Writing About Rape and the TRUTH Behind The Darkness of Light
(Today’s post is through Julie but not of Julie)
I’m shaking as I put this up. Our very dear, incredible friend and author, Tammy Farrell gave us the privelege of sharing this story, HER story, and how it transformed into a monumental scene in her novel THE DARKNESS OF LIGHT. We couldn’t be prouder of her for this. Tammy, you’re a hero and a soldier, and we love you.
Writing About Rape and the TRUTH Behind The Darkness of Light
They say that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. Well, let me start by saying that writing this post definitely makes me uncomfortable. Reading it might make you uncomfortable as well. But I’m at a point in my life when I’m ready to start growing…
I think most writers will agree that there is no such thing as 100% fiction. We writers write from our own experiences. We use bits of dialog we’ve heard in real life, we relive our emotions through our characters and, more often than not, no matter how fantastical the story may be, we send our characters on journeys we’ve been on ourselves.
That is what I’ve done in my novel The Darkness of Light, and today I’d like to talk about the REAL inspiration behind this story; the REAL driving force that compelled me to write it.
I’m talking about Mara’s rape.
I want to tell you that I didn’t write a rape scene into my story for the hell of it. I want to tell you the truth behind the fiction. I want to tell you how writing this story was a soul cleansing experience that has given me the courage to unburden myself of my long kept secrets.
*Warning – There will be book spoilers and some triggering content ahead.
Although The Darkness of Light is a fantasy novel, many people don’t realize just how autobiographical this story truly is. I didn’t write this novel to become a famous author. I didn’t write this novel because I wanted to publish it. I wrote this novel because I HAD to write it. I HAD to tell Mara’s story in order to tell my own. In doing so, I was able to rewrite the ending; I was able to give her the strength and the power that I never had.
My hands are shaking.
Let’s start with a deep breath as I begin to uncover the line between fiction and the truth.
I was raped when I was 15 years old. I hate the “R” word. I always have. It feels so sharp to me, like a blade cutting right through my chest. After 16 years I can now write the word, but I still can’t manage to say it out loud without a shudder.
I remember who I was before “IT” happened. I was imaginative and idealistic about life. I felt different from others my age, but in a good way. I felt special, like I knew things others didn’t, like I had notions about life far beyond those of my peers. But, like my character Mara, I was also naïve. I was unafraid. And I was completely unaware of just how close danger lurked.
At 15 I had a boyfriend. Let’s call him “Max”. Max was 17. This was a fairly typical teenage relationship. We dated for several months, hung out after school, and thought we “loved” each other.
While my character Corbin (Mara’s love interest) is mostly inspired by my husband and other fictional characters, he also plays the part of Max, with high moral values, only there is one very important difference between Corbin and Max, which you will see later.
In my novel, Corbin and Malcolm are like brothers. They have a somewhat strained relationship, but throughout the first half of the novel, Corbin feels a loyalty towards Malcolm that blinds him from Malcolm’s true nature. Mara is suspicious of Malcolm right away. He makes her uncomfortable and while she knows in her heart he can’t be trusted, she ignores the many warning signs presented to her.
I made the same mistake. In real life Max had a brother that we’ll call “Ryan”. Ryan was older, 19 years old, maybe even in his 20s, I don’t quite know. I always had an uneasy feeling about Ryan. He was intimidating, large for his age. To me he looked like a full-grown man. He was known for being “tough” and his violent outbursts were well known around town.
The Truth vs. The Book
The Truth – One night in August 1998, I stayed out past my curfew. I thought I’d walk to Max’s house and hang out. We’d had a fight earlier in the evening and went our separate ways. I wanted to apologize and make up. I called Max’s house, he wasn’t home yet, but his brother Ryan was. It was dark outside, so Ryan said he’d meet me half way so I didn’t have to walk alone. I met Ryan at the park and went back to the house to wait. When I got there I discovered that no one else was home. Max’s mom was gone, and his other brothers were out. Immediately I felt edgy, but I wanted to play it cool, so I decided to stay.
The Book – There is a tragedy at Valenia. Corbin is enraged. Mara is devastated. When Corbin decides to leave in order to seek revenge, he and Mara have a falling out. She won’t speak to him. He leaves without resolving the issue, hoping to sort it out when he returns. Mara is left on her own with Rowan, Annora, and Malcolm, Corbin’s “brother”.
