When I think about it, I see red.
My body curls in on itself without moving. I feel like my chest might collapse under the weight of my revulsion. You didn’t really rape me, and that was what I used to know. You did something, but it wasn’t rape, and that was that. You did so many horrible things, what did one more matter? You didn’t really rape me, so I went about my business.
I didn’t tell you off. I didn’t cry. I didn’t leave your house. I didn’t even leave your bed.
I sat through health class. I heard that no means no. I never said no to you. I didn’t know that not saying yes – not being afforded the option to say yes – was the same. I stopped you. You stopped. I was still a virgin after, technically. What does that make what happened?
In media reports every day, I see them. Women who are violated and hurt, at the hands of men who aren’t strangers. Numbers and figures, faceless and meaningless, another sad thing that happens in a world where people starve and do drugs and kill each other. I never identified with the stories I read. When somebody’s dog dies, it makes you think of your dog. This wasn’t like that. I never thought I was a victim, even though I knew what you did was not okay. It wasn’t a rape – I wasn’t entitled to pain. Not when so many worse things happen to people. You never hit me, so I didn’t feel you abused me. How could it be abuse when you said that you loved me? How could you knowingly hurt someone you ardently claimed to need?
I feel safe for the first time with a man, so I told him what a monster you are in the grayest part of an early morning. I’m not sure why I did that. Maybe on some level I knew that nobody could spend the rest of their entire life not dealing with what you did. Maybe I knew the time was coming.
Then one day, I saw red, and red, and red. I felt that tightness in my chest.
I couldn’t calm down. I wouldn’t calm down. It was like you followed me through the years and across the miles, and everything I’ve loved and lost, and all the places I’ve been since I knew you, fell away. For a moment, I drowned in who I used to be. I choked on all the things I let you do to me. I felt buried under all the ways you stole my life from me, how impossible it was to explain it to anyone, and how I could never escape from you, even though I was smarter than that. Smarter than you.
I shrank inside myself. I cried the tears I never cried back then. For the first time, I acknowledged the intensity with which I have blamed myself, and I let it swallow me whole. I became unsure that my life since then hasn’t been a dream I crafted to distract me from the wind whistling through the hollow place inside me, where the piece of me I sacrificed to try to be enough for you belongs.
What you did to me changed me forever, and in that moment, I changed again. As I explained what I was feeling, I heard the words coming out of my mouth as he must have heard them. I saw your actions in the light that someone who loves me would see them. The click in my head was powerful, almost deafening. I was sexually assaulted as a teenager, but it was news to me at 22.
Nothing about my life is different, but the way I see myself is not the same. I don’t know how to be a part of the percentages. I don’t want to let the face on those figures be my face. Sometimes when I think about that, I start to panic again. But what happened is a part of me, and I will learn to call it by its name.
I will feel strong, because you couldn’t destroy me, even though you tried. I grew into someone beautiful, and you will always be a monster.