To the boys who raped me and called it fun

I was told to write you a letter, an angry letter in which I shifted the blame from myself to those really at fault: you.

But since that letter has language that should not be shared and is so full of anger, I’m posting this more hopeful, still angry, one instead. (Since I know you–at least one of you–read this blog.)

There’s ten years worth of anger and hurt and misplaced blame inside of me, simmering on the stove of my soul, and it takes just a little bit of anything to make the emotions hit a boil and overflow. And that’s not me. Nothing about the last ten years has been me: the neediness and the withdrawing, the saying hurtful things to friends and not saying enough, the oversharing and the emotional turmoil are not me. It’s the trauma tumor–the tumor you caused–controlling me. And it’s controlled me for so long.

But no more. No more.

I can’t do it any longer–can’t hoard these memories any longer, can’t hoard the hurt and the pain and the anger. I can’t pretend to be in control of things that were never in my control to begin with. These feelings, these emotions, these memories are not my fault.

None of this is my fault.

It’s yours. And I could go on and on and on about how angry I am at you, but I’ve already done that not more than five minutes ago. The truth is I am angry. So angry. And for so long I was angry at the only person I thought I could be angry at: me. I was angry at myself because being angry at yourself is easier than being angry at someone else. I was angry at myself because I blamed myself for things that weren’t my fault–aren’t my fault. They’re yours.

And I have to be ok with that. I have to be ok with that because I can’t control the past. I can’t control what happened. I can’t change the fact that you held me down in that bathroom despite my cries to stop. I can’t change the fact that I’ve spent 10 years blaming myself for something you did. I can’t change the fact that there’s so much hurt and pain in my life that I used to rather be dead than face it head on because you told me I’d be better off dead.

I have to be ok with what I can’t control, what I can’t change. But I don’t have to be ok with what you did–I’m not ok with it.

I’m angry and I’m hurting and I’m lost and I’m confused. But I’m also so much more than all of that.

I can’t do it any longer–I can’t hold on to any of the hurt and anger anymore. Because after those are gone, what’s left? Healing and peace. Healing and peace. That’s what I want.

And I know this journey is going to be long, and it means I’m going to face hard, painful emotions head on. And it’s not going to be fun.

But you lied to me: you said no one would ever love me. You said I’m not worth it.

But people do love me, and I have the best support system around me.

But I am alive, and I am worth it.

I’m worth it.

I’m so worth it.

And honestly, I’m sorry that the fun you thought we had caused me so much pain and heartache. Because that’s ten years of my life I’ll never get back. Ten years.

I’m angry and I’m hurting and I’m so desperately trying to figure out how to move forward.

But this I do know: I’m doing it. I’m doing it. I’m doing it.

And you can’t stop me any longer.

I don’t care where you stand on gun legislation or LGBTA rights.

Dear Orlando,

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say in response to the mass shooting that occurred in your city, but how am I supposed to figure out what to say when I can’t even make sense of what happened? How can I figure out what to say when there are communities in mourning—not just within your city, but within our country, within our world? How can I figure out what to say when all the major issues in our country are so divisive, when we can’t even have a civil discussion about the issues events like this bring up? How can I figure out what to say when the two major political parties can’t agree on anything—even when it comes down to the value of human life and how to save it—when their candidates are using this tragedy to advance their own campaigns, draw attention to their own successes?

I’ve been trying to think about what to say, mulling Saturday’s events over in my head all day Sunday and most of day, letting my thoughts fester like an open wound, feeling the pain—both my own and second hand pain from the communities affected by this: both the LGBTA and Muslim communities. And after all this time of reflection and thinking, I’m still not sure that I know exactly what I want to say; I’m not sure that I have the right words.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe there are no right words. Maybe there are just words, opinions really, that are either harmful or good. I’m all for supporting opinions and free speech—after all, it is our right as Americans to say what we think, and because of this right, I posted what I thought last night on Facebook:

response

After sleeping on it (which didn’t actually happen because I was too busy mulling things over to actually sleep), I’m standing by what I said, but I’m also going to add to and clarify things.

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this happened to you—both to your city and the LGBTA and Muslim communities. I’m sorry we live in a world where this keeps happening, i.e., Terrorist attacks. I’m sorry we live in a country where this keeps happening, i.e., mass shootings. I’m sorry we live in a country where certain groups are targeted based on race, sexuality, or religion. And I know that we are not the only country where things like this happen. I know that, but, as a US citizen and a citizen of the world, I am concerned with where we are headed.

Second of all, Radical Islam is our enemy. But so is Radical Christianity. So is Radical anything. The very definition of the word “Radical” proves this to be true. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Radical is” a :  very different from the usual or traditional :  extreme b :  favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c :  associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change d :  advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.”

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are foreign born. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church. And yes, statistically in the United States, most of what have been labeled ‘Terrorist Attacks’ have been carried out by Muslim extremists. But there have been other attacks in our recent history that have not been labeled Terrorism that fit the bill. (the Charleston church shooting comes to mind, attacks carried out by a young Christian, white supremacist Male.)

Third of all, this was more than just an act of Terrorism. This was a Hate crime against the LGBTA community, which happened to be committed by a US born citizen who became a Radical Muslim. The attack was planned; the venue was not. He had a hatred of gay people, or at least an aversion to them—an animosity so great he decided to act. It was a terror attack and a hate crime all wrapped into one horrific event. Which makes this whole thing more confusing. 

