Six days ago, a nicely-dressed man waiting on the platform for the 6 train zipped down his fly and exposed his penis to me. I turned around and hid behind the corner until I saw an officer and reported it. Once the subway arrived and rumbled downtown, my thoughts started to snowball. Though some may argue it was "harmless," I was an unwilling, non-consensual participant who fulfilled his sexual desires. I was a freshman in college all over again. But now, five years later, I'm ready to share my story:
It was your average freshman year party in early September. The dorm room was big, but people were reduced to crowding around in circles while the muted bass of the latest club anthem rattled in the background. More girls in bandage skirts and guys in distressed jeans arrived as others filed out interchangeably. I stayed with my roommate and friends by the TV, next to the kitchen. A guy with narrow green eyes and a backwards baseball cap brought me a drink in a red solo cup, made a comment or two about the music and disappeared into the crowd.
When the party started to thin, the remaining dozen sat down in the main room, but I went to the bathroom at the end of a small hallway, with two bedrooms on either side. When I walked out, the green-eyed man charged at me and pushed me through the door on the right. The darkness overwhelmed me and things started to get hazy. He dragged, pushed, ripped off my shirt and threw me on a twin bed -- then everything turned to black.
The next thing I remember was walking into my dorm room a few floors down and the urgency in my roommate's voice. Her eyes widened as she asked, "Are you OK? What happened to you?"
I had no idea what she was talking about. She told me to look in the mirror.
Shades of purple and deep red stained the skin on my neck, on my shoulders, on my chest and on my upper thighs. I turned around and saw the bruises continue around my neck and shoulder blades. I felt no pain, with the exception of a raw, sore sensations on the lower half of my body. I threw my clothes in a corner, took some Advil and went to bed, hoping to wake up with some clarity.
That next morning, I immediately took a shower and threw my clothes in the laundry. My first realization: I needed to get Plan B. Luckily, I had access to it at my local CVS. Buying it from a smirking male pharmacist only added to my harrowing experience of taking the pill. I remained still in bed for the rest of the day watching America's Next Top Model and other reality shows to clear my mind. My entire body was a hotbed of sensitivity, yet completely numb at the same time. The bruises didn't start to hurt until a few days later. I covered them up with clothing, scarves, makeup and some painkillers. No one noticed a thing. My roommate never brought it up; but from time to time, I did see my attacker on the way to class and discreetly avoided him.
Over the remaining months of my first semester, I became emotionally detached, a hollowed shell of a person. I created a façade that convinced everyone -- including myself -- that I was normal and nothing had changed. I rationalized my problems away by telling myself that people had it much worse than me and it wasn't a big deal.
I became increasingly distrustful of people around me and assumed the worst of them. I started getting three-second electric flashbacks of my head going through the empty space of a headboard. My GPA was dangerously low; I nearly failed out of school. I attributed it to my ineptitude as a student. My advisor and parents suggested maladjustment issues. No matter how brave of a face I put on, no matter how hard I tried to go about my day and pretend nothing happened, the pain manifested in unexpected ways. I slept with a string of guys in order to attain some convoluted sense of normalcy. It was one of the few outlets where I felt confident.
One day, I went on a popular anonymous website and typed in my name out of curiosity. A few posts said horrendous things about me. I read through each post, ranging from calling me "loose" and a "slut" to naming a certain infection that I allegedly contracted. I sat down and reevaluated my behavior over the past semester. My skin crawled and my muscles clenched simultaneously; I experienced a mini breakdown. I decided to become celibate for the second semester until I felt comfortable with myself.
The next school year, I met a guy through one of my good friends. He was nice with bright eyes and a cute smile. He asked me out, and a month or so later, we became exclusive. I thought I was ready to be in a relationship. He wanted me to be his idealized version of the doting girlfriend, available at his beck and call. I couldn't bring myself to effectively communicate my emotions to him. Sex became physically and emotionally difficult for me. I forced myself to perform at times. I wasn't my authentic self with him and he didn't seem to mind. Later on, he revealed himself to be hot-headed, jealous and a bit controlling. It ended almost a year later. I tried to move on as quickly as possible, but was left feeling incapable of love.
Junior year, I unexpectedly fell for a good friend of mine. He was warm and sensitive, but had an edge. Our usual banter became flirtatious and our attraction to each other strengthened, which escalated to one fateful night where we finally hooked up. We didn't know where it was going. After playing coy and spending more time together, we became serious. Soon after, we realized we were in love. I still had intimacy issues and it took a while to become comfortable. He learned to be patient. Communication was still a big issue for me and became a point of contention in our relationship. Slowly but surely, I started to let go of my anxieties and started to feel comfortable with myself. It was the first time I ever opened up about my history of sexual abuse, but I still held back.
A few months ago, my close friend told me that one of our friends unknowingly dated my rapist. My heart dropped straight to my stomach and imploded. I broke down. An overwhelming rush of emotions poured out of me and on to my pillow and continued to do so for hours. I had trouble leaving my bed and quickly fell into a deep depression. It was my wake-up call.
Confronting the past has been one of the hardest things to do; I've had to break down my ironclad wall of denial. I have only a sliver of memory of the attack itself. I vividly remember the moments leading up to it. I remember my roommate's reaction. I remember my head going through the headboard. I had to face it: the bruises were real, the trauma was real, and the attack was real. I couldn't pretend anymore. I was ready to talk.
My freshman year roommate and I had a long, much-needed discussion. She remembered it as a tame, unremarkable night; but she distinctly recalled when I walked in, bruised, without a care in the world. She suspected something, but not the worst. She regretted not realizing it at the time, but I also concealed a lot from her.
For the past five years, I essentially suffered in silence because I wanted to believe I was the same person I was before the attack. I refused to acknowledge it because I didn't want to be known as the girl who was raped her freshman year. Denying my attack added more weight to the trauma than I initially thought, so when I faced it, it hit me harder. I thought self-containment was a way to gain back the control I lost that night, but the trauma I faced all alone only isolated me further. My exterior was not the stone I led everyone to perceive; it was decorated plywood with paint chips forming.
With time, I gained clarity and objectivity. Talking about it finally helped me come to the realization that it happened and that it was not my fault. I was not conscious of my actions that night. I will never understand how or why this happened to me, or why no one stopped it.
I am deeply grateful for those who are strong enough to name and face their offenders in the public arena. I couldn't do it then, and probably couldn't do it now.
Writing my story was a cathartic outlet that helped me gain perspective. But I chose to share this story because I want people to learn from my mistakes in dealing with a trauma that was too much for me to bear alone. I believe silence can be just as damaging as the trauma itself. It was only upon leaving the subway station last week that I realized I don't need to remain silent. No one should be silent anymore.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, you are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.
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