The #MeToo movement has caused some serious self-reflection in my life. Although I am not ready to write about the actual assault in detail, I do feel comfortable writing about the aftermath. I think…
First, there are the flashbacks…
I am 19 years old and I have just woken up with a stranger on top of me, doing things a stranger should never be doing to another stranger…not while they are sleeping anyway. Sleeping is actually a gentle term for what I was – the reality is I was passed out cold after a night of excessive drinking.
I try to get up…he doesn’t let me…I try again…he doesn’t let me…I try again…he uses force…I try again…he uses more force…I stop trying…I leave my body…
This story, like so many others, will lead to bruises on both my body and my mind. It will lead to self-hatred and blame, confusion and regret, despair and insecurity.
When it is over, and I am finally free, I feel myself moving so quickly I don’t remember how my bare feet felt on the floor beneath me.
I collect my clothing, one piece at a time, and hold it all in a disheveled ball in front of me as if to shield my body from the heat of his eyes; as if he hasn’t already been exposed to every inch of me. Still, I try to hide behind any sliver of dignity and self-respect I have left.
“You have such a nice body.” he says with a smirk.
Of all of the things he said to me, this I remember most.
I am confused. Does he think what he did was ok? Was what he did ok? Did I consent to this? How did I consent to something if I was unconscious? Am I overreacting? All I remember is leaving the bar and wanting to drink more…always wanting to drink more. What the fuck is wrong with me? Why do I always have to drink so much? I don’t remember wanting this! I wouldn’t have wanted this. Did I? I can’t remember.
I start to cry.
I need to get out of here…
I stay silent as I dress myself, tears rapidly streaming down my face – falling from my chin to my exposed collar bones. I do not say a word as I leave the room. I do not even know his name. Part of me recognizes it is important to ask his name and possibly get his phone number. When I start to remember, I am going to want to know who did this to me…who to hold accountable for the bruises on my shoulders and the tears that burned holes in my cheeks and soul…but in that moment, I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to know what he looks like. I don’t want to know that he even exists.
Did I want to know his name last night?
I walk out the front door of a first floor apartment. I do not know where I am, or where I am going, so I just start walking. I walk as fast as I can; away from him, away from what happened, away from the piece of myself that I left in that apartment.
I walk for 6 blocks before I finally recognize where I am. I realize I have been walking in the wrong direction. I start to cry again. I use my sleeve to wipe the tears from my face. I am embarrassed to be crying while doing what can only be perceived by passing traffic as a “walk of shame.” I am pathetic.
I am now walking in the right direction, but realize I cannot walk past that apartment again. so I cut through the grass of someone’s yard, another stranger, and walk to the next street over. I continue my journey back to my dorm room.
All I hear is silence. I do not hear another human being, I do not hear my footsteps. I do not hear the leaves rustling in the breeze. I do not hear the cars as they pass. I do not hear my breathing.
Silence…and then I hear it again.
“You have such a nice body…”
I am suddenly nauseous. I stop, bend over and find myself dry heaving over another strangers lawn.
I muster up the courage to keep walking and return to my dorm room. My roommate is sleeping, and I am grateful. I quietly enter our room and grab the term paper that is due in my morning lecture. I then walk to class with my head down- eyes pinned to my shoes. I stare at the cold, hard concrete of the sidewalk the entire way. I count the cracks. I still can’t feel my feet. I can’t feel my heart beat. I can’t feel anything.
I walk down the steep stairs of the lecture hall to the front of the room, drop my paper on top of the stack of hundreds of papers below mine, turn on my heels and walk back up the stairs past the rows of eager students and out the double doors at the top of the stairs. I do not make eye contact with a single person the entire trip through that lecture hall.
I feel naked, and I fear if I make eye contact with anyone the looks on their faces will just confirm what I already know; what that man already taught me this morning.
I am disgusting. I am unlovable. I am damaged.
I can’t breath…
I slowly make my way back to my dorm room, undress in the bathroom, turn the shower on and sit down on the cold, hard floor – the water running down my back. I sit, naked, on the tile floor of our shared public bathroom…and I don’t even care how disgusting it is, because I have suddenly become painfully aware that the dirty tiles below me are far cleaner than I will ever be again.