There’s nothing black or white about any of this. It’s more than just liberals vs conservatives, republicans vs democrats, Muslims vs Christians, the Western World vs the Middle Eastern World, guns vs no guns. This whole thing is a big mess of a murky grey color.

Which means there are no easy answers. And we as a nation, as a world have to be ok with that. Because we have a much bigger problem on our hands than ISIS, Terrorism, and gun violence.

Our biggest problem lies in the rhetoric of our First Amendment right—the freedom of speech. We are each entitled to our own opinion, but over the years our opinions have become so divisive, so polarizing, so stuck.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having opinions; the problem begins when our opinions led to people, actual HUMAN BEINGS being killed.

We have, as a society, become so headstrong, so defensive, we can’t engage in civil discourse about the most pressing issues of our time. We can’t see the “other sides” side of things. Perhaps, most importantly, when it comes to arguing issues, each side isn’t even arguing about the same thing—each overarching issue has many different points, and each side is arguing a different point, which means no discussion can happen.

And this lack of discussion is widening the gap between “us” and “them,” driving a wedge between both sides of an issue. Which leads me back to where the problem really lies: our “us vs them” mentality.

By referring to those who are as “us” and to those who aren’t as “them,” we are doing a disservice to those who are different—we are isolating them, ostracizing them, making them afraid to live their lives.  After 9/11, attacks against Muslims in the US rose, rising again after the Paris attacks. Attacks against the LGBTA community are also prevalent in today’s culture.

“Us vs Them” is dangerous, creating divisions, Grand Canyon sized rifts and wedges between populations of the world—wedges which really allows ISIS to be the most effective. Westerners aren’t the only people affected by ISIS; Muslims in the Middle East are affected more than the Western Countries are (I googled it for you). ISIS capitalizes on the rift between Western Christians and Muslims because our tendency in the West is to loop all Muslims in the “Terrorist until Proven otherwise Category,” which allows ISIS to swoop in and save the day for the Western Muslim. (Picture a street kid who is bullied joining a gang for protection and a sense of identity.)

So, no, there are no easy answers. No, I do not have any of the hard answers. Nor do I have any suggestions on how to change policy because at 21, I am too young to even know where to begin. But at 21, I am old enough to see that we have to do something because I’ve seen enough violence to last a lifetime.

I don’t even know how to begin to enact the change as a world on the macro level. But on the micro level, the change begins with me. And it begins with my words.

As an English major and a writer, I have learned to be very careful with the words I use when writing—I try my hardest not to use words that will isolate my reader. As a Christian, I am even more so—because there is no “us and them” in the eyes of God. There is only us; We the people; we the Children of God.

So, no. Now is not the time for frivolous arguments that will get nowhere—you can only beat the dead horse so many times with the same useless stick.

No, I do not care, nor do I want to hear about your opinions about guns and the LGBTA and Muslim communities today. Our opinions have caused so much hurt already. Now is the time for unity.

And to those who are hurting today: my friends in the LGBTA who are afraid to hold hands with the person you love in public, who are afraid to come out to you family and friend; my friends in the Muslim community who are now afraid to leave your house, I want to say I am sorry.

I’m sorry for everything.

And I know words can only do so much. But I want you to know that you are my neighbor.

We are one People; one body.

Sometimes we forget that we are not the only victims. The same things we suffer from, you do, too.

I will try not to forget anymore.

And I am going to try my hardest to help you in any way I can, even if that means reaching out, being a friend to those who are different from me. If there’s one thing my life has taught me, it’s that those who are different from us are the ones we can learn the most from.

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

Here’s the thing: I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to want to protect your child, to want to defend them when they are a victim, to want to soften the blow when they do something wrong. I don’t know what it feels like to raise a child and watch them make mistakes, watch them do terrible things. But I do know this: I know that sometimes the best way to protect your child from future harm is by letting them face the consequences of their actions today.

Humans are not perfect, nor we should we pretend to be. We all do terrible things, and we all face punishment for our wrongdoings, or at least we should—it’s how we learn, how we become better humans, how we become more sympathetic to someone else’s plight. As a child, I was punished if I did something wrong, even if the only person hurt by my actions was me. If I hurt someone else by my actions, my punishment was more severe. As it should be. That’s how I learned not to hurt people, to respect them.

We all hurt people; it’s just a part of life. The question is: do we learn from the hurt we cause, or do we continue to allow it to happen? By defending your son in the way that you did, I don’t know if he has learned anything.

But I know who has: future victims—the young people who have watched this case unfold. The young girls have learned that if they’re raped, which approximately 1 in 4 will be, they’re better off not saying anything. They’re better off not pressing charges, because even if there is evidence, their attacker will get off lightly. It’s better to suffer quietly than to be publicly attacked, to have your name dragged through the mud, to have every decision you make questioned because society needs to justify what happened. Girls who are raped can be as brave as they want, but in this culture, bravery is not enough.

The young boys have learned that if they are white, middle-class and above, athletic, smart, and have a “bright future ahead of them,” they can rape someone and have consequences that do not match their actions. But if you’re a black man who’s wrongly accused of rape, good luck, dude. No one’s on your side either.

