Where Time Stands Still
TW: description of sexual assault Deep breath. The thing that I hate about my story is that while I hate that it happened to me, I hate how similar it is to so many other people’s stories. I don’t mean that I wish that there had been a unique or standout factor in my rape (wow, even typing that word makes breathing a chore), but that it kills me that so many others know exactly what I am talking about despite there only being some differences in our respective situations, and likewise, I know exactly what they’re talking about. I don’t know how other survivors felt when their sexual assaults happened because that is what is unique to everyone’s story across the board; everyone describes it, expresses it, and experiences it differently. While I cannot and do not wish to speak for all survivors, as I believe and know that each story from us is valuable, I can tell you my own. It is something that I have never written out or even thought out in full, only in fragments. Maybe this was my brain’s way of protecting me, even four years after I was raped and three after I was assaulted, but anyway, here’s my survivor story. I was a freshman in college, it was April, and I was two and a half weeks in to my nineteenth trip around the sun. I had been drinking some and was on my way home from a party when I realized I had told a friend that I would stop by a party that she was attending. I changed my course and headed for the campus house. Over the course of maybe twenty minutes, a guy had chatted me up and we were just talking. He seemed funny and nice at the time, but if alcohol does anything, it makes a lot of people seem fun and nice. We ended up leaving the party together and he offered to walk me back to my dorm, to which I consented. I was wearing flip flops, which made me stumble a bit, so he picked me up and did not put me down until we arrived at my dorm room. It was now that time where everything gets a little awkward because it’s the end of the night and you don’t know what to do with yourself, let alone how to handle the other person: I chose to be bold. I told him to wait outside while I changed into something a little sexier. I had a roommate who was in always in the room, so we couldn’t hook up in my room. After changing into a lacy bra and lacy black underwear, I put on an oversized button down and opened my door. I told him we could go to the laundry room since there was a slim chance that anyone would be doing their laundry at two in the morning on a Saturday. This is where my throat gets tight and my fingers grow more reluctant to pound out my survivorship. I unbuttoned my shirt and we began making out. I knew what I was doing and what was going on. He asked if I wanted to have sex and I said yes, so he propped me up on top of a washing machine and took off his pants. Between the height and the angle, the dynamics and physics just were not working out. He asked if I would give him a blow job. I said yes. When he finished, he asked for another one. I was still on my knees. This is the part where time stands still. I said no. I said it. The words left my lips. He responded by putting his hands on the back of my head and shoving my head toward his crotch until my face was smushed up against his penis. It was right there in my face. He took one hand from the back of my head and held his penis up to my lips and began trying to press it into my mouth, forcing me to take it. I had said no, and all that did was land me here. I felt my kneecaps dig into the linoleum floor. I felt the silence of the wee hours of the morning. What I felt the most was my inability to breathe or to speak: my own silence. When he finally eased up on the pressure on my head, I pulled away, stood up, and straightened myself out. He smiled at me and said good night. I walked back to my room, and that was that. However, that wasn’t that. I thought that this was normal, how things usually went. That night was always in the back of my mind until I decided to bring it up in therapy in the October of my sophomore year. I described the night and both of our actions and words to my therapist. I was expecting her to agree with me: it had just been another night at college. I was expecting her to tell me to not worry about it and to rid my mind of the night. Instead, I became the one statistic I never thought that I would ever become. That night went from being in the back of my mind to the very front of it, consuming me. “You were raped.” I was silent. I thought I had misheard her, even though I knew in my heart of hearts that I had not. The rest of that session is a blur, but how it affected me from that day forth is not. When the semester started, I would often party with my friends on the weekends. The person whose room in which we would most frequently party was roommates with my rapist. During parties before that therapy session, I always felt genuinely uncomfortable seeing him in the same room as me, so I would just drink the discomfort away. After that therapy session, I felt suffocating fear and overwhelming panic. I disappeared from partying with my friends and they noticed. When they asked what was up, I lied and said I had a lot of homework or that I had a big test coming up that I needed to study for. None of them knew the truth. I went to a small school with just under 2000 total students, so I saw my rapist a lot. The amount of anxiety I felt whenever I would see him, even if he was on the other side of the quad, was incredible. Even seeing him from afar would cause me to power walk or run in any direction but his. So that’s how I spent his remaining two years on campus: as an anxiety-ridden, fearful, guilty, embarrassed, relatively isolated, nightmare and panic attack-having girl. I thought he was in Spanish with me on the first day of second semester classes sophomore year, but it was actually another guy who bore some resemblance to him. My junior year, I went to Commencement to watch a good friend graduate. My rapist was also graduating. I put my hands over my ears and buried