Flashbacks of Memories

We like to go through life pretending we’re fine, that everything’s all good and dandy. I do, too. When people ask me how I’m doing, I quickly reply “Fine” because I hope they won’t poke and prod at the facade that I’ve spent so long trying to build. I mean, sure, I’ll make a Facebook post about something I’m struggling with, or whatever, but that’s nothing: I’m still hiding behind this persona of someone who likes to pretend she has it all together.

The truth is, I don’t. The truth is that on Friday I had THE worst panic attack/flashback I’ve ever had in my life. The truth is that it’s still going on, and I don’t know how to make it stop. Because the thing about adulthood is that I can’t just curl up into a ball, wrap a blanket tight around me, and stay in bed all day. I have to go to work. I have to carpe diem and all that jazz.

And it hurts. It hurts so much. It hurts because I don’t want to feel broken. It hurts because all I want to do is be happy and smiley and be someone that people fall in love with. Who could ever love someone who’s broken?

But right now, all I want to do die, not like actually, but I just.. I have this feeling. This uncontrollable panic, this unappeasable dread. I wrote a blog post a few months ago in which I describe my rape. I’m going to tell it again in part here (you can read the full version here). I’m going to tell it again because this is what I felt happening on Friday. This is why I’m still feeling the lingering effects, why my heart is still trying to escape through my ears, and why my stomach is stuck in my throat.

The first time it happened was a Monday at 4pm in a school bathroom. The second time it happened was a Friday at 6:45 in a college workout room. The first time it happened, I was just leaving the bathroom stall and had expected my locker to be slammed shut not two minutes before. The second time it happened, I was just about to finish my workout, trying to convince myself that I could stick it out a little while longer.

I was already on edge.

The first time it happened, I hadn’t seen them walk in. I heard the door open, but I thought it was just a teacher. The second time it happened, I saw them walk in. I heard the door click after they swiped their IDs, and I could see them when they walked in.

The first time it happened, I was standing at the bathroom sink, washing my hands, when they snuck up behind me and grabbed me, putting a hand over my mouth before I could even muffle out a “No.” The second time it happened, I was lying on an exercise mat, doing my ab workout, when it started to sneak up on me, wrapping me in my past before I could ground myself in the present.

The first time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, so the drip drip drip of the bathroom sink that I didn’t have time to turn off became the ocean waves, and the nose plugging until I opened my mouth to gasp for air–which is what they wanted, an open mouth–became me drowning. The second time it happened, I wanted to be anywhere but there, but I powered through. I hopped on the treadmill and tried to outrun the memories that were closing in faster, which is what they wanted anyway–for me to remember forever.

The first time it happened, there were 10 hands, 5 tongues, too many teeth, and 5 I-didn’t-want-them-anywhere-near-me. The second time it happened, it was just me, alone in the hall, surrounded by echoes of memories.

The first time it happened, I was 13, almost 14. The second time it happened, I was 23, just barely 23.

I can tell you so many things about the first time it happened: who they were, what I was wearing, what they smelled like, how long it lasted.

  1. It doesn’t matter who they were, but I’ve learned to say their names.
  2. A hoodie and a pair of jeans.
  3. They smelled like sweat and sawdust and orange juice.
  4. It lasted 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

I can tell you so many things about the second time (because that’s what it feels like. It feels like it happened a second time, and I wish I knew why): who I was, what I was wearing, what it smelled like, how long it lasted:

  1. It doesn’t matter who I was, but it matters who I am right now, even if I don’t know who I am. Maybe they were right when they told me I was a bitch, a slut, and called me worthless.  I’m hurting, and I wish I wasn’t.
  2. Workout leggings, a sports bra, and a smelly tank top.
  3. I smelled like sweat and sawdust and peaches.
  4. It lasted an hour and a half, but the first 20 minutes felt like 20 seconds. And I guess, technically, it’s still going. 

I can tell you that the first one ended with me getting off the bathroom floor, cleaning myself off, and not telling anyone for a year. I can tell you that the second one ended with me collapsing onto a bench, pacing back and forth, and finally telling someone about half an hour in.

I can tell you that the first one lead to self-harm and an eating disorder. I can tell you that the second one lead to finger-nail shaped crescents in my right arm and this feeling of nausea that won’t subside.

