November is National Novel Writing Month or nanowrimo. I had been looking forward to participating for months. I have been encouraged several times over the years to write a book and decided that I would commit the time to actually do it this year. All of the outlines I wrote centered on either business/marketing or my travels. Unfortunately, whenever I sit down to write or even think about where to start another memory takes center stage. One that I would rather forget. 

Do you ever feel like you have dealt with things long enough even if dealing with them is only the occasional expression of emotion when you are alone in the car or taking a shower? I had buried it well until the quiet of Covid coupled with leaving what had become a toxic work environment allowed it to bubble to the top without the benefit of distraction. As busy as this year has been with restarting my business and launching into professional speaking, my internal thoughts are haunted by a memory that I can’t outlive or can no longer silence. 

(If you have experienced sexual assault, this could be triggering. You can drop down to “Words to Younger Me.”)

When I was a Junior in college, I went to an on-campus party where I met JW. He was cute, and funny. We danced all night and tried to have a conversation over the music. Like me, he was there with his roommates. We hung out most of the night and he was enough of a gentleman to offer to walk me to my dorm (my roommates were near). When we walked out of the party, I was surprised at what I saw. The surprise was apparently on my face. He smiled and said, “Yea, I’m white.” Between the dark hair, dance style, and low lighting, I, admittedly, thought he was Latino. After hours of enjoying one another’s company his race didn’t seem like a justifiable reason to not take his number.

A few months of dinners, poetry slams, and movie nights led to a night that overshadowed our relationship – his birthday. We went to dinner. I bought him a gift, which apparently didn’t satisfy him because he took what he wanted without warning and without consent. 

He apologized but it was gone and I felt trapped. 

Rape does not equal having sex. I couldn’t reconcile the difference emotionally even though intellectually I knew they weren’t the same. A lifetime of sermons flooded my thoughts. In all of my searching, I could not remember a sermon that made the distinction between the two.  Virginity was held up as the pinnacle of proper womanhood but what was there for the women who didn’t “give it away.” I no longer had that but not through my choice. Instead, it was taken by someone else’s decision. Someone I trusted. Someone who knew how I felt. Someone I thought I knew. I had done it “right.” (There is no wrong way to say “no”.) I told him clearly that my desire was to wait until marriage well before this day. He said that he respected that but actions…. He knew my desire but that was irrelevant to his and I wasn’t as strong. 

What shame, blame, and embarrassment birthed in me was silence and loneliness as I tried to cope on my own. 

I was taught to grant a great amount of sanctity to the first time. His being “the first” made me try to make it work. It didn’t. (Again, rape does not equal having sex.) I won’t belabor this moment because I think I have stayed in this memory as long as I can for today.  

For some of you who have known me for years and believe we are friends, we are.  I didn’t share this because I didn’t want to witness the mixture of horror and pity that comes across people’s faces when they hear it. Besides, I couldn’t bear your feelings while denying my own. I am more than that moment in time. 

We are more than singular experiences. We are who we are continually becoming in response to them. We are who we decide to be in the seconds, days, months, and years after them. Ultimately, we are who we decide to be. In regards to that moment, I decided to be free. 

Words to Younger Me and Anyone Else Who Has Been There:

Don’t blame yourself. I know that is easier said than done. The truth is you can’t control someone else’s behavior. You couldn’t have changed the outcome.

Crying isn’t a weakness and it doesn’t have to be a secret. 

Keep getting up but don’t ignore your pain.

Only get into a relationship with someone who can empathize with the effect of your yesterdays and respects your boundaries. Leave if you discover that isn’t true. You can always start over. 

Start therapy immediately. The impact of this won’t go away on its own.

Stand up for yourself in whatever way you need to stand.

Be forthright with your partner. (What positions are off-limits? Are there things you can’t watch or experience? For example, I can’t watch people being sexually assaulted in tv shows & movies. Sexual abuse cannot be interwoven into the fabric of my entertainment.)

Those who can’t walk with you when you feel broken don’t deserve to walk with you when you feel whole. 

You don’t have to always have it “together.”

Let those who love you, love you