A Letter To A Younger Me, At 17
Last week you went to your first house party. He led you downstairs to an empty bedroom, barricaded the doors with furniture. It was exciting until he was on top of you, not listening when you said you didn’t want to: not here, not now, not like this. You turned beet red when someone knocked down the door, bringing whatever was about to happen without your consent to an abrupt halt. Right now, you think it’s all your fault: you shouldn’t have gone to the party, you didn’t realize how drunk he was, you shouldn’t have followed him anywhere, he’s stronger than you, but you’re strong too – why couldn’t you push him off? But it’s not your fault. You said no, and he should have listened. You’re ashamed, but secretly so grateful for the guy who knocked down the door, even though you never mention it.
You don’t know yet that this scene will replay itself three years later in a different room, with a different guy, but this time no one will be there to knock down the door. You will have had too much to drink and you’ll drift in and out of consciousness as he does what he wants with your body, without your consent. You’ll wake up very confused and sore, but it will become clear when he texts you later asking if you’re mad, saying he didn’t think it was totally okay, but he’s wanted to fuck you for so long that when an opportunity presented itself he just did it whether you wanted to or not.
This will crush you. Four years later you’ll still battle the constant thought: maybe it was my fault. But it’s not: he should have stopped when you said no, and he should not have interpreted your inability to consent as permission to continue.
The aftermath of this event will be messy, confusing, and long lasting. In the wake of it, little things will become magnified: a guy who generously tips you at the coffee shop, a male friend who brings fresh-baked cookies to your room late at night. You’ll be consumed by the fear that these gestures of kindness are imbued with the simple desire for your body and that something you have done has been, or will be, misinterpreted as grant for access. It will take a really long time to build up that thing called trust again. But you’ll get there.
You’ll go to a concert on a Wednesday night, wearing dusty hiking boots, faded jeans, and an oversized sweater, and a man will grab you from behind in the middle of a crowd, pushing himself on you, telling you “you want it”. You’ll freeze up, ask him to please stop. He doesn’t. Your friends don’t notice, but some guy standing next to you does and pulls the man away. A small commotion ensues, but your friends will remain unaware: the music is loud, dancing is fun. Not wanting to ruin their night, you’ll hide in the bathroom until the encores end, wondering what you’ve done that could have been construed as ‘asking for it’. It can’t be the choice in outfit, you haven’t touched alcohol, you weren’t dancing, it’s a family-friendly bluegrass concert.
Later that year, you’ll decide to walk a whole lot of miles through the woods and across mountains, alone. People will raise concerns about your safety, as a young female, walking all that way alone. They won’t realize though that you’ve got nothing left to lose: someone’s already taken it. They also don’t realize that you’re doing this to prove a point (to yourself mainly) and that you crave the time and space alone to process these assaults that have transpired. As they cycle in your mind over and over just like the five-track playlist you keep on repeat, you’ll eventually learn to carry them with you without letting them crush you. You will come to realize that your body is yours alone and it is capable of some pretty impressive feats. You’ll chip away at the confusion, anger, shame, and sadness you feel and you’ll become more at peace with your own mind. You’ll learn that you are incredibly strong.
As time passes and you make more laps around the sun, you’ll continue to be frustrated by the enduring effects of your own sexual assault. You’ll be devastated each time you learn that yet another friend, acquaintance, human, has experienced their own. You’ll struggle with the notion that your experiences feel so personal, so confusing, and still so raw, while so many others share similar narratives. It’s devastating, infuriating, and overwhelming. You’ll try to wade through the continuous waves of uncertainty and doubt, and speak up when you can.
Right now though, you’re still 17 and all you really need to know is this: sexual assault is not your fault and while you feel weak right now, you are stronger than you know. You are going to be okay, you always are.
Me, a little older.