I can tell you that for all the things I remember about the first one, there are some I don’t remember. I hope I never do.

I can tell you that the panic attack/flashback I had was full of the worst possible I can’t remembers.

I can tell you that on Friday, I’m so glad I ran into a friend who was willing to walk with me to the locker room, willing to sit with me and talk with me until I was calm enough to go home.

Because I can tell you that on Friday just walking down the hall towards the locker room that reminds me of a bathroom was enough for me to feel like I was going to throw up and pass out.

The last blog post ended with me talking about forgiveness, and healing, and how God loves me, and I’m beautiful and strong and worthy of being loved.

I can tell you that this one does not. This one ends with me being unsure if I am actually healing. This one ends with me still feeling nauseous and panicky, and maybe I can’t forgive them quite yet, and maybe I’m not beautiful or strong or worthy of being loved. Because I definitely don’t feel very strong right now, and I must definitely don’t love myself. This ends with me feeling oh-so-very weak.

But maybe that’s ok. Maybe it is.

Right now, all I can take are baby steps. Yesterday, I spent the same amount of time at the gym as I normally do, except I spent 45 minutes trying to convince myself that I could walk up those stairs I felt closing in on me on Friday; I spent 10 minutes working out before it all became too much, and then I spent 20 more minutes convincing myself I could walk back to the locker room.

Tonight, I did the same thing over again: except I only spent 30 minutes trying to convince myself; I spent 20 minutes working out, and I spent 20 minutes sitting in the rain, hoping there would be a rainbow.

And I waited and waited and waited, and there was a rainbow.

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And then I cried, because I’m in a tough spot right now: the thunderstorms are coming in, and they’re bringing an overwhelming flood.

But God. God creates rainbows.

I don’t have a rainbow right now. But I do have baby-steps. And I hope to the God who loves me and has provided me with the best friends, that that is enough.

 

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Dear Anonymous

 

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You left me this comment on my most vulnerable blog yet–the post in which I describe, in detail, how you raped me. You left it nine years to the day that you raped me, and the problem is, I don’t know which one of you left it. I have my theories because I’ve been keeping tabs on all of you. A few years ago, I even messaged one of you saying I forgive you, to which you replied, “I’m sorry.”

Over the years, I’ve seen you in stores; I’ve watched you pop up into my Facebook feed as a mutual friend of ours comments on something you post; I’ve watched you pop into my life at the worst moments, and I’ve had many sleepless nights because of what you did.

But here’s the thing: I’m not bitter. I don’t hate you. I hope God works in your life the way God has worked in mine.

You see, for years I struggled with my self-worth. I struggled with self-harm and an eating disorder. But God stepped in and showed me how much I was worth. He’s rescued me. He saved me from myself when I attempted suicide, and He carries me when my depression gets so bad that I feel like I can’t move.

Two months ago, I saw one of you in Target, and by ‘saw’ I mean, “ran into,” literally. I ran into you so hard that you dropped everything you were holding. I stopped to help you pick it up, like God stopped to help me pick up the pieces of myself that you left on that bathroom floor nine years ago.

I hope one day you help someone else pick up their broken pieces. We’re all broken; we all need healing, and we all need those who can help us carry our burdens.

When I first got that comment, it didn’t bother me, but it chipped away at me over the hours before I went to bed that night. It resulted in a long, sleepless night filled with panic attacks and what ifsWhat if you find out where I live? What if you show up? What if it happens again? What if nobody ever loves me because of what you did to me?

And then, what if it doesn’t matter?

It doesn’t matter because I’m not scared of you anymore. I’m especially not scared of someone who can’t even post their name. I’m not scared because God loves me despite what I’ve been through, despite what will happen in my future. He loves me even if no one else ever will.

Two months ago, a few days after I ran into you in Target, a few days after I looked into your hazel eyes and memories came flooding back, and I felt like I was on that bathroom floor all over again, a few days after I wrote that blog post you felt the need to comment on, I was in church.

One minute, I was singing some songs, and the next instant, in the blink of an eye, I was sobbing at the prayer rail, my dad’s hand in mine. All the pain and shame and worthlessness I’ve felt over the years came flooding over me. In the next instant, it was all gone, and a voice said to me, “You’ll be ok. I’ve got this.” In that instant, an overwhelming peace came over me, and I sensed God in a way I hadn’t felt Him in years.

