In and out of sleep, I opened my eyes to him on top of me. He paused to take a photo of my naked body. That’s all I remember.
I knew him. He was friends with my best friend’s boyfriend. He always flirted with me. I was always disgusted by him.
My next memory is of standing on the street with him the following morning, waiting to be picked up. My best friend and her boyfriend, his friend, arrived and her boyfriend nodded at him as if to say, “Good job. You finally did it.”
And I don’t remember much after that.
When anyone brought up our night together I would laugh it off: “Yeah, that drunken night really got the best of me!” Humor and denial were the only ways I could cope. The reality is that I would often run to the nearest bathroom and cry anytime it was mentioned.
He would often swing by the restaurant where I worked. It was his sick way of exerting his power over me, and all I wanted to do was hide. My skin crawled every time I heard his name. I wanted to escape my body every time he said mine.
Years passed and I moved away. I never had to see him again. I got married, got a cat, and had a good job. Life was pretty darn good. And to be honest, what he did to me wasn’t something I thought of often; it was a night I had buried in my deepest depths.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in my cubicle at work on an idle Tuesday that everything came back to me. I was reading the letter the incredibly brave woman wrote to her rapist, Brock Turner.
“I had no power, I had no voice, I was defenseless.”
I couldn’t read that letter fast enough, even though all I wanted to do was absorb each word slowly. My heart pounding, my legs starting to tremble.
“My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
I left work abruptly for a “family emergency.” I could sense a full fledged panic attack coming on. I was right.
I got in my car and drove off, as though I was driving away from him, away from the flashes of that night, all pouring back into me. I had to pull over because I could no longer see. I cried and screamed, and cried some more.
It was the first time I realized that what happened wasn’t okay. It was the first time I had truly realized what happened. It was the first time I acknowledged that this wasn’t my fault. And the fact that I was lost, and drinking too much, trying to cope with life and the loss of my mother, wasn’t the reason I ended up being raped.
I’d always had an idea of what rape looked like: The girl ends up in dark, shitty situation, and she is brutally beaten and violently assaulted by a man who leaves her lifeless where he found her.
It was the first time I realized that rape doesn’t always look like the way it does in scary movies.
It was the first time I said the word rape.
I told my best friend. She said all the things you can to make someone feel loved from a distance.
A few hours later, I went home to my husband and cat. I had no intention of telling him what I had just realized but the moment I saw him, I fell in his arms and sobbed for hours. He gently laid me on our bed as he held me tight. He told me it was okay to cry. It was the only place I felt safe and the only place I never wanted to escape. He told me he loved me and I told him what happened. He held me tighter. I could tell his need to make me feel loved and safe far outweighed his need to find out who had done this to the woman he loves. If there was ever a moment of extreme gratitude for my husband, this was it.
The woman who came forward after being raped by Brock Turner saved me. I had never dealt with that night and the effects of all of it. Her bravery allowed me to identify my own pain and how it had affected my confidence and self-worth. But most importantly, her letter allowed me to forgive myself.
I am not defined by that night. By forgiving myself for the years of shame and blame I put on myself, he no longer has a hold of me. I will carry the emotional scars around for the rest of my life, but they are just that—scars. They have been cared for, loved for, and they have been healed. They are my scars, not his on my body.
The blurry lines of rape are only blurry because we make women feel that if they hadn’t put themselves in that situation none of it would have happened. I strongly distinguish the difference between what happened to me and what happened to the woman who saved me. But I feel like if I told her this story, she would tell me that rape has many faces. Some are people you know. Some are even nice and polite.
I was reminded of the blurry lines of rape when I told another friend my story months later. I assumed she would comfort me in some way, or at least listen to my words with kindness and empathy. Instead she told me that when drinking, sex becomes a big grey area and it’s confusing, far from black and white. I quickly changed the subject.
But this idea stayed with me for a few days. Was she right? If I’d never had that fourth shot, I would never have ended up in his apartment. But then I remember the flash on his phone. A loving man, like my husband, would never fuck an unconscious woman, let alone take a photo of her at her most vulnerable. And when I think of this, the lines aren’t so blurry. With each day that passes, I am more comfortable saying I was raped, by a man I knew, in a nonviolent way, and that the emotional damage took years to heal.
Thanks to one woman sharing her side of the story, I can share mine, with my head held high.
“To girls everywhere, I am with you.”