with and my parents reunited- I felt like my father left because he didn’t like me, an opinion shared by my sister- and I hadn’t spoken to him since. I had a petty fight with my mother, ran out of the house and lived with my friend. We spent a lot of time with the guy I was seeing and her boyfriend. I was wrapped up enough in my own life that I had no room for Sophie, and I was afraid of what would happen should she return to it. I also had to cope with my own assault, which I did with copious amounts of pot and panic attacks. Nearly three years later, I still get scared. I never told the police what happened, and I felt like a hypocrite.
Surprisingly, I got into a university and went from living a few towns away from Sophie to living across the country. I didn’t want to return- I spent the holidays with my boyfriend, although I spoke to my mother more fondly now I was away. Sophie and I spoke occasionally, awkwardly.
By the time I entered my second year of uni, I thought I was actually doing ok. I had a few, close friends- how I liked it- and I enjoyed my course. I had a few moments of incredulous self-doubt, but put them down to PMS. I spent my time drinking or hanging out with people. I read. I had heard of second year blues, but I wasn’t overly concerned.
One afternoon I received a phone call from Sophie. I have no idea what triggered it, still, but she’d taken an overdose in, presumably, a suicide attempt. You don’t really ask why someone deliberately does something like that. I’d known for years she’d self-harmed but it seemed like she’d put that behind her, although with long sleeves and evasive answers it’s hard to know for sure. I told her to call an ambulance, and she was discharged from hospital later that day.
I was in a darker place than I had ever been, and I called her nightly to try to make her take anti-depressants and visit the doctor. She read out the list of side effects and I told her that the doctors knew what was the right thing to do. Writing now has shown me how completely I trust authority figures, but through these experiences they’ve seemed to do surprisingly well.
This continued for around a month. I never bothered saving her number- I rang her home number, because she constantly lost mobile phones and we spoke so often that she was never more than my second most recent call. She called me often, too. It transpired that her friends at college used drugs, heavily, and whilst I’d smoke a fair amount of weed, I was way out of my depth with this. She called me- and the police- because she could hear screaming in her room, a screaming that only she could hear. I told her that someone else could help, but she wasn’t convinced and fully believed that the voice was real. I believe the term is ‘drug-induced psychosis’, but, again, I’m not a psychologist. She stopped taking them, but when I briefly visited her she took a vindictive pleasure in telling me she wanted to use them again.
This was my first real bout of depression, and I started seeing a therapist. Two other things happened: my boyfriend dumped me, probably partially because of how much the stress affected me; and I got drunk. I lay on my bed, and caught hold of a necklace around my throat. I twisted it until I passed out, and the chain snapped. At least, I think that’s what happened. I stared into nothingness, always. I stopped eating- I have a clear memory of vomiting bile onto the side of one of the university’s buildings- and cried over my disgusting body. I never had anorexia, I simply had no desire to do anything, least of all eat.
Time jumbles again. At some point I realised, enough, that calling Sophie was destroying me. I tried to wean myself off, so she could find someone else- Matilda never occurred to me, and aside from that there was nobody. It didn’t work, and I went a fortnight without calling her. It was something I couldn’t face. I spoke to a friend about it recently, and the best way I could describe it was this: Sophie was Schrödinger’s cat, and I was whoever had to look in the box, but every time I looked in the box the cat was dead. She wasn’t actually dead, but I never heard her say anything that made me feel positive. When we spoke in the evening, she’d discuss the paper. She’d take all day to read it and dissect it, and I think sometimes she liked that I didn’t know or understand a subject that had been the focus of the day. I think there would be many reasons that she would be jealous of me- she doesn’t know I was assaulted too, although her experience was undeniably worse- but I think it grated on her that I had got away, got an education whilst she was stuck with unemployment in a horrible council flat with no way out.
After my boyfriend and I broke up I spent a week sleeping and counting hours. I knew that time was supposed to help, so I spent as much of it as possible unconscious. I slept for at least twelve hours a day, and the rest watching TV- failing any human company, I chose the arms of Morpheus. But they don’t tell you that no amount of sleep will make you less tired of life. I couldn’t stand to be in my own mind, and when the films and TV shows paused for adverts I got agitated enough that it annoyed the people I lived with. I couldn’t cope with anything.