I hope I’m wrong about both of the above. 

I also know this: your son is not the victim here. You wrote in your letter to the judge about how your son used to be compared to how he is now. As you put it:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking moment is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his loss of appetite.

That, dear sir, is what guilt looks like. I’ve seen it before. I’ve felt it before, usually in the twilight period between doing something wrong and confessing, the period where I’m sick-to-my-stomach terrified that I’m going to get caught. The only thing your son is a victim of is what he did to himself. He made a choice that night, and I know you and he blame it on the alcohol, but the alcohol is not the problem. It’s not a drinking problem; it’s a societal problem. Rape can happen alcohol or not, “promiscuous behavior” or not; rape can happen, as it did for me, in a Middle School bathroom; a place where I, arguably, should have been the safest, besides my own home.

A murderer can still get the maximum sentence even if the murderer only took “20 minutes.” A rape is still a rape even if it was only “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Mine took less than 15 minutes, but it took more than 15 minutes for me to heal. There is no timeline on healing. 8 years later, and I’m still not fully healed. But I’m getting there, and your victim will, too.

I read her letter. All 12 heart-breaking, gut-wrenching pages of it. It took me three days, a new record. And I read it again and again, letting the words wash over me as my heart broke, as memories resurfaced. I read it first as a sign of solidarity: “I’ve been through this too, and I want to support you the only way I know how.” I read it again because I was amazed at the strength your victim showed as she faced you in court, publicly sharing her letter. I read it again and again because I see something in her I recognize—the sleepless nights, the wanting to leave your body behind, the strength it takes to get out of bed every day–and even though I’m farther along on this journey than she is, I am amazed at how far she’s come.

I don’t know the kind of person she was before you raped her; I’ve only gotten glimpses by the words she’s shared, but I do know who she is now: she is someone who’s walked through one of the toughest things imaginable and has come out on the other side stronger than she was before. I do know who she’ll be: she’ll be amazing; she’ll be shining bright; she’ll be someone who touches the life of everybody she has come in contact with. She’s touched mine, and I’ve only read her letter.

You had a bright future ahead of you. So does your victim. All of us victims do. You were great at swimming. She is great at something, too. I was great at school, until I was raped, and then just thinking about school made it hard for me to breathe.

And, yet, here we both stand: she and I, on the other side, each telling our own story about the same thing. And I’m angry—not about what happened to me—but that it keeps happening, that we have to keep saying the same things over and over and over again.

As for who you were before you decided to rape her: it doesn’t matter. You chose your fate. You were a swimmer, now you’re a registered sex offender and a convicted rapist. The only thing that matters now is where you go from here. How do you learn from this? Can you own up to the choice you made without blaming it on the alcohol?  Can people learn from you? Can you teach others, not about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, or about binge drinking and its unfortunate results, but about what rape is and how not to rape others?

John Steinbeck wrote, ““I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

You’ve already done ill.

I hope you choose to do well. Because that means there’s hope that good can triumph over evil.

And if there’s one thing we could use more of in this world, it’s hope.

Rape Joke

“Hey, did you hear the one about the girl who got raped?”

The punchline is that she was 13 years old.

The punchline is that he slammed her locker shut every day because he liked her.

The punchline is that when he asked her out, she said, “No.”

The punchline is that he decided to take matters into his own hands, along with the hands of four of his closest friends, to show her what she would be missing.

After it was over, the punchline tried not to make eye contact with her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She tried to clean herself off and hide the bruises shaped like hands and teeth as best as she could. She exited the bathroom, walked down the hall of the deserted middle school, opened her locker (half expecting it to be slammed shut immediately, and when it wasn’t, breathed a sigh of relief). She exited the building, lonely footsteps echoing behind her, got into her dad’s car, and pretended it didn’t happen—everything was fine.

The rape joke is that he sat behind her in English class. His breath on her neck was the only thing she could focus on, making it very hard to concentrate on whatever work of art they read that last month of class, especially that first one: that poem by Emily Dickinson, “My life is like a loaded gun.” 7 years later, she thought it would be fun to take an Emily Dickinson class. She’d be fine. And she was, until that poem when she found herself transported back to that moment.

The rape joke is that her professor asked her what she thought it was a metaphor for. She didn’t know how to say she thought about all the memories this poem brought back, how it could be a metaphor for all of that. “I think it’s just about a loaded gun,” she said.

The rape joke is the way he didn’t threaten her, at least not really. He just said, “no one will believe you.”

The rape joke is that earlier that year, she was taught in Health class how to not get raped. Fat lot of good that lesson did her: she wasn’t drunk; she wasn’t wearing revealing clothes; she wasn’t outside, at night, alone.

The rape joke is that his locker was right next to hers because life likes cruel irony and alphabetical order is the most convenient way to organize everybody (a terrible thing really), and he still slammed her locker shut every day.

The rape joke is that on the last day of school, when they both opened their lockers at the same time, he didn’t slam hers shut. Instead, he whispered in her ear, “At least I didn’t get you pregnant.” And then he dared to smirk: an insult to injury, really. Maybe if you had, people would believe me when I’m ready to tell, when I’m ready to stop pretending this didn’t happen, she thought to herself. Which is a terrible thing to think, but when you’re 13, you sometimes think terrible things.

