Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Story, Part 1: The Beginning

I have shared much of my experience with all of you, the struggle with guilt and shame that led me to keep quiet for over a decade, but I haven't shared my specific stories as the anonymous women have.  I simply cannot relive every assault in one night, and because I am not anonymous I also need to be careful about how much I share, for my own sake as much as anything.  I do want to share as much as I can, and many of you have reached out to me astonished that I had been hurt and never spoke up.  So I am going to begin my story tonight.  I will be vague, due to privacy as well as fuzzy memories; over the years I have discovered that when I am dealing with a trauma I don't store memories very well.  I often remember very specific, random details of an event while others are completely lost, and I often struggle with the timeline, for example.  I'm also not going to give all the "gory details."  They serve no purpose; I am sharing with the world that I am a survivor of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assaults, and I am even going to share some of the basic stories, but I will not delve into details or specifics of what was done to me.  I am sharing because I don't think I should be ashamed of what was done to me, but I still deserve what little privacy I am asking for, and I request that you respect that.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, I had a terrifying close call; despite the fact that this was the only time no one actually laid a hand on me, it haunts me the most in my nightmares.  I was in a safe environment (or what should have been a safe environment) and was walking alone in the evening back to where everyone was (again, sorry to be so vague) when a few older guys that I knew saw me.  They were obviously drunk and high on God only knows what, and at first they just cat called and whistled at me so I half waved and kept on walking.  Suddenly their voices and demeanor shifted, apparently my dismissive wave and complete lack of interest had pissed them off.  Their calls changed to angry yells to stop and come back, when I didn't they came after me.  Fast.  I was about a mile away from anyone but them, on a dark road lit by these beautiful old fashioned lamp posts that created small halos of light in the midst of the ever darkening night, I was in flip flops but I knew I had to run.  I don't think I have ever run faster or harder in my life, but I couldn't escape them.  I fell several times but had to keep going, I was searching for anyone who could help or anything I could use to defend myself, but mostly I just ran trying to escape their angry voices and cruel laughter.  I finally saw a crossing guard about a quarter mile from my goal.  I stumbled to him, begging him to help me.  I'll never forget his apathetic response as he shrugged me off, "What am I supposed to do?"  I didn't think I could make it the last quarter mile, I was hurt and losing speed; I remember praying for God to help me.  Suddenly, as I rounded a bend with the pack of wolves only yards behind me, I ran smack into one of my guy friends.  When the guys rounded the turn and saw me walking with him, they faded back; he knew something had happened, but I played it off that I had just been spooked by the dark road and had tripped.  I don't know why, but even then I couldn't bring myself to admit what had almost happened to me.  It wasn't until years later, I told him the story and thanked him for what he had unknowingly saved me from.  That night I learned that the monsters aren't always strangers in masks lurking in the night, but are often the people you know and trust.  The world stopped being a safe place, and I became determined to not be seen as a target; I was going to be strong enough to take care of myself and show the world I didn't need any help.

I was first assaulted the following summer when I was 15.  I was once again in a "safe place."  I was with friends, our families were all around, it was a very fun summer night.  In hindsight, I think I was probably drugged, albeit unsuccessfully, but towards the end of the night I wasn't acting like myself, I felt weird, I was foggy, and parts of the night are just blank; perhaps it is just my brain protecting me from too many bad memories or perhaps it was some sort of drug, I will never know for certain.  I was in a room with a group of friends as we were figuring out how we were going to spend the rest of the night, and as we left the guy in front of me blocked my way so we were the only two people in the room.  He backed me into a corner, at first I was just angry.  I tried shoving past him but I couldn't escape; as strong as I was, he had size on his side; he was saying things like "you're just so damn hot, I have to have you" and similar bullshit.  Things quickly escalated from bad to worse, then the door suddenly swung open and one of our friends came back in looking for me, worried I had had an ADD moment and wandered off.  The monster was startled and I was able to rush out of the room.  I was clearly disheveled and upset, so my friend could tell something was very wrong but, yet again, I played it off as no big deal.  Inside, I was dying.  It had happened again.  I had failed again.  It was my fault because I was too attractive to resist; that message was repeatedly drilled into me, and left me torn between feeling like all of my self-worth lay in my appearance and so I needed to always look nice, and wanting to hide in sweats and no make-up.  

That is simply all I can handle talking about tonight, and frankly it's more than I've told most people in the last 12 years.  I am greatly over simplifying, and I will continue to in my accounts, because between reading other survivors stories and writing this, it is exhausting and overwhelming.  Even when just sitting down to have a private conversation with a close friend about this topic I have to take it slow, if I open up too many old wounds its like opening the flood gates- there gets to be too many bad images flashing through my mind, at times almost erasing the present completely and sucking me back into those horrible moments.  It's like an intricate dominos design, as long as I take it slow and easy, it's manageable; but if I rush then it will all fall apart before the design is finished.

I hope that this beginning of my story encourages survivors and helps others begin to understand that sexual assault and rape aren't always some stranger in a mask breaking into your house at 2 am; in fact, the majority of rapes are committed by people known to the victim.  And I hope that the men who saved me know how grateful I am, for their faces are 2 I will never forget.  Survivors, please keep sending in your stories and comments, they are more of an encouragement to other survivors than you may ever realize.  Everyone else, support the survivors around you, be patient and encouraging because you can't begin to understand the extent of the impact of their assault(s).  Good night and God bless!