My boyfriend and I had been together for some time, and we were in love — or so I thought. He told me all the time how much he loved me, and how he couldn’t wait to spend every day with me. We were long distance, living roughly an hour and a half apart, but we talked and visited each other frequently, impatiently biding the time for school to end so we could finally be together.
The keys to our functional long-distance relationship were trust and communication. I never expected him to refrain from going out and socializing while we were apart, because I was so rarely there, and he felt the same. So we chose to trust each other, no matter what. I never questioned his motives when he would go out with his friends, and he never worried when I did the same. Maybe that’s why when my friend asked me to join her at a Memorial Day cookout party, I didn’t think twice about going. I had no idea that night would change my life forever.
Coping with the aftermath of sexual assault is exhausting, and frankly feels impossible at some points. What made it harder was watching the person who swore they’d always be there for me walk away.
The party was killer — so much food and so many people, most of whom I knew but hadn’t seen in a long while. It felt good to reconnect with old friends and relax on my long holiday weekend, instead of sit at home and think about how much I missed my boyfriend. As the night went on, more and more drinks were flowing, and everyone was having a good time. My sister, whom I had arrived with, had to leave early, but I chose to stay behind, socialize with my friends, and catch the latest hockey game.
Eventually, the game ended, the night wound down, and people began going home. My phone was dead, but with so many friends around, I wasn’t exactly worried about finding a ride home. I was reluctant when the first offer came from someone I didn’t know that well. He was friends with my friends, but not really a friend of mine; I hadn’t even really talked to him all night. But he did explain he had to head that way anyways, and it was my only offer at the time, so how much harm could there be? After all, if he’s friends with this group of people, he must be a decent person, right?
We didn't drive home in silence — quite the opposite, in fact. I drunkenly cried the entire time about how much I loved and missed my boyfriend. All I could think about was getting my phone charged so I could call him and hear his voice one last time before the beer got the best of me and I had to call it night. When we arrived at my house, I thanked him for the ride. He said that he needed to use the bathroom, and who was I to deny a toilet to someone who went out of his way to help me, a person he didn’t even know that well? Maybe it was my naiveté or maybe he was just too calculating, but either way, I never saw the danger.
The hardest part about my sexual assault was hearing the person I loved the most tell me that he didn’t believe me.
When he finished up in the bathroom, I was on the couch, still drunk and moping about my boyfriend. He sat down, said he had been there before and understood, and let me continue to pour out my ridiculous tears. Finally, I said I wanted to go to bed (only thinking about the charger lying next to it, calling to my phone). When I tried to escort him out, he stopped, and said “Maybe you should have some fun here since he is so far away, get your mind off things.” I paused, mostly in disbelief. Did I really just hear that? I quickly tried to explain that wasn’t my M.O. at all, at which point he drew even closer. I began to feel nervous, and my palms got sweaty, but I believed that there was no way this confrontation would last long. In my experience, guys can be pushy, especially when they know a girl is drunk, but I thought that if I made myself clear he would understand. I tried to not appear so panicked, fake-laughed it off, and offered a quick hug for the not-so-flattering “compliment” and ride home, hoping he would take this as his cue to exit. I was wrong, and what happened next left me in a state of shock, traumatized and in disbelief that someone could ever do something like this. He assaulted me.
I felt fortunate, I guess, that he didn’t hurt me physically, anyway. After I kept refusing, he finally stopped, said, “Geez, fine, OK, sorry,” (as if that made anything better) and then zipped his pants in a huff of frustration — as if I had done him a disservice and insulted his selfless “favor.” I looked him right in the eye, tears flowing, and said, “My boyfriend won’t love me anymore now.” I didn't believe it myself, but at the time, it was all I could think about.
No matter how many times I replayed the tragic scene in my mind, or how many things I told myself I could (or should) have done differently, I had to learn that nothing I did made this happen.
The first thing I did was throw my clothes away and shower — the two things you’re specifically never supposed to do after a sexual assault. I had heard that so many times growing up and hearing about these types of cases. On any other given day, you could ask me, What is the one thing you shouldn’t do after a sexual assault? and I would know without having to think. But something about being in that moment changed everything I thought I knew. I didn’t think about what I knew; I only thought about forgetting it ever happened. Afterwards, I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep, just hoping to pass the time until I knew my boyfriend would be awake again.
I dreaded that phone call, but deep down, I knew I had to tell him. I had to tell someone, and he was the one person I trusted more than anyone on the planet. My eyes started watering the second I heard his voice. I tried talking around the matter as much as I could, tried finding every way to tell him what happened without saying the words I couldn’t bear to muster, but finally, I got the whole story out. I knew that all I needed to hear was his voice telling me that everything was going to be OK, and that I could see him soon. I knew if I could only feel his arms around me, everything would fall back into place and the broken pieces would begin to mend. The seconds spent waiting for that response felt like hours. But it never came.
The hardest part about my sexual assault was hearing the person I loved the most tell me that he didn’t believe me. That some messed-up girl in his past tried to pull the same wool over his eyes years ago and he wouldn’t fall for it again. “I just don’t think I can love you anymore.” The exact words from his mouth. My heart hit the floor. How can someone just say that? After all this time? He was always my refuge, my rock, the one person I trusted with my life, and when I needed him most, he turned his back on me. I spent the entire week on my knees, pleading with God to bring him back to me. I had never felt so used, worthless, abandoned, and betrayed all at once in my life.
Coping with the aftermath of sexual assault is exhausting, and frankly feels impossible at some points. What made it harder was watching the person who swore they’d always be there for me walk away. There were times when I legitimately felt like I could never recover from this.
But I did learn some really important lessons out of all the trauma that transpired: It wasn't my fault. No matter how many times I replayed the tragic scene in my mind, or how many things I told myself I could (or should) have done differently, I had to learn that nothing I did made this happen. The only thing that causes rape is rapists. When my relationship spiraled out of control, I felt so worthless, as though I had been tarnished and I was now no longer good enough for my boyfriend. He made me feel that way, and I had to finally learn that his cowardice did not make me worthless.
Even more importantly, his cowardice made me stronger. I had to learn to face this entirely on my own. I did not have him there to hold my hand when I went to the police station or the doctor. He wasn't there when I spent nights in my room with the door locked, afraid to leave the house. I was the only person that could take care of myself. There were nights when I thought the nightmare would never end, nights when I thought I could not do this alone.
But I did. I don’t know if I could ever forgive my boyfriend for leaving me in my biggest time of need. I don’t know how I would handle it if I ever had to face him again. But his weakness made me stronger, and every day that goes by is another day remembering that I am strong enough on my own.
Image: Dani Morin