The rape joke is that the first time she told somebody who wasn’t a close friend or family, they responded, “Don’t feel bad. It could’ve happened to anybody.” Translation: Lucky her; close call, everyone else who’s last name is similar.

The rape joke is that a few years later, she had to break up with her boyfriend because of this joke. Because every time he put his arm around her, she was transported back to that bathroom. And even though he knew what had happened, he didn’t understand she needed space. But she blamed herself really for believing she could be loved in the first place.

For the longest time, she thought she was going crazy. And she was.

No offense.

No offense (that it happened to her).

No offense (that she buried the pain so deep, it took cutting her skin open to feel anything).

No offense (that the words said would echo in her mind for years to come: Bitch. Slut. You’ll never be loved. You don’t have to cut hard enough to leave a scar in order to draw blood).

No offense (that she went crazy, that it took her years to find her voice again but eventually she found it when she started writing about monsters and darkness, caves and loneliness).

No offense (it took a long time for her to forgive).

No offense (it’s just a joke).

The punchline is that she’s not the only one this has happened to. Among her acquaintance group, she knows of at least six others. That number grows every year, standing in solidarity, alone together.

The punchline is that she knows guys this has happened to. Nobody believes them, either.

The punchline is that we have to feel pain to become stronger, but does it have to hurt this bad?

The punchline is that our past doesn’t define us, but it does help make us who we are today.

But no offense.

The rape joke is funny because the punchline is me.

The punchline is at least I was pretty enough for it happen to me, but then how come sometimes it makes me feel so ugly?

The punchline is that this joke doesn’t define who I am.

“Come on. Lighten up. It was just a joke.”

If it’s just a joke, shouldn’t I be laughing?

It took me years to really truly laugh again.

I’m finally laughing again.

But not at this because nothing about this is funny, especially when it happens to you.

 So, yeah. I’ve heard the one about the Girl who got raped.

Have you? 

The Effect of Rape in Novels: As told by an English Major Rape Victim

I got an email from one of my professors today asking me how I was dealing with the past two class discussions.

You see, in my Novel class, we have just finished discussing the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. In this novel (SPOILER ALERT), the main character, Tess, gets drugged and raped by a man named Alec; as a result, she becomes pregnant (the baby dies after a few months). A few months after her baby dies, Tess decides to start a new life: she goes to a dairy farm where she falls in love and eventually marries. When she tells her husband what happens to her, he throws it in her face, implies she’s impure, and that she was asking for it. Tess and Angel, her husband, then separate. Some time passes, and Tess runs into Alec (you know the guy who raped her), and she decides to become his mistress.

You know, because we accept the love we think we deserve. Anyway, after more time passes, Angel returns. Tess then kills Alec, which in turn causes Tess to be hanged.

Needless to say, this book upset me. Granted, I know it was written in the late 19th century, a time when women had very few rights and had even less protection against such acts. But that didn’t stop the novel from hurting me any less.

Tess tries to be honest and ends up getting hurt. Tess is raped, and society dpesn’t try to help her. She is raped; it is her fault; and she has to deal with the consequences all on her own.

And it’s upsetting, because her mother never tells her of the dangers in the world: “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me?”

As an English Major, this is not the first time I’ve had to discuss books about rape. Last semester, I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak, which is also a book about sexual assualt. This book hit a little closer to home for me (as evidenced by the following blog post I wrote back in December):

“IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding.”

“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?” – Speak, by Laurie Halse Andserson

In my Adolescent Lit class on Tuesday, we discussed the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. At the beginning of the Semester, my Professor introduced the book by saying, “It’s a book about Sexual Assault.”

And immediately, right there, my mind stopped. I thought to myself, “Wait, what?” So, after class I went up to my Professor and said, ” Prof Q, I don’t know if I can read this book.” And I told her my story, just like I’ve told it so many times before. And she understood, and she told me I didn’t have to come to class the day we discussed Speak.

I didn’t have to go to class.

Half a semester later, my mind was telling me “Don’t go to class,” but my feet weren’t listening. So, I showed up to class, and was immediately told to write a 10 minute response to the following question, “How accurate is Melinda’s (the main character) portrayal of High School in this book? Use examples from your own life or from somebody else’s.”

I am Melinda. Melinda is me. As I read this book, I was in tears from laughing at Melinda’s scathing wit and biting sarcasm. As I read this book, I was in tears from crying because of the experience we share. High School is exactly as it was portrayed in this book, at least for me. I remember thinking these things. I remember doing what she did. I remember doing it all. This is the most believable book I’ve read thus far to date.

As we discussed the book in class, I felt awkward, compressed, as though there were 4000 pounds of weight on my chest. I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest, unless of course the pressure surrounding my lungs didn’t kill me first. I sat there in silence, doodling in my notebook, checking my phone, analyzing Beauty and the Beast in my head, and doing pretty much anything that distracted me from the conversation at hand.

I didn’t say anything until Prof Q asked the last question, “How did you like the ending?”

I immediately got angry. I hated the ending.

(SPOILER ALERT: The book ends with Melinda confronting her assaulter in her hide-away closet at school. She threatens him with a shard of glass to his neck.

And then some other stuff goes down, but those details aren’t important).

