My grandparents live full-time on an island off of Massachusetts. I’ve spent most of my summers there, and I know the place inside and out. This past summer, during my last week there, my friend Emma invited me to a house party. We went together, showing up around 11:00 p.m.
I have no idea how long I had been there—at least an hour. I had drunk way too much; I wasn’t blackout drunk yet, but wasted. I made my way upstairs to a bedroom where I was relieved to find it empty. I locked the door behind me and crawled onto the bed.
The next thing I can remember was a body standing at the foot of the bed. I was frozen and scared and trying to speak, trying to convince myself it was just a friend, but nothing came out. The feeling of him slowly climbing onto the bed is one I will never forget: the shuffling of sheets, the smile in his eyes, and his hand on my ankle as he crawled towards me. The first time he touched me, his fingers were so cold that they sent a shock through my body.
Words finally came out of my mouth as I trembled and asked, “What are you doing? Please leave.” The only response I received was him quieting me as he positioned himself on top of me. I didn’t hit him or push him off or try to run. I was so confused. Why was I just lying there? But there was nothing else I could’ve done. It felt like the room was spinning around me. I was still wasted, and I didn’t have the power to move my body. I just lay there and asked him to leave. I felt so fucking pathetic.
He began by putting his hand up my shirt, and then suddenly my shirt was off. I felt disgusting as he kissed my lips, my neck and my chest. He started pulling my shorts off, and I lost it. There was no more denying what this was; I completely shut down. I closed my eyes and allowed tears to slowly run down my face as it happened. It hurt a lot. There was no lube or condom, and I wasn’t wet in the slightest bit. He was literally tearing me apart. I lay there and managed to get the word “no” out a couple times, but it was quiet and powerless.
When he finally left, I couldn’t move for what felt like a lifetime. My shirt was off, my shorts were on my right ankle, and I couldn’t find the energy to even grab a blanket. I stayed the way he had left me: arms out and legs spread, pathetic and powerless.
When I got back downstairs, most of the people had left the party already. Emma saw me immediately and followed me out of the house. She was asking me all kinds of questions: What was wrong? Where had I gone? Why was my makeup all over my face? Why was I sobbing? I couldn’t respond, so instead of talking, we just walked toward my house. I never told her what actually happened, but somehow she knew.
When I got home, I threw up for hours. For the entire next week, I got sick whenever my thoughts got too vivid. It was all I could think about, and it killed me. I was, and still am, so sure I locked the door behind me. I remember feeling proud of how smart I was for thinking to lock it. But I couldn’t have. How could he have gotten into the room? Was he there before I walked in? I’ll never know.
A couple weeks later, when I returned to school for my junior year, I was a new person. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to control myself, or that I would start crying or throwing up in front of people. But I could have never predicted what actually happened. I completely blocked out the experience. I didn’t think about it or anything else really. I stopped talking to all of my friends because I was scared they would notice something was off one day and start asking me questions. I found comfort in bad influences—I became really close with two new friends, Kaitlyn and Chloe. They smoked and drank and constantly fucked up. I was only happy when I was under any kind of influence. I took a shot of rum almost every single morning for about two months at school. It didn’t matter to me that I would get caught.
One Tuesday at our school’s morning assembly, somebody announced that an entire day of classes would be dedicated to talking about sexual assault. I lost it and didn’t speak for the rest of the day. When I got back to my room after dinner, all of the emotion that I had been bottling up for the previous couple months came out. I didn’t sleep that night or many other nights that followed. On the rare occasion that I could fall asleep, I sometimes dreamt about my traumatizing experience and woke up sweating and crying, panicking and in real pain. Sleeping only a couple hours a night, or sometimes none, was better than that.
I told a senior guy named Jamie about what happened a couple nights after my initial breakdown. I have no idea why I chose him, but I needed to tell someone. It was really hard for me to get it out; I wrote the whole story out over Snapchat. I still didn’t know how to talk about it, so I typed it in really small bits. I didn’t use the word “rape,” because I had never said or associated that word with my experience.
For the next couple weeks, I texted Jamie whenever I had breakdowns. I just kept telling him how hopeless, pathetic and weak I felt. Soon feeling selfish for putting all my worries on Jamie, I told another guy named Matt who was a great friend of mine. Matt had always been really hard on me, so I was hoping this would be no different. Whenever I talked to Jamie about what happened, he assured me it wasn’t my fault and told me I was strong instead of pathetic. Matt was one of my best friends, don’t get me wrong, but he isn’t exactly a sensitive or empathetic guy. I wanted someone to agree with me, tell me how pathetic I was and how, honestly, it was my fault.
I regretted telling Matt immediately afterwards. I avoided him the next day and even skipped a class we have together. I couldn’t handle looking him in the eyes and knowing how pathetic and weak he thought I was. We never really talked about it again.
After a couple months of not sleeping and not going to meals and sitting in my dorm room crying and wanting everything to just end, I was ready to leave school. I was prepared to do anything necessary to escape. I was so close to just getting wasted and showing up to my advisor’s house in the hopes of getting kicked out. Finally, Thanksgiving break came and I packed up my entire room, fully prepared to never return. But my parents wouldn’t let me stay home unless I “opened up to them.” They knew something was wrong and that it had been for a while. For some reason, it had never occurred to me to tell them—it just wasn’t an option. I returned to school and life got better. I still cried and threw up randomly, but I didn’t dwell on it as much as I did before.
That’s the thing with my experience: I didn’t just heal when the bleeding healed. I think about it every day, somedays a lot more than others. There are still many nights when I don’t get much sleep, whether I’m constantly waking up from a bad dream or refraining from falling asleep because I’m afraid to close my eyes and relive the experience. When I think about it too much, I feel the same pain I felt that night.
It hasn’t even been a year since the party. I am now at the end of my winter term of junior year, and I am a completely different person. I haven’t been myself since. I pushed away my friends, in fear that they would ask me what was wrong. I still don’t sleep enough, and I drink way too much; it’s the only way that I can feel as happy as I did before everything happened.
I just want my life back.
Illustration by Pepper Pieroni