my head in my arms when they got close to calling his name. How, I thought, how the hell is he graduating and going out into the workforce or to graduate school? Why does his world keep spinning when mine just stopped? It’s not fair. My junior year was the same year that I finally told my father that I was raped. I called him sobbing. As soon as I finished telling him that I had been raped, his immediate response was to ask if I had been drinking. Then he asked if I had reported, which I hadn’t at that point because I was absolutely terrified. He concluded the conversation by saying how it on me and my fault that I had gotten raped. Furthermore, I was also selfish and irresponsible for not reporting. By senior year, I thought that everything would be fine. He was no longer on campus, so I should be okay, right? Wrong. I quickly learned that just because my rapist was gone did not mean that the damage he had done through that heinous act just magically vanished. The February of my senior year, I was getting ready for a party with my friends in one of their rooms. I had been so caught up in trying to wrap up my thesis that I had not been partying in the recent weeks, so this was my emergence into the social scene. One of my friends suddenly exclaimed how she had just gotten a text from my rapist saying that he was coming to campus. She was the one person in that room of four people who did not know that I had been raped and that it was by him. I froze and tried to keep taking deep breaths; it was sort of working. He’s probably just going to be visiting his buddies. He won’t be at this party. I was trying to rationalize. Fifteen minutes later, she got another text from him saying he would be at the party we were going to. I excused myself and went out to the deserted lounge where I broke down on the couch. I could not stop crying and hyperventilating, so, as much as I did not want to go, I ran to the wellness center, tears still streaming down my face. That Tuesday, I had my weekly meeting with my two thesis advisors. I had spent Friday night in the wellness center, but had returned to my room on Saturday where I spent the remainder of the weekend unable to sleep, eat, breathe, or move. On Monday, I barely made it through my morning class before I went back to the wellness center and spent the night there. Tuesday was the first day that I felt even remotely okay. I knew I hadn’t done a lot of work on my thesis, so I was not looking forward to my advisor meeting that afternoon. When it came time for the meeting, I just talked about the work that I had done and tried to control the conversation. While they both thought that what I had accomplished was good, one of my advisors asked me something to the extent of why hadn’t I done more. It was then that I felt my voice give out and I felt tears roll down my face. When I composed myself enough to muster words, I told them the background, the original incident, before telling them about what had occurred over the weekend. They were silent. I was drowning in shame. My history advisor spoke up first, apologizing for what I had been through, before saying that if I ever chose to report, she would be happy to accompany me. I thanked her and left. The next day I received an email from her asking me to come to her office when I could. I finished up my lunch and went over to the humanities building. In her office, she told me that she had an obligation to report my rape since she was a professor. I felt all the color drain from my face. This was not a part of the plan. Then she said that I could sit in her office to absorb what she had said and to talk through what I wanted to say. She said that it really pissed her off that someone had done this to me and how she couldn’t imagine how much energy I expended on avoiding him, and then she said something that began to change how I saw my situation: she told me that I need to let the people whose job it is to protect me do their job instead of assuming that role myself. About an hour and a half later, we began our walk to the administrative building where the Title IX coordinator worked. She put her arm around my shoulder and reassured me the whole walk over. Once we were in the coordinator’s office, I asked her to stay. I couldn’t do it alone. The coordinator asked me a few questions, including the name of my rapist, and then she gave me some options regarding potential next steps, including issuing a no trespass order. I told her I would think about it and thanked her for her time. My advisor and I made it to the top of the stairs before I began sobbing. She walked me into the bathroom and sat with me on the bench, calming me down and offering comforting words and wisdom. That’s my story. What I have learned about healing, especially from something such as rape and sexual assault is that you don’t get over it; you get through it. The pain from the trauma ebbs and flows. Some days your lungs will be so open and welcoming to air, and other times, you’ll be gasping for your life. Something else I have learned in healing is regarding the victim versus survivor label. While some write-off the victim label as someone who is too caught up in what happened to them and associate it with an unwillingness to move forward in life, I don’t see it that way. I think victim captures the true heinous and terrible nature of the act, and I think it both reminds others and the person who was assaulted that a crime was committed. That it wasn’t some little sex game of another night at college, but an actual crime. I am simultaneously in support of the survivor label because I think it captures the heart, bravery, and strength one has to have in order to endure the crime and come out on the other side, even if you’re barely breathing. You can call yourself whatever you want, even if it doesn’t fit within the victim/survivor dichotomy, but know that there is no shame in calling yourself a victim and it is never too self-centered to call yourself a survivor, because no matter what, you’re here today, and that’s what’s important.