I remember this time when I was about 12 years old, while at the pool, and a boy, who was more like a young man, was dunking me in the water. I remember it was all fun and games for the first few dunks. It was around the third or fourth dunk that things got weird. He began holding me longer and much tighter against his body, before dunking me.
The next thing I knew, I began feeling something super unfamiliar. It was clearly inside of his shorts, in between his legs, and it was suddenly rubbing up against my thigh and butt. It was the last time I allowed him to dunk me, when, out of nowhere, instead of throwing me in the water, he forcefully snatched my hand and stuffed in his swimming trunks.
As he moved my hands down his trunks, toward the hard thing in his pants, I began to pull my arm back, scared and disgusted. He held on tighter. I pulled away even more. I bawled my hand into a fist, to deter him from putting my fingers on his ‘stuff’ and finally, he let go and I pulled my hand out of his shorts.
Petrified and profoundly confused, I allowed him to finish dunking me and while still under water, I swam as far away, as I could. I then, found my cousin, who was 14, and told her what he did. She told me that he was getting a hard on (something I didn’t fully understand) and that he was using me to play with himself. She wanted to go back and confront him, to let him know he wasn’t gonna get away with sexually molesting her younger cousin.
I was too freaked out and scared. And believe it or not, looking back now, I was so deeply ashamed. I was absolutely sure I did something to make it happen. Thus, I begged her to leave it alone. I told her it was okay, I was fine and he didn’t get to really do anything, anyway. I remember not understanding what anything that had happened, actually meant. But based on her reaction, I knew what had happened was wrong. Extremely wrong.
And I knew that the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach, though indefinitely indescribable, validated the wrongness of what had just happened to me. What I wasn’t able to process just yet, was that what happened wasn’t my fault and in fact, I did nothing to initiate, welcome or deserve the violated feeling I had all over my body.
I remember another time, when I was 17 years old. I had just picked up my gown for senior prom, was stranded all the way in Queens and needed to be at work, in downtown Manhattan, in less than an hour. Out of nowhere, as I was walking, a cab pulls up, asking if I needed a cab ride. I said yes, got in and directed the driver to the train station.
The driver begins talking about any and everything, all the while driving incredibly slow. He moves swiftly into a monologue about how beautiful and sexy I am. Highlighting how sexy I am, as we’re driving down some back street that I barely recognize, he leans behind him, toward the back seat where I am, and begins caressing my thigh with his right hand.
I freeze. I have no idea what to do. I’ve been told that the people you never piss off are your hair stylist or barber and your cab driver; shoot, he could veer off in some random direction, drive me to a remote place and kill me, for all I knew.
Immediately, I began thinking of ways to get out of what is quickly becoming a scary situation. Should I tell him to stop the cab now? Should I tell him to stop touching me? What if he doesn’t listen? Should I just try to jump out the cab? Is this the reason he’s going the long way to the train station? Is he even gonna take me to the train station?
I ask him to drop me off where we are, as I can walk the rest of the way. He insists on driving me to the train station and even, begins suggesting driving me all the way to Manhattan. All the while, he’s telling me that it’s okay for him to touch me, that he isn’t gonna hurt me and I have nothing to worry about. This of course, is in response to me pushing his hands off of my thighs and breast.
We finally make it to the train station and as dirty and revolted as I feel, I am still alive, in one piece, so I made it. Or so I thought. When I went to pay him, he smiled at me, with one of the most twisted smiles I’ve ever seen, and insisted, “It’s fine, no need to pay. I give it to you for free.”
Was it really free? Or had I juts paid for it with ‘free’ rubs on my body? I got out of the car, leaving inside of it, what was left of my dignity and self-respect, and walking away, not so much in one piece.
It wasn’t until I got to work, that I broke down. I didn’t even expect to do it. But, as everyone went goo goo, ga ga over my dress, I began realizing how dirty, ashamed and downright inhumane, I felt. An old cab driver had just violated me and my body.
And this assault, coming three years after my rape, was something that paralyzed me, instead of empowering me, as I had expected. You see, too many women spend too much time talking about what they would do if anyone ever tried to attack or rape them. Unfortunately, that’s all it is, talk.
As with any life situation, you truly never know what you’re gonna do, until you’re in that situation, prepared to do it. So is the same with rape. One may never know how it really might go down if they were raped, until, God forbid, they’re raped. I was no different.
