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Everyone around me is smiling about their graduation parties and their senior trips. They have plans to travel; girls are going to Ocean City together, housing with their best friends. Rich kids are backpacking across Europe together in pairs, to France and Germany and England and everywhere in between.
On June 2, when I graduate, I am going to disappear. I will delete my social media, I will change my phone number, I will drive 40 minutes to my new job every day. I have avoided people coming to my house. My parents have never cared to make friends with other parents. I will be the ghost of our school.
My two “best” friends, who believe they have earned the right to call themselves so, will be blindsided. My casual friends, who think all of my foreboding jokes are simply my means of entertaining a hungry audience, will be puzzled by my absence. (Perhaps I am flattering myself; I think this is realistic, though.)
I’m a 17-year-old girl, and I cannot wait to kill my old self for good. I’m mostly dead already from these high school years.
Imagine me, a little freshman. I am naîve and anxious to fit in. My smile still reaches my eyes. I am so eager to please. I go to football games, and Eat n’ Park afterwards, too! Sure, I’ll buy you a milkshake. Sure, I can give you a ride home.
I am raped two weeks after my 15th birthday. I walk home two miles alone, bleeding, and sit on the shower floor for three whole hours, waiting for the flow to staunch. I tell my friends and they either laugh in my face or tell me that I had it coming.
The Girl Who Cried Rape, accompanied with a mocking tone or a soft laugh. Ridiculous little baby, the youngest of my group, stupid and senseless. The everything of my life is a punchline to everyone else.
I shattered into a million pieces. I left school for an entire year. I spent 11th grade in and out of hospitals; if only I could embrace my younger self, the half-girl with one foot in the grave, and whisper, “Stop looking at the hallway; no one comes to visit you. Stop glancing hopefully as the door creaks; they don’t even ask where you’ve gone for weeks.”
When I do not smile, I am the buzzkill. When rape jokes make me flinch, instead of howl with one hand pressed to my stomach, I am a party-killer. (Apparently, being raped after a party is just added ambiance?)
I look at all these smiling faces, people who I have known since kindergarten, and I feel nothing but tired. I dragged myself away from death. I said the affirmations and went to therapy and healed by myself. I am going to a good college with a scholarship because of me.
No one, least of all the people who laughed in my face, will ever get to witness my accomplishments. No one will have the privilege of knowing me as I return to my old self. I have been alone since the two weeks after my 15th birthday, and I will be alone this summer.
That seems sad, but I promise you – the idea that I am blooming because of my hard work, in spite of the taunting and the rape and the dark days, brings me more happiness than any false friendships could ever provide.
And I am. Blooming, that is. I can feel the sun on my face.