Content warning: The following story contains references to sexual assault, violence, and depression, which may be triggering for some readers.
"I Didn't Tell Anyone," S.D.
It wasn't the quintessential spring break everyone talks about. I was about a month away from being nineteen in my sophomore year of college and that meant no bar hopping in the sometimes sunny Isle of Palm. I was on vacation with my friends at one of their beach houses and was so excited to be away from home that anything they wanted to do was going to be fun. It was a group of four girls so we had some natural hiccups but nothing that was going to keep me from being happy to be there, even if they did want to use dating apps to meet guys in the area.
One night, we had signed on to an app individually. Something I don't distinctly remember doing but won't forget having done. I complained to my friends, "Yeah, its sort of shitty tho, since they only show you people you've already "liked."" My friends looked at me, then to each other. "No it doesn't" one said, sort of sassy, sort of trying to understand. She explained, after some confusion, that each person I swiped right for had already swiped right for me, but that that doesn't happen every time. And just like that, a moment that would continue to hang over me in playful teasing in our friendship was born.
There was a bit of back and forth about having strangers over the house but we came to some sort of agreement that they would be allowed in and if anyone was uncomfortable we'd send them away. We had plenty of alcohol and we were never going to finish it all alone. They came over, I don't remember their names. It was awkward to start and then people got more comfortable. There was this weird sort of auto pairing off that happened. One girl went to bed and then the three guys each sort of made clear who they wanted to talk to of the three of us left. I was a little uncomfortable because I had a boyfriend at the time and felt like there was some implication with using an app that we wanted to sleep with them which was by no means the case.
He kept staring at me, even when we talked as a group. It was sort of noticeable and I tried to ignore it. Claiming it was getting chilly, I purposefully excused myself to put on a bigger sweater. I returned in a cozy outfit of soft leggings and a tee shirt and sweatshirt to find that my two friends wanted to take the guys they had been talking to on a tour of the house and the area. I said something like, "sure yeah okay". I wasn't expecting us to split up and do tours in pairs, but that's what happened.
This guy and I walked around the house; I put on a sort of anti-hostess attitude and showed him the place. It was a small beach cottage with a few stories and a nice master bedroom. I ended on the last bedroom that no one was using since there were only us four girls staying there. He grabbed my wrist and spun me toward him when we had just stepped inside.
I said something quickly in protest but he kissed me anyway. I pushed against his shoulders and was shocked at how little I could move him; he didn't look that strong. He slid his right arm under my shirt, up my back and grabbed me by the back of the neck. His grip on the base of my skull forced me to face him and he said something to the effect of we can do this the easy way or the hard way.
He whipped me around and slammed me into the twin bed face down. He ripped down my leggings and called me naughty for having not worn underwear. He pushed my face into a pillow and shoved himself inside me after rubbing spit on himself. He leaned into me hard and bent forward to tell me not to say anything, that if I would he'd find me and kill me and kill anyone I cared about. He put his hand on my throat and kept it tight. I couldn't breathe or think or feel anything. Then he loosened his grip and told me to call him daddy like I meant it. I did. It felt disgusting, like shaking strangers hands all day in an airport and no way to wash your hands. But instead of just my hands, it felt like my whole body was one layer of thick filth.
He pulled up my pants and called me a good girl. I could feel the stickiness between my legs; it rubbed between my thighs and onto my leggings. I pulled my shirt down, put my hair back up and went downstairs. He followed. We all sat in the living room and I kept my feet under me on the single-seater couch. I saw my friends eyeing me. I played tired. The guys thanked us for the good time and left. I went to bed.
I wish that was the end of it.
I wish I'd never thought about it again or that I could just close the chapter that it was in and I could be someone else.
I didn't tell anyone for two years.
At first, I was scared the girls that were there that night would have told my then boyfriend that I cheated. I tried to find a reason to talk to someone for a while after that but then my urge to speak didn't exist anymore. And it just fell into a deeper part of me that I didn't want to go find.
I have had chronic nightmares since long before that night on spring break, but now I relive my trauma for weeks on end. It all came to a head one night with the boyfriend I had junior and senior year. We were walking home one night and I imploded as we crossed the quad. I knew my nightmares had been effecting our relationship and I knew I was going to lose him if I didn't tell someone something but every time the words bubbled to my lips from the slow boil in my heart I couldn't speak. Something would change or take my mind off of it. I could tell the whole story in my mind but it was like the second it was supposed to come out it all got translated into a foreign language like a processing error.
I've since been diagnosed with PTSD, something I struggle with telling anyone. I'm met with the same horribly familiar responses so I don't share. "Only people from the military get that." "You can't be serious. Rape is not the same thing as watching all of your friends get blown up." "You're too pretty to have problems. If I looked like you I'd never have a bad day in my life."
Even things that people mean well by, I have a hard time swallowing.
I have a hard time thinking I'll ever be with anyone that can stay with me through the effects of this because I'm scared they'll never go away. I'm scared I'll be 35 and waking up screaming crying in the middle of the night and that my SO won't understand. I can't have sex with someone who doesn't know this about me and I refuse to tell people about it because I'm scared of what they'll say either in front of me or behind my back. I want a meaningful relationship but I'm scared I'll be too much for someone to handle because of all the baggage that one night gave me.
I am a graduate student and I work with undergraduates in a peer education program. They bring inquisitive questions and classic conundrums forward about the topics we cover regularly. It forces me to be at the table of conversation about sexual violence and has really helped me understand my PTSD and experience that night by better understanding the neurobiology beneath my memory. I don't know what healing looks like, I just know it takes a long time and that I wish it wasn't this lonely.
About the art:
This piece of art for SD was truly a labor of love. I wanted to play around with a taping style that I'd seen on the internet, so this was a fun way to explore that a bit! And then I tossed around some of my splatter paint! And tossed a great quote about strength and power to help SD get through the days at work!
So glad we are back with stories after a brief break - life has been a bit chaotic for us lately. However, we should be moving forward for the foreseeable future!