I Didn’t Want to Ruin My Rapist’s Lives

A year and a half after I was raped, when I first start telling people about it, one of the first questions I was asked was, “Why didn’t you report it?”

At 15 years old, the simplest answer I had, was: I didn’t want to ruin their lives.

At 15 years old, I was more concerned with protecting the reputation of my rapists than getting help for myself. I had seen it before. I still see it: a young woman accuses a young man of rape. The media refers to the young man as a “promising young athlete with a bright future ahead of him,” while referring to the young woman as “the victim,” or simply, “the girl,” as if she didn’t have a bright future in front of her. (I’m looking at you, Steubenville.)

When you’re 13 and raped, 15 and trying to explain what happened to you, and you live in a society that calls a victim’s actions into question in order to justify rape, serious damage is done to everybody.

To the rape victims, it teaches use that this was our fault. We are dirty. (I used to believe this; now I know it’s not true.)

To the would-be-rapists, it teaches that as long as one can come up with a good reason to show that they were tempted by the “victim,” they may be able to get away with it.

This is Rape Culture. (And before you say, Rape Culture is a myth perpetuated by feminists in order to destroy men. You need to know that 1. You know absolutely nothing about feminism. 2. I am more concerned with helping women and minorities than I am with destroying men. 3. Rape Culture is no myth. 4. I live it every day.)

I live with it every time somebody asks me, “What were you wearing? What did you do? You’re making this up, right?”

Fact: I was wearing a hoodie and jeans. He asked me out, and I said, “No.” This is as real as my love of books, which, if you know anything about me, is enormous.

I live with it every time I hear a guy talking to his friends about how his biggest fear is being accused of rape.

Fact: you are more likely to know someone whose rape is unreported than you are to be accused of rape you didn’t commit.

I live with it every time I go out in public dressed up.

Fact: you may be a man, and I may be a woman, but my body is my body, not yours to look out.

I live with it every time I’m asked why I didn’t report my rape.

Fact: I kept quiet out of fear—fear that no one would believe me, people would blame me, people would ostracize me.

It’s easier to live with the rape quietly, in private than it is to live with all the victimizing questions, to have your name dragged through the mud. It’s easier to suffer in silence than to suffer publicly (just ask every celebrity).  To be honest, sometimes I’d rather go back in time and never tell anybody what happened to me than have people ask me what I was wearing, doing. But then I realize that’s not true. Telling people has allowed me to help others. Because I’m not the only one of my friends to go through this.

When I was 15 and talking about my rape for the first time, people asked me why I didn’t report it.

Back then, the only answer I had, was: “I don’t want to ruin their lives.”

Truth is, looking back, I didn’t want to ruin my own. It’s easier to forget and forgive than it is to have long-drawn-out allegations and accusations.

Sometimes, I wonder if I made the right choice. I can’t help wonder if they’ve done it again, and if they have, is it all my fault for not stepping up to the plate, taking a swing?

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with my past and the way things have unfolded. But I’m ok with it now.

Yes, sometimes it still hurts; sometimes I get riled up when people talk about rape as if it’s no big deal; sometimes, I still have flashbacks.

And that’s ok. Because it’s a part of my past that has seen the light of day. And from it, beauty has been created.

I used to idealize people who were brave enough to talk about the dark parts of their past. Now I’m one of them.

The problem with putting people or groups on pedestals because we perceive them to be better than ourselves, is that, when it comes down to it, underneath it all, they’re humans just like us—capable of harm. We all make mistakes.

I have forgiven others.

But, perhaps most importantly of all, I have forgiven myself for the mistakes I have made: for believing I was dirty, impure, less of a person; for believing the lies that it was all my fault.

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Open Letter to Wide-eyed freshmen and eager seniors

Sitting at the reception desk this morning, watching all the new students stream into the building for their first day of classes, my heart aches a little bit. I want to be a part of it all: the hustle and the bustle, the reunion of friends after a summer hiatus, the meeting of professors and new classmates.

It is when I look at my bank account and realize I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on books and supplies that it hit me I’m not a part of it anymore—college life continues without me. I can stay on campus as long as I want, but I still won’t be an active participant: my friends will go to class and will leave me sitting alone. And they did. And they do.

I am now that alumni that refuses to leave, the one who, maybe, doesn’t even know how.

So, I sat in the café for four hours after my shift ended, taking it all in—the sights, the smells, the sounds—like a person on a diet, trying to quell their cravings by immersing their senses. Or, better yet, a reader who lives vicariously through the characters in a favorite book.

