Ever since Brock Turner and his lenient prison sentence became the poster child for rape culture, my email inbox, text threads, and every social media news feed under the sun (minus Instagram, interestingly) has become a hotbed of facts, fallacies, and critiques about the root causes and ramifications of sexual assault. As I’ve listened to these conversations, it’s been impossible not to think about my own rape — that time a co-worker forced himself inside me and I thought, “Maybe this is a mistake” as I became the numerator in that ubiquitous one-in-five statistic.
The man who raped me used his heavy frame to press my sternum into the mattress springs. My vagina was Tatooine-dry as I said No and Stop and Please — just use a condom, and the minute he released a wheezing-dog moan of an orgasm, he rolled off of me and said, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you stay here (a real cherry on top of the rape sundae). I bolted to the door.
All in all, it was a pretty classic rape. Almost.
I did what I needed to do that night to process the experience and take back control of my body. Having the ability to consent to sex with someone else I wanted to f*ck gave me some semblance of control in the chaos and helped me start to accept the unacceptable.
Back in my apartment, I showered, washing my body once, twice, three times, wanting to scrub myself right out of my own skin and away from the chaos that had just become my story. And then, I sent a text inviting another man over, into my bed. I know. I know. I’m a little aghast at myself too, although it makes one hell of a good logic puzzle: If an hour after a girl is raped she’s in bed with someone else by choice, does that mean her rapist was in the right, and she really wanted it?
Of course not.
I’m actually proud of the scrappy girl who looked at the huge pile of rapey-poop that life had just served her and didn’t pull out the pita bread for one hell of a shit sandwich, choosing to take charge and make a stir fry instead. I’d wager that 82 percent of what happens to us in a day is not in our own hands, and on the night of my rape, it felt a lot more like 99 percent. Life deals everyone poop of some kind. And while I’d never wish this kind of poop on anyone, I did what I needed to do that night to process the experience and take back control of my body. Having the ability to consent to sex with someone else I wanted to fuck gave me some semblance of control in the chaos and helped me start to accept the unacceptable.
The sad thing is that whether we're the one-in-five, or the four not affected, we are all in chaos. We all have something in our lives that we can’t control. My 26-year-old friend Whitney was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Mia’s partner of a decade turned to her and said, I don’t think I ever actually loved you. Tarik’s pregnant wife went into a coma caused by a benign brain tumor. Matt’s business partner pushed him out of the business. Leo’s husband suffered a severe concussion. My brother was laid off. I was raped.
And being raped reminded me of how little control I have over my life. Any control we do have comes from what we make out of the poop we're served. Each of us has a choice as to how we take back control.
Rather than focusing on what I can’t change today, I’m going to relish the decisions I can make.
Don’t get me wrong — I give one shit that Brock Turner was released early. What it says about race, gender, and our culture at large is scary. But his release doesn’t change the fact that today might be the day any one of us could be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, delivered a horrible truth, or be run over by a bus (if that’s going to happen, jot me down for a Mean Girls-style bus ending, please). His release doesn’t change the fact that we lack choice about so many other things every single day. Which is why I can’t give two shits about it. I can’t control it.
So rather than focusing on what I can’t change today, I’m going to relish the decisions I can make. I’m going to offer an emphatic “Hell Yes!” to moments and experiences that bring me pleasure, delight me, and make life worth living (hell yes to shoes that sparkle, passing notes to co-workers during meetings, and potentially dumb GIFs). It’s the only way I see to give literal and figurative rapists the literal and figurative middle finger.
Knowing Brock Turner is now free this Friday, I’ll be serenading my office-mates with I Will Survive. Because I did. And I will. And I will do it every day in every way I can, making jubilant choices and exerting exhilarating control whenever life lets me.
Images: Alicia Ostarello