I stared into the dark, corpse eyes in front of me, and didn’t blink. There wasn’t a hint of recognition in the eyes that met mine, even though I had looked into that face and those very eyes since before I could remember. There was nothing in them anymore, no spark, no joy, no life, just the frigid ghost of a shattered soul. Finally I blinked and turned away from the mirror to face another day. This was my reality every ceaseless day my freshman year of college.
Everything about the world I had known came crashing down in one night; I was two months into my first year at the university, two weeks into the run of my first collegiate play, and two beers in at my first college party. Rape changed my world in one night. Through a brutal night of assault and terror, a lengthy reporting process full of betrayal and cruelty, and an even longer and more grueling journey to recovery, rape changed me as a young woman and the overall course of my life.
To begin with, my life changed forever on November 16, 2013. I woke up that day a simple college freshman, a naïve young girl, unaware that I was hours away from an appointment with the devil himself. I killed time during the day until I was called to perform my first lead role in a main stage college production. I was nervous and ecstatic that afterwards was the department cast party at the house rented by a couple theatre majors. After the performance was finished, my new college best friend and I got ready and found ourselves on our way to the party. The first sips of alcohol were a fire, searing my throat, tearing coughs from my chest, but I continued to drink. As my blood alcohol content rose higher, my inhibitions dropped ever lower. Sober, the concept of leaving my drink unattended would have never even crossed my mind; but, after a couple drinks through my rose-tinted beer goggles, I was surrounded by a crowd of loving friends who would certainly watch my drink closer than I would. I left for the bathroom; my drink remained on the counter. Five minutes later I was sipping my drink again, ten minutes later my lead-filled limbs were stumbling to the floor, 15 minutes later I was being set on a bed to “sleep it off,” twenty minutes later the door was cracked open again, a lifetime later, a guy I thought was my friend dumped my hastily clothed body on the living room couch, and through the drug-induced haze I cried.
Despite my pleadings that I would not wake up the next morning, I did. I had been found in the living room by a girl I barely knew, and even though I could not move on my own, and could barely speak through the fog of the drugs and incoherence of my sobs, she understood what had happened. She gathered the people she was responsible for driving home and had them help load me into her car to be taken to her home. I woke up the next day, eyes stinging, body aching, holding a piece of pizza that had been placed in my hands. I remember almost nothing about the days that followed.
After emerging from the shock of what had been done to me I succumbed to the horror that is reporting such a crime. I was mocked and sent away in a wake of disbelief after I approached the police. Unwilling to allow justice to be forgone, I reported my assault to the university. During the months of hearings, appeals, and endless invasive questions (ex: "What were you wearing?" "What do you have to gain by damaging the academic career and reputation of such a fine young man?") I retold and relived the plot of my nightmares over and over again. I was horrifically betrayed by droves of “friends,” hypocrites and liars, who claimed the shield and banner of feminism while standing in support of the man who had all but smothered out my life with a pillow in order to silence my pleas for salvation. I received death threats from former BFF’s, I had to be escorted by security out of the hearings in order to avoid the people who had gathered to jump me. I lost my safety, I lost my school, and during that time I almost lost my sanity. After moving back home in brokenness and fear, I received the news. Shaking, sobbing, and fearing for the worst, I answered the phone call that informed me my attacker had been found responsible for sexual misconduct and was to be suspended from the university. As he was an international student, this meant that he would lose his education visa and was going to be forced to leave the country. It was far better than he deserved, but it was the best news I could have possibly hoped for.
At the same time, I was struggling to fight my way through the journey from victim to victor. Without the appeals and hearings to distract me I was left alone with the destruction in my spirit. I was gone. I was a shell of who I once was. I lived a broken life, listless and uncaring, I waded through the mud of the day to day. My only reprieve was when I traded my colorless consciousness for a slumber filled with nightmares. Over time I began to heal. I realized what had happened to me was an aspect of my life, not a redefining of who I am.
After coming to a point at which I had broken down and sought help from a higher power, I realized for the first time that I was not destroyed, I was not damaged goods, and I was not ruined by what I had gone through. In the days following that encounter beyond description, I walked into a tattoo parlor, cash in hand. Now, imprinted on my left forearm in indelible ink are the words “not broken.” The lie that I was a broken woman had circulated in a cacophony of torment through my mind every second of every day, and still does on some days; but, forever on my forearm I have a permanent reminder that that lie is false. Two years after the day that my life was forever altered, I stand tall, unburdened by the shame of another’s deplorable actions, a junior in college when if I had had my way I would not have lived through my freshman year, a married woman who had thought she was damaged beyond loving.
In essence, I was hurt, but I had justice, I was broken, but I was healed. I stare into my mirror each day and see blue eyes full of spark, full of joy, and full of life to be lived. I look forward and I see a beautiful life worth living, a wonderful husband who will never allow the words on my forearm to be doubted, and a future filled with the laughter of children to come, the tears of overcoming new tragedies, and the endless possibilities in all that is the future.