The Truth – It seemed like hours went by as I waited for Max to come home, but in that time, hanging out with Ryan wasn’t so bad. We sat in the living room, he on the couch, and I on a big chair, watching TV. We talked a little, and as time went on, I started to think that Ryan wasn’t so bad, that maybe I’d been wrong about him. I remember the phone ringing. Ryan answered it, gave a few terse responses and hung up. “Was that Max?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
Shortly after the phone call, I remember saying I had a headache. Ryan offered me 2 pills and a beer. I foolishly took both, not realizing what was to come. I don’t know how much time passed between taking the pills and the moment my head started to swim. I commented on how tired I was, how funny I felt, how weak I’d become.
The Book – After Corbin leaves, Mara is distraught. Malcolm tries to reason with her, to connect with her, but she shuns him. When she tries to leave Valenia, Malcolm attacks her in her room. He drains her of her power, rendering her weak and incoherent. She can no longer fight him. He has taken all of her power, leaving her in a drugged-like state.
The Truth – This is where time and reality becomes a complete blur to me. I remember feeling like I was floating, being carried to a darkened room. I remember trying to protest, to push him away, but my arms were like Jello, my eyelids heavy. The only thing I remember with clarity is me saying, “What about Max…” hoping this would be reason enough to stop him.
And I remember Ryan’s response. “Sshhhh. You’re my girlfriend now.”
The rest of this encounter comes to me like a vision, like I am out of my body, watching it from the corner of the room before everything goes completely black.
The Book – After Malcolm has taken Mara’s power, he wrestles with regret and his own devious desires. When he eventually gives into the darkest part of him, and forces himself on Mara, she comes to a moment of consciousness and asks, “What have you done, Malcolm?”… to which he responds, “You will be mine now.”
The Truth – The rest of the night remains a clouded mystery to me. I remember bits and pieces that are filled in with dark gaps of the things I don’t know.
I woke up the next morning in agony. Every part of my body hurt and my head pounded like the worst hangover you could ever imagine. It took me a few moments to gather my thoughts, when I realized I was in Max’s room, in Max’s bed. I felt an arm stretched out across me and when I looked over, I was shocked to see Ryan asleep next to me.
I racked my brain trying to figure out what had happened. Had I done this? Did I really do this? I started to blame myself immediately, despite what I already knew in my heart.
Moving as slowly as I could, I tried to slip out from under the arm across my chest. My movement woke him. I froze like a scared rabbit, but then took a deep breath and moved to get up. The arm across me tightened into a painful grip, pushing me back down. I said nothing. I was in a complete state of terror and confusion. I made one more attempt to sit up when he said to me, “Don’t fucking move.”
The Book – Mara wakes up in agony. Every part of her body hurts. She’s powerless, and confused about what’s happened to her, and as she begins to put the pieces together, she is overcome with sickness. Malcolm comes to her room, smug and arrogant. He threatens to kill those she loves if she doesn’t do what he says. At first she refuses, but to her, his threats are too severe. She eventually submits to his demands and he assaults her once more.
After this she is disgusted with herself, blaming herself for what happened, for not fighting back. At times the reality of it is too much to bear. She lies on the floor shivering, trying to stop the thoughts in her head, and eventually she lets herself fall into a numbed state of anger. All that matters to her now is escape and survival.
The Truth – When I finally managed to get out of that house, and get home, I spent the rest of the day curled in a ball on my bedroom floor. I ignored phone calls. Max called many times wanting to know what was wrong, where I’d been. I couldn’t tell him. How could I admit what happened? How could it NOT have been my fault?
It was two days before I finally agreed to meet with Max…at the park, the same spot I had met his brother 2 nights before. It took me almost an hour to spit out what I had to tell him, and when I finally did, the look on Max’s face was enough to crush my soul all over again. He wasn’t angry. He didn’t call me a slut. But he was cold. I could feel it. Then he told me he believed me. He said he’d called the house that night, asking if I was there and Ryan said no. That was enough to convince him. And suddenly my heart became a little bit lighter. Someone believed me.
Then he pulled away from me. I could feel the coldness return. “Why are you being like this?” I asked.
I’ll never forget what he said…“What do you want me to do? He’s my brother.”
In that moment my entire body felt like it was being crushed. Max ended our relationship right then and there. I begged him not to, begged him not to leave me alone with this. But he couldn’t go against his family, he said.
That night I returned to my bedroom floor, where I stayed for the next few days, until the numbness finally took over.