Before I was raped, I was sure I would fight back, scratch, kick, bite and do what ever else to get that person off of me. In reality, I did none of the sort. I froze, instead of kicking him, as I envisioned. I whispered, instead of screaming, like I foresaw. I cried, instead of biting him, like I predicted. I walked away without my self-worth, respect and pride, instead of stealing it back with the vengeance I presumed I would have.
In this situation with the cab driver, it’d happened all over again. I thought I would be strong enough to fight him or anyone else, from violating me and my body, ever again. Instead, I froze again. I was sure that, having been raped and fully comprehending a realistic scenario in which that could happen again, I was fully prepared to ward off any future attacks, with ease. I was in essence, a pro, or so I believed.
So, as I sat there at my job, reflecting on what had just happened to me, or as I saw it, what I had just allowed to happen to me, I began bawling. There was no way I couldn’t blame this one on me. People would, and did, ask what I was doing while he touched me.
And I knew, in the backs of their minds, they were wondering why I didn’t fight, scream, kick. Why did I just stay in the car? Why didn’t I run to a police officer or call 911, as soon as I stepped foot out of the cab? Why did it take me all the way till I got to work, to react to what just happened to me? Why, was the question.
I could name far too many stories, in addition to this one, where my body was violated by someone, and I walked away carrying the guilt, sadness, shame, self-hatred and full blame for the assault.
It is only now, during the past week, that I realized and came to terms with the dozens of complexes I have developed from my vast experiences with sexual assault, rape, molestation and harassment. In such, I write this piece, in effort to make peace with my tortured sexual past.
As I continue to seek and engage in relationships with people, that sometimes include sex and sexuality based behaviors, I consider how this past has affected the way I deal with relationships now. For instance, I associate being cheated on with, being sexually violated.
As difficult as it may be to understand, I relate the feeling of being raped and inherently, my stolen choices, with the feeling of stolen choices from my partner. I have difficultly separating the difference between stealing my choice to have sex with you, and stealing my choice to be with someone who is involved with another person.
In fact, anytime I am lied to in a relationship, I feel betrayed and violated, the same way I have when my body has been taken advantage of and violated. Thus, my reaction to being lied or cheated on by a partner, in the least, is often overzealous and unhealthily exaggerated.
I’m clearly a bit screwed up, to say the least, lol. But I am still here! I am alive, still breathing and kicking! I made it. Through dozens of experiences with being violated, degraded and devastated by sexual assault, I still stand! Stronger, wiser and far more majestic.
I can say this because I made due with what I was given, until I could make more. Time after time of watching my self worth and dignity get further and further away from me, I examined myself, as I continued to shrink in size and life. And yet, I never stopped fighting to reconquer the pieces of myself that were stolen, each time I was assaulted.
So, how do I get through it?
I have not, by far, reconquered all of those pieces. Nonetheless, I work hard everyday, to steal them back, piece by piece. I never forget that if I survived, I surely can maintain and move on, past my tortured past. I always acknowledge what happened to me, whenever it is called upon to do so. Unlike that day at the pool, I no longer downgrade the severity of my past with sexual assault. Nor do I make excuses for my abusers.
I make sure to add no internalization to what I experienced, accepting that despite me having to deal with something like this, it has nothing to do with me personally and more to do with the world I live in, philosophically.
I tell my story every chance I get, testifying to my survival and triumph over some of the world’s worst evils. In midst of, so many other things, the most important thing I have done, still do and will continue to do, is keep going. I never stop. Never stand still. And never give up.
I thank God that my battle with sexual assault has and continues to make me stronger, as I am fully aware that people who experience sexual assault are more likely to contemplate suicide, have PTSD and experience depression. Far too often, if people do survive the rape, they are unable to survive the aftermath of mental illness and/ or the contemplated or attempted suicide, that follows.
So, for anyone that is blessed to read these words, following a traumatic experience with being raped, molested, or sexually harassed, among other things, please know that you can make it. That you will make it!
Know, even if you can’t fully believe it, that this is not your fault. That, you didn’t deserve this. That, you are as beautiful as you’ve always been, despite the blemish you continue to see when you look at yourself now. And most of all, even if you can’t or don’t know how to love yourself right now, always remember that I love you! I truly do!