My first night at Middlebury I had a nightmare about my rapist. He was my 9th grade ‘boyfriend,’ the more conniving incarnation of the sweaty, grasping teenage sociopath trope, that one who hits his girlfriends and his walls in equally terrifying measure.
After that first nightmare, the following night brought similar panic, as well as the next. I do not remember what happened in the dreams, but in the unsent letter that I wrote to my ex-boyfriend-rapist almost four years ago—“andrew.doc”—I explain that the dreams feature “you attacking me in some way.”
What’s interesting to me about this episode is not that I was being haunted by our relationship (I know that I always will be) but that for some reason sleeping in my ‘safe’ new dorm room at Middlebury College triggered these memories in an unusually visceral way. I have often calmly explained parts of ‘our story’ to my current friends and partners—reliving the threats of suicide, the time that he tried to break into my house, those few times when he tried to shove markers into my vagina without asking my consent, all those times I cried as his hips battered mine, and the two years of violent phone calls and texts that followed our break up—but I do not often find myself forced to relive the feelings—the fear, the self-hatred, the sense of being completely and irrevocably alone.
Middlebury College has never been my home. Even at the end of the letter to the man who assaulted me for over a year I articulated this point; in a tacked-on post script I write, “I don’t know if you care but I just thought I would let you know I started college about a week ago…Now I am at Middlebury trying to act like I know what I’m doing.”
now i am at middlebury trying to act like i know what i’m doing.
Though in the letter I write off my alienation at this rural New England institution as an effect of my urban public education (“our high school just hasn’t prepared me at all”), the truth is from day one this institution has taught me that my explosive, messy self is not welcome here. It is not that they do not have all of the ‘appropriate’ collegiate resources or structures to support student well-being, but they have so many of the wrong ones—structures that make you realize that the primary function of the school is to perpetuate privilege and not to foster learning or healing; that attracting wealthy white students and encouraging alumni donations by maintaining a pristine Middlebury brand name is more important than making public statistics about rape on campus; that a student’s body is just a way to get their brain to and from lectures, consulting interviews, and parties, and not a site of loneliness or power.
We are all actors all the time, but as students we have particular roles, here. Go to class. Do well in school. Open the doors for everyone. Work hard. Party hard. Practice hard. Don’t think about rape, exploitation, or injustice unless your professor is into that. Don’t reflect on your position within the overlapping systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism, just write about it. Push yourself harder. (Always harder.) Crave sex. Become a Leader. Lean in, ladies. Smile. Do good and do well. Do not forget the do well. Do not forget the do well.
I am fairly certain that my abusive ex-boyfriend and Middlebury College have become conflated in my mind because they have both tried to coerce me into normalizing my own alienation. ‘This is love,’ they whisper as they undress me, ‘This is what you wanted.’
Both Middlebury and my rapist benefit from my internal instability and my performance of stability. Fear gnaws at the ability to act, to feel inspired, to feel safe stepping outside of the box you have been placed in, to reach out for help. They know this. They need me functional, yet spineless—malleable flesh masquerading as solid.
It takes a long time to name coercion, to understand the forces that benefit from it, and to challenge those forces directly in the process of building something new. It takes a long time to unlearn shame and to relearn (for as children we know this) dissent.
Middlebury is coercive because it exists within the capitalist system and will always be seeking more profit. My ex forced me to perform the role of submissive ‘girlfriend’ against my will because patriarchy has taught him that he has a right to dominance.
Still, these oppressive forces are also unstable. Why else would my rapist need me to be with him? Why else would Middlebury fear its own heterogeneity? Even the powerful are anxious, afraid that they will lose their status, afraid that they will forget who they are, afraid they will lose.
There are holes in every system. Middlebury taught me that. Or, rather, frustrated members of the faculty and staff taught me that; my friends who refuse the masquerade have taught me that.
Every day I try to give up the endless game of pretending to know what I am doing. I try not to look to the administration to make me feel whole for it can no longer convince me that our interests are the same. I try to live in such a way that both my rapist and the invisible hand of the market (the one that allows our endowment to grow by exploiting poor people across the world) know that never again will they finger fuck me against my will.
I have learned to think of consent not as an action, but as a process. Every day I learn how to practice consent with my partner, my family and friends, and myself. I challenge my own subjugation every time I ask my partner if I can remove his underwear, every time that I bring my own story into the classroom, every time that I reach out to my friends for support and create the space for them to do the same, and every time that I challenge the authority of the Middlebury administration.
I am writing this story with my partner lying perpendicular to me in bed. He is reading a small book with his glasses off. His hand is on my thigh. It is so warm.
Author: Anonymous Middlebury College Student