Cover Art_Black Letters

I’ll Just Keep Walking

by Deborah Martin

What changed my life forever was being attacked by a Turkish soldier. My innocence and youth were ripped from my body, my head, and my heart. I will never trust or feel safe; I will never feel pretty or lovable again. If someone punches you in the nose, you sop up the bleeding with a tissue, and a few days later, it’s all over, you don’t think of it again. But when you are raped, it never goes away.

I bet if you ask a rape survivor how he or she feels today, they will most undoubtedly say, “worse.” As I look back, I ask myself what I could have done differently, and the answer is always the same. It was my fault. I could have stopped it; I must have put off some kind of vibe.

When I picked myself up, I had no idea what to do. The military doesn’t cover rape in any of its in-briefings. There is no friendly First Sergeant, no assigned advocate. I was a young girl from a poor single mom, on public assistance most of my life. I never traveled any further than where the city bus went. I so looked forward to being sent to Diyarbakir, Turkey. I would be part of an integration of females to an all-male squadron.

I became an object of inappropriate behavior immediately. When I would go to our commander, the response was always, “Boys will be boys. You have to learn to have thicker skin. Maybe you and the other girls could stick together and start a knitting club or book club.” As time went on, this attitude became unbearable. I had lost trust in men and lost faith in the military system. Airmen started coming to my room at all hours of the night, loudly knocking on the door, even after I had asked them to go away. They had never been instructed to stay away from the female quarters. The instructions were only to keep noise levels down because of the 24-hour duty cycle.

I had finally had enough and went to the chaplain. He agreed that I had to be removed from this assignment before it got worse. His recommendation was to transfer me to Incirlik Air Force Base, which had base housing for both sexes, including families. I felt safe there; I had found a nice place to call home. I travelled and even made friends with some of the locals and people on base. I was happy and was in an environment that allowed me to trust again. I even thought about re-enlisting. Turkey was beautiful and exciting. The ocean was amazing, and the beautiful, colorful, noisy cities were so inviting. There were shops filled with jewelry, fabrics, and brass ware of all kinds. The food was exotic and flavorful.

One evening, it all changed.

A few months into my new assignment, on my way to the dorm, I heard the sound of footsteps. I turned around, and there he was. He pulled my pony tail and yanked me behind some shrubs near a generator hut. He was a Turkish soldier. He shoved me to the ground, and put what seemed to be a jagged knife at my throat. In between Turkish and sloppy English he told me to be quiet and not struggle. I struggled anyway, but instead of stabbing me, he punched me in the face and shook me. He ripped open my fatigue blouse, tearing the buttons off. He grabbed my breasts, making me cry out, and he spit on me and shoved one of his hands over my mouth. I bit him, and he slapped me across the face so hard it made me see stars. I could only see a narrow hallway of sorts, bright colors and muffled speech, tunnel vision I guess. His uniform was woolen, and he smelled a combination of sweaty, dirty body and wet wool. It gagged me.

He then pulled my shirt up and started biting and licking me. I tried to push him off. I tried to lift my head up to look around, but I couldn’t see any signs of activity or people around at this late hour. I had lifted my head as I was trying to push him off and he head-butted me. I must have lost consciousness for a bit because the next thing I knew he was about to enter me. I begged him to stop. He had this crazy look on his face as he rammed into me, grunting like an animal. He started to ejaculate. I guess he started to come inside me, but then he pulled out and spewed what was left on my face. He laughed maniacally and called me a dirty American whore. Somehow he yanked off my shoes, and took my fatigue blouse. He slapped my face over and over again. When he rose, he kicked me a few times, spat on me, and then left.

What he left me with was the beginning of a hellacious journey.

I walked to the infirmary that was open around the clock. I was in a daze. I was told to sit in the waiting area. I sat there in my stocking feet, without my uniform fatigue blouse. Why did he take that from me? A trophy perhaps? After what seemed like forever, I was called into the triage room. The nurse on duty took some information. It was emotionless and cold, just like the exam that followed. I was taken into a curtained area (not even a separate room). A large white sheet was placed on the floor. I was told to stand in the middle of the sheet. There were two military policemen in the sheeted area. One had a camera. There were also two nurses, one with a tape recorder and another with a clipboard.

I was instructed to remove my shirt, and they began to take pictures and notes. The nurse with the recorder spoke into it stating all that was visible: “Bruising on the left forearm and what appears to be bite marks on the right shoulder, scratches early signs of bruising and teeth marks on this Airman’s neck.” More pictures and notes were taken. I was then told to remove my bra. The military policemen did not leave the area. In fact one came closer and took more pictures and notes. They circled me as they stared, poked and prodded. They didn’t speak to me at all. It was like I wasn’t even there. But I was. The feeling of violation continued.

I was told to remove my underpants. There I stood, naked, in the middle of a big white sheet with my clothes strewn about. Notes, pictures, men and women walking around me over and over again. “Airman, come to the exam table please.” I walked naked toward it. “Sit on the edge please.” A metal tool was used to scrape under my nails, and a flat instrument scraped at the side of my face, removing the dried semen from my cheek. I was then told to lay down on the table on my face, where they examined, took photos, and spoke into the recorder. I was given a vaginal and rectal exam, scraping at the insides of my body. The only words spoken were, “This will be uncomfortable.” No shit. The nurse that was taking the notes rolled the sheet up with all of my belongings inside. They all left the area quietly talking to each other.

