This week is supposed to be a time for patriotic celebration; a time for fireworks, barbecues, and unfortunate flag-like fashion choices. That said, for me, this week marks more than our country's 236th birthday. Allow me to explain.
On July 6, 2007, I was raped. I was pushed into the backseat of my car and told to "Shut the *bleep* up" as a man I had once considered a friend forced himself on top of me... and then into me. After trying to fight back and then blacking out, I eventually awoke only to find my pants around my ankles, blood pooling out and around me, and the back door by my feet wide open. I was alone, empty, and no longer a virgin. I was also determined to keep all that had just happened one big, fat secret -- and I did, for the next year and a half.
Entering my freshman year of college at New York University, I was certain that a new city and new people would result in a new life. Well, I was right... just not in the way that I had initially expected. You see, when I was first raped, I thought I would be able to take this "secret" to the grave. No one had to know, and no one would know. And then I moved to New York. I moved to a city filled with millions of people, yet the only face I saw on the streets was that of my rapist. No, it wasn't actually him, but my fears, my deeply rooted fears of running into this monster of a man, were haunting me. They were making me make-believe his existence -- a mirage of sorts that made me feel exposed, mentally insane, and ashamed. What was going on? Why couldn't I escape this man? This secret?
I distinctly remember one afternoon: I was walking back to my dorm after some Welcome Week event when all of a sudden, I thought I saw his face -- eerie smile and all. I panicked. With my heart pounding out of my chest, I turned around and ran as fast as I could down 4th Avenue, all the while yelling, "Move, move!" Fifteen blocks later, I finally stopped running. My brain was numb and my legs felt like jelly. As I plopped down on the cool cement, I thought to myself, Why are you sitting on this dirty New York sidewalk when you should be sitting on your clean dorm-room desk chair?! Why did you just run away from nothing? And then it hit me. I was sitting on a dirty sidewalk because I was too scared to face my fears. I was sitting on what was likely a disease-infested slab of cement because I continued to try to run away from my fears.
Soon after that, I picked myself up off the ground, hailed a cab, and went home. As I walked into my dorm room, I knew what I had to do. As ready as I'd ever be, I walked over to my then-roommate (and now best friend) and told her that when I was 18, I had been raped. Reacting in the most compassionate, empathetic, and truly supportive way possible, my roommate held my hand as I cried and told her each and every detail. I'll never forget that moment and, more importantly, I'll never forget how she made me feel afterwards. Rather than ashamed and embarrassed, she made me feel strong, safe -- fearless. And over the course of that school year, I started to actually become comfortable with the fact that I had been raped. I started to tell other people and, soon enough, found out that I was far from alone.
Nevertheless, it wasn't until Thanksgiving weekend of my sophomore year that I finally found the courage within to tell my parents about my being raped. Looking back, I probably didn't tell them in the best way possible, but in the end, all that really mattered was the fact that they knew, and that after they knew, they just loved me like none other. The other important result of telling my parents that I was raped? The fact that I was finally free. I no longer had to make up excuses for the fact that I hated to drive alone at night; for the fact that I hated being alone with men, potential boyfriends included. I was free to just be me -- rape victim and all. Actually, I take that last part back: not rape "victim"; I don't like that word. Instead, I like to think of myself as a rape "survivor," because that's what I am -- a survivor. This is because, rather than just live through this horrible event, I survived it. I faced my fears of being judged, labeled, and seen as "dirty," and you know what? I've never felt more loved, happy, and like me -- ever.
So, like I said before, this week I will not only be celebrating America, the land of the red, white, and blue. Instead, I will be celebrating myself, my journey, and the fact that, over the past five years, I've gone from fearful victim to fearless survivor!
If you or someone you love has been raped and you would like to talk to someone about it, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, or visit the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network's website by clicking here.
For more by Lindsay Simone, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.