content warning: sexual assault — no details, only alluded to
you are 20, not yet old enough to drink. but you are drinking, at a coworker’s place. he lives there with his girlfriend, but she is out of town. this detail becomes relevant later. you don’t really know if you’re enjoying yourself, but you’re trying to seem cool. you haven’t done this much, drank with your coworkers like this. in fact, this might be the first time. you’ve been invited by the big guy you work with who seems friendly enough, has a good sense of humor, who is often crude. but because he’s friendly to you, so you’re willing to overlook any character defects in the name of his approval.
you’re desperately eager. it’s embarrassing, really. looking back, you feel like you are a young 20. sheltered through high school, sexually inexperienced until past your 19th birthday.
you are single. this must be pretty recent, the aftermath of breaking up with your first boyfriend, the first boy who you ever did anything with, except kiss. you’d had exactly one kiss previously, maybe considered a make-out, when you were 16 at señor frogs in cancun. this is also embarrassing but not relevant.
you are in the apartment and drinking with a handful of coworkers. you feel like you have been welcomed into some adult arena, and that fact alone makes this mundane situation enjoyable. the man, 14 years older, who will later become your second boyfriend is here. but that is in the future, and he will not protect you now. maybe he doesn’t even realize you are in danger.
because your father has been preaching three simple rules your entire life: don’t drink and drive, don’t smoke cigarettes, don’t get pregnant until you’ve graduated college, you recognize you are too drunk to drive, and so you can ask if you can stay the night.
the guy whose apartment it is offers for you to sleep in his bed. he will later join you here, try to hook up with you, but luckily, he will accept your declining. you mention that he has a girlfriend, as a rebuttal to his making a move, but this seems uninteresting and unimportant to him.
it is not until he has passed out that the true threat emerges. another coworker, quiet and seemingly nonthreatening, enters the room to go to the bathroom. after using it, instead of continuing his journey back out to the couch, he pauses.
and now you remember, the present you remembers that there are details you’ve left out: you’d previously tried to sleep on the couch, but it was his hand, this quiet coworker’s, drifting towards your crotch, poking around, that prompts you to move to the bed instead. he even does this hand assault with other people around — isn’t it your not-yet-second-boyfriend on the couch across from y’all? these are the details that have blurred. you can only remember the shock, the confusion. at his entitlement to your body and its exploration. at his awareness in choosing to not do so openly, to do so slyly.
and so, back in the bedroom, instead of going back out, he comes towards you. you don’t remember the moments leading up to what will truly traumatize you, what will make your body foreign to you.
later you will learn this is a pattern of his: taking advantage of women who have been drinking. and this confuses you, and only later enrages you. you learn this is common knowledge amongst your coworkers, and you wonder why people keep inviting him then. it makes no sense. you feel everyone who knows is complicit. and yet you cannot blame them. you can only blame yourself. well, that’s not true. you don’t think about it in those terms, really. you simply know that it makes you feel bad, dirty, wrong. you will much later come to understand this as shame.
later when the guy, 14 years older, becomes your boyfriend, you will tell him of what happened to you. and against all emotional logic, he remains friends with the one who assaulted you. it hurts you that he is not angry. it pains you that he can still talk to this guy, play ball with him, hang out with him, laugh, enjoy his company, all with the knowledge that he has violated you, changed you. the layers of betrayal deepen.
now, the present you cannot speak the details of what he did to you, because you do not want to go back there. you cannot allow yourself to relive it. and you shouldn’t, you know this. at least not without a trained professional. but it lives inside you, the awareness that you will never be the same. it’s been over 10 years, and you still don’t know how to get yourself back, your body back, your pleasure back.
the act, what he did to you, continues to repulse you. maybe more so now than a couple of years ago. you struggle to let men do it to you, to try to please you like that.
the most shameful part to admit, the part that makes your stomach churn and throat catch is that you orgasmed. he did something unspeakably awful to you, and your body responded as though you liked it. when you’re being kind, generous, loving to your body, you can imagine this was done protectively, to make it all stop as quickly as possible.
did i mention the big guy, the one whose apartment it was, the one with a girlfriend who still tried to fuck you — did i mention he was still in the bed, right next to y’all, passed out? this was a complicating detail. would things have been different if you hadn’t worried about waking the person next to you? if you weren’t worried of the way this could be interpreted, like you were trying to hook up with this dude with this other guy in bed with y’all.
