About a week and a half ago, I got rid of my mattress.
It seems like small potatoes, almost inconsequential in the vast scheme of things, but in that moment it was liberating.
I had just gotten a phone call from the D.A.’s office the day before letting me know that my rape case before the grand jury had been no-billed.
For all you kids at home, that means that more than half the jurors in the room voted that there was not enough evidence in my case to take it to trial. Mind you, I had done everything “right.” There was a host of evidence, both physical and circumstantial. I spent 12 hours of my life in the hospital getting a forensic examination (colloquially known as a “rape kit”) done within the requisite 72-hour window (a rape kit which was, incidentally, never tested before grand jury — the fate of thousands of other rape kits in this country every year). I jumped through hoops seeking a no-contact order, appearing in civil court with my rapist a grand total of 6 times between December and June. I testified before the grand jury in May. There was other witness testimony from that evening.
There was entered into evidence an accidental recording on my ACR app of the phone call before he came over to my house that night, a phone call in which I was demonstrably drunk and stated, over and over again, how intoxicated I was, how I didn’t know where my car was, and how grateful I was that the guy who had dropped me off at my house was a “nice guy” and didn’t hurt me — a phone call my rapist apparently saw as a personal challenge, showing up at my house at 4 a.m. with condoms in tow. I turned in my bedsheets, my pajamas, and the condom wrapper to the police, all dutifully wrapped in brown paper bags per their instructions. (Contrary to what CSI may have told you, plastic bags destroy evidence.)
There were text messages entered into evidence in which my rapist told me he “knew I was traumatized” and he “knew I didn’t remember anything that happened that night,” but that perhaps if I met with him he could tell me what happened and set me straight.
My response, unambiguous even as I refused to see him, says it all. “If I don’t remember what happened that night, then what does that say about what you did?”
“Fine,” he shot back. “Just let me know if you decide to press charges.”
Then there were text messages from the days immediately afterwards, before the temporary protective order was in place, in which he repeatedly harassed me, demanding that I stop talking to his girlfriend (my close friend) about it, demanding to know who else in town I had told what happened — text messages that made him look and sound about as innocent as Macbeth.
And yet, out of 24 jurors in that room, at least 13 of them voted to let him walk — that the case did not merit a trial. Let that sink in. I did everything “right,” I had more evidence than 99 percent of women will ever have, and the case was picked up by a prosecutor, which put me in the “lucky” 1 percent of rape victims.
They still let him walk.
I heard a voice that was not my own, very tinny, very far away, say to the A.D.A., “Thank you for doing everything you could.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, and she and I both knew the words were inadequate. “I know this isn’t the outcome you’d hoped for. I can have the victim advocate call you in a little while and check up on you,” she added apologetically.
“Sure, that sounds great,” I said, that odd, tinny voice that was not my own ringing in my ears. I felt as if I were reading from a script and giving the worst audition of my life.
Unsurprisingly, I skirted the victim advocate’s phone calls and contact from every other human being for a few days. Reality has a funny way of demanding to be reckoned with, and I was on the cusp of back-to-back moves: first moving all of my stuff that had been stored at my ex-husband’s house for the past year across town to my house, and then a few days later re-loading a truck to make what would be a five-day cross-country trek with my boyfriend, my cats, and my toddler to my new home in San Antonio.
So I hung up the phone that morning, viciously wiped the stray tears that would persist in falling despite my best efforts, picked up a U-Haul, and did some heavy lifting moving bookshelves out of the home I shared with my ex-husband for years.
The next morning, I threw out my mattress. It was the mattress I was lying on the night I was raped, and the mattress I had proceeded to sleep on for the next six months. I couldn’t lie down in peace without disjointed fragments of memories I’d rather forget: fingers wrapped around my neck choking me out in the darkness. My own drunken voice saying — what? Swirling blackness. Pain. Unremitting pain that lasted a week.
The rest is silence.
They gave me morphine at the hospital for the pain, but they couldn’t ease the nightmares.
I really didn’t need that mattress hanging around.
It had, of course, seen happier days. It was the mattress I had shared for many months with my first boyfriend after splitting with my husband, the one whom I dated off and on for nearly a year, my best friend and closest confidante, the first person I told about my rape, and the one who inadvertently shattered my world when he disappeared for 6 weeks and then called me at work to tell me he had taken a job out of state and was moving away.
I loved him a whole hell of a lot, and I missed him stupid much. So did my son. And so it was that that damn mattress somehow served to remind me both of what was and shouldn’t have been — and what should have been but wasn’t.
It’s no wonder I didn’t sleep for six months.
In hindsight, I think my former boyfriend did love me, after his own way — but not in the ways I needed him to, and certainly not enough to stick around. His absence poured salt in some very open wounds, piggybacked as it was on my failed marriage and my sexual assault. But his presence brought me hope in an otherwise shitty time. He gave me the courage to accept the end of my toxic and abusive marriage, and made me laugh when there wasn’t much to laugh about — and for that I am eternally grateful.
That notwithstanding, the mattress had to go.
And so I dragged it to the curbside, relief coursing through my veins like a shot of morphine in a forensic exam. Sometimes we need to physically let go of whatever it is that is holding us back. And sometimes, just sometimes, that thing is a creaky queen mattress with too many secrets.
The next morning, I departed on my cross-country adventure with my boyfriend, toddler and cats to San Antonio, Texas. While there are plenty of logistics I’m still sorting out, and plenty of growing pains along the way (and I certainly have learned the meaning of the idiom “herding cats”), I feel safe saying, like Little Orphan Annie, “I think I’m gonna like it here.”
I got my final judgment of divorce in the mail after arriving in Texas. The dust has settled on my rape case. My schizophrenic mother is safely 2000 miles away. I’m with people I love and trust, and I feel safe for perhaps the first time in my entire adult life. The ground beneath my feet is a little steadier. The skies are a little bluer. The sun is a little brighter. I have a new mattress now, one with no ghosts of violent crimes or past heartaches. I don’t toss and turn at night anymore, anguish wedged beneath me like the pea beneath the princess.
Sometimes starting over means saying goodbye to the things that have hurt us.
Sometimes starting over means breaking ties with everything we have ever known and venturing into a world of sagebrush and cowboy boots and really good Tex-Mex.
Sometimes starting over means getting rid of your damn mattress.
I’m not all better now. But I’m getting there. And that’s what counts.
By Donna Shute Provencher first published in Donna’s Guide to the Galaxy