Rape Victim to Survivor… and Speaker… and Writer

By Rachael Brooks

Never in a million years would I have considered myself a writer. I don’t have an English degree. I never wrote for the school paper or fell in love with a classic literary work. Hell, I have never even been much of a reader. 

I did, however, have about 32 journals as a kid and well into young adulthood. Some of them literally contained one entry: 

“August 23, 1997: Hi! My name is Rachael and this is my diary.” 

I introduced myself to this new blank space and that was it.  While others had every page filled front and back, mostly with the chronological happenings of my days and then some wise thoughts sprinkled here and there. I treasured these journals, whether blank or full. I brought them to life and made them mine. Always drawn to the stationary aisle in stores, I would stare in awe at all the beautiful blank books propped up on their shelves with their simple or intricate covers. I wanted them all, regardless of my current journal status at that time. Perhaps this is why I hoarded them in surplus. 

As I got older, I journaled less and less. My entries became more specific, like about what I ate that day or a favorite quote I came across. Eventually, life just got in the way and journaling became nonexistent. My plethora of masterpieces went into one of those bins you store Christmas decorations in. And that was it. The end of an era. 

Following my graduation from college, it was the summer of 2008, and I was on cloud nine.  I moved to Washington, D.C. to intern at a big accounting firm, and my boyfriend and I decided to live together for those three months. If I had been journaling at the time, I imagine the entries would have been filled with words of love and excitement, heart doodles, and inspirational quotes about success. Unfortunately, those giddy thoughts and feelings came to a screeching halt about three weeks into my new adventure. 

June 29, 2008. 

A day forever etched in my memory. A day that changed my life forever. My boyfriend and I were in the fight of the century over our Saturday plans – epic, I know. Thus, we ended up doing our own things that night. He went to a cookout. I struggled to make plans, but damnit I was determined to do something. So, I reached out to a distant cousin that I last saw when I was ten, who thankfully lived in D.C. at the time. In fact, I probably journaled about meeting her. Sounds like something my ten-year-old self would do. At any rate, we hit it off immediately and had a fantastic night full of bar hopping and fun. 

As the night ended, my boyfriend and I drunkenly fought and yelled and hung up on each other multiple times. We’ve all been there. Having every intention of sleeping at my cousin’s apartment that night, I got that one last phone call at about 3 a.m. begging me to come home. As any girl who wanted to make things better with her boyfriend, I left. So now it was about 3:30 in the morning, and I found myself waiting for a cab. 

I came from a bubble of a college town, never having taken a cab before. The car finally showed up, I had been waiting for what seemed like forever. I jumped in the front seat, as the back seat was covered in all sorts of things, and soon realized the man driving the car was a monster. Worse than a monster. He was the devil reincarnated into a fake cabby. Pretending to talk to another customer on his phone, he pulled over in the middle of a highway, and I had no clue where I was. He then explained he was lost, and before I knew it, he was on top of me with a knife. 

He said, slightly louder than a whisper so I could him clearly, “If you scream, fight or try to get away, I will kill you.” He proceeded to rape me after I begged to do anything but I laid there, frozen, thinking that was it for me at 22. I had lived a pretty decent life, right?  Had a fun childhood, with all my journals, just graduated from college. It was a good life. 

But I knew I wasn’t done living. 

I survived. The reincarnated devil let me live. And I had been given a second chance. 

The years that followed were intense. They were therapy filled, stabilized with medications, numbed with alcohol. I experienced every known emotion, from anger to sadness to guilt.  There were parts of those years that were such a blur I don’t even remember them. And as I coped with the rape, I created a different version of myself. A version that was bubbly, fun, outgoing, and happy on the outside, but was dying on the inside. It was hell. Some days, I was done. Couldn’t do it anymore. But then this tiny shred of hope would shine through, and I would keep going. 

My case ended after four years of dealing with the devastating justice system, and it brought me such relief. Things did not exactly end the way I wanted them to, but I had my own sense of justice. I finally had some closure. The monster no longer controlled my life. I did. And in that moment, my second chance at life began. 

