After the horrors she’s survived over the past year, Rory never expected to find the one thing she certainly wasn’t looking for – love. But after the painful realization that her past has left her a dangerous liability to the person she cares for the most, she finally understands that for her and Sam, love means letting go.
Can two people hopelessly in love with one another ever revert back into just friends? Neither Rory nor Sam know for sure. But the one thing they do know – it’s the only choice they have.
As Rory recovers from a devastating assault, Sam will do anything to make sure it never happens again. But how far will he go to keep her safe? Their choices will change everything, and they will either bring them back together, or destroy them irrevocably.
OKAY is the follow-up to NORMAL and Book 2 of the Something More series. It is not meant to be read as a standalone novel.
You already heard the story. The one of how Rory and I fell in love, supposedly, even if she couldn't handle it in the end. You know how it all went.
Or you think you do.
You only know her side. But I have my own point of view, and even Rory couldn't know my thoughts in those few months it took for her to go from being a stranger to my whole entire world.
Every moment is permanently ingrained in my memory. In my goddamned soul. From the moment I stumbled upon the girl panicking outside of calculus - the one with the tight little body, the angelic face, and the fierce attitude - to the night she abandoned me in Miami. It was the sum of those moments that changed me irrevocably.
Our story isn't over. I won't let it be. But this, this is what happened so far, the way I saw it.
I'm Cap. Or Sam, to Rory. And this is my story.
Generally speaking, I'm not the biggest fan of reporters. I realize that, as a writer, that's probably not the best thing to be saying publicly; however, I'm not talking about real journalists (or those whom I consider to be real journalists). I'm talking about your average reporter whose top and only real priority is to fill space in a periodical or program. The ones who won't report stories that are not newsworthy, unless there is a slow news day. The ones who hide behind words like "allegedly", and whose interests lie not in the truth of the story, but in the "truth" that is most interesting and will generate the most readers or viewers.
While the issues in Erdely's article have gotten a great deal of attention, this is unusual. Usually, when a reporter prints or reports something that is not true, or only half true, there are little to no repercussions. Most often, the victims of inaccurate reporting are not huge fraternities on prominent universities - usually they are just regular people, without the means to pursue legal recourse, and even if they do, often the best they can hope for is a tiny, fine-print retraction that no one will ever read, and that certainly will not undo the damage done to his or her reputation.
But this Rolling Stone article is far, far worse.
Erdely took a victim - a real victim, whether or not certain details of her account were inaccurate - and used her to victimize others. In printing a poorly researched story, the journalist damaged the reputation of organizations, which, it now appears, were not necessarily guilty. In the United States, we are all supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but in the press, it works rather the opposite way. If a newspaper reports that you have been accused of something, guess what? In the public eye, you're guilty until or unless a jury acquits you, and if it never gets that far? I guess you're just screwed.
Perhaps most telling is the impetus for the story itself. According to Erdely, it was not because the victim, Jackie, came forward to her and wanted to get her story out. In fact, it was Erdely who sought out the victim. But not before she sought out "the right school to focus on". Erdely was looking for a story. In fact, she admits she "looked around at a number of different campuses" to find the story that would be most compelling - that would sell the most magazines, and under the auspices or helping a victim get her story heard, she used Jackie, exploited her, and in the end, the girl is being victimized all over again.
In fairness, it's likely that Erdely's heart was in the right place. I do not presume to know her thoughts, and it's very possible that her intention was simply to bring attention to a real issue, but in going about it the way she did, she brought the exact kind of attention this issue does not need.
Rolling Stone itself is no better. Their response when called out on this shoddy reporting? "...We have come to the conclusion that our trust in (Jackie) was misplaced." No, Rolling Stone, your trust in your staff member doing her due diligence was misplaced.
But even that is not the worst damage done by Erdely's article.
My deepest concern, and I expect others have expressed this as well, is that in printing this article without doing her due diligence as a journalist, Erdely has unintentionally given the green light to question the details of the account of each and every rape victim, and, in doing so, imply that their accuracy or inaccuracy proves or disproves that a crime did or did not occur.
This country has come a long way in how we respond to sexual assault victims, but it still has far to go. Erdely's screw-up will take us back decades. It will create an environment in which it becomes acceptable to presume the victim mistaken or lying unless she - or he - can prove every detail of his or her account. It will create an environment in which it becomes acceptable to question every detail, and further perpetuate the practice of "poking holes" in a victim's account of his or her own assault.
But memory is inherently flawed, and when you add a traumatic event such as rape, we simply cannot presume that inconsistencies imply the event did not occur at all.
Most importantly, it is difficult enough for victims of sexual assault to come forward. Girls between the ages of sixteen and nineteen are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. On average, 60% of sexual assaults go unreported. And it isn't difficult to understand why. Victims are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from PTSD, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide. 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, and the stigma attached to sexual assault can follow victims indefinitely.
Worse still, there usually isn't a big up-side in coming forward. Only 3% or rapists actually serve jail time. And now we add an environment where victims will be questioned - likely interrogated - about every single detail they may or may not remember correctly. Because she may have been mistaken as to which fraternity he belonged to, or whether it was a formal function or just your run-of-the-mill frat party, but I assure you, she knows exactly who he is. She will never forget.
