I remember the night like it happened last week instead of 6 years ago now. I remember the way he was so charming at dinner, the way he asked if I wanted to come upstairs to his hotel room to talk.
I was 18. So young, so far away from college, so naive. So desperate for a grown man to find me interesting and attractive.
I remember walking through the hotel lobby avoiding the curious stare of the receptionist, avoiding the nagging feeling in my stomach that maybe this wasn’t a good idea. I remember the silent elevator ride up to the 7th floor, his hand lightly resting on the small of my back.
I was wearing my favorite black dress. The tight one that rode up almost too much when I walked. The one that emphasized the little bit of cleavage I had. The one I would never wear again after that night.
I remember the moment I realized what was happening, what I had gotten myself into. I remember every single emotion I felt, every single touch of his hands, every single tear that fell down my face.
Because that’s the hardest part, forgetting. That’s the part I can’t get past, the part that makes me relive that nightmare when I’m asleep, the part that keeps me trapped.
Wouldn’t life be easier if we could erase the painful memories, if we could pretend we were never scarred or bruised or damaged? Wouldn’t it be easier if we couldn’t remember what happened?
They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger but in this case, in the case of rape or sexual assault, I’m not really sure that’s true.
At this point, I don’t think that will ever happen. I don’t think it’s possible to forget, to move on.
The memory is now as much a part of me as the tattoo on my collarbone. It’s as much a part of me as the scar on my knee from an unfortunate fall in 8th grade. It refuses to leave, refuses to let go, refuses to be forgotten.
Because even though it isn’t visible, I still see it when I look in the mirror. I still feel it when my boyfriend kisses me. I still remember it when someone tries to love me. That night, that awful event is the wall around my heart, keeping everyone at a safe distance. It’s the nagging voice in my head reminding me what happens when I let down my guard, reminding me how vulnerable I am, reminding me why I can’t trust men like I used to.
And since forgetting isn’t an option, I’ve learned to do the next best thing. I’ve learned to pretend, to fake it until I make it.
If I pretend it didn’t happen, if I pretend I’m a normal girl, maybe I’ll believe it. Maybe I’ll believe it wasn’t my fault, that I wasn’t asking for it. Maybe I’ll believe sex can be something enjoyable, instead of a war zone of flashbacks.
But until then, I’ll keep reciting the made-up story about my “first time”, the story I’ve rehearsed so often, I almost feel like it’s true. The adorably awkward story of two high school kids, instead of the horrifying true story of what happened that night 6 years ago. I’ll keep telling people what they want to hear, what I would want to hear if I were them.
And I’ll keep trying to forget. I’ll keep trying to forget what he did to me, what he forced me to live with when he forced himself on me. I’ll keep trying to forget his smirk, the cold in his eyes, the unbelievable fear I felt.
Because that man, that monster has already taken enough from me. He’s already taken something I can never get back. And I’ll be damned if I let him take one more second of my life. I may have been a victim that night but I am not anymore. I’m a survivor.