I’ve been telling myself I would share my story at It Happens Here since, well, it happened, to me, here. That was three years ago. I guess I was waiting until I felt ready, whatever that means. But we are here now, and I’m scared.
Before it all, you look at yourself in the mirror every morning, accustomed to the fact that you are you. You’re right there. You know you.
Then one day you don’t belong to yourself anymore. Someone has taken a piece of your being—you’re control over your body– and crept off with it– Quickly, Quietly, Seamlessly– leaving you staring at an empty set of limbs and organs aimlessly pumping with blood.
I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why it hurts so much to be violated this way.
Spring of my first year at Middlebury, someone had sex with me while I was sleeping. This person was not a stranger. He didn’t mean to– it was an accident, a freak thing. If this is what desire can do to people, I never want to be desired again.
And in so many ways the intentions don’t actually matter– I was crushed all the same. The way it feels to have zero say in what someone does to your body, to wake up and see what is happening to you, it’s completely hollow. I felt fragmented. All I felt was nothing, and all I wanted was nothing.
He wasn’t wearing a condom. I wasn’t on birth control.
I remember the next morning, walking down the hill toward Parton with a new conviction, a revelation that was almost comforting in its logic. I had a solution. If people can have sex with me without my permission, I thought, I need to go on birth control. I started the pill that week. Every morning at 7:30 I swallowed a reminder that said, don’t forget, you have no control over what other people do to your body, a daily reminder of my rape. Good morning.
At first I refused to acknowledge my experience as rape. As the person involved, I thought, I got to decide if it was or wasn’t rape. And I didn’t want to be a victim; I didn’t want to be a survivor. I wanted to be in control, so I decided that I wasn’t raped. I know best what I need, I told myself. I knew nothing.
I wake up with my insides screaming, but I can’t make a sound at all.
It’s all a contradiction, you know.
The emptiness left in my body slowly consumed by unexpected and haunting re-memories, filling the spaces that used to make up me with the weight of a someone else’s doing. Heavier and heavier until I’m stuck where I am, and I cut a hole in my flesh to seep out the weight.
Soon I stopped going to lunch, in fear of running unexpectedly into a certain person. Then I struggled at dinner. Repeating nightmares of rape kept me up at night. As I drifted off the sleep my body would jolt awake, reminding me that sleep is not a safe place. I needed to be awake and alert, because remember, anything can happen to you without your permission. I know. It’s true. I spent hours in my room staring at nothing trying to make something out of the blankness. I was so hurt and confused. I constantly searched for someone to explain it all to me, to explain why it happened. I imagined myself disintegrating, turning spec by spec into dust that calmly blew by the window, anything to escape the heaviness. What makes you happy? A big piece of white paper hung in my room for visitors to fill out. I can’t understand what happy is right now.
At some point in the middle of the semester I ended up at home. I was completely dysfunctional at Middlebury. I told my parents I had experienced an “uncomfortable sexual situation”. (Yes, I used those words.) I told them that someone had sex with me while I was sleeping, and that I was having a tough time dealing with it. My mother didn’t say anything, and I don’t remember looking at her. My father looked me straight in the eye. He asked two questions: 1. Are you on birth control? (No, I answered.) 2. Why would you sleep in the same bed as someone you don’t want to have sex with? I couldn’t answer that one.
Why is it that I feel ashamed when you’re the one who should feel ashamed?
I saw a counselor when I came back to Middlebury, and I don’t think I used the word rape to describe my situation until the next March, almost a year after the incident. I asked my counselor every time we met, was I raped? She reminded me of the definition of rape. Penetration, no matter how slight…without consent…how can you give consent when you’re sleeping? I was too afraid to answer for myself, but I desperately sought validation from someone, anyone, that I had reason to be feeling everything that I was feeling. I never looked in the right places.
After being raped, I remembered sexual abuses from my past that I thought were long buried. My counselor told me this was called PTSD. Everything I had purposely forgotten came back– strong and fresh and enveloping.
I was six years old the first time I was sexually assaulted, and it didn’t lighten up much from then on. Hungry lips and assertive hands were a part of my middle and high school years, as they are for many young girls. I never fought back hard enough– maybe it would’ve taken just one punch. Somewhere along the lines, I began to lose track of what parts of me was mine and what parts were up for grabs.
Remembering those moments meant reliving them in a scary and dark way. It takes over from the inside, consuming every empty cavity of my body until it becomes me. That’s all I am, that’s all I can be.
I wish I had a scar to explain it all. Something I could just point at, and friends and acquaintances would say, ah, I’m sorry. That must hurt so much.
Adversity makes you stronger, it builds character. But not when it eats away at you. Not when you disintegrate piece by piece in the wake of the storm you thought you slept through.
I constantly struggle between feeling empowered and feeling hopeless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been too afraid to make commotion. I’ve never screamed. I’ve silently pushed away hands that violated my body: on the bus, in the instrument room, in stairwells, on the sofa, in the woods, in my own bed. I convinced myself that I was in complete control; that I chose the situation; that I wasn’t supposed to have a say in sexual encounters. It’s my fault, it’s my fault. What if the default was that my body was mine?
I wish more than anything that I kicked or screamed or thrashed just once. Something, anything to stand up for myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have to, but I still wish that I did.
But I didn’t fight back, and that is a reality that I need to accept. I’m just so tired of carrying this story around with me– it’s heavy, and while it will always be a part of me, I think it belongs better out there. I don’t want it anymore.
Author: Anonymous Middlebury College Student