Now, false accusations happen. I'm not saying they don't, or that we should blindly believe every allegation ever made. But we must tread lightly. We must err on the side of believing the accuser, and investigating appropriately - NOT printing without investigating, and not ripping the victim apart. This entire situation has been grossly mishandled, and I fear nothing good can come of it.
If I realized then how much it would stick with me, how often I would find my thoughts wandering back to it, I may have had the foresight to note who the author was, or even the source, but alas, I did not. I suspect I noticed I was nearly late to pick up my son from preschool, hastily closed my browser, and ran out the door. But like I said, the article stuck.
It was a compelling story of a young woman who had suffered through a traumatic abusive relationship when she was only in high school, and the difficulty she had navigating her way out while facing the social drama inherent to this already daunting time. I found the article beautifully written, honest, and truly inspiring. But that wasn't the reason I found myself unable to let it go.
Once I read the final line, I continued downward, to the dreaded "comments" section. I expected to see accolades to this courageous young women, not only for being brave enough to escape the violence, but for speaking out through this article. For giving victims a voice, and potentially helping others find the courage to do the same.
But that's not what I saw. In fairness, there were a few comments praising the author, or expressing horror over her experience, but the vast majority of comments reflected what I believe is an epidemic in our society: victim blaming.
I found myself outraged over commenters calling the author "stupid", and "naive". Yes, for real. These people simply could not understand how she didn't heed the "warning signs". How she could have possibly stayed in the relationship after the first sign of violence. Some even went so far as to say that she "asked for it" - that she deserved every occurrence of abuse thereafter because she didn't leave.
We live in a judgmental society, I knew that, but what shocked me was how easily people seemed to reject the possibility that perhaps life is more complicated than black and white. The only thing black and white about relationship abuse is that it is wrong and inexcusable. And victim blaming is counterproductive, cruel, and speaks of ignorance and either an inability or unwillingness to try and understand.
Though most of me wanted to write my own scathing comment calling out all of these previous commenters, to give them a figurative kick in the ass, fate dictated otherwise. I don't remember what routine event caused me to "X" out the article feeling unresolved and angry, but whatever it was, I'm grateful for it. Writing a nasty comment may have given me some kind of closure, and NORMAL may never have been born.
The article forced it's way back into my thoughts every now and then, for an indeterminable number of months, and because I had some time to consider it, my anger deflated and evolved into something else. Understanding. I began to understand why some of these people thought the way they did. Many of us are very lucky. Privileged. We grow up in a society, which, for many of us, educates on issues like domestic violence and relationship abuse. We begin to see these issues as antiquated, like smallpox - a terrible, dangerous problem that time, education, (and science in that case) has all but eradicated. We think to ourselves, I would see these warning signs, I would know what to do. I would tell someone, I would get out.
And for many of us - the luckiest of us - we never have to find out what we would really do in such a situation - how we would react. Because there's always a clarity in retrospect that is clouded by a muddlement of different factors when you're in the moment. And it occurred to me that it isn't easy to understand these factors - to know just how bright, or dim, those "red flags" would really be. How closely they can resemble what we otherwise believe to be parts of a normal relationship. And what about the outside factors? We all have different family situations, different friendships, different support systems, and sometimes little to no support at all. I realized that no one really knows how they would react to certain situations if they haven't actually lived them.
It isn't all black and white. And that is why I decided to write the gray.
Rory's story is told both in the present and in flashbacks. I wanted readers to live it - to feel it. To become slowly sucked in the way victims often are. I wanted readers to understand the emotional conflict, the consternation, the terror, and the hopelessness. To realize that the victim-blaming is already there, without outsiders adding their own uninformed judgments. That, in many cases, the victim's own mind is a perpetual crossfire of self-recrimination and second guessing - of wonderings if different choices could have prevented their own pain and suffering.
The gray doesn't refer to the line of right and wrong - because there is no gray area there. The gray is about the right and wrong way to react, to read the signs, and to show readers that the obvious response - or at least the response that is obvious to outsiders looking in - is often the most difficult. It often doesn't lead to justice, or salvation. Much of the time, it only leads to more pain. Because our society is terribly flawed, and blaming the victim only exacerbates the problem.
But there is hope. I can't tell you how humbled I am that so many victims, or survivors, of abuse or sexual assault have reached out to me about NORMAL. I'm honored to hear that they identify with Rory, and how closely her story resembles aspects of their own. But the truly inspiring thing is that almost all of these people have made sure to tell me how well they're doing now. That there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And it's a message that largely reflects my motivation for writing NORMAL as I did.
I chose to start the book during the fallout. After Rory finally had the courage to tell someone what had been happening, and escaped the violence of her past. But victims know that that is never the end of the story. There are lasting effects of such trauma, and Rory has to navigate them and survive. But I didn't want NORMAL to just about surviving. I wanted my girl to live. But it isn't easy for victims, so if you're wondering why this is a series and not a standalone - there's your answer. I didn't feel I could give Rory the happily ever after she sincerely deserves in the time span covered in NORMAL. She has a great deal more to work through, and even if she gets her happy ending, she'll be dealing with some of these issues probably for the rest of her life. But that is okay. Because I believe in Rory. I believe that one day she will wear her scars proudly, and live the life she deserves. And if her story can help even a single other victim, then I've achieved what I set out to do.
Thank you for reading!