014: I Stayed

Content Warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some survivors.

"I Stayed," K.

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During my undergraduate experience, I fell into a relationship with a guy (let's call him J). It started with a lot of talks and flirting with J over the summer, but at the time I was in a relationship with someone else. My interactions with J made me feel important, made me feel appreciated and desired, especially because I was in a relationship with someone and at the time, it did not seem like it was going anywhere emotionally. We ended the relationship shortly after I began to talk with J and a week later, J and I began seeing each other. It was very typical, cloud-9-like in the beginning.

We would take day trips in the city, J would spoil me with tickets to the Harry Potter Experience and the movies, and I would swoon over the fact that J would respond directly to my interests. By the end of the summer, J and I were exclusively in a relationship, and the fun of the summer would change, as I was entering my sophomore year and J was entering his senior year. 

Then things began to get really complicated and emotionally taxing. When I wasn't doing my school work or something student org related, I was with him. And I was doing things that were not good for me, nor aligned with the way that I carried myself. J was a heavy smoker and drinker and often complained that I didn't make time for him, despite the fact that we often slept in each other's room quite often. So when I did spend time with him, that's usually what I did. I started drinking more, I started smoking more, staying up late on different hours. And although I started doing things that were unlike me, J and I still had problems. We still had arguments daily, on our different opinions and views, many screaming matches.

By the end of my sophomore year, we broke up and at that time, I wish it was over. I wish I never saw his face afterwards. And at the same time, I shared most of my time and my life with him that I thought that I needed to give the relationship a second chance. So by the beginning of the spring semester, J and I were back together. The biggest difference is that my mind was looking more forward in figuring out my career and J was... I don't know. What didn't really change were the arguments but my friends started to step back a bit because they did not want to be near us when things happened, which was hard for me because I often relied on them when things were rough. 

And things always did get rough. The night itself was blurry, I don't remember when it happened but I remember how I felt. 

My body was shivering. Eyes swollen. I was crying. Like not just tears coming out the eyes, but crying out loud. 

I remember my clothes being stripped from my body and my arms fighting back and telling him to stop, but what I remember the most is the grin. 

He had a grin on his face that was so evil, which made the aftermath so much worse, because after I broke down, he broke down and told me it was just a joke, that he didn't realize I wasn't kidding. 

Instead of leaving that space, instead of running out, I stayed. I stayed. 

I stayed because I didn't think that he meant to do it once he said it. And to this day, I try to come to terms with the fact that I forgave J at the time. 

We eventually ended the summer before my junior year, and I blocked out that memory for a while. 

It wasn't until last May when I remembered what happened and realized that it was sexual assault. And I felt those feelings all over again. 

Fear. Anxiety. Shame. Despair. 

What is sad is that he tries to reach out to me to move on from the past. 

If only he knew how I mistreated myself at the time. If only he knew how I substituted my love for myself as my love for him. If only he knew that it's hard to move forward in a relationship because of the fear that I will only enter another unhealthy one. 

I stand as a survivor of relationship abuse and sexual assault. Today, I continue to learn to love me for me and not to allow feelings for another to put me down a path where I am not being fair and caring to myself.

k anon1.jpg

About the art:

I created this painting for K and I chose this quote for her because self-love and empowerment is very important to her.  Her favorite color (and mine too) is purple, so I chose to paint a purple iris for her.  Purple traditionally is the color of royalty and purple flowers represent pride, success, and dignity.  The iris flower gets its name from the Greek word "ouranio toxo" meaning "rainbow". 

K's story is incredibly powerful and her survival is inspirational.  I know she has a bright future ahead of her and I hope this painting can summon all those feelings of pride, success, and dignity every time she looks at it.  I was so honored to be chosen as the painter for her canvas and I wish her all the best.

- Emily