I have always found that there is a distinct power in personal narrative. Stories create solidarity, and her story did that for me. Here’s another maxim for the jar: none of us are alone. We are resilient, we are strong, and we have each other.
On April 21, 2018, I was raped. Rape is not always how you think it is, or how people sometimes talk about it in the media. It is often quiet, it is shocking, and it is the most unsettling experience. This is the third time it has happened to me, but it is the first time it has happened while living in my childhood home, in my hometown. The first time was while I was away at college. The second time was while I was studying abroad. But this time, I was home. I was in MY town, I was in MY safe place, I went out in MY city. When I was away from home it felt like I should’ve expected it. This time was worse.
It was 6am on a Saturday morning. I had driven him home after a night out with one of my closest friends. His room was freezing and the lights were too bright. We had been fooling around a bit when he pushed me down and held me there while he penetrated me without a condom. He stopped after a few strokes; I had started crying and begging him to stop. He apologized—he hadn’t meant to hurt me, he thought it was what I wanted. HOW? I had told him I did not want to sleep with him—several times: at the bar where we met, at the 24-hour diner where we shared food, in the Uber back to my friend’s apartment. He felt horrible; he didn’t mean to do this to me, he would never mean to hurt me. Not like this.
I couldn’t hold down food for the rest of the day. I vomited so violently from the anxiety attacks that red dots appeared around my eyes, which were so swollen they were nearly shut. Monday came around, and, several anxiety attacks later, I had to be at work. I made it for about three hours before I had another anxiety attack. My boss rubbed my back while I gasped for air, trying to breathe, trying to keep sight of the fact that I am not dying, I am okay, I am okay, I am okay, it’s all okay. I told her everything, and she told me that it had happened to her. She told me I don’t have to be okay right now, but I will be. She also told me that he does not get to take anything away from me, from who I am, from who I will be.
She reminded me of someone else in that moment: a woman I had known in college. I never understood how she could talk so freely about it, how she could say “my rapist” or “when I was raped”. I had always admired her for it, for doing something I could not. This woman stayed with me for the rest of the week—I thought about her constantly, thinking about how she took ownership of it, of how much I wished that I could, how much I want to be able to do that. She was with me when I sat in the closest Planned Parenthood—which happened to be in the neighboring state—for not one but two appointments that Tuesday afternoon. She was with me on Wednesday when a coworker looked at me and told me that I don’t seem the same—am I sure I’m okay? I will be. She was with me as I managed to keep it together when a coworker at my other job asked me about my recent breakup and if I was living that “single hoe life” now. On Friday, she messaged me asking if I was still interested in writing something for submission to Bitter Blush.
This was it. This was how I was going to “do something about it”. I had been feeling wracked with guilt for not reporting it, for not feeling strong enough to confront the trauma in the immediate aftermath, for knowing that not reporting it added to the statistic, rather than changing the narrative. It made me feel weak. This woman didn’t report hers either, but she changed my narrative. I was in my own hell and she pulled me out, without even knowing how her story made me feel: like I would be okay—maybe not today or any time soon, but I would be eventually—and that is enough for now.