This story- as all stories of life- is not linear. My conscious is healing and bounces from memory to reality to stark image to sleep to waking to remembering to writing to sleep and back again.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Sexual Abuse
4/14 - 1:16am
At least the view was nice.
4/16/2021 - 4:00 am
I was sexually assaulted by a person I’ve known since I was, I think, 12?
We met at school when I was in the 6th grade, he was in 9th. We were both nerds- well, he was a “nerds nerd” and I was just different- but we found comfort in each other. He was so nice to me. The boys in my class were not. I had such an innocent crush on him, one that I dared not mar with action. By this time I had seen what action prevailed on crushes. I have a faded memory of us at a theme park…Six Flags, or Disneyland… for some school-related reason. While waiting in line for a ride he whispered to the air that he wanted to kiss me. I pretended not to hear him. This was years after we met- we were older now but still looked upon with inquisitive eyes from theme park employees when passing the “must be this tall to ride” sign. Before this moment I had already had multiple sexual experiences I did not consent to. Multiple scenarios in which my body learned to disconnect from itself, while my feelings, thoughts, desires, fears and safety were compromised, compartmentalized and quantified for survival. I am 33 now and have only just begun to uncover artifacts of my past, at least in this regard. I brush them off with the careful precision and focus of archeologist- to not disturb the artifact’s fragile state. I am finding that each new experience shakes me up like an earthquake, burring memories deeper, breaking some and uncovering others, if only for a moment, before they find themselves covered once again. Theme park. I ignored him because I thought I wasn’t deserving of affection from a guy who had genuine affection for me. I was maybe 16 at this juncture and had already learned to chase after boys who explicitly caused me harm- who went out of their way to hurt me publicly but want to kiss me privately- or forcing their hands up my shirt with their friends filming from a closet- forcing their fingers inside of me with their friends listening in through the bathroom door - forcing their bodies on top of mine while their friends did the same to my friends. Here was a guy who was explicitly nice to me in public, telling me he wants to kiss me in public. My body decided this seemed like a quantifiable risk to my safety, it disconnected and compartmentalized. I focused on the noises in the crowd, the cold metal railing my hand was clenching, the thought that my hand was going to smell like dirty metal, and the safety announcement blasting from overhead speakers. I had taught myself that doing nothing was my safest bet. Doing nothing meant he could kiss me, get the moment over with. He’d walk onto the ride happy and I’d eventually rejoin my body later today, tomorrow… no harm to him.
As more and more of my autonomy was disregarded by the men passing through my life, I had acquired this skill of feeling a change in the air- days, hours, minutes and seconds before the abuser decides they’re going to perpetrate action. For me, with him, it happened 10 hours before meeting him for dinner on April 13th, 2021. 16 years after Theme Park. 20 years since we met. He was in town visiting friends and family.
When he graduated, I handed him a pair of baby shoes. The left shoe I inscribed with his name across the toecap in aqua blue sharpie along with the year 2003, in black. I kept this shoe. I gifted him the right shoe- inscribed with my name across the tiny toe. I don’t think he has it anymore. We’ve both lived full lives since 2003. I kept the left shoe in storage at my parents house. I asked my mom to dig it out for me so I could hold it while I wrote. Just another artifact. I can hold it in one hand. Something so small can not possibly represent something so big. I think I’ll relinquish it from the duties of being the carrier of my pain. I think I'll throw it away now.
This is where, in the recounting of abuse, I begin to “victim blame”. It’s easier for me to tell a friend “it wasn’t your fault” than it is to convince myself it wasn’t mine when I know I saw the train coming- especially when the train has the exact same face that he did when he was 16.
I just edited myself. I never do that. I wrote a whole paragraph on the benign events of the day. Not having anything to wear, going shopping, confiding in a friend my anxieties of the coming night. The details seemed like evidence against me when I don’t want there to be evidence against anyone. The moment I left his hotel room that night, I knew I was going to write about what happened- writing is how I record my experiences wether my body and mind are connected or not. I knew I was going to write all of this but I feel altogether unprepared to do so. I have shared some of what happened to close friends- holding on to the true depths of this abuse in an effort to shield anyone from the image he created of me and only he saw. I hate that image of me, why would I share it with others? So I deleted the paragraph and wrote this one. Its just as long, just as many words saying little, but somehow safer than admitting I wanted to look good to hide how bad I felt leading up to the night.
It’s nearly 5am. Im going back to sleep.
It’s 4am. I’m awake. I have been waking up at, or around, 4am since the assault. I wake up to a thought, a reasoning, reckoning or bright image of the night that jolts me awake.
My body tenses when I lay down. As others, I assume, relax upon hitting the mattress- my first unconscious instinct is to hold myself above- so I don’t sink. He was there, he laid me down- he’s here, he wont let me sink- at least he wont let me sink.
