One year. A lot can happen in one year. In the past year, I have worked 4 jobs in 3 different cities with countless early mornings and late nights. In the past year, I have been on 10 different planes going to many different places. I’ve taken 2 family vacations. I’ve marched on Washington DC for something I believe in and stood in court for something I needed to do even when it was hard. I have made friends and lost friends. I have had my heart broken, my trust shattered and by some miracle, it was put back together. I’ve made choices and changed my mind and then changed my mind back. I’ve traveled for work, I’ve picked up old habits and lost bad ones. I’ve been to the casino countless times and been to the beach this year fewer times than I have in my whole life. This year I’ve lost more weight than I have ever and gained back more than I ever wanted. I tried new things and revisited things I never thought I would have to. I trusted people in ways that I didn’t even know I was capable of and cut those from my life that never had my trust. I was an officiant for a wedding, celebrated new life and felt sorrow for lives that I lost this year. Three hundred and sixty-five days, it’s a long time. But also, it’s no time at all.
By now, you must be wondering…it’s February? Why is this girl marking February 4th as a yearly milestone? Why now? Why not New Years Day like most bloggers? There is a good answer to this.
One year ago, I was raped. That is the first time I have typed it out, but at this point, I’ve said it at least a dozen times out loud and each time the phrase stops me a little bit. When did I become someone who could say that out loud? When did that become part of who I was? I still remember the day I said it out loud for the first time. I was sitting on a porch with someone I cared about, sitting in silence and enjoying a beautiful view of a beautiful spring day. On that day, I said those words and he nodded at me, knowing the gravity of those words being said and left to hang in the air. It’s like I could see them sitting there, waiting to be taken back into my body. But like so much of me this year, they were ripped from me. But in that moment I knew I needed to claim them as a part of me. As much as a part of me as my own hands and feet. This was part of my physical, emotional and spiritual being and would be forever.
I had always been a woman with a strong sense of self-preservation. I had always been a very outspoken feminist and always stood on the side of equality and protection of women and their rights of their bodies. I always told the women in my life who have been attacked to report to the police. How could they not? How could they let someone get away with it? And there have been so many women I have said these words to. We all have them in our lives. We all have stories we’ve heard that broke our heart and broke our ability to believe in the justice system. I have especially heard horror stories. Women of color, of disability fearing that the system isn’t for them but for the white men it so often protects. I’ve heard of plus size women being laughed at or turned away when reporting because how is it that a woman that “should feel lucky to be wanted” could be forced into sex. Aren’t fat women supposed to be easy? Aren’t all women secretly wanting you to trick us into sex? Looking back on the words I said to those women, I am deeply sorry for making you feel lesser because you didn’t have the strength to reveal something so deeply personal and horrible. I’m sorry for not understanding.
Because the truth is when I sat on my living room floor. Trying to put all the pieces of my mind back together. I understood. No one can know. No one can see the shameful and dirty thing you seemingly have shapeshifted into. No one can ever know. No one can ever know. These words rang in my ears. The last words I heard before hearing the door of my own apartment while I sat there on the floor were “this stays between us right?” And in that moment, for a split second, I believed it had to. I could never expose this piece of me that had been broken. No one would ever understand. Did I stop saying no? Did I want that to happen? Could I have done more to stop it? Why didn’t I fight? Why? Why? Why?
I don’t know how long it took me before I pulled out my phone. Minutes, maybe hours. The sun went down and the moon came out. I made a phone call to the only person that I knew could get to me quickly. And when she came, I cried. I cried until my eyes burned and I couldn’t breathe. And in the car on that night, she drove and drove and drove. She took me to my favorite places, Taco Bell, Walgreens, and Target. I still remember that we bought 15 packs of clarence gum and packs of Star Wars legos and I had a chicken quesadilla that I couldn’t taste. All in this time, she drove past the police station twice and the hospital another four. All while telling me this is where I needed to go. Begging me to do what needed to be done and I couldn’t.
When it had finally become too late for her to be out or to explain to her family why we were still out. She took me back to her house. We sat with her family and I put a smile on my face and enjoyed the innocent love of legos and creation and beauty all while dying on the inside. Then when they went to bed, I went across the street to her neighbor, the man who’s porch I would sit on months later and speak my truth.
My friendship with this person was complicated at best. I was closer to him than I had ever been to any person in my entire life. He understood the darkest and scariest parts of me and knew how to make me laugh when things felt like they would never be funny again. He taught me to open my heart and taught me to live. But it wasn’t always good. Both of us had our scars, we had our hangups and sometimes that meant that we would just encourage each other in our bad habits and bad behaviors. We gave each other permission to be our worst selves because the other knew and understood how we became that way. Eventually, during these 365 days, we went our separate ways. We always knew that one day we would have to, that our friendship was never something that would last. One day it would be time to grow up and move on and let ourselves be new and better people.
