Updated: Jun 27, 2020
| This is the 350th story of Our Life Logs |
I grew up in Flint, Michigan, in the 1950s and ’60s, far before the water problem it is known for now plagued the town. My parents were generous people who cared for the less fortunate and lived their lives serving God. Although they already had seven children, they adopted four more from our church whose parents had been killed in a car crash. The seeds of generosity and good will that my parents instilled in me were certainly part of what sparked my interest in becoming a nurse. It was a way to enter the darkness and pain of people’s lives to try to heal them.
My school years were a bit of a blur, unremarkable, and lonely because I was a quiet, introverted child. There were no boyfriends during my school days. I graduated from Flint High School in 1969, and then followed my family to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where my dad had taken a new job. Knowing that I could become a resident of Minnesota and attend the state university for cheaper if I worked a year in-state, I started job hunting. I eventually spotted an ad for a job at the Hennepin County Hospital Lab. I got the job and began traveling throughout the hospital from wards to ICUs charting lab results. In the bustle of working in a hospital, the spark to be a nurse had turned into a flame.
I enjoyed the work and the people I came across. One that I liked to talk to was an ambulance driver who regularly transported blood into the hospital. He was always friendly, but I was drawn to him because he always tossed flirtatious comments my way. This was a new experience for me because I was used to men ignoring me since I was so shy. His flirting gave me a new confidence I’d never had. Leaving my past behind in Michigan allowed me to recreate myself in Minneapolis. I found myself being cutesy wootsy and flirting back, completely unafraid. Though I had no experience with dating, something in me felt ready for this new adventure. Each day, I looked forward to seeing him so we could flirt back and forth.
Eventually, he asked me out. Uneasy about accepting a first date on my own, I told him to drop by my parents’ house later that night to ask them. When he came by, it was obvious my parents had some reservations, having never met him before. However, they trusted that I had good judgment and okayed the whole thing rather quickly. So, off we went.
We went to a party where dancing and alcohol was oozing from every corner. He pulled me onto the dance floor, and excitement coursed through my veins as we moved our bodies close to one another. I felt thrilled for this chance to be out in society on a date at a party. Feeling both relaxed and exuberated, I had a couple drinks with him.
When it was time to go home, we shuffled to the car. Not knowing he was hammered (I later learned he was already drunk before our date began), I let him drive, but started panicking when he pulled the car in the wrong direction and swerved.
Parking his car behind a strange looking warehouse in a dumpy area, he turned to me with a sudden evil twinkle in his eyes. A rush of fear swept through me as he started groping me and yanking off my clothes. I had never had sex before and was truly horrified as he penetrated me. I struggled and cried, mascara running down my face. At one point, he got his hand around my throat, and I was sure that he would kill me.
When he had finished, I managed to open the door and run away. He fled the scene as he heard me screaming for help. I managed to find a couple security guards at the warehouse and told them I had been raped, and they called 911 immediately. An ambulance arrived and took me to the ER at the same hospital I worked in which felt both creepy and reassuring.
I worked with the police to press charges only to be disappointed when they informed me that my assailant had skipped town. They also told me that he had a wife, which of course I had not known at the time. The more I thought of his wife, the more I blamed myself for letting him manipulate me. I was disgusted with how easily I had allowed him to groom me with nothing but his own desires in mind. He had never cared about me… I was just a vulnerable target he knew he could use! That made me feel even worse.
My mother didn’t know how to handle the news when she saw me. I don’t think she wanted to believe it. I remember feeling hurt when she told me to stop crying. Looking back, I can’t blame her. I’m sure both my parents were just shocked. They felt partially responsible for what had happened.
In the months after my rape, I was told that the police wouldn’t classify my encounter as a rape because they had not been able to find any bodily residue left on me. Of course, this frustrated me, but I felt my hands were tied and there was nothing else I could do. Despite how much I wanted justice, I never received any closure from the event. So, I did the only thing that made sense to me. I resolved in my heart that I’d be smarter and wiser in the future. I’d learn from the experience and be better.
Sadly, these good resolutions could not erase a certain PTSD I felt many times around men that brought the humiliating, demeaning, hurtful memory of my rape back into my mind. I was distrustful of the men I dated and their intentions. When other men in the same unit of the hospital began asking me out, I was much more guarded and often declined.