I spoke up, “I hated the ending. It makes for a better story, but it doesn’t actually happen that way. I don’t know, I mean, I do know. But, ya.”

As much as Melinda and I have in common, our stories are just as different. We were both Sexually Assaulted at the end of 8th grade. But it took me two years to admit anything was wrong.

Melinda had one IT. I had 5 ITs, which means I had THEM.

THEM.

And while IT happened at a party for Melinda, THEM happened in a school bathroom for me.

I didn’t have a place to run and hide in school. I didn’t have a place I belonged. I haven’t told anyone their names even though I saw their faces everyday until they either dropped out, moved away, or until we graduated together.

But, like Melinda I know the fear of THEM. I know the not wanting to get out of bed. I know the wanting to tell someone but not knowing how. I know the self-hatred and the self-blaming. I know the grimacing when I hear their names or their voices. I know the thought “what if I said ‘no’ one more time?” I know it all.

I struggled with self-injury for years before I stopped. I struggled with Anorexia all the way through High School and into college. And I’m lucky if I don’t have a mental breakdown anytime I run into someone who even remotely looks like one of THEM.

So, no. I don’t think my story will ever end like Melinda’s. And that’s ok. Because they took a lot from me, and I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to reclaim it as my own.

And it’s taken me a long time to get where I am today, and it’s been a lot of baby steps along the way. I’ve stopped cutting. I’ve started eating. I’ve started believing myself to be beautiful. I’ve stopped wanting to jump every time I’m up high.

Yesterday, I saw a picture of one of THEM on Facebook because of a mutual friend, and I didn’t slam my laptop shut, want to throw up, or take 5 showers. So, ya. That happened, and it was big.

And 5.5 years later, I’ve gotten to the point where I can finally identify THEM by name (but I won’t list them here, because this is the internet, and this is not the place for naming names). And one day, I may even say “Hi” to them if I see them in Walmart, that is if I don’t go cry in the bathroom first.

No, but really though. One day I will say Hi, because I want them to know they don’t have a hold of me anymore. I’ve reclaimed what was mine. And yes, I still have flashbacks from time to time, but I’ve learned that when I speak, people will listen. They told me I would never amount to anything in my life. Clearly, I’ve proved them wrong.

Books like these hurt to read, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they are not worthy of being read, because I do.

These books help educate society on a topic that is still somewhat taboo.

I’m open and honest with what’s happened to me, because I don’t want my past to be used against me. I’m open and honest with my story because I was told that getting raped was my fault (which it totally wasn’t, by the way).

Unlike Tess, I have a great support system, and I hope other rape victims do, too.

Unlike Tess, women nowadays are told from a young age are taught how to avoid getting raped: don’t walk along at night; don’t put yourself in situations when you could potentially get raped, etc.

I think society is doing better when it comes to rape, but I still think we can do better. We can start teaching our boys how not to rape; we can stop blaming the victims: stop asking what clothes they were wearing, how much skin was showing.

Books like Tess and Speak help illustrate the devestating effects of rape without having to experience it firsthand. And I value that: you shouldn’t have to experience something in order to become aware of the consequences.

Books like Tess and Speak remind me that I cannot change my past, but I can accept it, learn from it, and grow from it.

But why would I want to change the past, anyway? It’s made me who I am. It’s made me stronger.

And like Tess and Melinda, I’ve faced my demons: Tess murders hers. Melinda tells hers off. I forgave mine.

So, yes. I am ok with talking about books like these, because these topics are a real part of society, and sometimes, books have taught me the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned: hope exists. You are not alone.

Sorry I Punched You in the Face, but Your Ignorance was Asking for it.

To the group of guys in my campus library who said that girls who are raped are asking for it:

Fuck you.

Normally, I don’t swear, because I believe that words are powerful, and I was raised by parents who got mad if I said ‘crap’ too often. But, I’m an English Major, and there are approximately 1,025,109 words in the English language, but I can’t think of a better way to sum up how I feel about what you said than this: Fuck you. I hope you get high-fived in the face with a chair.

That might wipe the condescending grins off your stupid faces.

It’s not your fault that you believe girls who are raped are asking for it. I blame society. I blame the way women have been seen as inferior for years. I blame the phrase “boys will be boys.” I blame the way we teach our daughters that if a boy is mean to her, if he pulls her hair, he likes her. I think that’s why women stay in abusive relationships; she feels obligated to stay. He says he loves her. He beats her up with his words and his fists, and she thinks she deserves it.

But let me tell you a story. It’s my story. Because you say I deserve what happened to me. That some how because of the clothes I wore, the things I did, I deserved to be assaulted. But I didn’t.

When I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing a hoodie and jeans. When I was sexually assaulted, I had the audacity to tell a guy, “No.” I had the audacity to refuse a date from a guy who was more of a jerk than a man. I had the audacity to not be a prize that’s won.

I wrote what’s below a while ago, but I think you need to hear it now. So, I’m sharing it again, because apparently, guys like you need to check your privilege.

When I was in first grade, I was told that if a guy was mean to me, he liked me. I would go tell the teacher that Billy stole the ball I was playing with, and he wouldn’t give it back.

“Kaleigh,” I was told, “He likes you.”

“Sam pulled my hair.”

“He likes you.”

