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I Am Beautiful Now

It all transpired the summer that I turned 16. This was a rough summer for me already, as it was also the summer that I had started menstruating. That’s a hard time even without having experienced such ugly things. I was a late bloomer, and embarrassed at how late a bloomer I was. I was even a little jealous of my friends who had already started experimenting with boys, when I had only had one fleeting kiss on the lips at 14.

That summer was rough also because I had recently decided to refuse to take anti-depressants. I’d been on the stuff since I was 5, and decided I was just sick of taking these medications and didn’t want anything to do with them. So on top of the natural chemical changes going on in my body, I was also coming down off these awful medications, and my brain was going through all sorts of craziness, I’m sure. But I went a little wild that summer, getting into big fights with my parents and my younger sister, pushing away what few friends I had. I ended up running with the “bad” crowd of girls who were in my neighborhood, all also ostracized for being non-Mormons, and all of whom already were sexually active and drank and did all the stupid stuff teenagers do.

One night they convinced me to try drinking with them. An older man, about 24 or 25 I think, had purchased the alcohol for our party. He himself did not encourage me to drink to excess, but my other friends did. I’d never drunk before and had no idea what my limit was, which they thought was oh-so-amusing. They’d pour me about 4 shots worth of vodka or rum at a time and tell me to shoot it, assuring me I’d be fine and this was the normal amount to drink.

Well obviously that was much too much, given my small stature and inexperience with alcohol. At one point — the memory is very, very hazy — I remember the man who had bought the alcohol lured me downstairs. I think he put me on a table, although my memory is so fuzzy that I can’t really remember. The details I do remember are embarrassing and brief, like when he realized his penis wouldn’t fit in me when he was facing me, so he turned me around and tried from behind. But I didn’t want it, and I was too drunk to fight him off me, or even really protest very much. My protests probably just sounded like incoherent babble and moans.

Anyway I was devastated. I passed out soon after that happened and someone the next morning told me I’d gotten alcohol poisoning and that one of our friends had spent the night with his fingers shoved down my throat to make me vomit. I woke up with no shirt or bra on, and someone else’s pajama pants, with the bloody stains of my virginity on its crotch.

I spent a week or two in mortification, crying all day and night, trying to cope with this loss. I was actually a very religious Christian girl, and I’d wanted to save my virginity so that I could stand pure before God and my future husband on the altar of marriage. I am not religious any more but it was very important to me then. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it with anybody. My parents still don’t know, nor does anyone in my family except maybe my younger sister, who knew some of the same girls that had invited me to that party.

The next part is so much uglier, and it’s a story that I have never told to anybody. Not a single soul. Not any lover, not any therapist, and I try my hardest to hide those dark corners of my mind even from myself. And I have pushed all the people that knew me from that time out of my life entirely.

So writing this next part is very hard for me. Even in the anonymity of the internet, I realize I am sharing myself at the most intimate that I could possibly be, peeling back all the protective layers I’ve clothed myself in and becoming naked in such a more profound way than in baring my mere flesh. It makes me feel vulnerable.

But after watching Linor’s story just a few days ago, I feel the need like never before to share what happened to me. She talked about the terrible, profound silence that women who are raped experience. And it was so heavy, so emotional for me. I had to stop the documentary several times because it was triggering such old, painful feelings and memories. Two nights ago, I wept for that profound silence, and for myself for living in it all these years. I’m 27 now. That’s 12 years I’ve carried this thing all on my own, trying to pretend to myself and everyone else that it didn’t happen and that it’s not important. But it’s time to break that terrible silence.

One or two weeks after I lost my virginity to rape — I don’t even remember how much time passed anymore — I was invited to another party by those same girls. I mentioned I was a hormonal and emotional wreck before the first rape; you can imagine I was much worse right after that. And so I decided to join them, and drown my sorrows away, only not be so stupid about it this time. And anyway it wasn’t those girls’ fault that I was lured downstairs, and at least I didn’t really remember it very well, and they had told me that man was not going to be at the party. Yes, I was an idiot.

But that night I relived that experience, except it was so much uglier. It started more-or-less the same way, with men parading as friends plying me with what they knew was too much alcohol, but I still did not. Then two of them, about my age I think, took me for a drive. They took turns raping me in the back seat of the car while the other one drove around on remote roads. I was so drunk that I remember trying to beg one of them to use a condom and the word coming out as “plondor.” What a strange, stupid detail to remember.

