My piece, "Waiting," is part of an exhibit created by survivors of sexual assault. The reception for "Finding Our Voices" will be held Saturday, April 30, 2016 at the Washington Pavilion, 301 South Main Avenue, in Sioux Falls, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm. This opportunity was provided by the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault. Please consider attending.
I’ve painted about the space where I was first raped before, the house near 22nd and Potter in Lincoln where part of me died.
Away from home on my own for the first time, college was supposed to be everything that the small town I grew up in wasn’t—interesting, challenging, new, open. It’s all so clichéd, but I guess clichés have their own births in our existences.
“Waiting” captures, in acrylic and menstrual blood, the experience of waiting for my period after I was raped as a college freshman. It was such a shaming experience for me; I still struggle with self-worth because of that night.
The waiting was terrifying. Never before had I wanted anything so intensely. I became hyper aware of my body and the crime scene I could never leave. What if I was pregnant? How would I explain being pregnant? How would I pay for an abortion? How does that even work in Nebraska? I’d lived there less than two months. This shit wasn’t supposed to happen to me. What did I do to deserve this?
I wish I had gone to the police. I was a prosecutor’s wet dream—there was no torrid past to drag through the mud as far as sexual experiences. A virgin who had never been on a date wearing a pair of Doc Martens, Levi’s jeans, and a purple t-shirt certainly wasn’t being slutty or being provocative.
But there was the detail that I was drinking. I was drunk, very drunk, and I hadn’t pushed him off right away the first time he threw himself on me and kissed me in the living room where everyone else was partying. There was a very distinct memory placed at that moment, when a little voice in my head told me, “You always wanted attention from guys, this must be what it’s like.”
That voice found others, “You should have left right at that moment,” and, “You shouldn’t have kept drinking. Drinking is the only thing that makes you fun, I know, but Jesus, keep yourself under control and this shit won’t happen to you,” and, “Why did you even go to that stupid party in the first place?”
And my personal favorite, “If you can just get your period, we can get past this. It’ll be like it never happened.”
It never occurred to me till many years later that he shouldn’t have raped me.
Last fall, I was back in Lincoln for a couple days to do a half marathon. I did a little tour around town of the old haunts. Somehow, the apartment on H Street was still standing and as I heard a flute in the distance, I knew the weirdo-hippie vibe was still strong. I drove out to the elementary school where I worked at a before & after school program and a little boy asked me to be his mom. His name was Jordan and we drew pictures of the planets and the stars together. I couldn’t resist cruising up to the Taco Bell where I thought taking my top off in the drunken haze after a Beck concert was a stellar idea.
Since the last stop got me back to the north side of town, I drove to Potter Street, circling blocks in confusion until I realized The House was actually addressed on 22st Street, just off Potter.
I parked and I stared.
Never having seen the place in the daylight, I checked out the lawn that needed attention. As the open windows on the second level peered down on me, it became clear just how much The House became a character in my life’s story.
There was a bike locked on the porch so someone lived there, probably still students since it was so close to campus. I hoped they were kind to each other and imagined them cooking dinner in the kitchen that has been engrained in my mind for nearly two decades.
The kitchen where we left the beer bong and all those cases of Busch Light to walk through the living room and talk to people. The living room where I sat on that disgusting couch and I eventually pushed him off the first time. But there was more beer in the kitchen which eventually led to the stairs that I remember falling on and being pulled up, bouncing on the steps as some guy laughed and I shot limply in and out of awareness of myself.
It was all so vivid as I sat and stared, chin resting on my crossed arms on the open car window.
For a few moments, I contemplated walking up the cracked sidewalk and knocking on the door. I wasn’t sure if I could have made up the few cement steps to reach the door, but it didn’t matter because my hands wouldn’t open the car door.
I wanted to pound on the door and tell those kids that a shitty thing happened there. A terrible, shitty thing that made me hate myself and crawl into a bottle for the better part of a decade. A terrible, shitty thing that still makes me believe that I am not worthy of positive attention or love. A terrible, shitty thing that set a course for me to put myself in dangerous situations and surround myself with people who were as sick or sicker than myself. I wanted to cry and scream and pound on the walls. I wanted to run up those stairs and see if I could find the pieces of me that were all broken and lost that night.
But my hands wouldn’t open the car door, so my feet stayed put and when I opened my mouth, I heard no words.
But I realized something.
Part of me did die there.
That’s a fact. Trauma takes a piece of you and part of healing is acknowledging that. There’s a line in the sand of your life with a “BEFORE” and an “AFTER.”
As I stared at the house, I finally realized that more of me didn’t die there. There is a power and fierceness integral to my spirit that may have been torn and subdued for a while, but when the broken parts scarred over, they were stronger than before.
I planned my death many times in the late 90s and early 2000s. Death sounded like relief from the life in which I existed. I still struggle with depression at times and the world feels heavy often. I haven’t had a drink in over 11 years—however you might classify that—sober, well from addiction, or in recovery. Sometimes it feels like I am I recovery from myself.
Having buried many friends due to addiction and death by suicide, I used to wonder why I made it. Why didn’t I follow-through with the plans? Why didn’t I not wake up? There were so many points where I thought I wanted to die.
Some of it just has to be luck.
Some of it is a belief I was supposed to live with these Bitches and tell these stories. To run marathons and do yoga and lift weights. To curse and kick and cry and scream. To help others realize that it’s okay to not be okay all the time.