Last night, I volunteered at the animal shelter. I always loved animals but started volunteering around the time I began attending rape counseling. Those memories had long been suppressed and by the time I finally got around to speaking to someone about them, I was in bad shape. I was definitely suffering from some sort of PTSD and was terrified of people as well as the most benign circumstances. In counseling, I talked about being date raped. I felt better after talking to someone and being validated. You see, I blamed myself for being raped, because I willingly entered the situation: I went over my “friends” house to watch the Superbowl and have a few beers. That was twelve Superbowls ago. A night that started off fun ended with a lot of memory loss, inability to determine sequence of events, physical pain, and then a loss of said friends -but not before an inquisition from said friends in which they slyly tried to determine what I remembered of the night, if anything at all.
For the next decade I did what I wanted to do fearlessly. I did not worry about consequences. I did not care. It wasn’t until after rape counseling that I developed a new and unsightly complex. Though I expected the counseling to make things better it did and it didn’t. Though I now felt validated, receiving formal counseling and talking about what happened opened up a can of worms. After going on a date or hanging out with a man alone, I would go home and scrutinize the night’s events, piecing them together again and again worrying to myself about whether or not something happened. The basis for this fear was a fear that during the date, I had some sort of memory loss, though I was fully conscious and sober the entire time. I would agree with most people, that this is pretty nutty, however, the fear was very real and debilitating. Once the anxiety began it took off like a speeding train. It could go on and on for hours and sometimes days. God bless the people around me who patiently listened to me and reassured me that it was unlikely that anything happened, and reassured me that I would remember it.
I could no longer be around people. Family members worried that I was a bit reclusive and one even tried to guilt me into going out into society again. I did go out into society and worked as much as I had to to get by. Other than that I had no interest. I stayed home with my cats and dogs but finally they convinced me to volunteer. So I did at a local horse farm and then at the animal shelter. My family member continued to urge me to get a volunteer job around people. She could not understand or comprehend the fear that I had and continued to try and pressure me. This really upset me, but how could I expect anyone to understand this?
Men had dumped me over it. They didn’t want to date me. They thought I was gross, some sort of damaged goods, a cum dumpster perhaps? I couldn’t exactly help what happened to me, once it happened. I could lie to them, and omit it from my life story- but I had already done that for a decade and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was sick of hiding my pain and my shame and pretending everything was alright because certain family members told me everything was alright and that I had an ideal life and that they couldn’t understand what my problem was. So I told them but they still didn’t get off my back about volunteering around people. That I wouldn’t make any new friends or meet anybody if I was only with cats.
At the shelter, the animals each have their own crate- unless they are friends or siblings (which happens if they come in as a pair). On each crate is a sign that lists the animals name, age, list of inoculations, and how they came to be at the shelter. On almost all the crates that hold cats 1 year + (not kittens) the sign almost always reads “abandoned by owner.”
Last week, there were two new orange cats at the shelter. I opened their crate and one of them came out, the other did not. They were both boys and the one who came out let me cuddle and pet him. He was very sweet and reminded me of one of my cats, who happens to be an orange and a boy also. This cat loved me and followed me around the shelter until I put him back in the crate. The next morning I spoke to one of the directors. She asked me if the orange cats came out and was surprised when I told her which one did and which one did not. She said that when she was there it was quite the opposite, that the cat I was cuddling refused to come out while the other one was very friendly. “Someone threw them away in our dumpster,” she said.
“What? What do you mean, threw them away?”
“One of the was crawling around the dumpster and the other one they found in a box.”
That Superbowl Sunday, twelve years ago, the roofie they put in my drink really did me in- in fact I could not walk. How would they get me home? I was in high school. It was a school night. From what I hear, they left me on the my front lawn, like garbage. Trash.
Last night at the animal shelter, the other cat finally came out to see me. He stood in front of me and I petted him. He looked at me and cried loudly. It was an odd and unexpected cry, seemingly out of nowhere. “It’s okay,” I said petting him. Usually when cats do that sort of thing, it’s because they are trying to get your attention, but he already had my attention. I was looking right at him. I was petting him. He started doing it again, whining and crying for a prolonged period of time. At first I did not know what to do- maybe he was mad, maybe he was going to scratch me. So I started to walk away, to let him cool off, but he walked in front of me, sat back down and started to cry loudly again. I felt like he was trying to tell me something. I petted his head and he kept pushing a particular area of his face into my hand. Then he would look up and me and shout and do it all over again. I was trying to figure out what he wanted. I was already petting him. I wasn’t hurting him. I started to feel like he was trying to communicate something to me, some sort of trauma. That maybe whoever threw him away hit him in his face, the part of his face he kept pushing into my hand. “It’s okay,” I said, slightly confused. “No one is ever going to hit you again, I promise. You are safe, now.” He looked at me and stopped crying. For the rest of the night he was fine.
Plenty of people have been through what I’ve been through, by no means am I special. These animals were for the most part thrown away and likely abused before being thrown away in the sometimes dumpster. I feel so bad for them and just want to make them feel better about themselves. Animals are much like people. After being abused and yelled at for prolonged periods of time, they get depressed. They feel unworthy. Easily, I empathize with them and relate to their vulnerability. Sometimes I am irrationally scared. And I too was thrown out like garbage. I don’t think it would’ve been the same if I volunteered with people. People don’t always get me, I’m not so sure animals do either, but I do get them and for now I will continue volunteering with them. I will help in this capacity, and I will continue to heal while helping animals feel safe and better about themselves and hopefully helping other victims of rape, domestic violence, and abuse by sharing my story.