By Summer McSpirit-Flanagan
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] always thought that the first time I’d come home from college, it would be for Thanksgiving. I had this vision of arriving on my front steps after three months from home, eager to tell my parents about how well my classes were going, to explain to my grandfather how amazing it was to see the Scarlet Knights play football every Saturday, and to whisper to my brother at the table about how great the parties were. I’d be healthy and fit from working out at the gym each morning, I’d have a band of friends who understood me better than any high school friend ever could, and I’d be ready to conquer the world in the way that only a confident, college-age girl like myself could be ready. I’d be a warrior princess.[divider type="short" spacing="5"]
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]I[/dropcap] never thought that the first time I’d come home from college, it would be after three days of classes. I never imagined walking through the front door with the desire to collapse onto my mom’s lap, to avoid the intrusive phone calls from my hopeful grandparents, and to escape the broken glances of my brother, who can only handle so much bad news in such a short amount of time. I didn’t think I’d look so emaciated and pale from a lack of appetite, or that I’d wish so greatly that my high school friends were home to help me through the pain, or that I’d want to drop out of college and hide away from the world for the rest of my life. I never knew I’d be a rape victim.
A week from home had made me miss so many luxuries I never even thought twice about. I still wasn’t hungry, but I finally had the ability to stand in front of the fridge at any hour of the night and know that if I wanted food, I didn’t have to settle for easy mac or ramen. I couldn’t find a way to sleep and avoid the nightmares, but I had a queen size bed waiting for me instead of an extra-long one. I knew I wouldn’t be able to wash away the constant feelings of having been violated, of the dirt and sweat and pain he left behind on me, but I could attempt to do so in a bathtub instead of a communal shower, if that’s what I wanted to do.
I tried. I sat in the bath, lights off, favorite songs playing. It was what I always did when I needed answers. But I still couldn’t find them.
How could I let this happen?
How could I let my stepdad be so worried about my choices?
How could I let my brother, already so deep in depression, find just another reason to lose faith in the world?
How could I let my mother, who assumed her own rape would be the last she’d have to deal with, have to relive her own horrible memories and now worry about the ones I’d have?
How could I let myself be a murderer?
You see, it wasn’t the act of the rape itself that made me want to come home. It was a crisis, for sure, but I had made my way to the hospital, had sat through an invasive evidence exam, and had gathered the courage to reach out to my attacker and inform him I was considering pressing charges. I did this all while trying to maintain the belief that, if I didn’t let it affect my life, my life would go back to normal in just a little while.
But the real crisis was two days after the exam, two days after trying to decide whether or not I’d press charges, and after deciding that, ultimately, I didn’t need to decide any time soon. I was naive to think that I’d end up living a normal college life for any period of time.
The fact that my best friend from high school thought I’d really sleep with her boyfriend behind her back was the first strike (I didn’t know people thought of me as such an untrustworthy person). The fact that she thought I’d use rape as an excuse to cover up my own mistakes was the second (I had no idea that people thought so little of my morals). The fact that my attacker was going to kill himself because I even considered pressing charges, however, was the third and final strike (I could not, and still cannot, believe that people would really consider me a murderer). [divider type="short" spacing="5"]
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]B[/dropcap]y the time the bath got cold and the music stopped playing from my speakers, I had had enough time to think about my decision.
If I didn’t press charges, I’d put other girls in danger of going through the same thing I was going through. I’d run the risk of having to deal with the same quiet regret I’ve watched my mom have to deal with all my life. I’d live my college experience, and my life, in fear, wondering when I was going to see him next and how I was going to have to adjust my life in order to avoid crossing paths with his. And, worst of all, people would assume that I was “The Girl Who Cried Wolf”, the girl who really did sleep with her best friend’s boyfriend, call it rape, and convince him to kill himself.
If I did press charges, however, I’d be making some changes. Sure, I’d have to work through the occasional feelings of guilt, blame, and depression any victim goes through. I’d have to relive the experience to explain it to authorities and the school and any other nosy asshole who decided his or her nose belonged in my business. But, I’d be fighting a culture of rape I’ve spent so much time researching, trying to fight. I’d be teaching other girls that it’s okay to speak up, and that it’s okay to use a traumatizing experience as a way to empower oneself, that talking about it takes away from the power of the experience and the control it has. I’d be proving a point that it’s not okay to let things like this go, and that rapists deserve to face consequences for their actions. My rapist does not deserve to attend my school, to stand three rows in front of me at a football game and laugh in my face when he sees me, to play basketball with friends as I call the police because I think he’s going to commit suicide, to think that he got his way with me and that I’m going to step down and allow him to live his life the way he wants just because he took advantage of me and managed to walk away unscathed the next morning.
[divider type="short" spacing="5"]
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]T[/dropcap]his Thanksgiving is going to be a little different than the one I imagined originally, but I think I’m okay with that. I have this vision of arriving at my front steps after three months of war, eager to tell my parents about how well my battles are going, to explain to my grandfather how I’ve come to be even stronger than those Scarlet Knights on the field, and to whisper to my brother at the table about how I just know that everything’s going to work out okay in the end. I’ll be strong and determined from confronting my demons head-on, I’ll have an army of friends who would never question my morals or trustworthiness like my high school friends would, and I’ll be ready to conquer the world in a way that only a confident, battle-worn girl like myself could ever be ready.