This article first appeared in Attitude issue 321, May 2020
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault which some readers may find upsetting.
On a sleepy Sunday in November 2006, Mario Forgione went online in search of a casual hook-up. Upon arriving at the guy’s house, he was offered alcohol. Then what started as a consensual sexual act took a terrible turn: Mario was raped after, he believes,his drink was spiked.
At first, Mario had no recollection of the attack, but over the past decade he has been haunted by flashbacks of the incident. After opening up to a friend, he eventually sought help in February last year and was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.
In a bid to support other survivors, Mario, 45, shares with Attitude a piece of writing entitled “November”, produced during his cognitive behavioural therapy while he was reliving and trying to process his deeply buried trauma...
A duvet above your head. Sometimes that’s all it takes to feel safe. Therefore, I choose to stay under my duvet for as long as it takes — even years, if that’s what I need. The night out there still seems too long. The night feels like a November, without beginning or end.
November brings back flashes of memories I thought I had forgotten. “Why does my body ache so much,” I’d ask myself suddenly, like a single strike of lightning that butchers a seemingly blue sky, where before there was only the sun shining.
I don’t want to know the answer. Not yet, at least. I keep my head under the duvet and wait some more, for the wave of panic to subside, for the inexplicable sadness to evaporate.
Visions of sunsets bombard my brain. Sunsets in November give me the chills and instill in me fear, a sense of panic I’m unable to justify, a disorientated state of mind, a confusion so overwhelmingly whole that I can hardly breathe.
Another flash. There is a condom on the floor: it shouldn’t be there, I think. My face is squashed on the hard floor. The terracotta tiles feel ice cold on my right cheek. It’s as though I’m floating in a sea of tiles the colour of blood. But I am not floating. As I gasp for air, I don’t understand why I see everything from a floor-level perspective.
Face smashed down, my left eye is a discarded CCTV camera someone has dropped on the floor, still switched on. A peripheral vision recording a scene that will haunt me for years to come.
I try to say “No”, but I have no words. My brain is screaming, but my mouth is shut. I don’t even move. It feels like sleep paralysis. But I am not asleep, and this is not a nightmare I will forget a few minutes after I wake up.
Mario Forgione (Photography: Markus Bidaux)
I was drug-raped in November 2006. Now I have the words to define what happened to me. Now I remember. I remember it all…
When it was over, as the world kept spinning around me, I remember crawling slowly towards a back door and sitting on its steps, by the window. Outside, an oblivious and magnifi cent sunset painted the sky a vivid orange, from then on to be encrypted in my brain.
Dead leaves from a chestnut tree nearby were falling slowly to the ground, like sorry snowfl akes; dirt randomly carried around by a light breeze. I was hopeless like these dead leaves, waiting to be swept away by the wind. With the wind.
Then, I went into survival mode: it’s nothing, pick yourself up and go – which I did. Even as I was wiping his semen off me in the bathroom, my moral compass denied belief of what had happened. Within my inner world, to infl ict this kind of inconceivable hurt on another person is inhuman.
I left soon after. I found my bike right outside his back door. I stood out there forever, unable to move; shaking, even though I wasn’t cold. Then, as dark clouds gathered in the sky above my head, I found the energy to cycle home as the night closed in, eating away what was left of the light.
It’s interesting how, when in a state of deep shock, our brain switches into autopilot, leading us to what we know and what feels familiar and, therefore, to a sense of safety.
As I stepped into my apartment, I remember closing the front door behind me, and going straight into the kitchen, where I poured myself a glass of water. Then, I headed to my bedroom.
Once in, I undressed methodically, dropping all my clothes on the floor, as usual as if nothing had happened. Naked at last, I slowly got into bed, pulled the duvet above my head, curled up and fell asleep. I was safe.
Today, “November” is a comprehensive memory placed in the right context, in the past, where it belongs.
It took 13 years and a PTSD diagnosis — followed by a course of cognitive behavioural therapy — to ultimately be able to accept the truth and say the words out loud: I was sexually assaulted. I was raped. I didn’t imagine it. I didn’t dream about it. It happened. It was brutal and I survived, and I didn’t only survive, I carried on living and thriving.
In hindsight, what I did was extraordinary. Now, I see it clearly. I am fi nally able to be open to the kindness that I thought I didn’t deserve. I’ve stopped blaming myself for something that wasn’t my fault.
Pride. All I feel is pride.
If you've been affected by sexual assault please contact Survivors UK for support.