After years of living that alternate version of myself, I decided I wanted to speak about my story. I wanted to help other rape victims in any way I could – to let them know they weren’t alone, to share my experience of reporting, and to maybe even prevent a rape from happening in the first place. I connected with an amazing non-profit organization in my hometown, and it truly changed my life. I became a part of their Survivor Speaker’s Bureau and off I went. I spoke at large college events. I sat on college panels. I was featured in the organization’s annual fundraising videos as a survivor. I was coming forward and it exhilarated me. Every time I told my story, a small part of me healed. 

A few years into speaking, the #MeToo movement rocked the world. All of a sudden, sexual assault survivors were all over the news. It was miraculous and unbelievable. In general, I feel that we as women are so often told to be quiet. It isn’t a big deal. Move on. Everything is fine. But in the spring of 2017, that time was no longer. Women were loud. It was a big deal. We weren’t moving on. And everything wasn’t fine. This empowerment swept the world by storm and more and more people were coming forward with their stories.  What a time to live in. I felt invigorated to continue sharing my story. The years of shame and guilt had slowly been melting away. 

In the fall of 2017, I threw out this crazy idea to my husband. I said, “What if I join the #MeToo movement and write a book?” My husband immediately responded, “Do it! You could totally do that.” I thought to myself, really? Me, write a book? I’m not a writer. My portfolio consisted of 32 half written journals. And I was a tax accountant for God’s sake. Tax accountants aren’t supposed to write books. I didn’t bring the idea up again. In fact, I talked myself out of the idea completely. It was absurd.  

But, I couldn’t let it go. 

After months of trying to bury the idea, I brought it up to my husband again. We started spit balling ideas back and forth in the car on our way to the mountains for our second babymoon. I was pregnant, and at that point, I knew these thoughts of a book were more than just my hormones making me crazy. I pulled out my phone and created a new “note” titled “Book”.  My fingers typed at the speed of light with ideas of what the book should be called, different chapter names, how I should begin and end the story, what I wanted the cover to look like. I soon realized that I had to do this. I wanted to do this. It was going to be emotional and scary and a huge risk, but there was something within pushing me to write this story of survival. And so I did. 

I sat down on a random Saturday in February 2018, and the first four chapters poured out of my soul. I quickly realized I had something good. It was raw, violent, honest, but also provided hope and the belief that you can make it to the other side of trauma. I was living proof of it. 

Within the year, I connected with my fantastic editor, who took me on as a client, and helped me create my once absurd pipe dream into “Beads: A Memoir about Falling Apart and Putting Yourself Back Together Again”. It is the harrowing story of the past eleven years of my life, and my determination to turn myself into a survivor by putting my life back together. We can look at life as a beaded necklace. Mine was brutally ripped from my neck, and my beads scattered everywhere. Some were lost for good. Some were found over the years and were discolored or broken. Some were added as new beads. Over time, however, I put my necklace back together. The beads were on the same strand but looked completely different.

Anyone who has experienced trauma can do this, too.

Beads reveals the realities and challenges survivors face, as well as the rollercoaster of emotions through each part of the journey. It evokes courage and hope and everything in between. So, I guess those million years have passed me by, and I can now confidently say I am a writer. As scary as it is, Beads is my adult journal, and I am ready to share my words with the world.

Rachael currently lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two children. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a die-hard Carolina fan – Go Heels! She is a former tax accountant and CPA who is now a stay-at-home mom. Rachael loves to travel when she can and also enjoys exploring her hometown of Raleigh. Strolling the Target aisles with her youngest, having impromptu cul-de-sac parties, watching college basketball, and frequenting the many different local coffee shops are among her favorite activities. Check out Rachael’s website (www.rachaelbrooks.com) and follow her journey on Instagram (@rbrookswriter)! Her memoir, “Beads”, is available for preorder now at Amazon, Target, and Barnes and Noble!

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