7 years later, I’m lying on a school bathroom floor, and I’m wondering if these guys are showing me they love me. And now I’m walking on egg shells around every guy I meet, not wanting to be loved again, because if this is how a guy tells a girl he loves her, I’d much rather be single forever.

I was taught in school how to protect myself from rape. Don’t walk alone. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t go out at night. Keep your body hidden. Don’t give them a reason.

If the reason was turning him down when he asked me out, because he was a jerk, then yes, I gave him a reason.  Maybe I gave him a reason because I was too quiet all the time, and too loud at the wrong times. And apparently, his friends decided I was the worst and decided to punish me too. And now I’m stuck keeping it a secret because I don’t want the blaming questions.

“Why were you alone?”

“What were you wearing?”

It’s been 5 years, and I’m still getting told by some people to praise God I don’t remember it all. Let me tell you, I remember it enough to know I don’t want to remember it all.

It’s been 5 years, and sometimes unexpected contact is still the worse, and sometimes it burns as if I’m holding the sun in my hands.

It’s been 5 years, and sometimes I still have to defend myself against judging glances. Because, apparently, has someone who has been blessed with two x chromosomes, instead of one, the only job I have in life is to not let myself get raped.

Hold up, let me tell you something.

My job as a female is to do whatever the heck I want to do. I am not part of the “weaker sex.” And I may not be able to bench press as much as you men, but I know how to be strong. I may have wider hips, but I have a fighter’s stance.

And I don’t want to hear these excuses about men having a voracious appetite for sex. The word appetite should only be used when talking about food. I am not food.

Sometimes my thoughts threaten to eat me alive.

But, I will not be silenced. I am a statistic, but that doesn’t define me.

Because one day in my first week of college, somebody said, “If someone hates himself so much they want to die, they’re better off dead.” And then,  ”If someone gets raped, they probably deserved it.” So I told my story, and then he had the audacity to defend the other guys’ actions.

I’m pretty sure the “Bros Before Hoes,” part of the Bro Code does not apply in this situation. Because he wasn’t justified, and I didn’t provoke. I was in the wrong place in the wrong time surrounded by the wrong people. And their touch is woven into the deepest part of my skin, and 5 years later, I still get shivers down my spine. I was told no one would love me, and I believed them, until I realized I have the most amazing friends.

I was told not to get raped. They were not told how not to rape.

Guys tell one another, “You throw like a girl!” Since when is being a girl an insult? Some of the strongest people I know are women. Being a girl is not an insult.

I am not an insult. You are not an insult. I will tell my daughter she is not an insult.

I may be a girl, but I know how to fight. And so will my daughters. My sons will learn the meaning of “no.”

“No” is not “maybe.” “No” is not “convince me.”

And I will teach them both the two best things I’ve ever learned: How to love myself, despite everything. And how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.

Because repetition forms habits.

I’ve found my voice again. So yes, I may be ‘beautiful’ or whatever, but I am so much more.

I am woman.

I am a fighter.

I am a survivor.

And I will teach my children to be the same.

I will teach my Children what love is, and what it’s not. Because you shouldn’t be afraid of love.

I’m not afraid anymore.   -“Afraid in Love”

I’m not afraid anymore, but I still get mad at guys like you. Because guys like you are the ones who wink at girls on the bus. Guys like you are the ones who catcall girls on the street. Guys like you make girls uncomfortable in their own skin. Guys like you are the reasons for some of my sleepless nights and the scars on my skin. Guys like you fail to realize that work of art you’re canvassing is not yours to steal. Girls bodies are not your playground. We are not simply woodchips crunching under your feet.

We are people too.

I’m a person despite being a female who’s been raped.

And I know that the next time a guy lays a hand on me when it’s unwanted, he’ll be on the floor so fast, he won’t know what hit him.

Spoiler alert: My fist will have been the thing that hit him.

So, the next time I hear anybody say that girls who are raped deserve it, I will punch them in the face. And if they get offended, I’ll just say, “Sorry I punched you in the face, but your ignorance was asking for it.”

 

An open letter to my Attackers (Part 2)

Dear Attackers,

Two months ago, I wrote you a letter saying I forgive you. And I did forgive you, but I need to warn you and tell you a lot of people don’t like you. My Father doesn’t like you. My close friends don’t like you. There are a few adults I know who don’t like you either.

And I need to tell you I have never told anybody who you are. Nobody knows who you are. Nobody from High School. Nobody from town. Nobody from anywhere knows who you are, except for me.

I never told anybody what exactly happened in that bathroom. Well, I’ve never told anybody until now. But I need to tell people now, because I’m trying to heal, and I can’t until people know. I can’t heal until people know why unexpected physical contact upsets me. I can’t heal until people know why shirts, scarves, and necklaces too close to my neck upset me.

I’m telling people now, because I’m going on a trip with a fantastic group of people, and I want to not have a freak-out attack in front of them. I’m telling people now because I need to move on with my life. One day I will start dating a fantastic man, but I can’t be ready until I say this:

I remember. I remember it all. I remember one of you coming up behind me, grabbing me, and then pinning me down. I remember the other 4 of you walking up to me, laughing, as if it were some kind of joke. (I kid you not, it was no joke. Because it hurts to write this, and I find no part of this funny.)

