I know it’s cliche and basic but I’m hopelessly beholden to the charm of a New Year and the promise it brings. There’s nothing I want to believe in more than fresh starts and renewed thoughts of who I might become. I live for dividing lines of Before and After and love that striking clock, like ta da! Clean slate, if you want it.
But New Years also reminds me of something else. Another night, years ago, when the clock struck midnight and there was no Auld Lang Syne or tolerable thought beyond the noise of a train passing near The Hovel. I focused so thoroughly on that sound, as though it were a portkey that could lift me up and out of a room where something was happening that I couldn’t stop.
When it was over, all I wanted to know was what time it was– before or after midnight? A trail of bruises was forming all over my body, but if it was before midnight then I could push them back into the previous year, like something to leave behind and sweep under the rug as before.
I’m pretty sure it was after midnight, though. Because from that point on I’d crossed a new line into a darker sort of after that I’d never fully escape. Not really.
I think people imagine sexual assault victims as looking over their shoulder in an alley or stuffed into the back of a murder van, which is fair. But for me, I was in my own $450/month “house” with my dog in the backyard and my cell phone in the other room.
My friend Sars texted me about an hour afterwards. She was jet-lagged from a delayed flight and knew I’d still be awake.
“Apparently a volcano erupted in The Philippines,” she wrote. “It threw the whole flight off. Can I stop by?”
I wadded my ruined clothing into a ball and shoved it in the corner of my closet, a lie already forming on my lips.
“Sure,” I texted. “Come over.”
I’d showered by the time she got there and I wouldn’t go to the hospital for a few more days. By then the truth had transformed itself into something far more palatable. The sort of thing you can convince yourself to live with– at least for a little while.
I didn’t call into work the next day because that would require me to acknowledge what had happened. When I got there, a coworker enlisted me in her couponing scheme to get as many BOGO diapers as possible from Toys ‘R Us. She drove and I sang along to Beyonce’s Halo, hoping she wouldn’t notice my inability to sit flat on the passenger seat. Only then, for the briefest of moments, did I let myself sneak a peek at what I’d hidden deep in the back of my mind.
He raped me.
It was the nopest of thoughts for a 23 year old who’d been raised to “save herself” and had yet to even find a guy “worthy” of a first kiss. So I banished it from my thoughts. Woo woo, poof! New Year’s resolutions! Fresh starts, good things, go away, don’t think about it, don’t think about it.
Splitting my brain in half was like second nature. Thanks to my father-– a man who transformed damning facts into tidier soundbytes– I was already well-versed in the art of dancing between reality and fabrication. It’s easier than you’d think, so long as the lie you tell is something people would prefer to believe over the truth.
So instead of saying: I was sexually assaulted.
I said: I’m quitting everything and moving to China!
I didn’t want people to think: I deserved it.
So I made them think: I’m a free spirit!
As I’m sure you can imagine, running from the truth didn’t work very well. It followed me, but that’s a story for another time. For now, I just need to say this one thing: Things can get better. Hopefully right now you’re waking up in a pile of empty champagne bottles, filled with hope and fight for the New Year. But just in case you’re not, just in case you’re like “no, I can’t do this” then I need to tell you that you can.
Seriously. If I can do it then anyone can– because I’m stupid about everything. My life choices are like molotov cocktails foisted into already burning buildings, meant to satisfy an innate part of myself that wants to see how much worse things can get before I finally come to my senses and hit the eject button.
If we were to flip through a textbook or some government sanctioned pamphlet for victims I don’t think it would say anything along the lines of “run away to southeast Asia even if you don’t have any money in the bank.” But guess what. It worked out.
Sometimes I look back at the things I’ve been through– or stumble across a file in my office— and have an out of body experience where I look down at myself like “damn girl, you a badass!” But the truth is I almost never feel like a badass. Maybe that’s how it works: we are only ever badasses in other people’s estimation, or in our own gaze, thrown back over time.
So, chin up. Because for all you know you’re living in a moment– or on the edge of a moment– that your future self will one day look back at and be like “Damn, you a badass.”
Happy New Year, humans. Now that’s out of the way let’s do something with our lives.
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