So time blurs again and all I know is that by the end of November I was spending a lot of money on nights out. I had finished therapy and wasn’t told I needed more: I was diagnosed as ‘moderately depressed’, whatever that means, and the sessions had focused on my commitment to my course and plans for the future, which was perhaps what I needed. I left each week feeling like I had had an operation: something inside me had been fixed, but in doing so had created a separate injury, but a good one, that would heal. I was lucky- I never got an infection.
I went out, and kissed strange boys. It wasn’t that I was addicted to alcohol, although it may have appeared otherwise. The truth was I was terrified of being alone. Yet from my party days I made no real friendships, and I don’t think any meaningful relationship or relief from solidarity has ever come from a few moments grinding in a club, let alone waking up next to someone whose name you can’t recall.
I had friends, but no true confidants.
I want to stop writing, I’m exhausted.
At some point, Sophie moved in with some different relatives and got a job- it was nothing interesting, but I think it helped her immeasurably. Sophie, Matilda and I met up in February, and I stayed at her place. It seemed ok, and she seemed alright but I worried about how much she drank and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t keen to leave.
The spring of 2015 raced by, and I left the country. There was nothing for me to return to with my parents, and I craved an adventure of the more exploratory type. I had days of horrible, horrible depression and my panic attacks returned, but mostly I read, swam, worked and drank. My ex-boyfriend, whom I’d started seeing before I left, visited, but apart from that I saw nobody I’d ever met before. I stopped using my phone and social media. I did ok.
The next noteworthy thing happened in a station on January 12th, 2016. I’d spent the winter holidays abroad, with my phone switched off and instructions to anyone who I thought might call me to message me over Facebook instead. Turns out, I hadn’t thought of everyone.
I caught a plane and had taken some vallium (prescribed) for my fear of heights, and it was wearing off as I landed. I’d had to leave someone behind who I never wanted to let go of, and honestly, even without accounting for the jet-lag, I was a mess. The voicemail icon flashed off on my phone, and I assumed it was someone butt-dialling me. Instead, I was informed that the case against the man who raped my friend was going to court. I went a little cold when I heard the name- coincidentally, it was the same as the man who assaulted me. I found out later that the police had written to me, but used my parents address so I never received the letter. As I hadn’t answered their attempts to get in contact, they visited my parents’ house to try and locate me. I spoke to the officer, who asked me if I’d appear as a witness. I don’t know if I paused. ‘I’ll do it,’ I told her. There was no way I could get out of it, especially if I wanted to live with myself.
When I got home, I tried to message Sophie. It turns out you should save somebody’s phone number, each of them- I have a contact list full of numbers but none of them worked. I knew that her home one would be the only one to work, but I had no way of locating it. I sent her a message over Facebook, and heard nothing. I sent another, a few days later, and again heard nothing. Gradually, my messages got angrier. I couldn’t sleep for worrying about her, and neither me nor Matilda nor anyone else I could think to contact had heard from her. It killed me.
It took weeks, but eventually I got a reply from her. It was painfully apologetic and not reassuring in the least to read. She was alive, I supposed. Meanwhile my mother had taken to calling me slightly more frequently than normal, and ‘warning’ me about what would happen in court. I snapped, and told her not to call me until it was all over. I got the occasional text, which I ignored. I heard nothing more from Sophie and put the matter out of my mind. I was told that the trial was supposed to run at the end of March, and time flew by in the way it can only when you are dreading something. I was told I would be called close to the time and informed of when I would be needed. At one point, I spent a fruitless afternoon trying to get in contact with whoever was in charge of the case, so I could ask them if Sophie was ok and if they knew of her past mental struggles.
At some point in the run up, I received a call from Sophie. I happened to be with a friend at the time, and spent the phone call clutching him. She joked about girls we’d been to school with, and satirised politicians- she had me in stitches. And then it switched, and she told me she’d been declared unfit for work- something which I had assumed was impossible in tory Britain- and had been referred to a day hospital. It sounded as though she was lucky- she’d only been on the waiting list for a psychologist for nine months, and she had a doctor who believed she should be hospital. And then, click! Back to the jokes, the reminiscing, the chat. I didn’t sleep that night.