I wish I could describe that feeling better for you. I hope one day you can experience it. And I don’t know if you believe in God or even want anything to do with God, but I hope He moves in your life like He’s moved in mine.

I know one day you’ll see this, because I can block you on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but I know you still read my blog. You keep tabs on me like I keep tabs on you, sometimes.

Since you read my blog, dear anonymous, I hope you read this too: I forgive you, not because people told me to, but because I’m called to. I’m praying for you. I hope one day you’ll understand what love really means. I hope one day you’ll find God.

And I hope that one day, you’ll forgive yourself.

 

 

The Recovery of Memories

It was a Monday around 4 pm. There were not many people left at school since the after-school period ended around 20 minutes earlier. I can’t remember why I was there that late. There may have been an event I was helping set up for. I may have been working on an art project or a tech project or another time of project. Whatever the reason, it was late. The school was mostly deserted. I had told my dad that I probably wouldn’t be ready until about 4:20, which was fine. My locker had become extremely disorganized, and since there was only about a month left in school, I decided that those twenty minutes could be spent cleaning out and organizing my locker.

When I got to my locker, I was expecting it to be slammed shut, like it was every time I opened it. There was the boy, I’ll call him Z because that’s not what his name starts with , whose locker was close to mine. (darned alphabetical order) He slammed my locker shut every single time because apparently, that’s how middle school boys express their affection. Yuck.

This time, it wasn’t slammed shut. was nowhere in sight, although I could have sworn that I had seen him a few minutes earlier. I wasn’t eager to see him. Earlier that day he had asked me out, and I had said no because a) who wants to date someone who slams your locker shut and b) I had a serious crush on my then best guy friend.

About two minutes into cleaning out my Spanish binder, I went to el baño. I went in, and a few seconds later, I heard the door open and close, but I figured it was just a teacher who was freshening up before driving home. As I exited the stall, I approached the sink. But before I could even put soap on my hands, I was grabbed from behind. A sweaty hand covered my mouth before I could even muffle out a no.

I knew in that instant what was about to happen. Z had brought along four of his closest friends because he wanted to show me what I was going to be missing, I guess. One of them held me down while the other four pulled up my hoodie and t-shirt and pulled down my jeans. There were four sets of hands grabbing everywhere and everything, pinching and grazing, groping and stroking. There was teeth biting, hair-pulling, name-calling, a heart pounding and a thirteen-year-old girl imagining that she was on the beach because she wanted to be anywhere but there.

And when I refused to open my mouth, someone pinched my nose closed so hard it left a bruise. Somebody forced their tongue down my throat and then something that was definitely not a tongue. (the one time my gag reflex refused to work, of course. Life has a cruel sense of irony.) There were hands around my throat, warm breath on my skin, stars in my eyes, my hands were wrapped around their whatever-you-want to call thems, there was one between my legs. And I must have blacked out because I can’t remember everything. I don’t know that I want to.

It’s been nine years, and I can still remember the words they called me, what they told me: Slut. Bitch. Worthless. No one will ever love you. No one will ever believe you. 

It’s been nine years, and sometimes I can’t believe it happened. But then I wake up in a cold-sweat, and I know it did.

I don’t know how long it lasted–it felt like hours but it was probably fifteen minutes, tops. As quickly as they started, they finished. After they left, I cleaned my self off as best I could. The sink was still running from before because I never got the chance to turn it off. I was able to hide the evidence of what happened under my clothes. The bruises didn’t form until the next day. The ones I couldn’t hide under my clothes got hidden by makeup. 

I walked down the empty hallway, opened my locker, picked up my backpack, walked out the door, climbed into my dad’s car, and never said a word. 

He still slammed my locker shut. He still sat behind me in English class. His breath on my neck was enough to make my heart shudder. He still smirked at me because we shared a secret that he thought I’d never tell. On the last day of school while we were cleaning out our lockers, he whispered to me, “At least I didn’t get you pregnant.” like that makes everything better.

I didn’t tell anybody because who would believe me? I didn’t tell anybody because maybe I brought this on myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have turned him down. Maybe I should have said no when the rape started. But in the moment, I didn’t because a simple ‘no’ had brought the whole thing on.

