When the Boistrous Lose Their Voice
Updated: Jan 19, 2019
I do not blend in easily. I am nearly six feet tall, with a loud laugh and a personality to match. A friend recently told me that I am impossible to miss in even the most crowded of venues, that the energy with which I surround myself makes it very clear that I am here with the sole purpose of becoming a friend and ally for everyone around me. You can imagine, then, the crippling self-loathing that arose when I found myself unable to speak at the only time it was imperative that I do so.
In the waking hours of a September Saturday, in the grey area between night and day, drunkenness and hangovers, sleeping and waking, I was raped - and there was no grey area about it.
I'll spare you the gory details, only because I wish someone had been there to spare me. I will, however, recount in painstaking detail every thought that crossed my mind as I awoke to my autonomy being ripped away from me. There was fear, there was panic, there was disgust, but above all there was emptiness; to this day, I can't figure out why, when I reached for for something, anything, to help me say, shout, scream "NO," I was met with silence.
My junior year of high school I gave a presentation on the toxicity of rape culture, about the necessity of believing and supporting survivors unconditionally. When my roommate was assaulted our sophomore year of college, I held her while she cried. I attended philanthropic events, became a campus ambassador for a sexual assault prevention program, joined a sexual assault resource app startup, took leadership training courses, got in heated debates, and made it very, very clear to everyone around me that I would use my voice at full volume to protect them. The statistic that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in their college years echoed tauntingly around me as I realized I was the fifth friend in my closest circle to join the club, to earn her stripes in the form of finger bruises on my thighs and hickeys I didn't ask for. "Be an active bystander" rang loudly in my ears as I lay, pinned between a wall and a man I barely knew, one of his hands pulling my hair, the other holding my underwear out of the way. There couldn't have been more than an inch of difference between our heights, but I have never felt so small. "It's never the survivor's fault."
When dawn finally broke, I asked him to drive me home. I got out of the car to hoots and whistles from my friends as they applauded my stride of pride. I walked inside, threw on my game day attire, and spent the rest of the day cheering on my beloved football team. How perverse it felt - hours after not being able to muster even a whisper in my own defense, there I stood, screaming at full blast.
Weeks passed and I didn't say a word about what had happened. I learned to repress and forget, and for a while I almost forgot the whole ordeal. It was just that, an ordeal - something that required a lot of time and effort I didn't have the luxury to expend. I drank, I kissed strangers, I played my music too loud, and I avoided sleep at all costs; I now realize there was a part of me that would rather die of sleep deprivation than worry about waking up facing a wall again.
Then the #MeToo posts started pouring in - declarations of solidarity from friends, old teachers, classmates. Reading each one caused a different scene to surface: opening my eyes and seeing nothing but a stretch of white plaster; the striped pattern on his sheets; the sound of a long-forgotten movie in the background. I looked for excuses, reasoning, anything to justify the night's events, anything to avoid confronting what I already knew to be true. It wasn't until I sat across from one of my best friends and heard her sum up everything I was feeling in a single phrase - "I hate myself for feeling so helpless" - that I knew, yes, me too.
To misquote John Green, I told people the way you fall asleep - slowly, and, now, all at once.