When he came out of his house and looked at me after receiving a phone call from me, he just knew. He looked at me and I saw his face fall. It’s like it was written on my skin. He sat down in the passenger seat of my car, grabbed my hand and told me that it was okay, that I could tell him. I felt him shaking with angry next to me while I sobbed out my story. I felt him stiffen at the worst parts. I felt him suppress the urge to take matters into his own hands. And in that car, we sat for who knows how long. He told me it was going to be okay and for a minute I believed it. Eventually, he drove me back to my house, to gather my things and come back, because even if I wasn’t going to sleep, between him and her, I was not going to be left alone.
That night I didn’t sleep. I was still in the same clothes. Still wearing work clothes that I had worn all day. I sat up, in silence, afraid of what dreams could bring. It wasn’t until the next day that I knew I needed to do something. So in desperation, I called a friend that I hadn’t seen in years. I knew that as a counselor, she would know what the next step for me would be. So after texting her on a busy Sunday, as all Sundays were for a Pastors wife, she stopped what she was doing and told me to come to her. I told her what I could, I cried and told her that I felt broken. And when I was done, she knew what I needed to do regardless of what decision I made about going to the police. I needed to be seen by a doctor. Because no matter what I was going to do, my body was put at risk in ways that needed to be dealt with right away.
I knew that was the case, obviously, I knew. I had wanted to shower the shame off my body right away but I knew better. Even just from years of Law and Order: SVU, I knew. But I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. So that Sunday morning while my friends and family went to church, nursed a hangover, drank coffee while watching the news, I walked into a hospital. This was the first moment that I realized that maybe my case wouldn’t be the horror stories I heard. The hospital handled it more gently then I could have ever imagined. I had two nurses that stayed with me the entire time. These two women were with me in some of the hardest hours I will ever have in my life. As my body was violated again so soon after. They let me cry when I needed to and let me deflect my pain with humor as I am so apt to do in hard situations. They asked about my cat. And my favorite movies and music. They treated me like a human being who had been victimized and not just a victim. Those nurses and all nurses are real heroes who can never be thanked enough.
After that, the days sort of blurred together as I wasn’t sleeping much. I hadn’t gone to the police yet. I hadn’t made a decision. I hadn’t told my parents, who I am very close with. Life kept moving and I kept moving with it, but I had this thing I was carrying that felt so heavy. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I could go through with it. During this time, I had not been back to my house for more than 5 minutes and never alone. It wasn’t until 6 days later while driving down a back road that I knew what I had to do. Not for me, but for the women who could fall victim to the same fate as me if I didn’t step up and tell my truth.
So I did. Friday evening, I walked into a police station and said, “I need to report an assault.” And my life has not been the same since. I was surprised in a way, I was surprised how the police responded. They were understanding, they were kind. They let me take my time and let me know that no matter what I was safe there with them. They listened, they believed me. And that was a game changer. Of course my friends and family would believe me. They loved me and know I couldn’t be lying, but a total stranger? They don’t know me at all. They don’t know that normally I’m full of laughter and jokes, they don’t know that I usually have a sparkle in my eye that it took months to refind. They don’t know that a piece of me is missing, a piece you can’t see. But they believed me.
Everything happened so quickly after that and there is so much that I can’t and won’t share. Not because I want to protect the identity of my attacker, but because there is an ongoing active case against this person. Because from that moment in the police station, I knew I was no longer doing this just for me. I was doing it for all the women who didn’t. For all the women who didn’t have the support system I have. For all the women living in fear. For all the women who have trauma, they can never speak of. For my mother, for my friends, for my coworkers, for women I will never meet.
In the time following that week, I told my parents, who were rightfully upset that I hadn’t told them sooner but were equally heartbroken and understanding for why I hadn’t. They love me so much and have done so much for me, they have gone without so that I didn’t have to. They did everything they could to protect me, how could I let them know that despite the fact that they did everything and then some, they still couldn’t protect me? How could I hear my mom cry and not break more inside? Looking back on that time, I know I did what I had to do. I knew I needed to make a decision to report on my own or else I wouldn’t have done it. But I wish I had remembered that my parents have always and will always be the strongest women I have ever known. That it would not break them but rather they would be my strength. And since then, they have been. I don’t think I would have been able to do any of it without them.
In twos weeks following that, I finally went back to living in my own apartment most of the time. I went to a therapist, I met with lawyers, I started a new job, and life just went on. But I was still broken. I was still trying to figure out where all the pieces were, I hadn’t even gotten to the point of putting the puzzle piece shards where they belong.
