When I was twenty years old, I was on my own for the first time. A chunky white girl moving to a big(ger) town meant I was out of my league without realizing it. I lived in a second story apartment with my newly adopted puppy and I worked the swing shift. I’d just dropped out of culinary school and broken up with the love of my life, so I was ready to experience new things. Life was about living it and I fully intended to experience everything I could. (Oh, the innocence of wide-eyed youth.)
The building sitting across from my apartment held a row of townhouses. In the townhouse closest to my apartment lived a handsome man and his stunning girlfriend. We said hello coming and going and had a generally neighborly relationship. That man had a cousin named Troy, who was gorgeous, fit, and shockingly enough, seemed to be interested in me.
As a fat girl from a small town, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with men. The fact that this smokin’ hot man was interested in me excited me. One night after I came home from work, I was out on the patio reading a book when Troy came out of the townhouse next door. He spoke to me, we flirted for a few minutes, and then he asked me if he could come up. Naively, I said yes.
Once he was inside, it started innocently enough. We laughed, we flirted some more, and then he kissed me. That kiss turned into another and then another and, before I knew it, he had me pinned to the couch. He forced himself on me that night and I didn’t stop him. In hindsight, I think I was too shocked to realize what was happening. The only thing that did stop him was that I started bleeding, which freaked him out, so he left.
After that, I kept my distance. He still said hello and I still replied, but that was about it. I kept my patio blinds closed when I was home so that he couldn’t see in and I wouldn’t know he was milling around. One afternoon, as I was walking the dog, I saw Troy’s cousin’s girlfriend getting into her car. She pulled out but stopped when she saw me and beckoned me closer. I was floored when I got close enough to see her black eyes, her busted lip, the bruises on her arms. She warned me to stay away from Troy and his cousin because they were bad news. I only nodded, unable to voice that I already knew that.
A month later, I moved into a different apartment one street over with a roommate. I thought this was going to be for the best, but she only made it worse by inviting over people I didn’t know to smoke pot on my couch. One night when I came home, she told me about these two guys she met, which ended up being Troy and his cousin. I warned her not to get involved with them, told her about the now ex-girlfriend, but kept quiet about what Troy had done. I had invited him in so, in my estimation, I deserved what I got, right?
Not long after, when I came home one night, Troy and the cousin were sitting on my couch passing a joint back and forth with my roommate. I asked my roommate to come into the kitchen and told her that I didn’t want to be alone with Troy and to please not leave me. She just laughed and said she was headed back to the cousin’s apartment. She left me alone with Troy minutes later and I still remember being nervous and uneasy as he looked at me and patted the seat beside him. I should have left. I should have run. I should have grabbed a baseball bat and slammed it into his nuts, but I didn’t. I sat down and let him force himself on me again. I started to bleed again, of course, so he got up, hiked up his pants, and told me that if I ever said anything, he’d steal my dog because he knew I loved my dog.
Then he left. My roommate didn’t come home that night. In fact, I found out the next day that after Troy had left our townhouse, he went back to his cousin’s and joined in on a threesome with my roommate. Less than a month later, I moved out and left the state. I had to get away from that cycle of sexual violence and abject stupidity.
I’d like to say that I coped well, but I really didn’t. I blocked everything out. In fact, I became promiscuous. For years, I blamed it on the fact that I was finally getting male attention, but I remember in a quiet moment, when I had a sweet guy on my couch asking me why I so cheaply gave myself away, telling him that I was afraid that if I didn’t give it, the guy would just take it anyway.
I now have the ability to look back, fifteen years afterward, and say without a doubt that I was sexually assaulted. I never told my mom or my sister or any of the women in my life about it. In fact, none of them still know. I buried it and moved on with my life, got my degrees, got a good job, got married to a wonderful man, and started a new phase of my life.
I don’t have “triggers.” I don’t freak out when I see rape on TV or read about it. I don’t get caught up in the rape culture arguments all over social media. I can’t. It’s how I process. I’ve dealt with what happened to me and shed all the tears I’m ever going to shed over it, but I do have a message for the young girls that are experiencing this same thing right now –
You didn’t ask for it. Even if you invite him into your apartment and let him kiss you, you didn’t give him the okay to push your shorts down and stick himself inside you. You didn’t give him the “okay” by flirting with him or laughing at his stupid jokes. You didn’t ask for it because you didn’t fight back or kick or scream or cry. You didn’t ask for it because, while it was happening, you didn’t feel anything at all. You didn’t ask for it because he took it. It’s yours to give – your mind, your consent, your body. Regardless of how it happens or what leads up to it, the lack of consent means it’s sexual assault. It’s rape. (It’s still hard for me to admit to myself that I was raped.)
Ladies, arm yourself by being smarter than I was. I’d love for Troy to encounter the woman I am today. He’d realized he’d screwed up just about the same moment I handed his balls back to him in a paper bag. Karma is a bitch, of course, and I found out a few years ago that he was languishing in jail. For what, you may ask? Rape. Someone else spoke out, and I wish I could find her and thank her for doing what I was afraid to do.
Whatever you do, don’t say silent. Rape is never okay. Control is never okay. Being respected and loved and treated like an equal human being is the bare minimum that you should ever allow yourself to accept.