Looking at the sea of faces in front of me, I don’t recognize half of them. The ones I do, I say ‘Hello’ to. The ones I know well, I hug. The ones I don’t, I say a prayer for, asking God to bless their time at college like he did for me.

I’m a whole different person now than I was when I started college—thank God for that.

I was a wide-eyed freshman who thought she knew everything, and somehow along the way I turned into an alumnus who realizes she still has a lot to learn. Life would be pretty boring if I knew everything.

One day, you wide-eyed freshmen will turn into eager seniors who are just ready to be done: ready to be done with all the all-nighters, ready to be done with the 2 am fire alarms, ready to be done seeing that one professor you just don’t agree with.

Embrace the time you have in college. Trust me when I say that someday that ‘one day’ will turn into tomorrow. Tomorrow comes sooner than you think.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will be at least a few times when you doubt everything. The first will come when you meet someone whose life challenges everything you thought you knew. You may go to a small, Christian, liberal arts school, but the people here are as diverse as NYC. You will meet someone who causes you to question every belief you learned growing up. Embrace these people. Learn from them. Listen to them with an open mind. It’s only after your beliefs have been truly questioned that you can stand firm.

I believe what I believe not because it’s what my parents believe. I believe what I believe because I have questioned.

Wide-eyed freshman, you will doubt yourself again when your senior year draws to a close, and you wonder if you are going to make it in the ‘real world.’ You will. The skills you have learned along the way have prepared you for this moment: you are eager to learn, you can cooperate well with others, you’ve learned how to manage your time. The things you haven’t learned yet, you will learn along the way.

You will doubt yourself many times between these two and many times after. But, remember this: there are people around you cheering you on, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Wide-eyed freshman, it might take a while, but you will find the place where you fit. You will find friends you encourage you, challenge you, laugh with you, cry with you, rejoice with you. Hang on to them. The friends you make in college will be some of the best friends you ever have.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will come a day when you stop feeling homesick. Don’t forget about your family. Write them, call them, text them. Let them know how you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the hard things, the parts of yourself you’d rather keep hidden. You will make mistakes. It’s ok. We all do.

Eager seniors, you’ve done it! You’ve made it this far, and now you’re ready to be done. I was too, and now I realize how much I’m going to miss (not syllabus week, or finals week, or the all-nighters trying to write the paper that’s due tomorrow that I procrastinated on). I’m going to miss seeing my friends every day. I’m going to miss having conversations that challenge me to grow as a person and an intellectual. I’m going to miss taking time away from studying to go to Taco Bell (because sometimes taking a break is the best thing you can do).

Eager seniors, don’t forget what you’ve learned along the way. Dream big. You will do great things with the talents you’ve been forgiven. When you become rich and famous, don’t forget about the people who helped you along the way. Don’t forget to keep learning, exploring. There is so much world out there to explore, so many different kinds of people to meet, so many cultures to experience.

The best advice I ever received came from one of my favorite professors. One day he said to my class, “Trust me.

Wait, don’t. Don’t trust me. Question everything.”

I went from a wide-eyed freshman to an eager senior to a college alumnus who is still trying to figure her life out. And that’s ok. Because the more I question, the more I learn; the more I learn, the more risks I take; the more risks I take, the harder I fall; the harder I fall, the stronger I become; and the stronger I become, a better human I will be.

That is what college is all about: becoming a better human.

I stayed on campus for four hours after my shift ended, trying to take everything I could in because I’m still trying to become a better human. And the people I met in college have helped me along the way.

continue reading: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

The End is Nigh: Graduation

Tomorrow is a big day for me: I graduate from college.

It’s a terrifying prospect, really, because the future is a great unknown, an expanse of uncertainty, a looming sea with uncharted waters.

It’s terrifying when you don’t have a plan, and you probably should.

For years, people have looked at me incredulously when I’ve told them my major: English?! What are you going to do with that?

I’ve always responded the same way: I have no idea.

Now, here I sit, on the eve of graduation, and my answer hasn’t changed. In the long-term I know exactly what I want to do: I want to write. I bleed words: sentences and stories run through my mind, records on repeat. I want to write because words have power.

There are so many stories out there in the world that are waiting to be told. There are so many stories inside of me waiting to be awoken.

Psychologists and neurologists have studied the power of the mind to think, to feel, to connect, to create. Imagination is a powerful thing, and it can provide insights into a person’s brain, which is why Art is so important.

Since I’ve started this journey of writing, my stories haven’t really changed, at least superficially, but when the layers are peeled back, the true meanings are revealed. They’re like an onion: multi-layered, can make you cry, and are sometimes smelly.

