Ten years ago, I was seventeen. I had broken up with him, but he was still the center of my life– he was in every high school club I was in, and he drove me to school every morning. We went to school one weekend for an Academic Decathlon meeting, and then we went back to his house, and then he raped me.
Some of you knew that already. There was never a moment when I intentionally chose to keep this a secret. In fact, some people would consider me outspoken about it. But for me, telling people, not telling people, it’s all been a program running up in the background, eating up RAM.
For a while, I couldn’t admit it, couldn’t use the word rape, couldn’t deal. And then I started telling people. My closest friends. I told Ira, my psychologist. I told him because I knew once I told him, he would call in my dad, who was sitting in the other room, and Ira would tell my dad for me. That my father would tell my mother. That my father would tell the school administration.
I was the one who told the police.
My mother started smoking again, which she hid from me, quietly sneaking cigarettes when she thought I didn’t notice. We didn’t really talk about it. Didn’t talk about the details of me being raped, or the relationship I had had with him beforehand. We didn’t talk about healthy relationships, or red flags of warning. We didn’t talk about how hard it was for me each and every day at school. That every day was a calculated battle of how to best avoid him, that even though I could be coming out of a stairwell I thought was safe, I could hear him, from around the corner, saying my full name. We didn’t talk about it. And for a while, that was okay with me. The silence meant I didn’t have to deal with the full reality.
And then I wrote a poem about it. Nothing particularly amazing. I was involved in slam poetry in high school, and I know some poets who can write, and that poem wasn’t a 10. But it was stark, and honest, and my words. My mother found it in a pocket of a coat. She and my father decided to confront me. She couldn’t understand why I would ever discuss anything so personal in a poem. Why I would tell people. She didn’t think I should tell people, and I played by her rules for years. I kept my mouth shut, not understanding the cost of staying silent all these years, even just within my family.
The costs were not always obvious. There were certain PTSD triggers that were easy to figure out. It had been very cold in the room where I had been raped, and so it took me a very long time to stop regularly getting panic attacks in the cold. Sometimes I get a whiff of shampoo and I still swear he’s nearby. But that was easy. That was obvious. It took me years to realize that I hadn’t been the victim of one trauma, but two. The first was being raped, but the second was the hostile environment I was in every day for the 5 months after being raped, before I graduated and escaped.
A few years later, I spent part of a summer performing plays in the same theatre where I met him. I was edgy. Angry. I wasn’t a lot of fun to be around. In retrospect, thinking that going back there was a good mental health choice was insane. I lost friends. I didn’t go back to my parent’s house for more than two weeks after that. I haven’t gone back to the high school ever again.
I have struggled with who to tell, when to tell, how to tell, for ten years. In the beginning, it was a matter of survival. I needed people who had my back. I needed people to tell me that I was not crazy, and that what I was going through was actually horrible, and that my reactions were not overreactions. I needed people to hear me, and support me. In college, it was about explaining the nearly visible emotional scars to a new group of people. People who were unsure why I was sometimes uncharacteristically quiet. People who wanted to love and support me, but were unsure why I often kept them at arm’s length.
Now it’s about owning my own story. This is part of me, and it’s not something that I need to be ashamed of. Not something that I need to be silent about. I have kept silent when I would otherwise speak to make other people more comfortable. I don’t need sympathy or pity or attention. But if I had been mugged ten years ago, I wouldn’t have felt the need to spent ten years calculating who knows and who doesn’t, who I can tell and who I can’t, who needs to know. It’s exhausting and strange.
Being expected to be silent was part of the trauma of surviving. This was a rule of a game I do not intend on playing anymore. Some people I’ve told have had some strange reactions, but I have never felt shame as a result. I have only felt shame due to a lack of courage to speak up.
This is my story, and telling people is still about my survival. The silence ends now.