There I was, naked on the table with bright lights shining down upon me. An orderly came in, and he exclaimed, “Holy crap….I was told no one was in here and that I should scrub it all down.” He kept his eyes averted so as not to look at me. He asked if I would like a blanket to cover up. He gave me two nice, warm blankets in which to wrap up. This was the only sign of compassion I received there. He came back sometime later and said that he told the supervisor that I was still in the exam area. She came in and dismissed me. I was still naked. She gave me a set of scrubs and those goofy socks with the rubber bottoms so you don’t slide and fall, which was the least of my concerns, because soon things became much worse.

Over time I became sullen and angry and sad. I couldn’t concentrate and made many mistakes. I was getting written up for everything. I was sick all of the time. I reported to the infirmary. I found out that I was pregnant. The diagnosis pounded in my heart. It felt as though it would rip through my body. I immediately became sick and started to convulse wildly and vomited over and over until there was nothing left. My attitude worsened. I just didn’t care about anything. Not once did anyone inquire about my attitude or ask if there was anything they could do. No one ever offered a helping hand. I decided to ask about an abortion, but they didn’t do them overseas. Instead, I was discharged honorably due to pregnancy.

I was left on my own.

I settled into my old bedroom. I tried to make myself comfortable. My belly grew bigger and bigger. I cannot say what changed my mind about the abortion. I can only say that I was numb. Rational thought escaped me. I almost never left the house. One morning, very early, I went to the bathroom and started to feel funky. I began to get awful cramps. I thought it was gas and ignored it, but they got worse and were almost constant. “Crap,” I thought, “This is it.” I threw some stuff in a bag and ran into my parent’s room. My step-dad grabbed his keys and took me to the hospital. Once there I remember someone saying, “Push, Sweetie, push. Your little baby needs mommy to help bring him out into the world.” Then they handed him to me. Everyone was cooing and congratulating me.

I was then wheeled into a room that I shared with three other people. All of them were in labor. They all were moaning, crying, and yelling for pain killers. I pulled my covers over my head and tried to go to sleep. I went home two days later with my son in my arms and extreme pain in my heart. He and I shared my bedroom until I realized that I could no longer live there. I looked through the classified ads and saw a few apartments that might work. But it wasn’t the house I couldn’t live with, it was the child.

One day while reading the paper I came across a little paragraph that said:

“Please bless us, we are a loving mom and dad looking for an infant with which to share their life with. Financially stable with stay at home mom to care for your beautiful bundle. We know you are hurting, we promise to give your precious one a safe, loving home with room to play and be surrounded by a big happy family with many aunts and uncles.”

I dialed the number. A woman answered the phone; her voice had that sing-song quality. I could picture a June Cleaver type on the other end. I don’t remember the conversation, even on my way home after giving Mark up, I couldn’t remember what had transpired. The name Mark just popped in my head. No rhyme or reason. I’ve never known anyone named Mark. They sent a limo for me to take me to the airport and a limo to pick me up when I arrived. I was driven to a lawyer’s office. I have no idea what state, the time of year, time of day…nothing. I remember the smell of leather and books. I walked into the conference room and met the nicest couple I’d ever encountered. She smelled of baby powder. He smelled like clean fresh soap. I wanted to just be with them and not go home. It wasn’t me going with them, though.

I walked toward Mark’s mom and handed him to her. Her husband leaned in to kiss his forehead. The lawyer told me there was one concern he had. The father was listed as unknown. Was I positive that I didn’t know the father? I finally said out loud for the first time, “Positively sure, I was raped.” Immediately Mark’s mom ran to me after placing him in his dad’s arms. She put her arms around me and exclaimed, “Oh, you poor baby, that is so awful, who would want to hurt you like that?” I started to cry and couldn’t stop. I had never cried until then. She continued to hold me while stroking my hair. “You are a beautiful, strong woman with a big heart. God brought us together to heal us both.”

I am not quite healed yet.

Many years later, actually to this very day, I am still trying to heal. I have been committed four times, twice self-committed and twice involuntarily. For the latter I was on suicide watch. I have cut myself. I have also dug the words SLUT and WHORE into my arms. There is still a shadow of those words on my arms today. I drank myself into oblivion. I smoked and had multiple affairs. I have a wonderful husband and four beautiful children. They have all come to terms finally, but I can see that they will never forget. I can see it in their eyes. There are days that I can’t leave my house. I get claustrophobic and anxious if I have to travel. My back has to be to the wall anywhere we go. The smell of the rain gets to me. Body odors affect me greatly. I cannot watch any program that has a hint of assault. I have psychologists, psychiatrists, and marriage counselors I visit. I repeat this sordid tale and discuss these symptoms.

I am making changes.

I have been medically discharged. I have completed my pension and compensation review from the VA. Many, many doctor appointments later, all the paperwork has been completed. There are 112 pages of medical pension and compensation interviews and check-ups. Some state:

“Our recommendation for this veteran is that she should not return to full-time employment. She may work at a part-time position if there is a low stress atmosphere, as she will be on maintenance medications and under psychiatric care presumably for the rest of her life.”

I am trying to learn to like myself. That will be a tough one. I will be going to an eight-week women’s inpatient treatment program for PTSD/MST in Batavia, New York after I retire. Maybe then some of the demons can be put to rest. I will keep taking these steps, even if I continually look back.

There are some days that I wonder if it’s real. Did I dream it? Was it all a figment of my imagination? How could the Air Force just push me aside? Am I alive or just an apparition weeping at the horror of it all? Why would an all-loving God allow his children to hurt so much?

Here I am, though.

I made it through the hell that is me. I haven’t made it to the end of the tunnel. I am stuck in the middle, where the train’s whistle and bright headlights blare. Will I ever get through? Will the end of my tunnel just be another tunnel? Who knows? I’ll just keep walking on the train tracks, balancing as if on a high wire, waiting to see which side I fall.

But I will keep walking.