after he finishes, or i guess you finish, he moves upwards, towards you. was he trying to kiss you? you say something meek along the lines of being too tired to have sex. and then you thank him. let that sink in, you thank him.
the strangest detail, the most surreal aspect of this story occurs in the morning, when you have awaken and are trying to leave quietly. this guy, the one who violated you, catch you in your departure and asks for a ride. and you say yes. because you’re used to being accommodating and sweet and you have no idea what else to do.
and then, here’s the kicker — your car runs out of gas. a cop pulls over and says he’ll watch it while you and this guy, the one who violated you, walk to the nearest gas station. you remember him mentioning his mother, something fond and caring, and you find this strange. men who love their mothers, who talk of their love for their mothers, rape women?
he seems unaware of, or at least undisturbed by the fact that he raped you the night before. and you, the present you, does not know what to make of this.
the part that breaks your heart the most is that your body no longer feels like your own, specifically your genitals. an act meant to bring you pleasure brings you disgust. orgasming makes you feel creepy. sex makes you uncomfortable. the thought of it all makes your skin crawl.
you still struggle with masturbating. you still struggle with accepting pleasure. it confuses you that pleasure feels bad, this contradiction is hard to hold.
you feel guilty for your lovers’ disappointment at not being able to give you pleasure. you try so hard, but it all feels like work.
you are 31, and you wonder if you will ever be okay. you wonder if hearing of other women’s high libidos will ever not make you sad. you wonder if you can no longer watch game of thrones because it is too triggering.
you’re confused about how to heal. you try to get a sexual trauma therapist, but finding one that takes medicaid is a constant struggle. you’re so tired. healing feels like work too.
you wonder if that act will ever feel good again. if it will ever stop feeling like a violation. you wonder if you will ever forgive your body for its betrayal.
you remember that next day, after you finally dropped him off. you go to a friend’s place because you cannot bear the thought of going home. it was still early, he was still asleep. he lets you in, and you sit on his chair alone, doing nothing. you feel nothing, you think nothing. you feel everything, you think everything.
do you text a friend? do you tell her of how you feel violated? do you make light of it?
these details are a blur. all you remember is that empty feeling. you know recognize this now as dissociation. you experienced it semi-recently when watching the first episode of euphoria, another show you cannot bear to watch.
you are tired of being affected by this, the present you, the one who finally understands, or is at least beginning to understand. you are tired of using the phrase “sexual trauma” to your partners. you wonder when they’ll get tired of it too. you wonder when your body will be yours again. you wonder if maybe you should stop having sex. it’s easier like that, complete avoidance.
you are sad and you are lonely and you are empty. no love can get in, no pain can get out. you color, aimlessly, and you write, “i do not want to be numb.”
it’s a strange irony, the ways in which such intense emotional pain can shut us off from ourselves. you are both drowning and empty. you are dying yet you are not here.
all of this feels melodramatic to put into words, to express the feeling of it all. but it is true, and you need the truth. you need to be honest, even if just with yourself. you need to be honest that sex disgusts you, that your sexuality disgusts you, that other people’s sexuality makes you uncomfortable.
you know sex isn’t bad, and you want to be sex-positive. but sex does not feel positive. it feels wrong and mean and gross and dangerous and seriously not worth it.
you want to reclaim what’s left of yourself, you do not want to be a victim. you do not want to be the person who over 10 years later is still talking about this shit, still processing, still digesting. you want to be better than that, yet you are not.
you are nothing. i am nothing. we are nothing.
it’s strange the way we morph into something unrecognizable after something awful happens. you do not know this person, and yet this person is you.
you wonder how life would be different if this hadn’t have happened. would your depression be less severe?
you like narratives of overcoming hardship, of the idea that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. but as you get older, this becomes less romantic. trauma is not productive to growth, it is the opposite. you feel yourself shrinking under its weight. and you are so tired. why are you always so tired?
you write this now because it feels like all you have, the freedom to express that which may rot you from the inside out. you write because it gives you agency. because you want to connect with that 20-year-old version of yourself, and you have no idea how. because you are alone, and you don’t want to be alone, and the page has always been a loyal companion.