Tugging on my uniform, I lined up with the other new recruits and waited to be shown the ropes. It was my first day working at Burger King. Not the most thrilling of jobs, but it would help me pay my way through college, where I was studying a computer course.
“Hi, my name’s Chris,” the stranger smiled, offering me his hand. He was a nice guy and that day he showed me round.
He was friendly enough but I didn’t fancy Chris. Besides, he was already going out with one of the girls at work.
A couple of years later, I fancied a change and found a job at a local restaurant where they took me on as a waitress.
“I’m going to be so sad to leave you guys,” I waved as I said goodbye to my Burger King colleagues for the last time. And I meant it. They were a young, sociable team, we had a laugh together.
“Keep in touch, won’t you?” I smiled as I pushed the door open. I’d made good friends there and had swapped numbers with some of the staff.
Chris sent me the odd text now and again but a year or so later, he typed a message to say that he and his girlfriend and split up.
“We’ve been together ages,” he wrote. “I can’t believe it. I’m gutted.” He was clearly upset, and I wanted to be there for him, but when he suggested that we get together now he was single, I refused.
“I don’t want to be your rebound relationship,” I explained. Truth was, as much as I liked Chris, I was busy at college and wasn’t looking for a relationship.
He seemed to take the rejection in his stride. “Fair enough, I understand,” he replied.
So when he sent me a message asking me to join him for a drink not long afterwards, I turned him down. “I’m at work,” I explained.
It was true. I was waitressing and I had a big function the next day to prepare for, I couldn’t get out of it.
Undeterred, Chris came to me.
It was a surprise when he turned up at the restaurant, just as I was finishing the end of my shift. “I thought I’d come and join you,” he slurred, sloping inside.
He’d clearly had too many already, but my manager agreed to let him in for a drink at the end of the night with the rest of the staff.
“I’ll just have a soft drink,” he promised. About half an hour later, it was time to lock up.
“Do you fancy coming back to mine for a few more drinks?” Chris asked as we headed out into the cold night air. But I had the function the next day to think about and besides, Chris had had enough already.
“No, I’m going to call it a night,” I said. That’s when Chris offered to walk me home instead. I had my bike with me, it would have been quicker for me to ride back by myself, but I thought it was kind of him to offer. Besides, I wanted to check he was ok. He was obviously worse for wear.
“Ok, that would be nice, thanks,” I smiled, getting off my bike and pushing it alongside us. As we took a shortcut through an industrial estate, Chris stumbled and fell over.
“Are you ok?” I said, bending down to help him up. But Chris just dusted himself down and carried on walking around the corner.
I followed him and that’s when it happened. Chris pushed my bike away from me and shoved me up against a wall.
“Chris, what are you doing?” I said, suddenly realising how dark and isolated it was. But he was silent as he pushed and grabbed at me, tugging at my clothes.
“No! Chris, stop, get off me,” I yelled as he ripped a button off my work shirt and broke the clasp on my trousers. But nobody heard me. Nobody came.
Chris looked like a different person, it was as if someone else had taken over his body. He’d been so drunk he could barely walk, now he seemed suddenly sober.
He was strong and determined – and as he raped me I couldn’t fight him off.
Momentarily distracted by a noise in the distance, Chris was disturbed and turned around. It was my chance. I kicked him in the shin. “Aargh!” he yelped, bending down to clutch at his leg.
But I didn’t wait around. I picked up my bike and pedalled home as fast as I could.
When I got back to my grandparents’ house, where I lived, I headed straight to bed. It was only as I shut my bedroom door and collapsed beneath my duvet that the reality of what had happened hit me. I’d been raped. By Chris, my friend.
I cried, tears of shame – how had I let this happen? Why didn’t I just ride home by myself?
Then my phone beeped as a message flashed up on the screen. It was Chris. “I’m so sorry. I thought you wanted it. I’m really sorry,” it read.
But I couldn’t even think about replying. I was angry, ashamed and confused. That night I fell asleep, sobbing into my pillow.
I somehow managed to get through my work function the next day, it was only the day afterwards that I confided in a friend. She encouraged me to go to the police.
I gave statements and video statements to the police. I went to the hospital to be examined, and saw 46 different people in total. But it wasn’t enough.
There wasn’t enough evidence to convict Chris. The case was being dropped. I was gutted.
I hated Chris. I’d been there for him when he’d split from his girlfriend, I couldn’t believe he’d repay me by violating me so brutally. Now, I’d gone through all of this – for nothing.
I spent the next few months, terrified. I had counselling sessions but nothing seemed to help and I even turned to self-harm.
My confidence was in shreds. I couldn’t meet or talk to other men, let alone go on dates.