Which brings us to last week. The day before I was due in court I went shopping for something to wear. I tried to deal with the situation with humour, and joked weakly with friends about saluting the judge nervously. Secretly, I thought about making impassioned speeches to the jury that would swing the case and put him in jail forever. I put on my nicest jeans and shoes, and bought a white shirt. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long looking in the mirror, and trying to work out if I would be believable. I looked hungry. I looked tired. But mostly, I looked scared.
The day came and I headed across the country to get to court in time. A delayed train would normally stress me, but I don’t think I could have been any more than I already was. My legs felt funny, like my clothes were too tight. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent a prolonged period of time in shorts and then had to transition back to skinny jeans, but the way they cling to you feels totally alien. I had a book with me which appeared innocent and suddenly transitioned to a description of civil war in Africa, where a man watches his dying sisters being raped by soldiers. I felt angry- how could someone use this for a plot device? I wanted to scream at the whole world.
Thanks to the delay, I caught a taxi five minutes before I was supposed to arrive at court. My phone buzzed- at some point Sophie had acquired a mobile- and she told me that our testimonies had been cancelled. I hadn’t been informed of anything officially, so I went to the courthouse anyway.
The waiting room was uncomfortably hot, and nobody seemed to know what was going on. A woman made conversation with me about university and I wondered if she’d been trained to calm people down.
The prosecutor came down with the police officer who had been in charge of the case. They told me that yes, I wouldn’t be required today. I told them I’d return in the morning, but they seemed concerned about my journey. After everything, it seemed utterly trivial. They seemed nice, and told me that I’d only be needed if the defence wanted to cross examine me. They gave me my statement to look over- they’d spelt both my and Sophie’s names incorrectly, I noted- and I was shocked at how incoherent I had been. The prosecutor returned to the courtroom, and I asked the officer how Sophie was. ‘I want to hug her every time I see her, and tell her everything’s going to be ok’, she said. I knew that. Everyone feels like that about Sophie. ‘Often, after a conviction, the life of a survivor improves.’ I could believe that- I’d had a split second, the day before, where I truly believed if he was found guilty I could do anything. It faded, instantly, but if I could bottle that feeling and give it to Sophie forever, I would, at any cost.
I went home, and received a call. I wouldn’t be needed- the defence wasn’t going to question my statement, so I was off the hook. I leant back, a little.
The following evening I called Sophie. She had given her evidence via video and only had to appear to answer questions on it. I have no idea what happened, but I’m assuming it went terribly. She’d always been a terrible public speaker, but I didn’t think it was going to get to her like this. She wailed- and that’s not exaggerating- down the phone for almost an hour. I spent a lot of time telling her to breathe, and asking her to stop apologising. She made hints that she wanted it all to be over, and I wasn’t sure how far she’d go to make that happen. I messaged Matilda and asked if she could be with her, but Matilda had since moved away and had no more way of getting to her than I did. It turned out she had been drinking, heavily. I hung up, eventually, and dialled 111 and asked them to get a professional to speak to her. I tried to call her again to check, but the line was busy.
The next day I received a text from her about something I’d asked the day before. She made no mention of the previous night’s events, and I replied asking her what had happened. She had no recollection of speaking to me. She called me, and I got angry. The call lasted only a minute or two, but I swore a lot and I haven’t heard from her since. I don’t know if there’s anything left of a friendship to salvage, and I don’t know if I want to try. It’s become a responsibility, and one that has driven me madder than I ever knew I could be driven.
A lot of people- the barrister and the police; my family and my friends- have praised me for being with her, for bravery and loyalty. I mainly feel unworthy- I have stumbled too many times, and walked away. Perhaps at times I have done the right thing, and I’m glad that she was heard, but it has all come at an enormous cost.
Sophie’s attacker was found guilty of her rape, and of other counts. He was sentenced to seven years on top of what he was already serving, and is due to be released when he is 108.
Sophie and Matilda were supposed to meet today. I don’t know if they have. I don’t want to be responsible for her anymore.
 I wanted to think of some theme for names, so I’m going with female characters in Roald Dahl for no apparent reason.