I remember you pushing my clothes out of the way, because you didn’t think I’d need them, because you had the audacity to think my body was yours to use.

I remember the choking, the pinching, the way you touched me that was not at all gentle. It was almost as if I were an animal you were sizing up, getting ready to buy or sell.

I remember you choking me, hitting me, and calling me names I wouldn’t repeat to my worst enemy. I remember the sounds of zippers as you revealed parts of you I was too young to see.

I remember sights, and smells, and the way things felt. And I remember the feel of my tears rushing down my cheeks, and the sound of my voice saying “stop” over and over, until it lost all meaning.

I remember the way you touched me and the way you forced me to touch you.

I remember the bruises I had for days. I remember the bruises around my neck, on my upper arms, around my knees and every where in between.

I remember your strength and my weakness.

I remember the things you told me.

And there are nights I can’t sleep, because I remember it all. And people wonder why I am the way I am. People wonder why I randomly freak out over small things. People wonder why I hate big groups and why I hate being anywhere alone.

And yet, somehow, I’ve still forgiven you. And my forgiveness shows you messed with the wrong girl, because I’ve forgiven, but I haven’t forgotten.

I haven’t forgotten, but I’ve used my experiences to help others. And I’m writing a book, because I want people to know they are not alone. I want people to know healing is possible. I want people to know there is always hope. I want people to know true strength comes from within. I want people to know they are beautiful.

Because somehow, despite everything you took from me, I’m still beautiful. I’m still standing tall, shining bright, and you can’t ever take that from me.

Dear Fellow Cutters: A letter

Dear Fellow Cutters (And Those Who Aren’t),

I’m writing this letter because this is an issue that needs to be discussed. I want you to know that you are not alone even if it feels like you are.

And I know I’m quoting from other things I’ve written, but this needs to be talked about.

I know what it’s like to be tormented by inner demons, who are constantly telling you you’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or insert adjective here enough. I know what it’s like to be waging a war on the battlefield of your body where the enemy is nothing other than a darker version of yourself: two sides of the same coin that will never work in tandem. You’re trying to save yourself from yourself, which is the last person you should have to worry about, but is also your own worst enemy.

I know what it’s like to hate yourself so much that self-hate eats at your soul until you are unable to feel any emotion. I know what it’s like to feel as though you are not human, because let’s be honest: A human void of emotion is no human at all. So to cope with the numbness that we feel, we cut. Because for that one minute, when the warm blood is dripping from our skin, we are allowed to feel something, anything, which is better than nothing.

I know what it’s like to become addicted to this release. I know what it’s like to hide the scars from judging eyes and from those who don’t realize anything is wrong. Because, let’s be honest, we want to see the best in people, and we don’t want to believe people around us are hurting this badly. And we don’t know how to explain we are not trying to kill ourselves; we are trying to stay alive (because in that moment, when the razor of hate touches our skin, we are not thinking about suicide. It’s after we’ve stitched ourselves back up that those thoughts begin).

But I also know what it’s like to hit your lowest point: to look down and realize your skin is not your skin anymore. After years of being bloody from fighting last night’s battles, it’s become a puzzle to be put back together. It’s become a battlefield marked with the gravestone of those lost in the fight. it’s become a maze or a timeline; traceable lines mark the path you’ve walked, how far you’ve traveled. I know what it’s like to wonder how you’ve made it this far. I know what it’s like to be scared by the future because you didn’t think you’d make it to see today.

I know what it’s like to tear the Band-Aid off, to feel the pain, to fight the fight, to put down the razor. And it’s not easy. Every day I have to tell myself that I don’t need to pick up that razor: I am better than this. For three years I have been telling myself this, and it doesn’t go away, but it gets easier.

So, dear friends who are reading this: I understand. I understand that it is hard to stop. I understand that it’s an addiction, and a method people like us use to feel alive. But if you are trying to stop, or have beaten it, I am so proud of you! For the rest of you, keep fighting. Life is hard, but it is also so beautiful.

Monsters: A poem within a poem

As Children we looked under our beds for monsters. Our monsters hid in closets. They lay in wait for the flick of the switch to conceal the room in total, utter, all-consuming darkness. Monsters that didn’t really exist, and that were really nothing more than shadows transformed into hideous beings by our overactive imaginations.

“Daddy! Daddy! There’s a monster!”

Somehow between the ages of naivety and experience, the monsters created by the imagination changed into monsters no imagination could create. Monsters hiding in the recesses of our soul until moments of weakness signals the beginning of feeding time—a feeding time that puts all the troops on high alert:

Watch out, there’s an invader. But the invader is only a darker version of ourselves threatening to destroy us. And the battlefield is our body: we are protecting our bodies from ourselves. Because the mind is a dangerous place, especially the mind of a tormented soul who doesn’t know how to deal with the pain.

And cries of “Daddy! Daddy! There’s a monster!” won’t save you this time.

The cries won’t save you from the battle raging on in your mind for control of your body. A battle that is best exemplified by a poem in the diary of a young girl who has just started fighting, a girl who has been so consumed by self-hate that she began cutting to stop the thought of ending her life.

An unnamed poem that reads:

Looking in the mirror, a tear stained face stares back at her.

She sees the hurt in her eyes.

