Damn, damn, damn! Panic starts to swell in my throat. I didn’t have my phone on me and the office space behind the door was empty. I am going to die in the emergency exit passage on my first day of my first official job ever.
Think. Be clever.
“Ummm… Help?” I squeak. “Help. Hello! Help!”
I realise that I’m going to have to make a lot of noise.
I bang on the door and make noises: “Helloooooooo! Anyone out there! Hi! Hi there! There’s someone on the other side! He-!” The door opens. A very puzzled looking young fellow stands behind it and stares at me.
“Thanks!” I chirp.
He stares at me as I walk past him to the other side of the office. My toilet break has taken fifteen minutes but, luckily, no one comments as I slide back into my seat.
I still have to pee.
It is the most boring internship in the world. I spend my time sitting behind a big Mac, copying and pasting, checking facts, and taking screen shots. But I’m glad for the distraction from daily life and the structure. I get paid to do a job that doesn’t require too much of me, and that suits me just fine.
I also start a blog.
Everything I am feeling, I put in the blog. After always being told to be less creative in my academic writing, I finally have a place to write just about me and what I want to communicate. One day my writing is political, the next I write some poetry, the next I post some images. My blog becomes the main constructive output of my life for the next six months, the place where I cut the insanity out of my mind and expunge it.
I end up working there for six months. Each month, my goal of going to South Korea and teaching English slips further away until, eventually, without me making a concrete decision about it, it vanishes completely.
One of my biggest problems at this stage of recovery is my state of hyper-arousal. The year before I was raped I was very active, exercising three to four times a week. Because I studied from home I went to the gym during times that suited me. Now, I have to go to gym during times that are extremely busy and I loathe it. I also hate being inside a gym building after being inside the office every day. After trying to go jogging or walking by myself once or twice, I realise I can’t do it because I am too scared. Even during broad daylight a stretch of road without anyone else on it causes me to hyperventilate, to start looking around, always aware of danger. I end up nauseous and exhausted, sometimes crying.
When you have PTSD, hyper-arousal is with you every single day. Every time a homeless man walks behind me, I am aware of it and I turn my body away from him, hand on my bag, even though I know this is offensive and wrong. Every single night that I park my car in the street and have to walk twenty metres to our apartment I am so scared I’m shaking. I get into the habit of checking under my car before I get in. I always carry my keys with the sharp edges sticking out and imagine, even practice, jabbing their edges into the throat and eyes of my assassin. I never leave anything to chance. I very rarely meet people at places if I know I have to walk in the dark by myself from a parking space. I keep my phone on speed dial to the police or my mom.
I took a self-defence class in my third year of varsity. They taught us that a female’s centre of gravity is lower than a man’s – it is in her hips and a man’s is in his shoulders. They taught us that, when you are being attacked, you should target vulnerable areas like the throat, the eyes and the groin. They showed us that by folding our palms into each other and bending our elbows into a triangle, you make the strongest shape that can be made with your body and we should always use this for beating someone up. None of what they taught me was useful that night. I forgot all of it. Afterwards, I am obsessed with learning about ways to defend myself, but nothing seems like the right way to go about it. I want to take another course, but why would it work this time if it didn’t the first time? As for weapons, didn’t my friend have pepper spray and a Taser? None of it will get rid of what haunts me the most: fear.
The worst is the lifts at work. We work on the twentieth floor where we have a great view of the Cape Town harbour on our left and Table Mountain on our right. It’s beautiful. But there are a lot more men than women working in the building and every morning I get into the lift with a man or two men and look at the button they press, thinking, “He cannot rape me in the time it takes to get to the sixth floor.” “There’s two of them, maybe they’ll gang up on me.” “Maybe he can do it in eleven floors, but he looks nice.”
I go through this every single morning for the six months that I work there.