After my shower, I finally lift my head and meet my gaze in the mirror. My eyes are blackened with smeared mascara. I don’t even recognize my own reflection. I start to panic. I feel my lip start to quiver. I hold back my tears – swallowing the pain in a gulp so big I almost choke on it. Part of me wishes I had….
I don’t cry anymore after that. I don’t remember ever crying about it again after the initial shock wore off. All I really remember was floating through life in a constant state of anxiety. Pushing memories deep down inside me to a place where no one could find them. I told myself that if I could just pretend it never happened, I could be happy again, but that wasn’t true. I never truly mastered the art of forgetting.
“What the hell happened? Was this really rape? What if I was flirting the night before? I was the one who drank too much. I can’t even remember his name. He didn’t seem to think he did anything wrong. Did he seriously think he did nothing wrong? Am I overreacting? What if I am pregnant? What if I have AIDS?!? Did I deserve this? I am disgusting. I am a slut, a whore. I deserved this. Yes, I deserved it.”
I am still sitting in the shower. I am suddenly nauseous. I crawl across the floor to the toilet and heave so violently I think I am going to pass out.
For the next weeks, I barely go to class. I spend most of my time in my bed listening to music. My roommate periodically comes in and out of the room. I can tell she is annoyed with me. She thinks I am lazy, worthless. She thought she was going to have a fun roommate, one that would party with her like everyone else. She is disappointed. She thinks I am just taking up space. I haven’t told her what happened. I haven’t told anyone. They will probably tell me I deserved it. They’ve all seen me drink too much and they predicted this would happen.
I go to the doctor for an exam – to find out the truth. When the doctor touches me down there, I feel myself tense up. She tells me to relax. I try. She says I am too tense. I feel my stomach muscles tighten with shame. She asks if I am ok? Is there something I would like to discuss?
“No. I am fine.” I lie.
There is a disconnect between me and my body now. I don’t respect it anymore, just like that guy, that nobody, had disrespected it too. I weigh 110 lbs. I feel disgusting when I eat, when I breath – so I numb myself with more booze. I find comfort in the alcohol. I don’t need to have a body in the abyss anyway. I don’t know it yet, but I will stay in the abyss for years, until I am finally ready to live again.
Two weeks later, I receive the results in the mail. I shake as I open the envelope.
Fact: I am not pregnant.
Fact: I am not diseased.
Fact: I didn’t tell her I was assaulted, because I have started to convince myself it was my fault.
I am simply used, broken…but I am also relieved.
I can live with this…I think.
It will take a decade more to finally feel comfortable in my own body again, but I’ve learned it will take a lifetime to learn how to be intimate without alcohol. To this day, intimacy is still difficult.
For years after “the incident,” I fed my soul with booze, clothes, shoes, exercise, bleached hair and very little food. I perfected the “I’m fine” attitude. I learned to protect myself by telling others I didn’t care what they thought of me, but that was a lie too.
More booze…I am now most comfortable with alcohol. I am more comfortable with alcohol than I am with family, or friends or myself.
When the #MeToo movement began, I found myself angered with some of these women. How dare they talk so openly about what was done to them? Who do they think they are? Don’t they realize they are going to ruin a life? Don’t they know that people will judge them? Don’t they care?!?
I am confused by my anger. Why do I suddenly feel like I am siding with my attacker? Why am I trying to protect the lives of those who didn’t care to protect the lives of others? Am I really angry with these women? Or am I jealous?
And then it hits me. I AM jealous. I am envious of these women because they possess the courage that I lacked at 19 years old. I never had the strength back then to reclaim my body. I didn’t have the strength to remember his name, his face, his address. I never had the courage to call the police or tell that doctor exactly why I wanted to cry when she touched me. I envy them because they value themselves enough to fight back. Their guy didn’t take all of their self-respect and dignity, they didn’t let him because they are strong.
So, I guess this is my #MeToo. A chance to heal my soul and reclaim my body. It doesn’t change the past, or erase what happened. I will never be able to go back and face my attacker, and I pray that I was his only victim. I didn’t possess the courage back then that I possess today.
So today, I will tell myself:
It was NOT my fault.
I did NOT deserve it.
I am NOT broken.
I AM lovable.
I AM worthy of respect.