I went months before I didn’t feel anxiety about leaving my house and feeling the same anxiety to come home to the same house. I’ve been on medication to help me with simple things like getting out of bed and not crying myself to the point of exhaustion. I jumped at any and all physical touch. But mostly, I tried to suppress all of these things. I just tried to go back to my normal life. This was not a new coping mechanism for me. I have always been a chronically private person about a lot of things. I don’t often share personal feelings and I almost never express weakness in any way. As you can guess, this wasn’t really a great way to handle things. I found myself spending a lot of time in bars and less time in church or with people I care about. I found my mornings spent recovering from my night of poor drinking choices and not spending time doing things I love. I went weeks without seeing friends and spent nights ignoring calls from my family because I knew they would be worried about me.
But sometimes God doesn’t let us get away with the dumb things we do to avoid feeling what we need to feel. Because my people never relented. Not all of my people. Eventually, there were those who stepped out of my life. Those who were caught up in their own pain. Those who needed a fresh start. Those who couldn’t forgive me for the things I had done while trying to cope. And I don’t hate those people. They did what they needed to do and I understand. And I am sorry.
But the people who matter, they kept calling. They kept expecting me to show up. They kept expecting me to be a good employee, friend, Aunt, daughter. They expected me to be who I was, who I really was. And they were the ones who helped me find my way back. Or maybe not back, but rather find out who I was now.
But that wasn’t the only thing keeping me from facing my bullshit. 2017 was the year of triggers. I mean, I haven’t seen a single day of news on any outlet that didn’t have a story about a woman who had been attacked, abused, hurt or taken advantage of. This was the year of Kesha, Lady Gaga, Rose Mcgowan. This year 84 women accused one man of sexual misconduct. An astounding 395 women came forward with accusations against James Toback. 150 young girls with Olympic dreams were abused by Larry Nassar. My Facebook was flooded with #MeToo for weeks. There was no escaping my story. My story was being spoken through the lips of so many women. Women who had been silenced and scared and were hurting in the same ways I was.
All during this time, I still was very private about my own story. Only those who were very close to me knew what I was struggling with despite the ongoing legal aspect. There was still a lot of shame and worry attached to my own story. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to truly be open about it. It wasn’t until these stories became my whole world. I couldn’t escape it.
So one day I decided to tell a friend, someone I wasn’t that close with when the topic came up in the conversation surrounding Kesha’s story. I told her my truth and with tears in her eyes, she told me hers. Her truth, the people who didn’t believe her and the men who got away with it. She told me it all, and she told me that she was grateful for me. She told me thank you for having a voice when I couldn’t and that changed everything for me.
Why would I be silent on something? Why would I be silent about anything? I have never been quiet in my whole life. I’ve never let “the man” keep me down. In my teenage years, there were many times that I would find myself apart of a cause. I had been to more protests and rallies than I had been to formal dances. I had read more books on social justice than I had read teen paranormal romance novels (and let me tell you, I was quite the twi-hard fan at 15). Why was it now that I was letting my voice be silenced? Why would I not share my story for the women who haven’t been able to share theirs? Who was that protecting? Not me, I was made for more than that. I have been beautiful and artfully pieced together by God, why wouldn’t He use this evil for something more?
I don’t know what that more is yet. I don’t know what the bigger picture is. I still have anxiety. I still sometimes struggle to get out of bed some days. I still don’t know when I’ll ever be able to have a relationship without feeling like I’m bound to destroy it. I don’t know when my coping mechanisms will get healthier. And honestly, these answers probably don’t exist. But I do have faith that my story is important for me to tell, if for no other reason than to make a step towards being less locked down emotionally. Maybe it’s so that someone in my life feels the strength to tell their story.
My story isn’t over. Many pages of my story aren’t even written yet. With trial coming up and life going on, there are many things left up in the air. There is still healing to be done. There are still steps to take in my own life. But I do know that the first step is this, telling my story. Not the story of sadness and violation, but of hope. And the story of people who stepped up with the world was telling them to step away. The people that give me hope that the world isn’t all darkness.
The women who raised me and loved me and helped me feel whole again.
The woman who became like a sister who never relented.
The man who became like a brother who never made me feel like a burden.
The man who made me feel safe again that night.
The nurses who made me feel strong enough.
The police who listened.
The lawyers who won’t let my story go unheard.
The managers who understood when I needed to leave or miss work.
The coworkers who stepped up and did my work when I needed to leave because of a panic attack.
The church mom who hugged me and told me it was all going to be okay.
The girl who sent me a care package even when our friendship was falling apart.
The women who made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
The women who came before me who couldn’t speak their truth who suffered so that I could.
The women with tears in their eyes, telling me what I am doing is important.
Thank you to all of these people, you’ve helped me survive the hardest year of my life and continue to remind me that a good life is worth living and worth fighting for.
I truly hope that in response to this, I don’t get pity. I don’t want pity. I am not a victim, I am a warrior and I want to be a warrior for those who can’t be. Even if only 10 people read this, I am happy with that, because each of those 10 people have a story or know a woman with a story and if I’m a small part of making sure that less and less women have this story, I can be proud of that.