I didn’t tell anybody about the self-harm or the eating disorder, about the cutting open of the skin where I was forcibly touched, about the wanting to make myself less because maybe then I would be invisible.

I didn’t tell anybody until the first flashback. My then boyfriend (who was the best guy friend I had a crush on) snuck up behind me, and I freaked. It was at that point that I knew I had to tell somebody.

It was at that moment that healing began.

Healing has a way of sneaking up on you. It starts off with little things: wearing turtle necks and scarves, starting to wear your hair longer, eating one meal and then two and then three. It’s not wanting to throw yourself off the fifth floor of a parking garage when you’ve always wanted to before.

It’s messaging Z on Facebook telling him that you forgive him. It’s not freaking out when you see him in public. It’s smiling at him because it throws him off. It’s helping him pick whatever it is he dropped when you ran into him because you were texting. It’s looking into those hazel eyes, having a flashback, and still telling him to have a nice day.

It’s knowing that despite all this, despite what I’ve been through, God loves me through it all. It’s knowing that on the days when the memories of where I’ve been are too much, God will carry me through life.

It’s knowing that I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am a surivor. It’s knowing that God has big plans for my life, and that someday, somebody will love me for who I am.

 

Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces in the age of Donald Trump 

It’s really hard being a rape victim when Donald Trump opens his mouth and says what he says about women.

——–

As I’m writing this, it’s 12:39 AM. And I’m having a panic attack–it’s not the first one I’ve had in the past few months, but it’s certainly been the worst.

It started because of a video I saw on the news, but it didn’t start right away (they almost never do). They develop over time, like a romantic crush: all of a sudden it hits you, and you’re like, “Oh, no.”

It started because of a video about Donald Trump. You know the one. The one he dubs “locker-room talk,” a “chat between guys.” But, in reality, it was more like the opening sequence of a sexual assault scene.

Which, unfortunately, is almost exactly like how my rape played out.

Picture this: a guy grabs an unsuspecting girl from behind while she’s washing her hands and punishes her for daring to reject him.

Don’t want to picture it? Yeah, neither did I.

But I had no real warning, no way to prepare myself. One minute, I was watching coverage on Hurricane Matthew, and the next I’m listening to Donald Trump make a lewd, rapey comment. The only warning was “Next tonight, we have an audio tape of a conversation Donald Trump had about a woman,” which I guess in hindsight should have been enough.

It’s now 1 AM, and I’m still fighting the waning panic that came from the unexpected audio clip.

Two hours ago, the hour-long panic was a lot worse than it is now. Now it’s a dull ache, then it was a roaring freight train. It was feeling heavy and light all at the same time–like two wings trying to carry a boulder weighing a ton. And I know that doesn’t really make sense, but imagine how you feel when you have a fever, simultaneously feeling hot and cold at the same time. It was like that, but it was like my person was trying to fly, but my body was weighing it down. My mind was in the past but my body was in the present, and the disconnect between the two created a whole body tingling sensation underneath my skin of cement.

And I was anxious and achy and dizzy and teary, and a million other things at once that I don’t have words for, but I wish I did.

I wish I could convey to you how it feels to have a panic attack, especially if you don’t understand, especially if you constantly bemoan the “sensitive millennials and their need for safe spaces and trigger warnings.”

To those of you like that: I pray to God that someone you love never goes through something so traumatic it changes the way they interact with society.

I wish I could adequately explain to you how it feels to have a panic attack because they’re exhausting, and they make sleep impossible and coming back to reality is an ordeal in itself.

And, oh my gosh, how I wanted to self-harm so badly last night. Because the sensation of a razor would have provided more physical pressure than tracing “I’m ok” over and over again with my finger. But trace away I did–130 times.

And when that didn’t work, I wrapped myself up tightly in my blanket, arms wrapped across my chest, knees bent, rocking back and forth, humming to myself, like a stereotypical old-timey insane asylum resident.

But I’m not crazy. I need something to ground me in the now. To remind my time-traveling mind that it’s safe with my body in the present.

Oftentimes the added pressure does the trick, which is why I like hugs. But if the pressure fails, I look in the mirror as the last resort because nothing draws my mind back to the present like a staring contest with yourself.

