I’ve written before about a personal experience involving sexual assault, how convoluted and confusing ignored consent can feel to women even after we’ve vocalized a shrugged off “No,” several times. I’m still not so sure what to call what happened to me that night, what name to give it, as though the proper, violent terminology may split open the soft parts of my skull, paralyzing me for good and for gone. I sometimes don’t think I’m capable of handling certain aspects of my own lived reality.
For all of my put-on self-respect and faux-strength, the truth is this: I still somehow default on defensive when I think of that night, as though the guy in question deserves understanding and compassion, like some of the blame — his inability to just fucking stop — really does fall to me. I don’t like to be conditioned this way, but it’s too painful to think in black-and-white when you can’t quite accept the totality of what the truth might mean just yet.
I rushed through a post about it for a writing workshop, surprised at how quickly the piece came together. I peppered it with humor before the big reveal, hoping it'd make anyone reading it feel similarly disarmed by the end. (And praise be to that monthly meet-up for helping me work through the worst parts of my short history.) It wasn’t the first time I’ve been violated and, comparatively, it wasn’t so bad — though perhaps it’s unfair to qualify any kind of abuse as Worse Than.
Almost immediately after I hit ‘post’ to my ugly and outdated blog, my inbox was flooded with texts from my women friends, some who I hadn’t spoken to in years. They worked on emotional overdrive at the outset, as women often do: “I’m so sorry that happened,” “What a piece of shit,” “Are you okay?” “I’ll kill him.”
It was overwhelming and, admittedly, too much, so I padded my responses with humor and feigned apathy, just the way I’d written my post, the way I often navigate the world. I felt deep pangs of regret then, wishing I could go back to where I lived before that public revelation of assault, wishing my mother could unlearn how unkind the world could sometimes be to her kid.
Only two of the many men in my life bothered to acknowledge I’d written anything at all — though I imagine Facebook’s dubious algorithm and a blanket indifference to my often lengthy walls of text may have had something to do with it, too.
One of them asked me about it directly, in person. He appeared concerned, and I felt guilty then, for inflicting this Major Moment on someone who didn’t need or want to know me so intimately. His face was soft and sad, and I felt bad, like it was my fault someone had voluntarily read something stupid I’d written. So I started in on the emotional recoup, on rebuilding the cement higher around my destroyed cell.
I deflected with bullshit nothings: “It happens to a lot of people, it’s not a big deal.” This has become my favorite diversion tactic — things could’ve gone worse and they have, for some. But he refused that narrative: “It does happen to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.” He was right, even if I never want to admit when men are right.
He told me he wasn’t sure how to feel by the end of my post, that I’d been seemingly flippant about something that, on paper, seemed textbook traumatic. I don’t remember the exact wording — I was as drunk at the time as I need to be these days when dealing with my darkest memories — so maybe I’m misremembering part of the conversation.
But I took those confused feelings as a compliment, as though my writing had successfully conveyed the warring narratives that fight to exist inside my brain when talking about this very specific instance of sexual violence. Because, even now, I have the same question he did back then — how the fuck am I supposed to feel about all this?
I think on it now and I feel like a coward. For the way I handled it when it happened, for the way I'm still writing about it now, for waiting until 1AM to post this. I feel guilty for feeling guilty, for making this so public, for making other people feel uncomfortable with my words.
I should make one thing clear, though: I don’t fault anyone who failed to reach out to me. Maybe you didn’t know or know what to say, maybe any contact would’ve seemed further invasive. I likely would’ve laughed it off, anyway, because I can only exhibit so much vulnerability before I shut down again. I am just as bad at endings at Stephen King is, so I guess I'll end this here. Just know that it happens and that it sucks.