My own dorm. The softness of my sheets hugging my body. My family and friends’ photos lining the cream-colored walls. The sweet scent of “Volcano” by Anthropologie permeating my room. My own home. My personal space. Where my childhood stuffed animal, MiMi, sat watching with her beady eyes. God, I wish she would come to life and save me. My unfinished homework neatly organized on my desk. My Post-It pinned to my corkboard reminding me to take my heart medicine twice a day, every day: “Do not neglect your health! Take your medicine!” A thank-you note from a child I worked with at my camp job pinned on the same cork-board. My dear friend and roommate’s blankets hanging down from the bunk bed. Her note on the door to call her after class so we could get dinner. Some flowers I had brought from home, sitting on my windowsill, soaking up the sunlight. But all I saw was darkness. My emergency contact list hanging on that corkboard. I glanced at it as it hung there, mocking me. My own dorm. Wasn’t this supposed to be a safe place? The radiator rattling, warming up the room. But I was frozen.
My body was frozen as terror burned through me like a wildfire. I felt like a sharp icicle had burst straight through me. Was this supposed to be romantic? Were his bony, frigid hands supposed to give me comfort? He acted as though this were romantic, as though he was warm and loving. Slowly, he undressed me. I was frozen. A deer in the headlights. My shirt on the floor, tossed aside in “the heat of passion.” My mind was racing, but my body was frozen. My body, exposed now. For him to ogle at. For him to caress in reckless desire. For him to violate. This was not like the movies. This felt violent, a heinous act. I did not feel loved, excited, or special. I felt vulnerable. Frightened. I felt the scream in my throat, burning through my whole body, bleeding out of my eyes as one silent tear raced down my cheek. It stung my skin as if it were acid rain breaking my flesh. Even the scream couldn’t escape. No noise. Silence. Except for his heavy breathing, his grunts, his teeth grinding. His body rummaging through my own. A thief. The image of his disgusting smile, seared into my memory. I wanted to leave my body. Everything around me was empty. Dark.
I was trapped in a glass cage, watching, completely helpless. Watching everything that was happening to me. His fingers running down my chest. Then up my legs.
“I love you,” he whispered. God, please help me.
I banged on the walls of the cage. I screamed and cried, but no one heard a thing. I couldn’t escape. My mind was doing all the right things. Calling for help. Running. Fighting. Crying. The words clung in desperation at the back of my throat, scrambling to climb up and leap off my lips. Please stop. Someone help me! I’m not ready for this! Go away! Get off! STOP! But nothing. My body was frozen. A deer in the headlights.
I remember the conversation that started it all:
“Can I come over to your dorm, babe?” he asked.
“I mean, I’m studying for my test tomorrow and I’m trying to write my research paper.” I remember not really wanting him to come over that day. I just wanted some time to myself. He was always over. I never got any space.
He replied, “I promise I won’t bother you, I just want to see you.”
Giving in, I said, “Fine, but you’ll literally just have to be sitting there in silence because I don’t have time to watch T.V. or talk or anything.”
“Okay!” he said.
He came over and was quiet for about a solid twenty minutes. Then it all happened. So quickly, I didn’t even have time to think about how to stop it.
“Come here,” he said, ushering me towards him, “I want to cuddle for a little bit.”
“I told you, I’m studying. You promised you could chill here quietly and you promised you wouldn’t bother me.”
“I know, but I just want to hold you,” he whined.
I replied, “Maybe later. I really have to work now.”
He came over to where I was working at my desk. Hugged me. Kissed me. Pulled me away from my desk and over to my bed. The bed in which I would have to sleep every single night, knowing what had happened. Reliving it. The bed in which I would never be able to escape the nightmares.
Once he began his premeditated, heinous act, I couldn’t move. My body was frozen. A deer in the headlights.