4/22 4:06am Voice Note
Sexual abuse and rape survivors are not broken. They are the strongest people I’ve met. But strength in any capacity is fallible. When you engage in sexual acts with a partner, new partner, one night stand, old friend, new friend- no matter how well you know, or do not know them, no matter how much strength you see in them, you do not know the compounding factors of their fault lines. You can not assume. Something that you have experienced in your sexual life is not a carbon copy of everyone's sexual experiences. Even abuses that have been healed or are currently being worked through, taking steps towards healing, these traumas can come to the forefront because of a touch, a sound, a look- the coping mechanisms of abuse are vastly different, vastly personal. My coping mechanism is catatonia. I turn off the part of my brain that is hurting because of what is happening. I am unable to fight back, unable to leave, unable to say anything- It is safer for me in that moment to do nothing- especially because i have withstood abuse perpetrated by a man who’s temper got worse when I fought back. I'm having trouble shaking this off this time. I knew this man.
4/26 4:11am Email to my mom
hey mom, i would have texted you this but i didn’t want you to think it was an emergency. it is not. I’m wondering if you wouldn't mind looking for something in the storage you mentioned my spoons might be in? It’s a white and pink baby girls sneaker with [REDACTED]’s name on the toecap. I'm working on a piece for my new blog linking object with story- if you find it can you also bring that on Tuesday and try not to burn it. I'll do those honors.
4/26 8:22am Mom’s response to my Email
We met on Tuesday, I could tell she was sad. That tiny weightless baby shoe weighed on her- I shouldn’t have asked her to do that. She would barely look at me all afternoon- especially when I smiled.
I shouldn’t have told her.
When will people with trauma be listened to, believed, and understood without having to put themselves in danger to stay safe?
On identifying, unearthing and addressing compounding trauma. Ask a kid “why?” as much as they ask you. Over-exaggeration and lying are symptoms of, not reasons for. I have major black-outs of my memories. I remember very little of my youth and less about the day I just had. There are things, moments, smells, sensations that I remember vividly. I think because musings of memory are repeated so often to me, for me and at me, that I find myself with no choice but to remember as others remember things. My personal truth and faded memories that have been negated, I hold on to and have become a part of my DNA producing unconscious thoughts leading to my not being able to stack bowls without feeling profound loss of something. My not being able to tell a story without wondering if I’m lying? Exaggerating? Ive become a person who second-guesses moments in my life as they are happening, as if my ability to color the air more vividly is a perfected skill to edit real time. When good, bad, mundane but some how special, painful, joyous, funny or gentle things happen, I beg myself to remember everything and believe myself.
Saying my healing is a "work in progress" feels too progressive for where I am.
I went out of town for the weekend with women I didn’t know. My coping mechanisms are running out, or are gone all together. I thought sleep would have been my escape but even then clues of this unresolved trauma haunts far in the background of each fantastical place my mind has created to give me a reason to wake up. A subconscious message of “This is how life could be”, bright, bubbly- I’ve never trusted a happy-painted place as darkness is easier seen in the bright colors of perceived happiness. Even as I am writing this, I feel the urge to delete all of this. My internal monologue, created by the youngest version of me I can remember, is terrified of my truth being interpreted as dramatic and trite. I am resisting the urge to pare down or conflate happenings with statistics to make my story more believable? which is not to say I haven't deleted some things. Defying my 5 year old self has proved nearly impossible. My ancestors empowered her to protect me. I am grateful, but I look forward to the day she hasn’t run miles ahead to suss our exit strategies or fallen far behind to erase memories leaving only layers of illegible chalk on an old board. I want to hold hands with her- show her what she has done for me has made me strong enough to experience life with her, not because of her. I guess a sure sign of past and present amalgamation will be when I refer to “her" as simply me.
I defer to convincing people I’m terrible at sex. Steadfast and confident in exclaiming that I am indeed “Terrible at sex”, “Boring” all while meticulously creating a version of myself that is entirely undesirable. I thought it would be a sure fire way to wipe clean men’s fantasies of me. I see now, in the eyes of men, their subconscious desire to manipulate and so they test their theory anyway.
