Gasping. I am gasping. My lungs scream for air but there is a weight on my chest. A body crushing me, a wet mouth pressing down on my neck. How did I get here? My lips taste sour and dry. A heady, rushing feeling; I am on a couch, I remember. A soft, leather couch that envelopes my tired body. I fell asleep here, but now I’m awake and there is a body, hands, a damp mouth on top of me.
Suddenly, I am being pulled from the couch. All around me, drunken teens are singing, making out, grinding. I can’t see my friends. Where are you guys? Guys? The lights are bleary and the air is hot. A rough hand is around my waist and I look up to see who is guiding me up the stairs. A friend? No. It’s a stranger. A man-boy that I don’t recognize. No, I do recognize him. He’s the friend of a friend, with soft blonde hair and tanned skin. But he isn’t looking at me.
Where are we going? I want to ask but my voice drowns in my throat and I’m so tired, so very tired.
He pushes open a door into a darkened room. I see a bed and all I want to do is lie down and sleep for days. But suddenly, I feel the same hands in the small of my back. Those hard hands push me onto the bed and I’m angry, confused.
Why are you pushing me? Stop pushing me. The hands pull at my clothes, squeeze my body. Everything hurts and it’s very dark. I hear a girl yelling and crying, muffled. I want to scream out. “Go help her! Someone is hurting her!”
Then I realize, the crying girl is me.
I’m awake now. The sky outside the window is still dark. The stars are like a handful of salt, thrown across the soft velvet sky. But where am I?
I remember. The black leather couch. Rough hands. Man-boy. Crying. Scared. And hurt.
My whole body aches.
I pick myself up. My blouse is still on but my jeans are on the floor. I can’t find my underwear. There it is. Balled up and thrown in a corner. I go back downstairs and find my friends asleep on couches, cuddled together like puppies. I can’t find a blanket. I curl up in a corner of the couch and hug a pillow to my chest. I wait for sleep but it never arrives.
I feel dirty, used up. My body itches with a grime I can’t wash away. I take two showers. I sit on the floor of my tub and cry as water stings my back. I watch soap swirl and eddy around my bare, pink knees. My hands shake with the effort of scrubbing.
I develop anxiety. I have panic attacks. I always feel like I’m suffocating. I seek solace in other people. I think that if I cover my body with the kisses, the hands of someone else, I won’t remember the sharp outline of his palms on my back.
The anxiety worsens. I am always hesitant, unsure. I become angry, and then withdrawn. An inescapable sadness, a heaviness envelopes my lungs. There is liquid iron in my chest and ice in my heart. I think about confronting him. I wonder if I should tell my friends. I’m drowning in these deep, cold waters. I want to let myself recede into these dark depths. I’m no longer interested in light, in air. I stop breathing.
But then, a hand reaches for me. Light breaks the surface of my underwater world.
I tell a friend, my best friend. I’m sobbing into her arms, onto her shoulder. She presses her cheek to mine, and our tears mingle. She lets me weep. With gentle hands, she strokes my back and I shiver, exhausted. I stand up and she holds my hand. Suddenly, more friends surround me. They speak is low voices, comforting and warm. The ice in my heart begins to melt.
I seek help. I use my voice. I talk. I begin to write. I write everywhere now. Scribbled in the margins of notebooks and on the walls of public restrooms. My pen is my escape. I scrawl words of encouragement, of strength, of validation. I am bigger than this. No hands will hold me down, no one can crush me. I sing in my car again. I write pages and pages. Poems, songs, short stories, spoken word.
My life is a book and I will not put a period here. My life is a song and the melody does not stop now. My voice is important. No one will muffle my screams, my cries, my yells. I will raise my voice. I will push back. I will stand.
I will breathe.