Flashbacks of memories from the life shoe once lived control her mind;

She closes her eyes and the memories come flooding in.

Worthless. Worthless.

Ugly. Ugly.

Lying in her bed at night, she’s reached the breaking point.

Delirious from the tears, subconsciously her hands grab the scissors.

Slash.

The warm crimson blood trickles out of the newly made wound on her abdomen.

It stings like a slap in the face.

But it provides a temporary release for the pain, the anger.

Slash:

Another one.

This time on the wrist—

A cut that feels like it’s on fire.

She opens her eyes.

She looks in the mirror for a second time.

She dries her tears.

She covers her recently created marks of all-consuming self-hate.

She walks out the door to start her day.

That day’s battles will leave her with two more scars.

But the poem doesn’t have to end that way. Your story doesn’t have to end that way. The monsters don’t have to win. A simple asterisk with an alternate ending turns the poem to a happy one:

She looks in the mirror for a second time.

She dries her tears, turns around, and walks away;

She leaves the person she was behind.

She’s stronger now.

All that’s left are the scars and the memories of those long, sleepless nights.

You’re stronger now.

I’m stronger now.

We’re all stronger now.

 

 

Testimony 2.0

The first word is always the hardest.

It’s hard for us to admit that there’s anything wrong. It’s hard for us to admit that there are things that have happened to us that have destroyed the person we once were. There are things that have happened to us that have drastically altered the course of our lives.

And we can’t admit we’re broken. So we go on wearing a happy face, rocking our own cape, because we are told that we should deal with our problems ourselves. And then we look in the mirror one day and realize we don’t recognize the person looking back at us.

I didn’t recognize the person looking back at me.

The first word is always the hardest. But I’ve heard when telling a story, it is most effective to start at the beginning.

But, I can’t start at the beginning, because I’m a “Good Christian Girl,” and the story I’m about to share doesn’t happen to “Good Christian Girls.”

And I don’t really know how to talk about it, and sometimes, I feel like I can’t talk about it; so I’m sharing it here.

When I was in 8th grade, I was sexually assaulted by 5 guy friends of mine. They stole my innocence. They tore my proverbial Cinderella dress leaving me in my Cinder Rags. They stole it in a bathroom at school. And while I can’t get it back, the act itself isn’t what’s left me broken.

It’s what they said. “You deserve this. You’re worthless. You’re never going to amount to anything. No one will ever love you.”

And I couldn’t tell anybody because school is filled with the wrong kinds of people. It was my word against theirs. And they were popular and I was not. So I suffered in silence.

The suffering turned to self-hatred. The self-hatred ate at my soul until I felt nothing. I was breathing, but I wasn’t alive. So to feel alive, I began cutting. And with each cut the words “you deserve this. You’re worthless. You’re never going to amount to anything. No one will ever love you” echoed in my mind.

Eventually, after months of this daily battle that left my skin bloody and torn, I decided that wasn’t enough. I started eating less because everybody loves the pretty, skinny girl.

And I didn’t fit any of that criteria. But I wanted to. Because if I couldn’t love myself, who else would be able to.

And over time all these feelings piled up, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to kill myself. I probably would have succeeded too if a little voice in the back of my mind hadn’t told me, you are good enough.

I threw up the pills I took.

I decided to live.

I decided to fight.

And every day I’m still fighting.

Because even though I don’t cut anymore, the urge is still always there. And I don’t know everything that triggers memories to come rushing back. And I wish I did, because then maybe I could tell you what to stop doing. But I don’t. So I can’t. But I will tell you to watch my reaction to jokes, to unexpected physical contact, to certain images, to people that remind me of someone I’d much rather forget. Little unconscious facial expressions can reveal so much about a person.

Don’t tell me I’m a bad Christian for hating myself. God is one of the only things that forces me out of bed in the morning.

Don’t tell me I deserved what happened. Nobody deserves pain like that. I was young, naïve, and didn’t know how to deal with the pain I was going through.

I see many beautiful people while going about my day. I’m not one of them. I don’t think so.

But that’s ok.

Because I’ve figured a few things out.

  1. I am capable of so much more. In the battle between Who I Think I am and Who I could Be, Who I think I am won every time, because that’s what I let get a hold of me. that’s what feeds off my energy. It doesn’t have to be that way.
  2. We are all capable of doing something great. I am, you are, we are all. But we all have something holding us back.

Every mirror tells me something different. I can tell myself that I’m beautiful over and over again, until I’m blue in the face, but there is an irrevocable flaw ingrained deep into the recesses of my brain that refuses to let me believe it. And even though deep in my soul I know I’m capable of greatness, there is something holding me back. And until I figure out what it is, until I figure out how to overcome it, I am destined to live in my own shadow.

I’m held back by fear and self-doubt. Fear that I will never be good enough, and enough self-doubt to give all the arrogant people a healthy dose.

Even though I know all this, it’s not enough to stop the feelings. It’s not enough to cure me. it’s not enough to make me whole again. But it’s enough to keep fighting. And you can be damn* sure that I will.

Sometimes when I’m sad, or hate myself, I look at the lines on my hands. They remind me that I have been stitched together by the master sewer, and I’ve learned that sometimes, that is enough.

 

*Pardon the swear word. I don’t swear normally on principle, but it’s emphasis. It’s important.