She also boasts a strong support system Stateside, citing current and former Def Jam execs Jay-Z, Jay Brown, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith and L.A. Reid, as well as her managers, the beauty professionals in her entourage and her best friend–roommate, Melissa Forde (whom she’s rarely seen without), as members of her second family. But she says that after the incident, confiding in those who cared about her most was, in some ways, the hardest. “It’s like they are too close to you,” she explains. “When you have to talk about something so painful, they are going to get too emotional. And that wasn’t helping me, because I already felt the same way and I’m looking to not feel like this. I felt like, If I’m going to tell you something and you’re going to have pity for me, then I’m not going to talk to you.”
“It was nerve-wracking,” says Rogers of watching from arm’s length as his protégé went through something so devastating. “There were times I absolutely feared for how much she could handle, when I wondered, Is she going to melt down? Me and my wife were like her surrogate parents. We’ve tried to learn how to let go, but there were definitely many times when we wished we could go back in time to when things were simpler.”
Still, as evidenced by her new tattoo, Rihanna is dedicated to finding a silver lining in her hellish experience. “At first I completely shut down. But now I feel like this happened to me so I could be a voice for young girls who are going through what I went through and don’t know how to talk about it,” she says. “It’s not about Chris, about hurting him or sabotaging his career. I don’t care about that part of it.”
Though she has stated that February 8 was the first time that Brown—with whom she became best friends early in her career, before things turned romantic about two years ago—beat her, she says that in retrospect, there were warning signs. “There were control issues, insecurity,” she says. “When people are insecure they become very controlling and they can get very aggressive and in turn abusive. It doesn’t have to be physical. Like they would say bad stuff to you to make you feel lesser than them just so they would have control in the relationship. It takes a big toll on your emotions and on your everyday life. It changes you.”
Rihanna averts her eyes as she recounts all this and veers into the second person; it’s clearly still tough for her to talk about. In real time, one can see her wavering between embracing what happened—wanting to find purpose in it—and wishing the experience would magically vanish from her own and the public’s memory. Both desires are wrapped up in Rated R: The album can be one positive to arise from her ordeal and also make her famous for her music again rather than for her personal life.