After my assault, I felt flooded with violent thoughts. Empty, alone in the dark depths of the night. My fault. I failed. I should have ran. Screamed. Cried. Fought. Anything. Why me? Why can’t I just die? I cried at night. Cried myself to sleep. Cried so much I ended up heaving, unable to breathe. What little sleep I did get was always interrupted with the nightmares of reliving it.
I could still smell him. Suffocating me with his Axe cologne, the one he thought smelled manly. His sweat dripping onto me. The stench engulfing me, assaulting my nose. My eyes burning with tears.
I could still see him. Little images flashing across my mind. His moist lips, hungry for my body, curved in a sickly smirk of satisfaction at what he was about to do.
I could still hear him. The whisper of an “I love you.” Love? This was not love. Not in the slightest sense. His heavy breathing was deafening me.
I could still feel him. The heat of his body; the friction of his body rubbing against mine. His cold hands parading through every inch of my body as if I was his to take. His to possess.
I smelled, heard, saw, and felt everything all at once, again and again. He thought he had pleased me. How could he think such a vile thing? How could he possibly think that I could be pleased by him? By his sinister smile. By his icy, sharp hands. By the weight of his body smothering mine. Unfathomable. Repulsive. Degrading.
I tried running from what happened. Running from myself. Block it all out. Pretend nothing happened. It was all just a bad dream. A terrible, terrible nightmare. I repeated this in my mind, trying to make myself believe it. Normalize it. I tried to understand it all, an impossible feat. I tried to tell someone. I couldn’t. I was embarrassed. Ashamed. I remember waking in the middle of the night, desperate to tell someone.
3:27 A.M. I call my best friend. Three rings. Hang up.
3:35 A.M. I try again. One ring. Hang up. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. I didn’t know how.
I tried telling my parents. I couldn’t. I couldn’t possibly burden them with the image of their daughter – their youngest child, the girl who always smiled, the girl who always laughed – being violated in such a way. I couldn’t let them see my terror. My pain. I could not let them see that the light that once shone so brightly behind my eyes was no longer there. I could not let them see that there was no color or light in my life anymore. I could not let them see my emptiness. The knives stabbing me, scraping and scarring my mind with relentless glee. I couldn’t tarnish their picture of me, the happy girl, with such a disgusting assault.
So, for a long time, I didn’t tell anyone. I put on a mask of happiness every day. A smile. A laugh. Like the Phantom of the Opera, hiding my ugly scars. The scars inside me, in my heart, my soul, my mind. Inside, I felt like I was dying. I certainly wanted to. I thought about death constantly, he sweet release it would give me. I dreamed about slipping away into a darkness different from the one I relived in my nightmares. A peaceful darkness. One of relief. I imagined escaping my body and standing in front of God. Waiting to hear the verdict: relief, heaven. Torment, hell. I didn’t really care where I ended up anymore, as long as I did not exist in the physical world. I just wanted to disappear and leave this place. Leave my room? Leave my body? Leave the earth? I didn’t know. I just wanted to leave. I was no longer part of myself. I had no control of my own thoughts, of my own body. I saw him whenever I close my eyes. Even for a split second. A simple blink. Terror. I couldn’t feel pleasure anymore. I just felt him. Violating me over and over and over again. A never-ending merry-go-round. Ha. Merry. A cruel joke.
Months after my sexual assault, I still felt lost, confused. I still do sometimes, even two years later. I wanted to feel free. To fly away.
So I faced it. Faced what happened to me. Faced my body again. I was sexually assaulted. He violated my body and my mind. I was not ready for what he wanted to do. He did it anyway. I was sexually assaulted. My body and my mind were violated. I was sexually assaulted. He violated my body and my mind.
When I was in so much emotional and mental agony, that’s when I knew I had to fly away. To get out clean. When I was drowning in the flood of pain, terror, and memory, when I let myself drown, that’s when I could finally breathe again. Blocking the assault out made everything worse. Facing it, even if I was drowning, even if it hurt to face it, made me clean. Clean from the sexual assault. Clean from all the negativity that crashed over me. Clean from him.