By Barbara Otto, VP – The Grateful Garment Project – September 11, 2014
In a room of 30 people, you might not notice Heather right off the bat. She isn’t extremely tall. Her hair isn’t pink or blue or purple. Her clothing isn’t overly flashy. She isn’t very young or very old. She’s the woman who might be sitting next to you at the movies or behind you in line at the grocery store or any one of those random strangers you encounter in the places you frequent throughout your day. So really, you probably wouldn’t notice Heather, a 30-something women living in the SF Bay Area. But Heather Marlowe has a story to tell. You might not want to listen. You should.
May 16, 2010 is a day Heather will never forget. May 16, 2010 was going to be Heather’s first time watching Bay to Breakers. May 16, 2010 was supposed to be a day to have some fun with friends and enjoy a uniquely San Francisco experience. She was in her late 20’s, in a vibrant city looking forward to meeting new people, laughing with strangers and bonding over a renown athletic tradition. This was going to be a blast! And it certainly started out that way. Beautiful weather, lots of people out on the streets. Laughing, drinking, flirting, and cheering on runners. Everyone was having a great time in true San Francisco style!
While Heather was enjoying herself that day, someone drugged her drink. Hours later she woke up in a stranger’s apartment, an irate man standing over her yelling at her to leave. She could barely stand. Once out on the street she tried to get her bearings. “I was in complete shock and trauma and had no idea what was going on.” She reached out to a friend, telling her “I think something really bad happened to me today. I think that I was drugged. I think that I was raped.” Her friend drove her to San Francisco General Hospital where she was given an invasive, four-hour forensic exam. Fortunately, Heather had someone to call whom she loved and trusted. Her friend waited at the hospital with her the entire time, including the hours long wait before the exam began, so Heather would have a ride home. The exam confirmed she had indeed been drugged. Evidence was collected from her body and her clothing and her rape kit was sealed to be sent to the police department. Heather was exhausted, traumatized, in pain feeling powerless, hopeless and ashamed. Finally, wearing a paper hospital gown, Heather found her friend and went home.
In July of this year Lisa J. Blanchard, Executive Director and Founder of The Grateful Garment Project received an email from Heather. In it, Heather offered TGGP a donation of 5% of the proceeds from a preview and panel discussion following her show, “The Haze” that was being held in San Francisco. Heather goes on to explain,” THE HAZE, is an autobiographical one person play about my experience dealing with both the personal and political ramifications of being drugged and raped in San Francisco in 2010.” Right then Lisa and I decided we needed to see this performance.
“The Haze” is a told in a series of vignettes not just about that day, but about Heather’s life in general. Scenes from Heather’s childhood, her relationship with her parents, funny bits about dance and yoga classes, looking for love, enjoying friendships, discovering herself, chilling moments remembered from her assault are interwoven to create a moving portrait of a young, very much alive and human woman who is the victim of a horrific act of sexual violence. The play touches on the reactions of others as well as her own feelings surrounding her rape. Heather engages her audience and forces them to challenge society’s assumptions regarding victim blaming and the shame we ascribe to them. In a bracingly honest performance, she asks us to examine our own biases about violence against women and the politics of sexual assault.
Sitting in the audience that night, watching Heather tell her story made me even more aware of how vital the resources provided by TGGP to victims of all ages and both genders are. Imagine having just lived through what might possibly be the most frightening and violent moments of your life. Imagine waiting for hours to see a doctor who needs to perform an extremely personal and uncomfortable exam that can take anywhere from 3 to 8 hours. Take it from Heather, “It’s not pretty. It’s not. It’s very invasive after having a huge trauma happen to you.” Imagine your feelings of despair. How ashamed you must feel. The questions you keep asking yourself. The what if’s. The depersonalization of your body by medical professionals. The surrender of your clothing. You are lying on that exam table, physically exhausted and emotionally spent and the nurse places a paper hospital gown beside you and tells you to get dressed. Imagine walking back through the waiting room, down the hall, into the parking lot all while wearing that disposable gown. How dignified does that feel? What is that saying about your individual worth??
The Grateful Garment Project didn’t exist in 2010 so we weren’t there for Heather and countless other victims. We are here now and what we do is so critical. We are saying to women, men and children who have been victimized by a sexual predator that we will not blame you. You count. You are worth so much more than this. You deserve the simple human decency of walking out of this facility in new clothing. Providing new underwear or a toothbrush or a cup of coffee or a teddy bear for a frightened child is much more that the thing itself. It is a silent affirmation that someone cares. It is a small step on the road to recovery. It is the beginning of hope. It is the start of the catharsis from victim to survivor.
Heather Marlowe is one of the bravest people I know. She is a survivor and an activist who is no longer content to remain silent and ashamed. She is choosing to share her story with countless strangers. To be honest about what darkness feels like and how to find the light again. By doing so she is transformed from powerless to powerful, hopeless to hopeful. We at TGGP are currently in conversation with Heather to bring her show to the South Bay so everyone we know can witness her powerful, engaging and compelling story. If you really can’t wait, “The Haze” is running in San Francisco for 12 performances during the month of September. You can find more information about that here: The Haze Play ACT.