Photo Illustration: Jonathan Barkat
I was raped one night last summer in Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I live. A friend and his sister had come over for dinner, and soon after they left, at 10:30, a neighbor came knocking. Water was gushing into her house from a construction site next door. I knew the builder, and the neighbor asked if I would call to tell him. I went upstairs, called the builder, then forgot to go back down and double lock the door. I was on the Internet, absorbed in looking up Benedictine monasteries, a recent preoccupation. I was investigating becoming a contemplative nun, trying to find a community that seemed right for me. At 12:10, shocked to be up so late, I put aside my laptop and promptly went to sleep.
At approximately 1 A.M., I was awakened by a rapist in my bed, his head inches from my own, a knife in his hand. I could make out the dark silhouette of a roundish man in a baseball cap, propped on his elbow beside me. I knew immediately who he was—the serial rapist who'd terrorized my town for the past eight months.
"Shhh, don't scream," he said in accented English. "I have a knife."
I recognized it immediately as the knife I'd cut limes with earlier and left on the counter. "Don't do this," I heard myself say. "This is not right. It's sick."
He told me I talked too much. He waved the knife closer to my face.
"Now I will be raped," I thought.
And a worse thought: "I could lose my faith in God. After all my devotion, God has permitted this."
I began to tremble.
"I'm going to be sick," I said. He knocked the heel of his hand on my shoulder. "Calm down," he said. "Look," and he placed the knife on the little altar beside the bed. "It's all right."
I will not write the details of the rape itself. Suffice it to say that I kept my arms crossed against my chest and my head turned away. The sexual ordeal lasted three minutes, the violating member was one inch long, the rapist never touched any other place on my body. Afterward he wanted to talk. "Are you Ingleterra?" he asked. "What's your name? Is your name Penelope? I see you on the street. You look good. Are you married? Where are you from?"
> I am blessed to live in a community of strong women, four of whom had been raped by this man. They had not hidden away in shame but let the details of their rapes be known. And so I was aware that the first two women had fought him and been badly beaten. The next two women had not resisted and escaped physically unharmed except for the horrific sexual violation. I knew, too, that the rapist stayed for four or five hours, repeating his sexual assaults, that he liked to talk, to confess that he is a sick man who can't help himself, a confession that would arouse him again. So I decided not to answer one question, not to engage him in any conversation. I would pray in order to freak him out.
I said the first Hail Mary in English, then realized I should be using the language of this man's childhood: "Dios te salve Maria..."
> "Stop it," he said. I said, "I'm praying for you"—which had not been true, but as soon as I said the words I understood that praying for him would be a very good thing to do, that I should be praying for him. So now, saying the next Hail Mary, I asked God, Jesus, the Virgin, the Holy Spirit, all the angels and saints and any other mystical agent of good to make this man see the harm he was doing. He kept talking as I prayed, patted my shoulder, told me everything would be okay, asked if I wanted wine or beer.