“I saw you are famous on Instagram! You look great. I’m sure you are super proud of yourself. Let’s grab a drink sometime.”
From any other person, this message would seem sweet. But opening it up, From: Don
I start to panic. I feel like the room is closing in, and I am frozen, staring at my glowing screen that lights up with words but all I can feel is physical pain.
Don sexually assaulted me at a party in 10th grade. He did things to me that have forever changed how I feel about myself, my worth, my body and my worthiness to be.
I sit there, feeling the ghosts of his hands on my body and his words of entitled boys telling drunk girls, “No one will believe you anyway. Might as well just let it happen.”
I feel the hot tears start to run down my cheeks. I turn on my music, so no one can hear me bawling, just like I did in my bathroom that night in 2001. “No one will believe you. ”
I try to silence myself. I try to remember I’m not 16. I am not fumbling around in the back seat of his car, thinking of reasons to tell my mom why my brand new Abercrombie shirt is ripped. I try to call my best friend. She’s not home. And if she was, she doesn’t even know this Shelby. I think about texting my sister, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I feel alone.
“No one will believe you” is a phrase that plays like a record in my head. It kept me from speaking up. It kept me from getting appropriate treatment and counseling. It made me believe that I deserved it because, who would believe a drunk party girl? I believed it to be true for 16 years. Hell, he doesn’t even believe it happened. Or was he that far detached from the wreckage he caused to another human that he didn’t even think twice before he sent me that message.
I click the respond button. I type and quickly erase things like:
“Do you know how much you broke me? Do you remember tossing me to the side of that bed, and walking right out as if you hadn’t just broken a girl to scream, “who wants shots!?!” How many girls have you done this to after me? Do you think about what you did when you go on your first date with a woman you like? Or when you are about to walk down the aisle? Or when you have a daughter? Do you think about it at all? Because I think about it every time a man looks at me. I think about it every time I look at my daughter. I think about it when I am happy. I think about it when I am scared. I think about it every fucking day.”
But I erase it all. Instead, I delete his message, just like I have tried to delete the ever living monster of a memory of that night in my head every day.
I take a deep breath. I think about how things might have been so different if I would have just said something. If I had refused to believe that I was deserving of what happened to me. I think about how much more whole of a person I would be if I could make it all just disappear like he has done so easily. I think of how it’s affected my relationships. I think about how it has changed how I view the world. I can’t stop thinking, God damn it.
“Think of the positives, Shelby.”
I say that a lot in my daily life. Find the reason for the hurt. The beauty in the breaking. What has this event in my life done for me? And I have a laundry list of things I have written in pretty pink ink, because that makes it more believable, after all. But I won’t list them here, instead I will stop thinking and doing.
So here I am. Doing. Telling you, I believe you. I believe you. I BELIEVE YOU. You don’t have to forget. You don’t have to carry your story around like a bag of shame, getting heavier with each fake smile and empty behavior you use to fill your void. You don’t have to be in this alone.
I don’t know how many other women Don might have done this to. I don’t know if doing anything different would have changed how I feel. I don’t know if I would be a different, better, stronger more whole woman if I had just stayed home that night or made my mom listen or done anything other than carry my shame around for a decade.
But I do know that I am not ashamed. I believe me. He broke me. I fixed me. Yes, Don ― I am famous on Instagram now. And I have a whole gang of women that would like to kick your teeth out for what you’ve done or can relate to my story because they were told, “No one will believe you” too.
And maybe, knowing that I believe them, will make sure one less Don is out there.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.