That’s not your real name. Last I saw, you are a decent human being, pursuing your architecture dreams, and mixing in some environmental advocacy. We have that in common.
So I won’t use your real name. And no one who reads this will know who you are. Because no one who reads this knows our story. But you shaped me, Rob. What you said to me, and what you did to me, shaped me. It was International Women’s Day yesterday, and I found myself looking at my 4 month old son and praying he will never do to anyone the kind of thing you did to me. I looked at myself in the mirror and asked myself why I’m such a women’s advocate. Why do I feel with women who seek therapy, abortions, faith, help. Why do I feel with people who have experienced trauma and need a safe space, a trigger warning, and get angry when they’re labeled “snowflake.”
I’ll tell you.
I kind of had a crush on you. I thought you were smart, you were nicer than the other boys, you didn’t purposely poke my butt with your feet as you sat behind me and pretend like it was an accident. You were best friends with my best girl friend. You were good at sports, and we lived in the same neighborhood. I told my girl friends I liked you. Word got around to you. You started flirting with me. I thought you liked me. Maybe you did? A little? I’ll never know. But you made me think you liked me too.
But early on, you let me know it was just a game. You started ignoring me at school. You started saying mean things to me. But then you’d say something sweet out of the blue, and I’d believe you. I was looking for a romance. A good, kind, sweet boy who wanted to take walks, hold my hand, learn about me, and maybe, just maybe, we would kiss.
What I didn’t realize, was that wasn’t in your game plan.
It was a Friday night. I was 15 years old. My parents went out for the night to a party with their friends – this was so normal and I spent my fair share of weekend nights at home with our puppy and kitty, just watching movies, taking a swim, and talking to my friends online. I was content with my solitude. So I thought nothing of it when my mom looked at me before she left and said, “No one comes in the house, right?” I rolled my eyes and nodded. Duh. Who does she think I’m going to let in? What does she think I’m going to do?
I’m on the couch, watching a movie, eating a snack, and chatting with my friends, secretly hoping you’ll log on. Lo and behold, I see your screen name pop up. I wait the allotted few minutes so I don’t seem desperate, and I know you won’t start a conversation with me (you never do), so I say “Hi.” We small talk. I forget if you were nice to me that week or not. You ask me what I’m doing. I tell you I’m hanging out on the couch by myself because my parents are at a party. I tell you this innocently. You think it’s an invitation.
You live down the street. I hadn’t thought to invite you over. In fact, I’m not sure I would have wanted to had I thought of it. You say “I’ll be right over.”
I’m not supposed to have anyone over. What are we going to do if he comes? Why would he even want to? My mom did say no one inside the house. OK new plan. We will sit outside, talk and hang out. No rules broken.
I guess I could tell you no right? Shit. You’ve signed off. I don’t know how to tell you no.
There’s a knock at the front door. I crack it, ready to explain you can’t come inside but we can sit out here. My mouth opens to speak…
You push me. Hard. I stumble backwards as the door flies open. What are you doing? My heart starts pounding. No one else is home. You know that.
“Where’s your room?” What? Not even a hello? I’m paralyzed. What am I going to do, lie about which one is my room? My mind starts racing. I have to get you out of here.
I mumble something about it being upstairs. You start for the stairs and tell me you want me to show you around. Something feels wrong. But you’re just standing there waiting. Calm. Like you didn’t just push me. Maybe that was a fluke? I follow you up the stairs taking mental inventory of where the knives are… just in case. I feel crazy just thinking it.
You walk into my room and make some kind of small talk. Then you sit on my bed and pat the spot next to you. I stay in the doorway. I tell you we have to go outside. You tell me it’s fine, you just want to hang out. I sit next to you.
You kiss me. I don’t stop you.
You pull me on top of you. I can’t stop you.
You grab my shirt and try to tear it off. Fuck. I can’t stop you.
I tell you to stop. I try to pull your hand off my shirt but you’re stronger than me. You pull me down again and when you finally let me go, you pull something out of your pocket and hand it to me. It’s square. It takes me a minute… I’ve never seen one of these in person. I shake my head and throw it at you. ARE YOU INSANE? No way. This isn’t what I want. You look angry. I don’t know how to get out of this. You’re bigger than me, stronger than me, you’ve already pinned me down once. I’m starting to really panic.
The phone rings. It startles you so you let go of me. I jump up and grab the phone, praying it buys me time to think… or run…
“Hey peach, how are you?” God, it’s my dad.
“Uh…. fine. How are you?”
“Good. Uh.. I was just calling to see how things are going.” He sounds confused. He sounds like he doesn’t quite know why he’s calling me. Do you know? Do you have freaking cameras set up? Is this divine intervention?
I tell him I’m fine. I want to scream at him to come home, but I’m too scared to find out what would happen if I do. He will be mad I let you in. He’ll kill you. You’ll make me the laughing stock at school. You’ll hate me.