Writing has been my therapy; it’s been my way to process life, and there is so much more life out there to experience, not just mine, but others’ lives, too. Stories have a way of changing the world, and so I want to write.

But with the way this economy is set up, writing is not a practical short-term solution (to the chagrin of budding writers everywhere whose sighs are heard all over the worlds). So I need a job to help supplement the writing, at least for a while. And on this brink of adulthood and all the responsibilities that come with it, I don’t have a plan.

And that’s ok because I’m looking, and I know life has provided me with a toolbox full of tools and knowledge to help me along the way.

Tomorrow, I graduate from college. I’m not the same person I was when I graduated from High school. Words cannot express how thankful I am for that.

As a senior in High school, I thought I knew everything. I was cocky and arrogant and so sure of what I believed.

Life has a way of knocking you off your feet when you get too confident. Mostly it uses gravity.

As a senior in college, I relish in the fact that I don’t know everything; there’s always more to learn. Thank goodness for that because life would be pretty boring if there was nothing else to learn.

I enjoy the fact that our finite human minds can’t comprehend the infinite nature of the universe; it keeps the appeal of mystery and wonder.

College has taught me how much I enjoy learning, how much there is to know. There are so many things to learn about other people, literature, history, philosophy, history, math, science, and the universe. One person can’t possibly learn it all.

If you’re not learning, what are you doing?

Emily Dickinson wrote: Lad of Athens, faithful be / to Thyself, / And Mystery – / All the rest is perjury.

Life is a mystery; embrace it. Learn, learn, learn.

College is the perfect place to learn from other people. And boy, have I learned.

I’m not the same person I was when I graduated High school because I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve come in contact with. I’ve learned more about the world, more about people. I’ve become more open-minded; my beliefs have changed because of the people I’ve met, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I graduate from college tomorrow, and it’s bittersweet. I’m ready to move on and to handle what’s next. My Liberal Arts education at this private Christian college has taught me more about myself and the world than I ever thought possible.

However, it’s going to be hard to leave people behind. In the past few years, I’ve found my niche, my posse, the place where I fit, the people who have taught me the most. And for that I’m glad. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the friendships I’ve made along the way.

I graduate from college tomorrow, but I didn’t do it on my own.

And I have so many people to thank:

My family for their endless support and love. My mom for helping me get to this point. My dad for the coffee dates. My grandma for making sure I was always fed. My grandpa for letting me “borrow his knowledge.” My sisters for showing me how to laugh in the midst of stress.

My friends for letting me vent, for showing me what it’s like to have people who truly understand you, for letting me into your lives while you share your struggles and hardships.

My advisor, Prof Q, for being that guiding light, for knowing what to say at the right time, for giving advice, for listening to me pour my heart out when I was having difficulty, for encouraging me in my writing and in life.

You, the readers of this blog, for letting me share with you my struggles, for your feedback and encouragement, for sharing your stories with me.

The whole Roberts Wesleyan Community for showing me that not everybody is the same. There are so many reasons why I didn’t want to come to Roberts, but I’m so glad I did.

These last few years have been a blast (while also being a struggle, a nightmare dressed like a daydream, a daydream dressed like a nightmare, and so much more).

So, yes, I graduate from college tomorrow. And it’s terrifying and bittersweet and everything in between. I’m 50 shades of anxious disguised as cool and collected (at least most of the time. I’m sure tomorrow there’ll be a few gallons of tears). But for now, this is it.

Time waits for no man. The world doesn’t stop spinning for you when you’re life is about to change. Change is inevitable, and I’m welcoming it with open arms. (Even if I have to wear a hefty trash bag in 90 degree weather)

Open Letter to My Cousin and Every Other Young Girl on the Verge of Womanhood

We celebrated your 14th birthday last night, and after dinner had been eaten, presents opened, candles blown out, and cake devoured, you made a few comments that caused me to worry.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans.

I feel bloated.

My butt is too big.

I know these phrases. I’ve heard these phrases. I’ve said these phrases. These phrases became my worst enemy. They ate away at my self-image until I refused to eat.

I thought that in order to be beautiful, I had to look a certain way. I knew I never would look this way because it’s not in my DNA, but I tried to anyway.

I tried to make myself smaller to fit in the box labelled ‘Perfection.’

I was willing to give up my individuality, what makes me me, to gain a definition of beauty that I realize now I don’t want to fit.

And I’m not saying you’re going to be like this.

I’m not saying you’ll struggle with an eating disorder. I’m hoping you don’t. But I’m saying to you, watch out. Eating disorders are uncomfortably common in society today, and it’s easier to fall into their trap than you think it is.

