At first I was confused. Why is he here? Why is he touching me like this? Why won’t he go away? Why me?
“Why did you do that?” I asked after he kissed me for the first time—genuinely confused.
I had never kissed anyone before. It hadn’t registered that this could happen as this upperclassman lurked over me in the freshman bleachers at my first football game. Shouldn’t I have expected this? Shouldn’t I have felt something? Shouldn’t I have wanted this?
“Because you’re my girlfriend,” he replied.
I turned his words over in my head as he escorted me off the bleachers. How had that happened? What did I do that told him I wanted that? When did I say that that was okay? Was that okay?
I eventually accepted my powerlessness. As much as I tried to avoid him, I couldn’t really. I saw him every day. Every weekend. A constant presence that physically loomed over me and swallowed me his huge arms.
Whenever he was around me he had to be on me, all over me. Especially in public. It was possessive in a way that felt less like a public display of affection than a public display of ownership.
It didn’t matter how often I said I didn’t want him to do something. He did it anyway. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to squirm out from under his arm, his hand, his body. He did it anyway. Whatever obstacle I erected brought only seconds or minutes of respite. And then it would continue.
There is no one moment that stands out from that relationship. The whole thing is an anxious and uncomfortable blur that I chose to ignore for so many years.
But even as I “forgot” about that relationship and continued being “friends” with this man, it never left. I did not consciously think it, but he had hardwired a lesson into my core.
“It doesn’t matter what you want: it will happen anyway.”
“It doesn’t matter if you say no: it will happen anyway.”
“It doesn’t matter if you resist:
You will just feel even more powerless than before.”
He continued to make sure I knew how powerless I was in our “friendship” and in my other friendships. He joked with my friends that I was dumb, worthless, crazy, that “M is just bad at everything.”
For the rest of high school, I was still confused. Why do these men say “you don’t have a valid reason to say no?” Why do these men drag me into a dark stairwell to assault me? Why do these men offer my consent to other men against my expressed wishes? Why does this keep happening to me?
Obviously, I was I doing something wrong. Obviously, I needed to figure out what was wrong with me so I would stop causing all of these bad things in my life.
Over the next few years, I grew a lot. I hadn’t acknowledged or processed the multitude of shitty sexual experiences, but I had dealt with enough other problems that I was ready to try again in a new place.
But I wasn’t. And I didn’t know until it was too late. I didn’t know until I was fooling around with a close friend. I didn’t know until everything suddenly felt wrong.
I was not an active participant.
What I wanted didn’t matter.
Because it never had.
I shut down. He continued. He fell asleep holding me in his arms. I laid awake for hours next to him. Everything felt awful, but not explicitly so. I was transfixed in a foggy misery that I couldn’t quite identify. I was there, and lightyears away.
I couldn’t process what had happened lying next to him, or in the weeks, months, even years since. I smiled when I saw him. We hung out. Chatted about his new relationship and other trivial shit. I felt a powerful aversion to his touch, but never understood why or even verbalize that feeling. I never connected my dire need to get away from him with that night. I joked about it how weird it was with friends but didn’t register how I felt. As we drifted apart as friends so did that discomfort.
Until it suddenly re-emerged. Two years later, my partner sent me a text at work. I left my office midafternoon an emotional wreck. I couldn’t understand how one sentence had filled me with such anxiety, sadness, and impending dread. As I walked home, I connected his text with something that close friend had said my freshman year at Midd.
Those feelings had always been there, I just never connected the dots.
Over the course of my junior spring, memories continued to pop up. There was so much buried from my conscious recollection. Even today, I am struggling to piece these fragmented memories together. I am still discovering how one human changed me and affected every relationship I’ve had since. I’ve been able to articulate some of those changes with the help of other survivors in my life.
But I am still hardwired into harmful patterns that dominate my romantic and sexual relationships.
I still seek out deeply uncomfortable attention, because I am trying to understand how I felt 8 years ago when I chose not to.
I still struggle to articulate what I want, because it never mattered.
I still blame myself for falling into these relationships over and over again.
I still feel powerless.
Author: Anonymous Middlebury College Student