Iwas raped in the fall. I was 17. He was my first boyfriend. I imagined he would bring me single red roses, shower me with compliments, and love me forever, like in Hollywood movies. He didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he manipulated me into having sex with him, and then, one night, raped me. I did not call out to his family sleeping next door for rescue. Rather, I tried to talk him out of it, and, when that didn’t work, made up excuses for him and took all the blame on myself: He was drunk; I should not have forgotten the keys to my apartment. When he broke up with me a month later, I cried my eyes out.
I was raped again the next year. Again in the fall. And they say lightning never strikes twice, I thought, as he put on a condom and stuck his penis into me. I had been flirting with him for a while. He was quite older than me, which made me feel secure and protected. Earlier that day, we had coffee together, and he had offered me a ride home. Then he took the wrong turn. It made no sense; if he had only been patient for a little while longer, I would have given him all the sex he wanted. Ten years passed since that night before I was introduced to the concept that rape isn’t a crime of passion, but a crime of control.
On that night of the second rape, I made an important decision: I did not want a body any longer. It had reacted to the perpetrator’s touch! “Oh,” he had exclaimed, “you are wet, you must want it, too!” At that moment, I switched off my body and, like a child letting go of the string of a balloon, let my mind float up to the star-studded sky.
After he raped me, he dropped me off in my neighborhood. I did not start crying until I was in my bathroom with the door locked behind me and the water in the shower on. The next morning, I stayed out of school with a fever, and that was it. Life went back to normal.
I have had two different lives since early childhood. On the outside, I was the quiet and serious child, the obedient daughter, the straight-A student; on the inside, I was consumed by this vast, unnamable pain that I would pour out on the pages of my diary and in poems.
I tried hard to be Superwoman, and I was convinced I had everyone fooled, until my mom told me that some day I would have to stop stuffing all my emotions inside or I would explode. I would scoff at those words. What did she know?
I moved away to attend university the following year. There, I was molested by a guy in the elevator. I screamed for help when it stopped on the third floor, which scared him, and I kicked him as he was exiting; he gave me a black eye. But I had attempted to protect my body, and that made me feel powerful. In the shopping mall one day, a friend had to hold me back as I lashed out at a man who said something to me I did not hear.
Two years into a marriage that kept failing to deliver the happily-ever-after we expected, I was in my first yoga class and I was instructed to feel my feet on the floor. The shock of the realization that my body was still here was incomprehensible. Six months after that yoga class, my gynecologist admitted failure in finding a physiological reason for the pain I was experiencing during sex. I finally succumbed: I had had enough of running and living in constant fear. I called the Rape Crisis Center.
I have been seeing a counselor there religiously, every week, for almost two years now. Recently, I started attending a support group as well. On my last trip home, my mother disclosed to me that she had non-consensual sex with my father. I knew then why I had never learned to value my body.
Cliche as it sounds, for me, healing from sexual assault is an ongoing journey. It took time for me to allow myself to feel anger, to grieve the loss of what was taken from me, to learn to recognize and respect my needs, to say no, to take responsibility for taking care of myself. Yoga helps me get reacquainted with my body. Creative arts provide me with a channel to express the intense anger and pain that my body is slowly releasing. It has been a long, winding, rocky road, and I have not always been looking forward to the next turn. I’ve learned to sit with my own resistance to the process. It is teaching me patience and kindness toward myself.
My mother used to say that, once I learned to talk, I never stopped. I’d always raise an eyebrow to that comment-I could detect not even trace amounts of openness in me. Now, when I hear her compare her first gregarious grandchild to me when I was his age, I am willing to believe I might have been like that. I am determined to reclaim my openness and curiosity from my past. I’ve found the desire in me to trust others again-the part of me that yearns to reach out and connect with fellow human beings has survived. I am proud to be a survivor.