I never thought it would happen to me.

Unfortunately, it did. I started to believe the whispers in my head that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough.

It starts with a whisper, and then it escalates to a scream in your head that you’re not beautiful enough.

And not everybody develops eating disorders, but everybody compares themselves to others.

If I had her legs, her face, her hips, her hair, maybe I’d be beautiful.

It starts with comparing, but it can escalate from there, which can be extremely dangerous.

So, when I hear you make comments like this, I have to respond.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans (it’s called “growing up”).

I feel bloated (did you know your weight can change from day-to-day?).

My butt is too big (it’s not too big. You’re getting hips. You’re a woman, not a 2×4).

One day, you’re a girl. The next day, you’re on the verge of womanhood. And society is so quick to rush the process along, we forget to teach you that it’s ok to take your time. It’s ok to not look like everybody else.

It starts with that wonderful (but not-so-secretly terrible) gift that Mother Nature gives us every month. Then it moves to developing breasts and hips. Your clothes stop fitting the way they used to. You’re becoming a woman, and it’s terrifying.

You move from child to woman overnight, and suddenly you’re wearing adult clothes. One day, you wake up, look in the mirror, and see your mother. When did this happen?

You see all these magazines and movies with women who don’t look like you. And that’s ok. We can’t all look the same.

You’re beautiful anyway.

You’re beautiful despite your insecurities (and it’s ok to be insecure. We all are at times).

You’re beautiful despite, and because of, your imperfections.

You may have a bigger butt than you like. Your hips may be wider than you like. You may be too tall, too short, too fat, too thin. You may have too many curves or none at all.

That’s ok.

You’re a woman, not a 2×4.

I need you to know this now before you become like me and enter your Freshman year at college and realize you can’t remember the last time you ate a full meal or three times a day.

I need you to know this now before you lose yourself trying to become like other people.

I need you to know this now because it’s harder to unlearn poor body image later. It’s harder to unlearn your insecurities than it is to learn what you like about yourself.

I need you to know this now because you’re beautiful. And maybe looking in the mirrors some days is painful. You don’t have to look. The mirror can’t tell you how other people see you. The mirror can’t tell you how smart you are, how funny you are, how athletic you are, how musical, how bright your future is.

I know society teaches us that beauty is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important thing.

I’m telling you to be more than pretty. Be pretty amazing, pretty smart, pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty eager to change the world.

A five letter word does not describe you.

When I was Young

When I was young, I would curl up on my Grandma’s lap and read books for hours. By the time I had grown up, I had memorized 4 joke books and had read enough books to open a library. I believed that friends would last forever and that my reflection in the mirror would always be on my side. I believed that Super Man chose to exist in the form of my Dad, and that Band-Aids could fix everything. I believed that life was all rainbows and unicorns, and that life would last forever. I believed that if I tried hard enough, I could be anything and do everything. I believed that magic made the world go round.

It’s funny how time changes a person. It’s funny how mean words are remembered more than kind words, and how people have the ability to destroy others. It’s funny how people are so willing to change themselves to please others—they give pieces of themselves away until nothing but a small fragment remains, and then they spend years trying to get them all back; once they do, they are all misshapen and don’t fit together anymore.

I remember waking up one morning and hating the face in the mirror. Five years later, I am still trying to love it again. When I was little, I would pretend to be a princess, until I found guys that told me I was, but then treated me like the stepsisters treated Cinderella—as if everything I wore, my body and clothes, was made from their unwanted scraps. Five years later, I am still polishing off my tiara and mending my tattered Cinderella gown.

I remember waking up one morning and believing that my identity was found in a boy who was not yet a man: A boy who treated me as if I were property, like someone who didn’t need friends besides him. I remember waking up one morning and realizing that I didn’t need a guy to make me complete. I didn’t need a guy to make me special and worthwhile. I didn’t want to be Bella from Twilight, who relied so heavily on a guy that when he left she threw herself off a cliff.

I’m stronger than I think and braver than I believe. When I was little, I would run around the house in my Superhero cape pretending that I could save the world. Sometimes, I believe that I still can. When I was little, I believed that if I jumped high enough and flapped my arms hard enough, I could fly. Sometimes, I still try.

Sometimes, right after I wake up, in that moment between awake and asleep, I believe that I can be anybody and do anything that I want.

I am strong.

I am single. (you’d have to be pretty awesome to change that).

I am independent.

I am woman.

Hear me roar. *

 

 

*And by roar I mean laugh like a little kid in a candy store.