My dad buys it. He tells me if I need anything to call him. It’s too weird. My parents never call when they’re out. But my dad called me… now…
I could have told you anything. I could have told you my parents were coming home and you needed to leave. I could have. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. My brain wasn’t thinking clearly. I was 15 years old. So I tell you it was my dad, and I see you become visibly less comfortable. So I tell you I want to ride your motorcycle. I repeat it over and over…desperately… I want you out! You agree. In my mind it’s a good idea. I need to get you out of this house! I need you OUT! Where you can’t hurt me. But I want you to like me still…
We go outside. You tell me you’ll give me a ride. It’s not until you drive to the edge of our neighborhood, to a dark, dark cul-de-sac that I realize I should never have let you take me anywhere. I was safer in my house. I should have run back inside and locked the door. You’re looking at me again. You look like you want to pummel me. You look like you want to grab my neck and snap it.
You growl something at me. You jam my hand in your pants. I don’t move. I’m totally frozen. I wobble the bike. On accident. You move to catch it. I hear you scream. The hot exhaust pipe burns your leg. You still have that burn on your leg. You let me go. You yell at me. You yell at me like I did it on purpose. I tell you I want to go home. You take me home. As I get off your bike, you look me dead in the eyes and spit, “You’re such a disappointment.”
And I believe you. For too long, I believe you. I believe that I’m not what men want. I believe they want a woman who wouldn’t have stopped you. Who wouldn’t have wanted you to stop.
I stop eating. Every time I see food I want to vomit. I don’t have space in my body for anything other than fear and guilt with a side of shame.
I never tell anyone. But you do.
You tell my best friend. I don’t know what you tell her. But she stops speaking to me because “I shouldn’t have to hear about you kissing Rob from someone else.” Is that all you told her? She doesn’t speak to me for an entire year. I actually apologize, repeatedly, for not telling her about my private life. A part of my life that I want to erase. But I never tell her the story.
I have to see you at school every day. Our class is 25 people strong, 6 of us are girls. I see you in class. When you get too close to me I can’t breathe. My world goes black. I have to leave the room, drink water, sit on the stairs, and catch my breath.
I get sick all the time now. My body is staging a constant siege on itself. I’m having panic attacks. I’m missing sports games. I’m missing school. I’m fighting with my parents.
And I still have to live in a very small world with you. We ride the same bus to and from school. We have almost every class together. When it’s lunch time, if I can see you in the cafeteria, I can’t eat. I have to face the trees. I have to look outside or I can’t breathe. Your words echo in my head every day. You’re such a disappointment. You ignore me on a good day. You find time to subtly put me down on a bad day. You sink your teeth into me when you tell everyone I’m a tease. I can’t defend myself.
I could have told someone. I could have told an adult. I should have told an adult. But I wanted you to like me… not even like me like me. I just wanted you to stop torturing me. And the thing is, you probably don’t even realize what you did. You were just a 15 year old boy. You wanted to mess around. You didn’t see the terror in my eyes when you pinned me to the bed – in your mind you were doing what you thought I should want. You didn’t think anything of calling me a disappointment or a tease. You had no idea how powerful your words were.
It’s been 9 years. I’ve carried you around with me all this time. At first, you were heavy. You dragged me down. You pulled me under, so far under I didn’t know if I could get back to the surface for air. What I wouldn’t have done for someone to let me get away from you. What I wouldn’t have done for someone to whisper “he’s coming” before running into you in the hall. What I wouldn’t give for people to have seen strength and given compassion instead of watching them look at me like I’m putting on some kind of victim act or needed to snap out of it – they didn’t understand. Your memory stalked me well after we were separated by an ocean.
But you’re not heavy anymore. If I saw you today, I would ask you about your job. And you would tell me how you’re trying to save the world. How you’re trying to do good. Because you are. Because you’re a good person. And that’s the thing – you’re a good person. You did something terrible to me, but you have no idea.
That’s why you’re not heavy anymore. You’re a product of the culture we live in. You’re the reason I fight for women’s rights. You’re the reason I fight for safe spaces. For access to mental health services. For trigger warnings. People know not what they do.
You instilled in me a compassion and an awareness that we may never know everyone’s stories. We may never know the hurt people carry, the trauma they’ve endured, the words said to them that broke their souls.
You also lit a fire to fight. When I see someone called a snowflake it strikes the matches. If only they knew what a “snowflake” I am. When I see trigger warnings laughed at as a ridiculous construct for soft hippies afraid of their own shadows and tough content, I feel that fire burning.
Soon after my son was born, I saw these words. I saw these ridicules. Slathered all over a social media account. Snowflake. Pathetic snowflakes. No more safe spaces, finally some sanity. Trigger warnings, haha.
I burned that person to the ground.
For a while I wondered why I did it. Where did that come from? And then I thought of you. I remembered the way you disrespected me. I remembered the way I let you off the hook. I remembered my silence, and the emotional price I paid to keep the peace. No more. I’m not perfect in my method, but because of you, I am no longer silent when I witness disrespect. I will not associate with those who mock compassion. I will teach my son the very lessons society and your parents failed to teach you – the same lessons that elude people still in my life. I will unapologetically distance myself and my son from those who reinforce misogynistic, carelessly hurtful behaviors. I will rock the boats of those entrenched in their own lack of empathy.
You bent me, you didn’t break me. And because of you, I’m not afraid to rock the boat.