By C. Streetlights
*(CW-Content Warning) Rape, Sexual Assault, Violent Crimes *
When someone is victim of a violent crime like rape and sexual assault, they know exactly the date their lives changed. There is a definitive before and after.
If you were able to talk frankly to that person, like you are about to do with me in this essay, you would hear how she woke up that morning as one version of herself and went to bed that night as if her previous form disappeared, never to be found again.
And I never was found again. Once I was victimized as a 19-year-old college student, the person who I woke up as on that October day ceased to exist the moment the guy my roommate had been casually seeing followed me into my bedroom. The person he left behind, casually calling out “Thanks C., you’re awesome!” before slamming the door as he walked out, was a nonentity.
My mind disconnected entirely from my body and I remember staring at the ceiling even though I knew I was walking into my bathroom. How could I still be on my bed, staring at my ceiling, and frantically pulling my clothes off in the bathroom at the same time? I didn’t know and I didn’t give a shit.
I have no idea who I could have become if I had never been raped, and it really isn’t important anyway because that’s like wondering what would have happened if we never landed on the moon or if Kennedy had never been assassinated. These are threads we think are loose enough to pull on in order to untangle thoughts worth thinking but we only create a Gordian Knot in the end, and I don’t believe in legends to save me anymore.
For years I tried to ignore what happened to me and became such a practiced disguiser of truth that I completely forgot it even happened. Like a forgotten trinket from a vague regret, the experience was lost to me, hidden in those dark corners of my mind where it remained, covered in dust and sticky residue. There, the memory remained for nearly 10 years until it decided to come to light, manifesting itself as panic and anxiety, especially around men I didn’t recognize or in crowds where I felt trapped.
I found myself on a terrible path, one that I was ill prepared for. I had nobody to talk to and I had no understanding whatsoever of what was happening to me. I was convinced I was losing my mind. It is a bizarre and treacherous journey to have memories begin to release and not be able to control when they appear. Like phantoms that reach out from under your bed and clutch at your ankles, you’re never sure when you will be assaulted with a vision of what happened.
The final releasing of the dam occurred when I saw the man who raped me at 19 while I was shopping. At least, I think I saw him. One never knows while losing one’s mind.
He came too close and I heard him speak, and suddenly I was being followed into my bedroom again. The entire memory in its fullness came rushing forward, and there I stood in Target, reliving everything. All at once, I finally became what I always was: a victim.
It took me so many years to accept that I was a victim of a violent crime. I now remember the exact date it happened, though I’ve not told anyone. I don’t want it to become an anniversary of any kind. I only ever acknowledge that it was in October. It is enough and yet it isn’t at the same time.
I was victimized again when a former student sexually assaulted me, and my mind trapped me once more in a protective haze. I am able to fully understand this now, but when it happened I felt broken and confused. I allowed people to shame me, for blame to settle upon me.
I felt heavy and the depression I had fought for so long moved in and decided to stay. I stared at the wall for days, I was suicide watched. These were dark days and even darker nights.
And now I’m here.
My life ended in October when I was 19 and a new one began, though I didn’t realize it. I’ve grieved for the life I lost that night, for the innocence I had taken away, and for the cynicism that was left behind. Yet, at the same time, the seeds for survival were planted that night, even if they lay dormant for ten years.
While we may know the exact date when we became a victim, we don’t always know when it is we become a survivor. Somehow, the threshold between victim and survivor is less defined by time than it is by the survivor herself, and this is how it should be. Victims don’t choose to be victims, but we do choose to be survivors.
I wish I did know the exact date when I woke up and said goodbye to the person I knew as the victim. Not because I didn’t like her, or resented her, or was embarrassed by her. But because I would have like to have hugged her and said, “You did the best you could in the situations you were. Thank you for keeping me safe in the only way you knew how.”
This is something I want all victims to know: You are doing the best you can in the situations you are facing, and that is great work. There is tremendous pressure put on victims to be, to do, to say, to act, to this, to that… as if any sort of verb-ing on the part of a victim will make any kind of fucking difference in what happened. Spoiler alert: It won’t.
My journey isn’t over as a survivor who now advocates. I am now in a position with my survivor story where I can use my voice for and on behalf of other victims who are just starting their journeys, or speak out on legislation with some authority. But what matters most to me is when someone in my own network seeks me out to help someone who has been victimized.
Because, after all, what is the purpose of going through a personal journey if you can’t help others with theirs?
C. Streetlights is OTV’s Voice of Reason