074: Three Years Later

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

"Three Years Later," anonymous

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.

I was sexually assaulted in graduate school on May 4th, my mother’s birthday.

I was “lucky” enough to be able to fight off a man who I had considered to be a friend. At first I thought to myself, you’re lucky that you didn’t drink more. You’re lucky that the only mark he left was a hickey on your neck. You’re lucky that you could still fight back. But the flashbacks kept coming. The doubt came in. Someone who was there that night said, “Shit happens when people drink.” And other friend told me “I don’t think it’d be a big deal for me like it was for you. It was just a kiss.”

But they fail to see that it was just a kiss because I fought. I pushed him off with all 120 pounds of me. The day after, I showed him the mark he left on me, the proof that he marked me like an animal. He told me that this had happened before with other women, and I felt afraid. He didn’t understand that his actions were unacceptable. No one had ever given him consequences for his actions.

It took me a year to decide to report the assault, a year of turmoil and doubt. On one hand, I felt that I forgave him as I know that people make mistakes. On the other hand, I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t report it. So I didn’t report the incident for myself. I reported the assault not to punish him, but in hopes that it wouldn’t happen to anyone else, ever again. I never wanted another woman to felt what I felt. I never wanted another woman to go through what I went through.

During the months that followed, I felt crazy. I felt as though I was making a big deal out of nothing. I couldn’t trust my emotions because everyone around me was telling me different things. I felt that I was losing and I couldn’t breathe.

I’m reminded in every moment that it could have been more. It could have been rape. The detectives who handled my case saw the fear in my eyes and my body and told me I was lucky it didn’t end in rape. But I no longer think I’m lucky. Because my assault falls in the grey zone where it’s sexual assault, but not rape. It’s not a clear incident, so friends don’t know which side to take. Where people stop talking to me and I don’t know why. Where alcohol seems to excuse bad decisions. So I brushed the trauma underneath the rug and tried my best to carry on. But inside I am crushed by the burden of the assault and the feelings of betrayal by those around me.

A year after the assault, he moved into my apartment complex and I fell apart. Being a victim is not my narrative, it is not my story. I am a strong, independent woman. I am a warrior. And yet I couldn’t get out of bed. I cried all the time. I had nightmares of him touching me and woke up crying and shaking.

But at this point in my life, I refuse to become stuck in this moment of my life. I refuse to allow one person to define what the most pivotal moment of my life should be. I refuse to become the victim. As I write this on the third anniversary of my assault, I am reminded of how far I’ve come. And while I’m not the same person I was three years ago, I’d like to think that I’m a Japanese Kintsugi bowl, broken down but then rebuilt to become something much more beautiful.


About the art:

I love the Japanese art of kintsugi/kintsukoroi which means "golden joinery/golden repair". The idea is to treat the breakage and repair as part of the history of the object rather than cover it up and mask the cracks.

For the art, I chose to paint two different pieces of pottery that have been broken and joined together. This represents the past and future self, both of which have cracks, but are joined together to be whole. I really enjoyed painting this piece for this survivor. I hope this painting gives her strength whenever she feels down.

- Emily Lopez