Then, a couple of years later, in 2008, came the bombshell. “This guy won’t stop texting me,” my friend Kate told me, as we drove around in my car together.
She worked in Burger King, where I’d met Chris all those years earlier – and I knew he’d gone back there. “Oh yeah, what’s his name?” I asked casually.
“Chris,” came her response.
It took my breath away. In that moment I knew I had to see him. I wanted to confront him.
“Tell him we’ll come and pick him up. He can come on a drive with us,” I said in the calmest voice I could muster.
“Ok,” Kate said, none-the-wiser as she sent him a text.
As we pulled up outside his house, I felt strangely in control. Chris wasn’t expecting to see me. I had the power now.
Chris was clearly terrified as he got in the car. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you for ages, when was the last time we met?” he blurted, trying to sound relaxed.
“The last time we saw each other?” I sneered, sarcastic. “That night.”
He quickly tried to change the subject, but I wasn’t about to drop it. I wanted to see him squirm, I wanted revenge.
I launched a tirade at him. “You’re a rapist! Do you know what you did to me, what you put me through?”
Kate twigged what was going on and begged me to let him out of the car. But I was finished. Chris was terrified, it had hit him hard. I’d scared him – just as he’d scared me that night. I’d got my revenge – and it was enough.
“It’s ok,” I said, dropping him home safely. I felt oddly calm. I was the boss, I was in charge.
After that, I bumped into Chris quite a lot as I met Kate after work. The three of us, it was fine, but then one day, Kate was kept on late at work.
“It’s ok, you two go on without me,” she said as she headed back inside.
I turned to Chris. I was nervous. I knew all too well what he was capable of and here we were, alone. “Shall we go?” I asked, nodding towards my car, appearing confident.
But I needn’t have worried. Sitting alone, next to the man that had ruined my life and violated me so savagely, I felt oddly at peace.
We chatted happily about anything and everything. We laughed all night and never once talked about what happened. We exchanged numbers and soon, we became a couple.
It felt completely natural and a couple of months later, we had sex for the first time as a couple. I was nervous, but Chris was gentle and attentive.
A month later, we took a break from our relationship. I wasn’t proud of it, but I’d cheated on Chris while he’d been away with friends.
“It’s over,” I told him. Chris was willing to accept it, to move on, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I had to end it.
I posted a ring he’d given me through his letter box. But he just sent it straight back. He wasn’t ready to give up on us.
A few weeks after the split, my mates took me out to cheer me up. I had a great time, but drank far too much.
“You need to sleep this off,” my mates told me as they helped me back home. That’s when Chris rang my mobile. “She’s had too much to drink,” I heard my friend tell him. “Come and look after her.”
I didn’t want Chris with me but I was in no state to argue. My girlfriends put me to bed, fully clothed, and let Chris in. Then, I passed out.
I woke up, in the early hours, to find someone grunting and moving on top of me. “Get off!” I yelled, summoning strength from goodness knows where to hurl him off.
The stranger tumbled onto the floor and I turned the light on. I saw Chris cowering by the bed. But he tried to get back in, back on top of me.
“You’re drunk. You wanted it, you’ve been sending me messages all night.”
“Get out now!” I yelled, screaming the house down. He fled and the next morning I knew exactly what I had to do. I went to police. I couldn’t believe Chris had taken advantage of me – again. This time, he’d pay.
Police built a watertight case against Chris, who pleaded guilty. He was banged to rights.
But I’d underestimated my feelings. Despite myself, I realised I was in love with Chris. And despite bail conditions, we kept in touch.
“We did have a good time when we were together didn’t we?” I told him when we met up. He looked full of remorse, and my heart felt heavy.
Then, when I heard through friends that Chris had taken an overdose, I didn’t care about the police – all I wanted to do was get round there and be with him.
I found him in bed. “Chris, wake up!” I yelled, shaking him. No response. Panicking, I hurled a glass of cold water over his face. Thankfully, he opened his eyes.
“Why Chris, why did you do it?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “If I can’t have you, my life isn’t worth living.”
In that moment, it hit me. I couldn’t do it. I was going to get police to drop the charges. “Are you sure?” Chris retorted. “I deserve whatever I’ve got coming to me. I should never have done that to you.”
But I was determined. I loved Chris – in spite of everything. I wanted to be with him no matter what.
I went to the police station and wrote a statement that was sent to the CPS. Thankfully, they agreed to drop the case.
That was October 2008, and we’ve been together ever since. We don’t talk about the past much. In fact, since Chris proposed last year, now we look to the future.
I know that people will judge me and I’ve lost most of my friends for choosing to marry my rapist, but I’m happy. I can’t wait to marry Chris. He’s the love of my life.
By Helen O’Brien