Survivors

I was secretly hoping I would never have to write this.  I’ve kept my story to myself.  I’ve read all the stories, I’ve witnessed the speeches, I’ve seen all the posts and spent countless hours scrolling through the comments like a fly on the wall.   I have stood in silence and relived my experience vicariously through others.  It’s not exactly a story I enjoy sharing.  I’m ashamed of it and haunted by it.  But I have had enough.  The ignorance, disbelief and all around shaming of women who have come forward must stop.  I strongly believe this because I am one of those women.  So if you don’t believe her, believe me…because I’m a survivor.

The morning after it happened, I walked into work shattered, on the edge of functioning and he just sat there like nothing happened.  Like he didn’t sneak into my room and hover over me in the middle of the night and roam his hands over my body like he could.  Like he didn’t sexually assault someone he believed to be sleeping only hours ago.  Only she wasn’t asleep…not the whole time.  I never said a single word.  I never opened my eyes.  I was afraid of what might happen if I did.  I silently screamed as his hands violated my body.  Even when I rolled over “in my sleep” his hands didn’t quit their pursuit.  It was only his hands.  I know other women have been through so much worse.  So that’s what I kept telling myself:  It was only his hands.

He finally gave up.  I held my breath until I was absolutely certain he was gone.  My entire body went into convulsions and I began to hyperventilate.  I vaguely remember making a few calls.  I was in such hysterics, I could barely talk, my phone shaking in my hand.  I kept asking myself what I had done to cause this.  I sat on the shower floor going through what had happened over and over and over.  I know I had closed my door.  I will forever beat myself up for not locking it.  I will forever regret letting him into my apartment after he drove me home from a party.  He said he needed to sleep a little while before he drove home.  I left him in the living room and told him to see himself out when he was ready.  I left him in the living room.  I shut my door.  I retraced every conversation I had with him that night.  I must have said something that he construed as an invitation.  I must have said something to make him feel like he had permission.  But I know I didn’t.  And I know I shut the door.

My roommate, who also worked with me, convinced me that I needed to say something.  So I did.  I sat in an office and retold every single awful detail to my managers and HR.  Then I was asked to write it down.  So I did.  And then I was told since it didn’t happen on work property, nothing could be done.  Nothing.  I shared my story for what felt like no reason.  I was told I’d be transferred to a different restaurant.  I became a problem that needed to be dealt with.  I was the problem.  Not him.  Me.  I was angry.  I felt expendable, inconsequential and insignificant.  I refused to let him warp my world anymore than he already had.  So I stayed.  I asked if we could be scheduled opposite shifts on opposite sides of the restaurant.  That happened for a week and then it was forgotten.  But I didn’t forget.  Every time I saw his face, my insides coiled in revulsion.  Every time he said hi to me, I was reminded of that night and his hands.  It was almost as if I was trying to prove to myself that I could be strong now, I could do this.  The man with three little girls of his own never bat an eye at what happened.  It almost made me feel like I had dreamt the entire thing.  A horrifying nightmare.

I felt defeated.  I thought about going to the cops but after seeing where honesty got me, I couldn’t see a point.  It would have been his word against mine and I had no proof.  And, at the end of the day, what he did to me wasn’t what I considered rape at the time.  I told myself it wasn’t that serious.  This was almost 13 years ago.  I’m still not over it.  I’ll never get over it.  I will never forget his face, I will never forget his name.  I will never forget his silhouette standing at the edge of my bed.  I will never forget what he took from me and what he still takes from me after all these years.  If you’ve ever been through trauma, it’s not something you want to live in and retell over and over again for other people’s amusement.  It’s something you want to suppress.  It’s something you want to push so far into the ground that you forget it ever happened.  Because if you can’t forget it, then it makes it real and if it’s real, you have to deal with the fact that this happened, not only in general, but to you.  And you begin to believe that you let it.

I have spent so many years blaming myself in silence.  Most of my family and friends are hearing this for the first time.  If you think that only weak women are taken advantage of sexually, you’d be wrong.  If you think you know how you would act in any given situation, you don’t.  The amount of judgement people face after coming forward is terrifying.  It’s no surprise to me that it’s taken some of these men and women so long to speak out.  When someone treats you in a way that seems so normal and natural to them, it’s hard to make a fuss because it’s as if you’re the one with the problem.  It’s as if you did something to make them feel like they had a right to do what they did.  That’s where the guilt, the second-guessing and the shame set in and result in silence.  How could anyone understand?  How could anyone believe that you could have lied there and said nothing?  You doubted yourself for so long, why wouldn’t they?

I later came to discover much later that I wasn’t the only girl at work he assaulted.  Maybe if I had been more vocal, we could have done something together.  Safety and belief come with numbers, unfortunately.  One person, once – that’s all it should take.  That should always count.  If you murder someone once, you’re a murderer.  Only 3-4% of accusations are false, so instead of being afraid of accusers who are predominantly women, maybe you should be more afraid for them.  I listened to two men have a conversation about Cosby in disbelief of his sentence until they both decided ‘Yeah I guess he deserved it.’  More than 60 women came forward but ‘I guess’ he deserved it.  It took the courage of 60 women for a single accusation to become valid.  When did one person’s word mean so little?  Why did it take an army of women to bring down a single man?

I overheard a woman say “I feel bad for Cosby…it was twenty years ago”.  I can’t even begin to comprehend how can you possibly feel bad for a man who was drugging and sexually assaulting women.  That is premeditated sexual assault and you, as a woman, feel BAD for him?  My mind is blown and my veins are ablaze.  If you are disappointed that someone you looked up to and watched on your television everyday growing up turned out to be a criminal, that’s one thing – but to feel sorry for him?  If you were the woman who came forward against a man who drugged and raped you only to discover that 59 other women had similar experiences and I had the audacity to say I felt sorry for HIM, you would be appalled.  As you should be.  Good people do bad things.  There are bad cops, but not all cops are bad.  Same with priests.  Have we learned nothing from our past?  Pay attention.  LISTEN.

I write this now in hopes that maybe hearing my story and my reasons will help you understand someone else’s…or even your own. I don’t want a single person in this world to go through what I did.  I want girls and women and boys and men all over the world to know that no one else but you is entitled to your body.  That if it feels wrong, it probably is.  That it isn’t your fault and that there’s nothing you did wrong.  Even sitting here today, you better believe if I caught wind that a group of women were gathering to take him down, I would come forward.  Not for me, but for her.  I don’t care how long ago it happened, it doesn’t make my story any less valid.  Time doesn’t get to decide what is and what isn’t significant to you.  Nor does anyone else for that matter.

I’m not sharing this for anyone’s sympathy.  I’m not speaking up now because of any feelings of bravery or validation.  I’m sharing this because if my story makes one person out there feel heard or understood, then every single word has been worth it.  I’ve held onto this darkness for over a decade and I only hope that someone out there finds their voice because of me.  There are far too many stories like mine left unspoken, assumed to be unimportant and kept in a chamber in our hearts collecting dust.  To all of the survivors reading this, I hear you, I believe you and I stand with you.  Cause, yeah…me too.  You are not alone, you are never alone.

And if you’re out there feeling like you now have to walk on eggshells, you don’t – unless you like to rape.  For anyone confused on what consent is, or unsure how to address the topic with children, here is a link to a great video Consent : Simple as Tea     (you’re welcome).

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