The Aftermath – Eventually, I went to the police. I made a statement and agreed to press charges. But that’s when the threatening phone calls started, the harassment. I was under attack and I was terrified. When it became too much, I dropped the charges, recanted my statement and lived the rest of my high school years listening to the whispers behind my back. I held my head high, though. When I would pass Max in the halls, I’d keep my chin up, and give him a sad smile. We both knew the truth, but I came to realize that I wasn’t the one who should be ashamed, he was, and Ryan was. Ryan pushed me into the fire and Max was the one who left me to stand in the flames on my own. Ryan was the one who became my awful truth, and Max was the one who chose not to face the truth with me when I had no choice at all.
People have told me not to be angry with Max, and that I should consider how awful his situation must have been. But I’ve never been able to let that part go. Maybe that makes me selfish. But I can’t forget the feeling of being abandoned at my lowest point. I have never gotten over that. It’s a wound that has never healed.
Ryan got away with it, though life dealt him some hard blows. When I was in my 20’s, I began to hear rumors from other women in town, recalling how, in high school, Ryan was known for taking advantage of girls. It wasn’t a victory for me to know this, but it was validating enough to give me some peace.
The Book and rewriting the Truth – Mara is on a desperate search for Corbin. She has to save his life, and her own. But when she finds him, she can’t bring herself to tell him, fearing he will look at her with disgust and turn his back on her forever.
Corbin knows something is wrong, and when he finally gets the truth from her, he is overcome with anger. He leaves her side, screams into the air, pounds his fists on a tree…but when he hears her cries, hears the desperation in her voice, he comes back to reality, crawls to her and takes her in his arms. He soothes her, tells her everything will be all right, and vows to avenge what’s been done to her.
When Mara gets her chance to confront Malcolm, she is terrified, torn between her fear and her determination to get back what he took from her. In the end, Mara does get her power back and gets justice for what Malcolm did to her. But while she gets her revenge, the scars of what he did remain with her, the pain never truly goes away. She does what she can to become whole again, but she can never get back that piece of her that he took. As she says, “Scars are not the reminders of our wounds—they are the marks of our survival.”
And that’s what Mara becomes—a survivor.
My hands are no longer shaking. Writing this post has been like taking a breath of much needed air. Over the years I have struggled with what happened, blamed myself, felt ashamed. But I’ve learned that I am NOT to blame and that I have NOTHING to be ashamed of. I am finally free from the weight of this story. I thought giving my story to Mara would free me from it. But it didn’t, it gave me the strength I needed to tell my own story, because now I’m not doing it alone. My story IS Mara’s story and her story is mine. We both share the weight of it, making the load much easier to bear.
While I wish my true story had more of a triumphant ending, I can’t change the past and I can’t dwell on it either. Instead, I was able to rewrite it. I was able to call out Malcolm for what he was. I was able to give Mara her power back. That felt like a victory to me.
One review of The Darkness of Light called the ending “Trite” as in clichéd, vapid, unimaginative, stale… I had to laugh when I read that. I’ve spent 16 years dreaming of that ending, wishing for it, desperate for it. That is the ending we all want for stories like this. If that is considered trite, then I am perfectly fine with it.
A lot of my readers said that they found Malcolm to be an interesting character, and knowing the truth behind the story, you may be wondering why I chose to write the rape scene from his perspective.
I did it because I wanted to understand it. I wanted to understand why someone would do that. I needed to humanize the perpetrator so that he didn’t seem so frightening. In the years that followed my assault, I had to force myself to see Ryan as a whole human being in order to stop fearing him, because monsters are scary, and I couldn’t let him live in my mind as a monster any longer.
The next installment in the series The Embers of Light will have a stronger focus on Malcolm as he deals with his own demons and the consequences of his actions. It’s important to me to tell his story, and to give him the chance to repent, if he decides to.
I also want to study the aftermath with Mara and Corbin. What does this do to Mara in the long run, how does it affect her relationships and can she ever find it in herself to move on? Does she still fear Malcolm, or is she whole again?
There are more truths to come and more endings to be rewritten.
This, my friends, is the beauty of being a writer. We can unburden ourselves of our own truth and create a new story to live with. Thank you for letting me guest blog, thank you to all who’ve read my novel, and thank you for reading MY story. Mara and I are very grateful to you all.
*I welcome questions and I am always willing to speak with other survivors. You can contact me through my website at http://www.TammyFarrell.com, you can find me on twitter @TamzWrite, or on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/thediachronicles
In the United States, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, please visit Rainn.org for access to resources and support.