When we got back to the house I was crying and upset, and there was no doubt they knew I hadn’t wanted to have sex. One of them responded with something like, “Well there’s a big wet spot on the back seat of my car with your name on it.”

I was in some state of disarray at this point, and very upset, so one of the girls took me up to a bedroom and told me I could rest there. Well, guess what. About a half-dozen other men at the party decided they couldn’t be left out of the fun. A couple of guys started it by coming into the room and forcing me to give them blow jobs. Then they started bragging about it to other guys at the party, and soon there was a rotation going on of guys coming in, one after the other, and making me give them blow jobs. At some point my clothes were taken away from me and hidden somewhere else in the house, so that I couldn’t leave the bedroom unless I wanted to barge into the party naked. The sheets, bedspread, and pillows on the bed were also stripped, so that I couldn’t cover myself up at all. I remember just huddling in a terrified ball, trying to make myself as small and as protected as possible, in a corner of the room while these terrible people leered at me. I don’t even know how many blow jobs I was forced to give, but I’m guessing it was maybe 6 or so.

Anyway it was just terrible. It was so much worse than the first time, even though the first time I’d lost my virginity. The girls I’d known that night made it so much worse. They’d gotten some crack story from the guys, and were actually mocking me for “letting guys line up” to give blow jobs to. They made me feel like a slut, like it was my fault or my choice. And the worst part of all is, they protected the identities of the men who were responsible. I told two of them that I thought maybe I was closer to than the others that it was a terrible experience (although I didn’t even tell them the details I’ve told here) and that I wanted to know the names of their friends that were boasting about this even. They wouldn’t tell me, and one of them very bluntly said it was because they didn’t want me pressing statutory rape charges (apparently all of those guys were over 18 years old).

So, that’s how it happened. It changed the person that I was, and brought out such darkness in me that I did not know was there. I have terrible, ugly scars on my left arm and wrist from where I would cut myself, just so that I could replace the emotional pain with physical pain — because physical pain is so much easier. I even tried to kill myself the summer I turned 20, getting much too drunk and taking 300 mg of Ambien. There was more to that than just the rapes, of course, but they were always there, always driving my most destructive moments. My roommate came home that night when she wasn’t supposed to, CPR was administered, and I woke up a couple days later just…tired, and hungry. I wasn’t shocked, or sad, or happy, or anything. I didn’t feel anything at all except a profound exhaustion.

The good part about the story is how far I’ve come since those terrible years. I hated myself for a long time, and have even been tempted to cut myself again sometimes, although I haven’t given in to that demon since I was 19, I think. But I made a very conscious effort to change the things about myself that I hated, to become a better and stronger person, to learn to love myself and to be happy. Today I’m a PhD student in physics at one of the top programs around in a beautiful city. I have had two very loving and very healthy relationships, one of which lasted almost 4 years; I’ve learned to express myself sexually, which was terrifying for me for such a long time. It took me years just to be able to orgasm because I’d had such ugly first experiences. I never even started masturbating until just a few months ago, but now I can touch myself and find pleasure in my body, mind, and spirit.

I have rationalized my silence about my rape by telling myself that the event itself wasn’t important, and that what is important is how far I’ve come since then and how strong I am now — stronger than almost anyone I know. I’m also afraid that people will judge me, think I’m crazy or too laden with “baggage” to date or so on. Everyone can see the scars on my arms, and I’m sure it’s obvious to everyone that they were self-inflicted. So why feed the fuel? And so on. These are the things I tell myself to justify having held this story in silence for over 12 years.

But two nights ago, I wept for this silence, and I need to speak. It’s hard for me to admit it to myself, but I still feel very strongly about that night. I have erased the faces of the men who did this thing to me, and never knew their names, but they loom over me sometimes as terrible demons in my life. Sometimes I’ll be in class, or in the lab, or walking home, and I’ll think about that night and become very distracted and angry for a few minutes before I force myself back into the here-and-now.

And maybe it would help other women, like Linor is helping us, if I share my story, and let other women know that they, too, can grow and love despite what they have been through. For me, I felt my heart reaching out in solidarity with every woman who has shared her story, and let us know that it is the same pain, the same misplaced shame and guilt, that we all feel. That we are not alone in our experiences, and we don’t have to observe that terrible, profound silence.

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