It’s 1:38 AM. Three and a half hours later, the panic is gone. Three and a half hours that I’ll never get back, where I could’ve been sleeping.

It could’ve maybe been prevented. Maybe not completely, but I could’ve been warned, could’ve prepared myself.

“The media’s not going to warn you if they’re going to discuss something like this.” They warn people when they’re going to show graphic videos or images where there’s blood or gunfire.

Why is this different?

Safe spaces and trigger warnings aren’t to stop us from talking about tough things, being challenged, being uncomfortable, and engaging in society. They exist to save us from ourselves.

You can’t be challenged if you don’t feel safe.

I want to be challenged. But I’m scared to be challenged if people are quick to dismiss the racial and gender issues in the country just because they aren’t part of them.

“There’s no race issue.” Says the white man.

“There’s no rape culture.” Says the man.

Donald Trump is rape culture personified. He can say whatever he wants and do whatever he wants when it concerns women because he’s a wealthy man.

Rape Culture is thinking women owe you something for being nice to them or being a man or being beautiful.

Rape Culture is grading women on their waist and bust size.

Rape Culture is calling women you don’t like “pigs and slobs.”

Rape Culture is ascribing worth to a woman based on how attractive they are.

Rape Culture is being jailed for six months after committing a sexual assault because “he has a bright future ahead of him.”

(I used to think I had a bright future ahead of me. Now I wonder if my past will ever stop blocking the sun.)

Rape Victim is 1 in 4.

Rape Victim is someone you know.

Rape Victim is afraid to go out in public because “not all guys” but enough do.

Rape Victim is scrolling through Twitter realizing how many people there are just like her.

Rape Victim knows that there’s more to being safe than having access to guns. And right now, we don’t feel safe because our past continues to slap us in the face whenever Trump speaks.

And all we want to do is move healthily into the future without being reminded of our past.

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.

This Same God

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.”

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes and over again.

They don’t tell you how much it’s going to affect you if it happens to you. Nobody tells you how you’ll start to see hollowed out memories, a broken down shell of a body, a ghost of the person you used to be. They don’t tell you how it will affect everything about you—the way you move, the way you talk, the way you act, the way you are, who you are (you never really liked yourself anyway, so really it’s a blessing, because it gives you an actual physical reason to change who you are).

Nobody tells you any of this, but they do tell you how to prevent it, though. Thank goodness for that because 1 in 5 women will be raped in their life, so clearly teaching women how not to get raped is clearly working.

“Look me in the eyes. I’ve always liked your eyes.” Trust me when I say that’s the last thing you want to do when you are being violated in the worst way.

His words echoed in my ears as I relived those minutes over and over again—a reminder of one more thing I’d have to change about myself to try and forget, to try and stop it from ever happening again.

It wouldn’t be that hard. The depression had already taken the sparkle out of my eyes. All I had to do was hide them behind glasses I didn’t need and not make eye contact with anyone. Ever.

He sat behind me in English class, which became the class I began to dread. Every day he touched my hair, said he loved the way it smelled.

When we were in that bathroom on that day in the middle of May, he couldn’t stop touching it, smelling it. So I cut it. And when it got long, I cut it again.

His locker was next to mine. He stood at his every day, waiting for me to open mine. Slamming it shut, his hand would briefly touch mine. “Your skin’s so soft,” he would say.

On that day, he couldn’t stop touching me. His fingers leaving bruises behind on my skin as he moved from my neck down. (I couldn’t wear turtlenecks or scarves for the longest time). He made me touch him, and four of his closest friends.

….

I don’t know how you get over that, how you get rid of those memories. So I shut down, became numb. I started cutting in places I was touched to create new sensations (because the sharp pain was better than the memory of a touch of a finger, scars were better than bruises). My legs, stomach, and wrist became a garden of crisscrossed lines marking the way back from where I’d been.

I started starving myself, not because I cared how I looked, but because I didn’t. I didn’t mind the dark circles under my sunken eyes, the cold skin, the way I lost my sparkle. I wanted there to be less of me that remembered what it felt like to not have control over my own body.

I ceased to exist in the way I used to, and I didn’t know how to find my way back to who I used to be. So I thought it would be better if I just ceased to exist entirely, if I ceased to be.