The first time that I went out after my rape, I found that this man too was also really just interested in sex. In fact, nearly every man I ever dated was interested in sex and not interested in me. Let me say, it was a real turn-off, not to mention a trigger. Why didn’t they care about me as a person? Why didn’t they want to just hang out? I decided from then on to change my standards. I would save sex for marriage. In making that decision, I took a break from dating until I found someone who also shared my values.
I did my best to move on despite the PTSD and shame I felt inside. I threw myself headlong into my studies by entering the nursing program at the University of Minnesota the next year. Of course, there were still times that the memories of my rape would return, and I’d be driven to tears.
I got a job as an RN at the Hennepin County Medical Center where I had previously worked after graduation. Here, I got to work with alcoholics. Working with them reminded me again of my rape. At times, when I saw patients suffering from relapse, I wondered if my rapist was somewhere drunk again, hurting another woman or if he was hurting his wife, who probably still had no idea he had been unfaithful to her.
Although it was a huge trigger for me, I realized that I had a chance to help these people turn their life around, maybe bring more light into their life so they could escape their demons. Maybe then they wouldn’t end up like the man who raped me. Incredibly, the alcoholics became the main drive behind my passion for nursing. I worked with them daily, and true, not every day was great, but knowing I was doing good for the world made it worth it. I often worked on the eighth floor where it would get so hot on summer days before air conditioning that I recall some comatose patients with only a washcloth covering their privates. Yet, it was people like them that made it such a rewarding job where there was so much help needed and required of me. It helped give me purpose.
After years of focusing on my career, I finally met the man who became my husband in June of 1977 at my best friend’s wedding. Pat was her brother, one of the groomsmen, and very handsome. As a farmer, he tended to arrive late to things because of being out in the fields. It was like that from our first date, but I loved his quirks. I grew to trust Pat because I knew his family well and he treated me with dignified respect. We had everything in common with the same shared values and desire for a large family.
I remember thinking, finally, here’s someone who values me not only because of my beauty, but also because of who I am.
By the time we got married in August of 1978, I left the pain from my rape behind. Pat and I had five children, and I became a farmer’s wife. I took 14 years off for kids and then became a hospice nurse for many years.
In those years of mothering, my husband and I learned from my experiences and thoroughly vetted each potential suitor before allowing our daughters to date. Thankfully, each of our daughters were very shy and so we didn’t have to deal with many boyfriends until after high school. By then, our children had heard my story and had firm values and standards of their own. They, much like me, didn’t date just anybody. Although instilling these high standards have been a challenge, no doubt, I truly believe this is what saved them and kept them more aware.
Judith Lewis Herman, a rape survivor, once said, “in practice the standard for what constitutes rape is set not at the level of women’s experience of violation but just above the level of coercion acceptable to men.” In the 1970s, this was true in the case of my rape. I refuse to allow my daughters to fall into the same naïve patterns as me. From hearing of my experiences, they are stronger and smarter.
Now that I am retired, I am finding new time to think back over my life. I’ve come to accepting that my rape wasn’t completely my fault. I am so grateful that women are being given voices to speak out about their rape experiences and that the tide is turning across the world. I’ve learned to forgive the man who abused me, and pray that he finds peace and God. To this day, I am leery of men who remind me of my abuser, but I am thankful that this is the extent of my trauma. Many women have suffered much worse and I consider myself one of the lucky ones who got away. I fear no evil because I am wiser and stronger and hope others who have been dealt trauma like mine find peace and justice.
This is the story of Barb Verly
Barb Verly grew up in a loving family that taught her how to care for others and be loving toward those different from herself. Moving to a new city after high school and working to pursue a degree in nursing, she entered the dating world assuming the best in people. When a young man at work invited her on a date, she accepted without knowing him well and ended up getting raped and almost killed. Escaping but unable to press charges, Barb was forced to heal like many women of her time, by moving forward and learning from her experiences. Through trial and error, she eventually met and married her future husband and the two of them have encouraged their children to save sex for marriage, sparing them the misfortunes that go along with the hook up culture. Barb recently celebrated her 40th anniversary with her husband, Pat. She loves spending time with her grandchildren, writing for their family blog, farming, and gardening.
This story first touched our hearts on June 5, 2019.
| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editor: Kristen Petronio |