This is the hardest thing I have ever written and because of that, it is the hardest thing for me to share and subsequently feel it’s important to share. This is dedicated to all the people who have suffered in silence or not in silence as the result of being a victim of a sexual assault. Some readers may find this post distressing due to the content. Reader discretion is advised.
I lay with my eyes closed, tears sliding down my cheek, waiting for it to be over. I hear the sounds of something hitting the truck, “What the hell is she doing?!” he shouted. “Your friend is throwing rocks at my truck!! Stop crying, you’re fine!!” I clumsily tried to pull myself together.
The passenger door opened abruptly, “Get off my friend!” she growled. She turned and looked at me, “We need to leave now!” I quickly gathered my things and walked to the passenger seat of her car, she yelled something at him and within minutes we were driving quickly down the mountain road.
I sat in silence.
“Are you ok?” She asked.
“No, really, are you ok?” She persisted.
I silently relived the events in my mind. What just happened!? I just wanted him to kiss me. We had been flirting all night. I convinced my friend to drive up to the mountains with him and his friend because I legitimately wanted to sit by a campfire with a cute guy. There wasn’t a campfire. Within 20 minutes I was separated from my friend and in his truck making out. That’s what I wanted, right? I know I pushed his hand away several times when he tried to unbutton my pants. He didn’t force me, did he? Should I have fought harder? I liked kissing him, but I know I said no more times than I could remember.
“I really didn’t want to come up here, you just don’t go off with guys you don’t know…” She continued.
“I know…I’m sorry…”
I just wanted to have fun. He was really nice. A perfect gentleman. He even gave me a jacket to wear because I was cold. I wanted to go with them, right? I couldn’t say anything, it was my choice to go. I had talked my best friend in to going! I had done everything that my parents had told me not to do. But I made the choice. The thoughts reeled through my mind of the conversation that every girl has in health class, “if you say no and they don’t stop, that’s rape.” I had said no a lot, right?! I liked kissing him, was it just expected that I go further? I remember vividly the moment when I decided to just close my eyes and wait for it to be over; the realization that I was trapped and saying ‘no’ was of no value. Was I just raped??
I told my friend half-truths. I told her we had sex. I told her I wasn’t sure how it led to that. I told her that I hadn’t planned to lose my virginity that way, but it just happened. When we got to my house, she parked and turned to me, “I was really scared for you. I didn’t know where you were! His friend wouldn’t help me find you guys until I told him that I would kick his ass if he didn’t! I was really, really scared. Are you ok?”
“I’m fine…really…I’m fine.”
The next morning I woke up in my parents’ home. I had moved home for the summer but I was scheduled to move back to my seasonal job within a few weeks. I couldn’t face my Mom. Somehow she would know and I would not be able to hide it. Mom’s know everything. I climbed in to the shower, turned on the water, and just sat on the floor of the tub. I stared at the water swirling down in to the drain and waited to hear her leave for work. I called a friend and within the hour had a place to go.
I called my Mom and told her a place had opened up and I was leaving that afternoon. She sat in silence, I could hear the irritation in her breathing. I knew she wouldn’t like this, but I just couldn’t stay. “Well, are you at least going to stick around so we can spend some time before you go? We never see you!” She was even more irritated with my answer, to which I responded as snotty as possible, “I’m an adult Mom, I can leave if I want.” I packed up my bags and quickly escaped.
My drive was long and I did it in complete silence. I couldn’t cry because I still didn’t know what happened. The reality of the situation set in; I was not a sexually active woman and I was not on any form of birth control. I felt certain that he didn’t use a condom. How could I, an 18 year-old, go to a doctor without my parents’ knowing? I had never even made a doctor’s appointment on my own. I drove while nervously biting on my lips until they began to crack and bleed. By the end of the drive I had decided that I needed to go to Planned Parenthood.
I sat on the table in the exam room.
“So you had unprotected sex?” the nurse asked.
“Yes.” I couldn’t stop the tears.
She immediately sat down her papers and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, while I cried. I cried uncontrollably. I apologized over and over again for my emotions. She just held my hand. She calmly asked more questions. I lied. I told her that I was just tired. I told her that I had a lot of stress in my life. I lied. I made up a story about a non-existent boyfriend, whom I had broke up with and was, therefore, heartbroken. I lied. I knew that she knew and I still lied. I was embarrassed. I was a smart young woman and I had made some very stupid decisions and I never, ever wanted anyone to know. She gave me the morning after pill and birth control, along with some pamphlets for a rape helpline and a sexual assault support group. And I silently carried on with my life.
I never said anything. The thought was there, a daily reminder that I had somehow failed in some way. I silently decided that I was not worthy for the guy that I desired. I silently hid in my friends’ condo and clung to my small circle of friends. I silently shut my family out. I silently hid in a silent relationship with a man who didn’t make me talk much about real things. I silently decided that I wasn’t going to be the girl who got raped.
Time moved on, as time does. I really thought I held it all together by not acknowledging it. My only trusted friend was my notebook. I wrote notebooks full of thoughts, stories, and poems; I’m certain it saved me. My notebook knew my secrets and I felt safe from judgement. Looking back I can clearly see that many of my choices were driven by the shame that I carried, but writing was a healthy choice.
There have been a few times since then in which I was forced to acknowledge the guilt, fear, shame, and every thing in between – including some emotions that I still don’t have words for. I recognize now that it will always be a part of me and part of my story. I learned that the best way for me to heal was to speak. As hard as it was/is, speak! Tell someone! Tell anyone! Join a support group – tell a stranger! I HAD to give myself a voice because there was a time where my voice didn’t matter. The fear of having a person look at me as a victim, as weak, as less than, as seeking attention, as responsible or “asking for it” – it prevented me from saying something for far too long. I agonized for years, holding this story so close that it damaged the relationships closest to me and more importantly the relationship that I had with the power of my own voice.
Every 90 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted and only 15-30% of those are reported. It makes me realize that I have a lot of friends that have experienced the same feelings that I have had, that they may also still have nights when they fall asleep analyzing the situation and wondering, ‘Did that really happen to me?’ or ‘I should have fought harder.’ Mocking yourself in silence about things that you shouldn’t be afraid of; a car driving by, a shadow in the hall, a real relationship. Afraid to be broken. Afraid to have to talk about it. Afraid to be labeled. Please know, you are not alone.
(Photo credit: Blackbird Boulevard Photography)