There are words that we say or hear in life; and once we say them, everything changes.
“Will you marry me?”
“You got the job!”
“He didn’t make it…”
“I don’t love you.”
If we’re lucky, we only hear the good ones. The ones that change our lives for the better. But for most of us, it’s the tragic phrases that stay with us forever.
I’ve heard my fair share.
“We’re getting divorced.”
“I’m moving to Chicago.”
“I wish you had never been born.”
But it’s the words that I’ve had to say that have been the hardest. These words are ones that I still trip over when I say them now, almost six years later. They’re words that make society as a whole take a step back and cringe.
They’re the words you never think you’ll say.
“I was raped.”
Even typing it feels wrong. Six years after I said it for the first time, it still feels messy and forced.
I remember the first time I said it.
I didn’t want to say it.
I remember the room I was in – my mother’s. And I’ll always remember her face.
Contorted. Pain-ridden. Inconsolable.
And my next words were “Don’t tell anyone.”
I’m not sure which three words hurt her more.
When I said these words, I was dead inside. Rotted from the inside out, like a tree that finally gives out after years of being gnawed on by bugs. I also know, however, that the second I said these words my entire life would change – even though I never could have prepared myself for the changes that would follow that day.
I remember being numb not only to my pain, but hers as well. She was yelling, and crying, and I just calmly opened the door, went upstairs, and got in bed. I think a part of me thought that because I said it, it was over. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking in those moments.
But, those words made their way up my chest, into my throat, and finally out of my mouth. And that meant that everything was different.
I was in bed and I heard a knock at the door. I remember being annoyed because I just wanted to be alone.
It wasn’t until I realized that it was a police officer that I knew that I was fucked.
It was a female officer who walked in. She didn’t say anything except stand over my bed and ask me what had happened.
I was angry that my mother had betrayed me by calling the police. I knew that my life was over. I was exploding on the inside.
But I was also dead. On the inside, and seemingly on the outside.
I told her what had happened. Mostly because I wanted her to leave.
She nodded and took notes while I said those words that I never wanted to say.
And then she told me that I had to go to the hospital. More words I couldn’t understand.
I wasn’t sure why – it had happened over a week before. I told her there was nothing they would find, but she insisted. My words didn’t matter. She asked me to get dressed, and said that she’d wait downstairs.
I don’t remember getting dressed. The next thing I remember was walking downstairs and seeing my stepfather there. It was too early for him to be home from work, which meant my mom had called and asked him to come home. He stood in the doorway, and I froze when I saw him. I could see a police car in the driveway.
“Did that boy rape you?”
More words that I couldn’t comprehend. I couldn’t believe that these words were coming out of his mouth. I just nodded.
My mother drove me to the hospital. I don’t remember the words we said in the car. I can’t imagine what words we would have had to say to each other in those moments.
They put me in a triage room with just a curtain, in the middle of the E.R.
I remember thinking to myself that people were probably wondering why I was there, with two police officers. And I didn’t even look sick.
They left us in that room for a long time. Forever. Just my mom and I.
I remember a doctor finally walking in with a clipboard and interns eagerly waiting to cure whatever ailment I was in there for.
“So, what can I do for you today?”
He was obviously in the wrong room. My mother and I looked at each other, and I finally just said it.
“Uh, yeah. I’m here because I was raped.”
Flat-voiced. Emotionless. My mother’s eyes widened.
The doctor grunted awkwardly and flipped a page on his clipboard before quickly ushering his posse out and saying a quick “Let me see if I can get someone to help you with that.”
It was so awkward, and unimaginable, and other-worldly, that my mom and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing. It wasn’t funny; none of it was funny. But there was nothing else we could do in that moment but laugh. I’ll never forget that.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, a nurse came in. I don’t remember much, except being handed a cup and ushered into the bathroom to give a urine sample.
They were going to check my urine for STDs.
I was only 13.
I had never even thought of STDs.
Words like “HIV”
What the fuck were these words? How could they ever apply to me?
Then they took vials of blood. I remember watching when they stuck the needle inside my arm, and I felt nothing. My mother told me to look away. She offered her hand for me to hold. I just kept looking at my arm, watching someone else’s blood rush into the containers. It couldn’t be my blood. It couldn’t be my body. This couldn’t actually be happening. I was a zombie who was still breathing somehow.
I kept up that persona during the vaginal exam. It’s a blur, but I remember putting my feet in the stirrups, and then the feeling of the cold prod being put inside me.
I remember having to repeat the words to every nurse and doctor who came to examine me. They weren’t even words anymore. Just a monologue that I had become too familiar with.
The next thing I remember was finally crying.
It was after I had been examined, and every fluid my body produced had been taken for testing. It was after we told the police officers that we would be at the station first thing in the morning for a formal statement.
We walked through the doors of the hospital, and my legs gave out from under me.
I remember thinking that my life was actually over.
And looking back on it, I guess it was. That part of my life was over. Things would never be the same. They’re still not the same.
There were so many words after that.
Words that became routine.
Words that as a 13 year-old, I had never said in front of my mother. Or to an adult.
Words like “semen.”
Words like “vodka.”
And “oral sex.”
I didn’t even know the words for some of the things that had happened. But I learned them. In interview rooms. With police officers recording my words. Writing down my words.
I remember one of the days after I said those first words.
I took the police officers to where it had happened.
And they asked me for the clothes I was wearing that day.
They were crumpled in the corner of my room. Hidden. But not hidden enough.
I remember being upset because they said I wouldn’t get my favorite sweatshirt back.
There was DNA evidence smeared on the front of it.
I remember reading his words. His statement. I remember them handing it to me. I remember reading every word over and over again until I couldn’t read anymore.
I remember the words of the kids I went to school with.
The death threats.
The messages from his friends, who were in high school.
Words like “Whore.”
They were words that made sure I never returned to school again.
I remember the words my mother said when they finally charged him.
Words like “Insufficient evidence.”
And “Conflicting testimony.”
And “unreliable victim.”
I remember what he finally got sentenced to.
“Sexual assault therapy.”
And I remember all the words I didn’t say.
I remember living in my bed for weeks.
I remember the fits of rage, and I remember when they gave me back some of the clothes I had been wearing that day.
I remember burying those clothes in my back yard so I’d never have to look at them again.
They’re probably still there.
I remember my mother.
Who had been torn open from the inside out.
I remember words like “I want to die.”
And “What am I going to do now?”
Even now these words make my stomach turn.
These words that seem to belong to someone else.
Someone weaker. And more naïve.
My words are different now.
Words like “Friends.”
And there are still words that I struggle with.
Words like “Love.”
Words like “Survivor.”