Six years later, I’m still here. And if the question is, “why did you get a second chance when so many others do not?” the answer is, I don’t know. Life is made up of too many questions and not enough answers.

But here’s what I do know.

I do know that I am healing.

I’ve started eating again. I’ve gained the weight back, and then some. But that’s ok, because I’ve come to learn I’m beautiful.

(Almost) six years after cutting for the last time, the crisscrossed lines are almost gone. Only a faint few remain, reminding me of where I’ve been, how strong I am.

Eight years after being raped, the memories of what happened to me is still enough to tie my stomachs up in knots, but I don’t panic when I see him anymore. I don’t run away. I don’t hide.

I’ve started wearing my hair long(er) again. I love wearing scarves. I’m learning to look people in the eyes again.  Speaking of eyes, I’ve begun to notice the sparkle returning to my eyes. And when I see it, I take a picture because I need to be reminded of the beauty in life.

And I’ve relearned about the cleansing power of blood, how I’ve been washed clean, not by the blood that poured from my skin as I cut myself open, but by the blood spilled from the Man who died so I could live, the Man who became “ugly” so I could be beautiful.

So, I don’t know why I was raped, but I do know that I am thankful.

I’m thankful not for the act done for me, but thankful for what I’ve learned along the way. I’m thankful for how much stronger I am now.

But most of all, I’m thankful for the way God has brought people into my life to encourage me and support me, and for the way he has provided me with people and opportunities I can do the same with.

Because, yes, some days are hard, some days it’s hard to breathe; it’s hard to get out of bed. But everyday God reminds me of how beautiful this life is, and when I look at the lines on my palm, I am reminded that the same God who created nature, took the time to hand-stitch me together, and that is enough to get me through the day.

There’s a Light

Darkness has surrounded me recently. Depression has shrouded me in a cloak of insecurity and doubt so thick, so heavy I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe normally, without this heaviness in my chest. It’s like I’m walking through a maze, and the deeper I go, the darker it gets, the closer the walls seem to be. And to top it all off, it’s raining in this maze. It’s been raining long and hard for days, and the maze has standing water–not enough for normal people to be concerned with, but enough that I’m starting to feel anxious.

And I know that probably none of this makes sense, but hear me out.

My two biggest phobias in life are small spaces and drowning, but they didn’t use to be. Once upon a time, the bottom of the pool was my best friend, and I could play hide and seek in the closet for hours. Once upon a time, I was more scared of heights than anything, but I’m not afraid of jumping anymore (at least not most of the time). As we grow up, we change, and I hope one day I will grow out of these two fears, out of the memories they bring. Right now, they’re things I carry with me.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I can tell you the exact moment this all became luggage on my life trip.

It was a school bathroom, late afternoon, one day in the middle of May, almost eight years ago. I was alone, until I wasn’t. There were suddenly too many people, too many hands, too many demands. As the room started to close in, I felt too big, too small, too everything at once. And I wish I didn’t remember what happened next. I wish I could tell you I don’t remember any of it, but I remember most of it.(As I’m sitting here writing this, it’s playing over and over and over in my head. I wish it would stop, but I know the only way to make that happen is to keep writing, get the words out.)  And if you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. My world became so much smaller that day. They were everywhere. If they weren’t, they could’ve been around the next corner, or the next one, or the next one.

So, no. I don’t like closed spaces–they remind me of that time when the room I was in suddenly became too small for the memories it carries.

But what does water have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. I can still hear the drip, drip, drip of the bathroom sink I didn’t have time to shut all the way off. (Good thing I didn’t because when it was all done, I cleaned myself up that much faster. Ironic, right?) And I know you’re thinking, “What about the drowning?” So am I. This is a more of a “fill-in-the-blank association” than a direct correlation.

You know how people get you to open your mouth when you don’t want to? They pinch your nose closed.

And I tried, I tried so hard to keep breathing with my mouth closed and my nose pinched. But things started swirling and spinning and fading, and my lungs were begging for air. So, I opened my mouth and started gasping for air, which is exactly what they wanted. (But this isn’t really the time to discuss that.)