I look back on what I’ve written here, realizing the intro outlining the backstory of my relationship with the man who assaulted me was an attempt to make the abuse undeniable for you. It was real to me yet I am more caught up in the idea of you believing me than my own healing. The more imagery, facts and color I add to the beginning would somehow make you believe the ending. I am feeling guilty about writing this, possibly outing him as an abuser when I didn’t even get his side of the story. Why am I not attaching his name to this? His photo? I walked up to his room, I didn’t pull back when he kissed me. I took out my earring because he had pulled my hair too hard and the earring post dug into my neck. I moved his hands, pulled away but fell into him each time, my thoughts bypassing my body and focusing on the too-long-seconds between his voice and my lifeless and malleable body allowing him to continue. He chocked me so hard, I wriggled my body, he persisted. I wished I’d just pass out- I wonder if I had passed out, would he have stopped then? It would have been over sooner. He made my hair his own, he spoke about my breasts as if they were old friends and he had a right to them. I’m not even sure he noticed the parts of my body that make me, me. Thinking back to our dinner conversation, I’m not actually surprised by that. Among other things, he took my phone and critiqued my dating profile, the photos I chose, the words I chose. “This isn’t you. They’re expecting this artist,” pulling up a photo of me with dirty hair, dirty clothes and a smile, “you aren’t that.”. I defended myself so much during dinner in between him proclaiming “You haven’t changed at all since school”, in between him belittling the server for not knowing the intricacies of oysters harvested from East coast vs. West coast. I couldn’t wait to over-tip her. I had never had oysters before. “People say they’re like vaginas.” He couldn’t resist saying. In the middle of dinner, I got up to use the restroom, when I came back the food had been cleared and dessert was on its way in a doggy bag to take with us. Where?
It was late at this point. I had spent far too much time with him that evening- I wanted to go home. I wanted to burry my body in my bed and feel the nearly weightless feet of my dog as she scratched at the covers to get to me- a game we play. Instead I acquiesced his request for a drink at his hotel. On the short walk I smoked two cigarettes. I knew he hated smoking but I had to regulate my breath somehow. I remember being focused on my rhythmic and controlled pull of thick air into my lungs in between my labored steps, in heels, up hill to the destination. Once there, he ordered a drink and I wanted to pay. He called me a “starving artist”. I paid for our drinks and over tipped for show. Fuck you. I didn’t take more than 4 sips of mine.
I had planned my outfit. Well, I had nothing to wear. What was this night going to be anyway? A date? A friendly reunion? An awkward “we have nothing in common after 2 decades” forgettable evening? I am mad at myself for caring what I looked like that night. I showed up with damp hair and apologized to him as he maneuvered his hands through it as if it belonged to him. I was wearing brand new Sam Edelman jeans with a black Zara top and knee high black boots. The jeans were so new I remember looking down at my hands during dinner and seeing that my palms were blue from the dye rubbing off of them. The same blue that stained my thighs that I noticed after the abuse while surveying my body in the dimly lit bathroom in his hotel room. He was by the door when I opened it, standing between me and my clothes. He was not happy with my adamance to leave.
The concierge smiled at me when I walked out of the elevator. “Fuck, he knows”. I kept refreshing my Lyft route. 12 minutes away. I sat outside staring up at the billboard I fixated on upstairs out his window. I turned toward the hotel and began to count windows up to his room. The lights were off. 10 Minutes. I lit a cigarette and called some friends. Everyone was asleep. 8 Minutes. The concierge opened the door behind me and announced himself “I’m just doing the rounds. You have a good night?” “Yep.”. He walked back inside. He came back out moments later and walked into my line of sight. He smiled so sweetly. He had forgotten to check if one of the doors was locked, but I knew he felt protective of my obvious attempts at trying to appear normal. He ducked away. He came back a third time, made eye contact with me. He said good night and implored I get home safe. I don’t remember the Lyft home. I don’t remember if I showered or even changed out of my clothes. I do remember setting an alarm to wake up before work and buy Plan B.
Text message. Wednesday, April 14th 3:37pm
Him: Did we have sex last night?
Me: Yes, I believe we did. Which I why I just took plan b.
Him: Yeah we did! Damn. There goes my chances of getting you prego
Me: was that your goal?
Him: Always. Worst things have happened in the world.
Him: I’m sorry I wont do it again
Thursday, April 15th 1:29 am
Him: Love you, Amanda. Sweet dreams.
Friday, April 16th 9:17am
Him: Happy Friday
Saturday, April 17th, 8:55pm
Me: hey. I don’t want to ghost you, but I need some major time
Sharing a story like this puts me in a position to be judged, looked at differently, not believed, pitied, shamed. I want my story to chance your perception of me. I want you to look at me differently, I want this to insight conversation, healing, understanding, compassion and beget vulnerability and truths from others. I want you to question your moral code, your actions and your social allowances and your true north. My friends call me strong and brave. I can assure you I am still strong and brave.
Just because this essay is done, does not mean my story is. This may seem like an obvious notion but trauma and loose ends tied in beautiful bows rarely, if ever, walk hand in hand.
I left a lot of shit out. I had to. Some things are sacred and maybe even not helpful to share. I expressed my experience with this assault as best I know how to in this moment right now.
My story continues, as will his. I hope his path never crosses mine again.
h e r