Throughout life, we are often told to be seen and not heard. To be quiet. Not make a scene. We are trained to keep what we feel inside, to never let a trickle of it out of our mouths, because if we do, it’ll turn into a geyser, each word exploding in spasms of hot tears and hot anger. And so we stay seen and not heard. Quiet. Not making a scene. In a way, submissive.
For a while, I stayed seen and not heard. I kept everything inside of me, all my memories, wrapped them together with rubber bands, sealed them in a box, and shut them away in an attic in my mind. I tried so hard to forget. I only went up to that attic at night, when I couldn’t sleep, and I would take my memories out of the box and sort through them. They were like the smell of bleach: harsh and blinding. But I couldn’t help it. My brain kept on going back to the box of memories in the attic in my mind. It just kept on returning, over and over and over again, like it was trying to make me remember every single moment. I had never felt so betrayed by myself. And each time I remembered, I cried into my pillow, and stuffed blankets into my mouth to muffle the sounds of my sobs. I did this for several, bitter nights. Until one day, for whatever reason, it struck me. Why should I have to keep my memories in an attic? Why should I have to stuff blankets in my mouth? For the sake of everyone else? Apparently so, but that is the worst way to live. So I let my feelings trickle out of my mouth, little by little, and now it’s a geyser. But I don’t mind at all.
Two years ago, just leaving my freshman year of high school, I got a boyfriend. Let’s call him Caleb. Caleb and I, I swear, were meant to be together. He made me laugh, knew how to calm me down when I was angry, and was a fantastic listener. At that time, I would’ve done anything for him. So one day, we decide to go to town together. Not necessarily as a date, just to hang out. We had been seeing each other as boyfriend and girlfriend for about four months at that time. So, since I love to read, we went to the library, and he signed us up for a private room after I was done browsing. I wasn’t naïve; I knew we would be making out, and to be honest, I didn’t have an issue with it. It made me feel mature, like I was more experienced than the other girls in my grade. We sat in the corner, just out of sight of the window on the door, so no one could see us. Caleb and I began to kiss, and in about five minutes, his hand started groping my chest, outside of my shirt. I stopped kissing him, and said “no.” He stopped. We resumed our kissing, and before I knew it, he was groping me again. I said a little louder again, “no!”, and he sort of smirked at me and asked, “why?”. At this, my heart froze in my chest. I tried squirming away, coming up with excuses in my head (I need some air, I have to go to the bathroom, my stomach hurts, I forgot I have to buy a birthday present for my sister…), but he pushed me so I was lying down, and kissed me more fiercely, squeezing my chest painfully. I tried pushing him away a little, but he grabbed my wrists and held them above my head. He stuck his tongue inside my mouth, and with the hand that wasn’t holding my wrists, snaked his hand up my shirt, and began feeling up my chest outside my bra. A million thoughts ran through my head: he’s going to rape me… Maybe someone will open the door and help… Oh God, I never should have dated him… And each time he squeezed my chest, I said to myself, the next time he does that, you are going to knee him in the nuts, put up the best fight you can! But each time… I was paralyzed. This went on for about ten minutes, and then my cellphone rang. He jumped off of me in shock, and I ran to the table where I put my phone and answered it. It was my dad, calling to say he was there to pick me up. I didn’t know what to do, so I kissed Caleb goodbye, and went home with my dad. Never, ever have I felt so dirty. When I took off my bra, my chest was red with his hand prints. My wrists were sore. And when I went to bed, I could practically feel his hands slithering over my stomach, gripping my chest, gripping my lungs, until I was suffocating from his touch. I never told anyone. I kept it inside, tucked away in those boxes. All I did was cry. About a month later, we broke up. I never brought it up to him, because I didn’t know what to do. What would I say? I had lost all my self-confidence. I had always considered myself a fighter, and I hated myself for not defending myself against him. When I looked in the mirror, it was all I could do not to scratch every part of my body into oblivion, because maybe if I was bloody and scarred, nobody would ever hurt me like he had again. I changed my wardrobe into baggy t-shirts and leggings, and I never wore makeup. Eventually, I began self-harming. I had done it before, but I had gotten clean, so now, I was dirtying myself again. Dirtying myself the way Caleb had done to me. With every slash, the blood made me forget what he had done, but the scars reminded me that what he did made me feel ugly. And still, I told nobody. I was ashamed, and not only that, but I felt like if I told, I would be betraying him, someone I once loved. Finally, recently, I broke my silence. Caleb and I had become friends at the beginning of this year, getting over the awkwardness of our breakup. As we became closer, I grew more disgusted with myself, that I was letting this person who I thought had tarnished me, touch me again. I told some friends what had happened to me, those two years ago, and they encouraged me to tell my favorite teacher. Telling an adult really helped. Confiding in friends was very nice, but it didn’t make me feel as safe. Then, one of those four friends encouraged me to confront Caleb about it. He had never apologized for what happened, he sort of just smoothed over it, like running a knife over the top of a cake to even out the icing, and I wanted that apology. I wanted to hear him say he regretted what he had done. So I texted him. I told him that I still remember that day, that I was terrified, that I hated myself, that I felt dirty, that I thought he was going to rape me, that I can’t trust guys anymore, that just being in his presence was enough to make me disgusted with myself. Much to my surprise, he did apologize for doing that to me. I was very grateful, and thanked him for it, but while it was nice that he did that, I still haven’t forgiven him, and probably won’t. I have horizontal lines on my thighs to prove how much detest I held for myself. When I take a shower, I now scrub myself until I’m scarlet, because that’s what I did when I got home from the library, to get rid of the feeling of being muddy with his sin. I get goosebumps when men touch me. My shoulders tense when a man I don’t know walks near me. He, as my boyfriend at the time, betrayed my trust, and I don’t think he could ever get it back. However, I am beginning to heal. My confidence is starting to rise, and I no longer self-harm. I still definitely get urges, but it’s getting easier and easier to resist them. There are some days where I do feel tarnished and ugly, but I remind myself that it is not me who made the mistake. I am not at fault. If anything, he is the one who is tarnished and ugly, for thinking that he has the right to do that to someone. But me? I am beautiful, strong, and powerful. Not kneeing him in the nuts, even when I thought he was going to rape me? That doesn’t not make me a fighter. What makes me a fighter is right now, ripping off the duct tape that my shame put over my mouth, letting my words trickle out, and erupt into a geyser. It’s learning how to cry without blankets in my mouth, learning how to sob and scream, pound my fists, let the world know that I’m in pain, that I’m broken, but I can pick up the pieces, even if I cut myself in the process. I am a fighter for speaking out. And if “Caleb” is reading this: You know who you are. You’ll never understand how much you hurt me, how much people like you have hurt others, but at least now the duct tape is off. This is my geyser, full of hot tears and hot anger, and I don’t care if you drown in it.