So my brain did the math and concluded that “gasping for air” plus “struggling” plus “water dripping” must be what drowning feels like. I became a fish out of water: the Little Mermaid never wanting to go back in the sea, never wanting to feel that feeling again. Even though I know it’s irrational because a) I wasn’t drowning and b) I’m a good swimmer. But, hey, there’s nothing rational about any of this.

I’ve tried so hard to not let my past define me, become me, influence me, but it’s so hard when so much in your life since that day has been directly or indirectly affected by it. It’s so hard to cut ties with the thing that is pulling you down on your bad days when it’s also the thing that allows you to fly on your good days. Because on my bad days, the pain in my chest, my racing heart when I remember this day remind me I’m still alive.

I know none of this makes sense. But I also know that none of this is permanent: this pain, this life, these memories.

I went on a road trip this weekend. And twelve hours in the car gives you a lot of time to look out the window and think. It also gives you a lot of time to compare unfamiliar places in the dark and in the light.

Unfamiliar places are a lot less creepy during the day, they’re a lot more beautiful. But there’s also something about the night that is just as beautiful. 12983928_10209209651944281_5671617332364340475_o

I took this photo as we were driving over the Ohio River, the lights of some city in Pennsylvania can be seen clearly.

This is what is so beautiful about the dark: it’s the light that can be seen shining through at a distance.

I may be in a dark place now, but this is not unfamiliar territory. I’ve walked this road before; I’ve sailed these seas; I’ve made my way out of this maze too many times to count.

I can see the light up ahead, and with God’s help, I’ll make it through this.

 

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? 

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.

I am Not a Punchline

Yesterday, I was told a rape joke by an acquaintance who knows my story.

He then got mad when I didn’t find it funny.

“I thought you were over it,” he said.

Firstly, I never said I got over it.

Forgiven, yes.

Trying to move on, yes.

Over it, no.

I don’t know how you get over something like that:

He slammed my locker shut every day. He teased me relentlessly. He asked me out. I said “no.” That’s not the way I wanted to be treated.

To him, a simple ‘no’ was the end of the world. He decided I needed to be punished. He got his friends and they raped me in the school bathroom.

As soon as they finished, they left as quickly as they came. And I was left to pick up the pieces. The shattered pieces of my dignity fit in the palm of my hand. I washed off the traces of their crime. I covered up the developing bruises, and I went on my way.

I told no one.

They told me no one would ever love me, and I was eager to prove them wrong. So when my best friend asked me out too soon after, I eagerly said yes. I needed to prove them wrong, but I tried too soon.

We were too young. I was a mess, and I didn’t know how to help myself. But I kept my secret for over a year.

I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want to be blamed.

I started cutting and starving to erase their memory from my mind. My parents wondered why their showers were always cold.

(I was trying to burn away their touch from my skin)

We’re out of razors already?

(I was trying to carve a new person from my hollowed out soul)

I was a broken-down frame of a burned out house, and I needed to rebuild myself again.

And I needed to do it from the ground up. I needed to figure out who I was as a person; who did I want to be?

We needed to break up; it was a long time coming.

And almost seven years later, I’m standing on the other side of this inferno. Like a phoenix, I’ve risen from the ashes. I’m standing on a mountaintop, surveying the demolished parts of me, which serve as a reminder for who I was.

I’ve forgiven. I’ve rebuilt. I’ve stopped cutting, started eating. And I have pretty much healed.

But I don’t know how I will ever “get over this.”

I’ve stopped being a victim. I’ve started living. I focus on how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned, where I want to go.

Firstly, I don’t know if I will ever get over this.

Secondly, I am not a punchline.

There’s nothing funny about any of this.

It’s a cliché that shouldn’t have to be repeated, and yet, here we are.

We have to teach this old dog new tricks because I’m tired of wearing this old hat.

I can’t let you laugh this off.

There’s no punchline in being a statistic.

I refuse to be the victim, and I will fight you tooth and nail if you try to pin this on me:

Capital S for “Slut.”

My name is not “Bitch.”

I refuse to be somebody’s unwanted leftovers.

Out of the broken-down frames of a burned-out house, I have built myself again.

Like a phoenix, I rise from the ashes.

I am Everest.

I am stronger now than I was before.

But I refuse to be a punchline.

I am not a punchline.