“You.” It seems strange that I don’t even know what to call you, considering you almost ruined my life. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but I am all too aware of my assault every day of the year. Sometimes, I wonder what was going through your head What could have possibly made you think you had the right to violate a 14-year-old girl — to take her innocence and rip it away from her? What kind of delusion led you to tell her that her parents would hate her if she told them? I wonder how you live with yourself after you touched me, raped me, and then told me it was my fault.
I wonder if you remember that night as clearly as I do — as I probably always will. My friends and I went to the church after our football game for the band and the free food. I slipped away to the bathroom, hoping for a break from the beating drums and the shrieking guitars. Do you remember that bathroom? The lock on the door was broken, but I wouldn’t know that until later. You turned the knob as I was washing my hands, hoping that my parents would be there to get me soon. I can still see you, filling the entire doorway, in jeans and work boots. You smelled dirty, sweaty. You closed the door behind you, and my heart began to pound. You reached out a hand to touch my hair, and I backed away from you. Did that make you angry? You pushed me up against the wall and pulled down my jeans. I started crying when you touched me, but you didn’t stop. That was when I realized what you were going to do, that I was about to be raped and that there was nothing I could do about it.
To me, it seemed like it all happened so fast after that. Suddenly, I was on the floor, and you were on top of me, sweating. It hurt more than any pain I’d ever felt, but I couldn’t scream, for some reason. The sound was caught in my throat. The only thing I could think to do was pray. And when I did, you put your hand over my mouth. Do you remember what you said?
“God can’t hear you.”
I think I gave up after that. I laid there and silently hoped that you would kill me when you were done, because I did not want to live after that night. I laid there until you were done, until you stood up and zipped up your jeans. I laid there while you told me that if I ever told anyone, my parents would know that it was all my fault. I laid there when you walked out. I laid there until I got sick, and then I cleaned myself up. I wiped off my tears, washed my face, and walked out of the bathroom. And you know what? I didn’t tell.
I didn’t tell anyone for a year and a half. I didn’t tell anyone during the twelve days I spent in an adolescent psychiatric ward that summer after I tried to kill myself. I didn’t tell on the days I pretended to be sick because I couldn’t even get out of bed. I didn’t tell when I failed classes because I couldn’t concentrate anymore. I didn’t tell when I wouldn’t let my own father come close to me, when I wouldn’t even let him hug me. I didn’t tell until I had no other option — until I couldn’t see another possible way out, and I knew that I really, truly needed help.
You were wrong, you know. My mom begged me, for eighteen months, to tell her what was going on. Why had I become so with drawn, so sullen? Why did it seem like I hated everyone, when I had always been so loving? We sat on my bedroom floor and I broke down crying as I detailed the most painful experience — the most painful secret — of my life to her. She didn’t tell me it was my fault. She pulled me into her lap, she held me, and she cried. She told me she was sorry. She told me that I didn’t do anything wrong. She told me that she loved me, that she would always love me. And when we told my father, together, he didn’t say that it was my fault, either. He was angry, but not with me. He told me he loved me anyway. And when we went to the police, they didn’t say it was my fault. They did everything that they could to find you. And even though they haven’t, the detective still calls me when they arrest someone who matches your description. They’re still looking.
You almost ruined my life, my family’s lives. Do you know what it’s like to watch your mother lose the faith that inspired you to believe? Do you know how it feels to see your father, angry and confused, blaming himself for not being able to protect you? Do you know what it means to look at your sisters and wonder if the only thing they can see is the shame branded across your forehead? I do, because of you. Do you know how it feels to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and hate yourself? To blame yourself, no matter how many people tell you that it wasn’t your fault? I know exactly how that feels, because of what you did to me that night.
I still have nightmares. I still wake up to the feeling of your hands on my arms, my legs, over my mouth. I can still hear you telling me to be quiet. And worse, I can still hear the little voice in the back of my head telling me that I brought this upon myself.
I have a hard time trusting new people, especially men. I never take the same path home, because I don’t want to be tracked — I don’t want to become a target again. I am hypersensitive in every public situation, always watching, always afraid that I could be assaulted again. I’m sorry to say, you changed me, permanently, and I’ll never know who I would have become if not for you. Perhaps I’d still be happy and trusting instead of bitter and cynical. I had unshakeable faith, or so I thought. But I’ll never be that girl again.
To be honest, I’ve stopped looking for you. There’s a small, selfish part of me that hopes that you’ll never be found, because I know that sitting across from you in a courtroom, recounting every excruciating detail of you assaulting me, taking my innocence, and leaving me there would send me back to that dark place. I hate myself for thinking that, because I know that the longer you are out there, the more girls you could be hurting, the more lives you could be destroying. Girls who may not have the support I had. Girls who might see getting out as the only way to move on. Girls whose lives you could be ending.
On the worst days, I still wonder why. Why me? There were a hundred other girls to choose from at the church that night, so why me? What did I possibly do to stand out? The police say that you were waiting in a room off to the side, watching. Waiting for the right time, and the right target. Why was I the “right” one? And, the biggest question of all, why did you need to do it at all? Why did the power you selfishly thought you deserved need to come at the expense of someone else? How could you ever possibly look at a young girl and think that she deserved what you did?
I’ve read so many stories about girls who are eventually able to forgive their attackers, who go on to believe that the experience made them stronger. I will never be one of those girls. I will hate you until the day I die, with every part of my being. And the assault? It wasn’t what made me strong. My family did that, when they stood by me through the therapy, through the anxiety. My friends did that, when they supported me through my panic attacks, when they held my hand because a guy accidentally walked into the wrong bathroom, and suddenly I was back in that room with you. My fiancé does that, when he holds me on the nights that the nightmares are too much, when sleep is out of reach. I did that, when I decided that you would not, and could not, break me.
Even as I write this, I know there’s very little chance you will ever see it. But if you do, if somehow, some way, this reaches you, look at my picture and understand this: the power you wanted so desperately that you had to take it from a 14-year-old? You don’t have it. I take back that power every day when I choose to love myself. When I choose not to see myself as a victim, but as a survivor. When I wake up in the morning, even on the mornings when the sadness and shame envelope me again, and I decide to keep moving forward, I take that power back. You do not control me. You do not have power over my life. And you do not get to make me feel small, or guilty, or ashamed anymore. I am not the shattered little girl that you left lying on a bathroom floor seven years ago. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I refuse to allow you to control me. You have no power. Not anymore..
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