Imagine you're lying in bed – but not your bed, a stranger's bed. Imagine a thin wall between the bedroom and the room where the stranger is sitting, watching TV. At first you're silent and still, afraid to move or make a sound. Then you hear him laughing with his friend. You start to cry. You're crying so hard you feel like you're going to suffocate. Trying not to be heard, you bite your lip so hard it starts to bleed. Your chest tightens and horrible images flash in your head. The pain is unbearable. You have just been raped. • • • Rape is not a word that most people can hear and understand immediately. Sure, it's a common topic on TV, in books and in music, and is even used by some as slang for “defeated” or “owned.” But if you haven't been a victim, you don't understand its meaning. The emotional pain and physical discomfort of sexual abuse cannot be explained. After my assault I went through the usual phases of shock and disbelief. The next morning, I told my friend what had happened. She held my hand as I cried. Then she loyally walked three miles with me to the nearest convenience store, where, out of embarrassment at the thought of buying one, she stole a pregnancy test for me. I was 15 at the time. In my naivety about sex, I assumed I could take a test right away and find out if I was pregnant. After reading the box, I realized I was wrong and resumed panicking. We walked back, mostly in silence. Neither of us wanted to talk about it. For the rest of the week, I tried to enjoy myself. I didn't want the rape to ruin my vacation at the seashore with my friends, so I pushed it to the back of my mind. I hid the pain and let myself be 15 again. After the vacation, my father dropped me at my mom's, where I live full time. I still did not let myself think about the rape. I denied it so hard that it almost seemed like a bad dream. For four more days I continued to live life normally, but on the fifth, I cancelled plans with friends and went to my room. I turned off the lights, closed the shades, and pulled the covers over me. I slept for the next seven hours until my mom came home and knocked on my door. She asked if I was okay, and I said I was feeling under the weather. She brought me a glass of water and left me alone. For two days, I only left my bed to eat and use the bathroom when no one was home. The rest of the time I hid under the covers, feeling only shame and embarrassment. Then, on Tuesday morning, I finally decided to tell someone. I gathered all my strength to climb out of bed and go into my sister's room. We are very close, but I was still scared to tell her something like this, not knowing how she'd react. I broke down and told her everything. She listened to my story through my muffled crying. She cried too. She hugged me and said it would be okay but we needed to go to the hospital. At first I refused, but she slowly convinced me. We drove in silence. Silence soon became unmanageable. It was a constant reminder of what had happened and the reaction I got from people when I said I was an assault victim. For a long time I wished people would just say something. Even ask about it. I wouldn't be angry at them for asking. It would be a relief to have them say aloud what everyone was thinking. The hospital visit made the assault even more embarrassing and real for me. Nothing could be done, they said, because I had waited too long to report it. They suggested I tell my mom. I was horrified at the thought. How could I tell my mother that my virginity had been stolen from me, her youngest daughter? I cried the whole way home, silent sobs, hot tears running down my cheeks. My sister called my mom at work and asked her to come home. I lay in bed until she came home. She slammed open my door, pulled me up from my pillow and screamed, “What's wrong? What's wrong with you?” Somehow she had an idea. “Did you have sex? Are you pregnant?” I cried harder and harder. Finally I said, “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I didn't want to.” “You were raped? Oh my god. My baby, my poor baby,” she cried as she hugged me. We cried together for a while, then all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and hide my face again. I felt so guilty for causing her pain. Irrationally I felt it was my fault for burdening her with a pain I should have been strong enough to deal with myself. Eventually, after the crying and hugging was over, I fell asleep, exhausted. At first, my mother was good about it. She took me to the doctor and asked if I wanted therapy. I really didn't want to talk about the assault and don't like talking about my feelings, so instead, I denied it all. I denied it for the rest of the summer and into the school year. Denial is a weird concept. Some people can't do it. They can't help but think about things and face them head on. Some people, on the other hand, can deny things so hard they can make anything seem like it was just a nightmare. I am the second type. I can deny anything to the point of pure ignorance. Then one day in October, as I was cleaning my closet, I found my hospital bracelet. Memories flooded back. Images I had been trying so hard to forget suddenly were the only thing I could see. Looking at that bracelet, I couldn't help but cry as I remembered the most painful experience of my life. I cried for a long time. I couldn't stop; even when I told myself enough was enough and to toughen up, the tears wouldn't stop. I wasn't sitting there feeling bad for myself. I knew I was lucky to be alive and to have a support system, but crying was the only thing I knew how to do. Then I opened my journal and started to write. I wrote about what had happened and how I felt. “Out of control” is what I was feeling. It may not be an emotion, but it has a huge meaning and is a vital part of one's life and happiness. To lose control is one thing, but gaining it back is another. It's hard to get something back that you didn't know you were missing. If someone had asked me two years ago, “Do you feel in control of your life?” I'd have said yes. Yes, but only because I had never experienced anyone or anything telling me differently. Then the rape happened. And suddenly everything I thought I knew changed. The plans I had for myself were gone. Rape is not something I had planned for, and it made me think, What else could happen I didn't plan for? Why plan for anything? For a while, I tried to take back control in any way that I could. I became self-destructive. I stopped eating and became dangerously thin. I stopped going to class, resulting in countless disciplinary talks and detentions. I mouthed off at teachers and drank and smoked. Bottom line, I was pissed off. I did things out of pure anger. I had emotional outbursts out of my control. I did anything to make myself feel better, but it was all self-destructive. It wasn't until junior year that I realized the rape doesn't control me. I am not a slave to the effects of rape; I am strong enough to know I can overcome it. I may not ever “get over it,” but I am learning to cope. I will rise above it. The rape does not have the power to make me feel bad about myself or tell me I am not worth anyone's time. The rape has no right to make me feel dirty, or embarrassed about who I am, ashamed of what happened, or afraid to touch others. Most importantly, the rape has absolutely no control over the direction of my life and the plans I choose for my future. It does not define who I am or what I am capable of.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.