The cutting cold of the night numbed my cheek as I lay against a pillow of snow. My head was heavy—I could not lift it—but my eyes could still look around from my quiet place on the ground. No one. Silence. Maybe the faraway hum of traffic. Maybe a street light casting a yellow shadow on the parked cars. Maybe the taste of acidic peppermint in my mouth. I was glad to be alone. The crowd had become too suffocating.
Someone’s parents were gone for the weekend, so a bunch of us decided to have an older brother buy alcohol. The one who smoked Camels and drove a Camaro. Boys in puffy coats sat around a kitchen table and played cards, and girls in white jeans and turtle necks stood around sipping wine coolers.
A couple of the boys were like me (needed more) and got a bottle of booze all to ourselves and started drinking it like it was water. After an hour of chugging too much of the sharp, peppermint liquid that burned my throat as it went down, that familiar spinning and heat in my head started. No one ever teaches you how to drink responsibly. I was feeling flushed, dizzy, and needed somewhere to go. Anywhere that wasn’t there. I needed a place where the walls and floor and everything would stop spinning.
It was cold out, but it felt good. So soft. I sunk down into the whiteness as I dropped to my knees and hit the ground, then fell over slowly on to my side. No one knew I was out there, and that was perfect because I was still trying to keep up appearances. I was still a “fun drunk.” Cool, funny, charismatic. My drinking (or what I wanted to show of it) was in control. I was in control—for a freshman girl in high school.
A moment, I remember thinking. I will lay here for just a moment.
Then, He Found Me
I’m not sure how many moments I was outside. After some time (could have been minutes, could have been hours), he was kind enough to find me and bring me inside. He held under my arm with his arm, guiding me through muffled laughter. He pulled me up the short stairwell to the bathroom. I was so grateful for the help. I started feeling a pit in my stomach churn and knew I needed to be there.
Then, he kindly waited, holding my hair back and stroking my head sweetly like my grandpa used to do when I was sick as a kid, while I held my head over the toilet. Almost half a bottle of Blue 100 and now it was coming back up violently along with the little bit of dinner I had eaten earlier.
After I was completely empty, utterly spent, and still swirling-nauseous, I stood up and grabbed onto the sink with both hands. I tried to look at my face in the mirror, but my head fell heavy down. His face came in to focus, and he was smiling. He helped to turn on the water so I could get a couple drinks with my hand. My thirst was maddening. The cool felt so soothing on my lips, traveling down my throat and into the empty place the alcohol had left. I was starting to feel just a little bit better. I turned towards the bathroom door to leave. But he reached around me and locked the door.
I could hear the laughter coming in from under the doorway and could see shadows and movement as the walls continued to spin around me. I think there are people outside, I remember thinking but not having the ability to speak. I wanted to say something, but my voice froze like black ice. My eyes strained to find something to hold onto as he lowered me to the ground softly and climbed on top of me. My sight came into focus for a moment, and I caught notice of my hair moving back and forth across the cold bathroom floor.
Everything happened like it was happening to someone else.
Then, Morning Came
The next morning, I stood in the kitchen listening to my parents tell a story about their dinner the night before. They went out with friends. Pizza. Someone’s daughter was doing so well. Someone’s son just left for boot camp.
My brother came in and out of the room, wearing his workout clothes, getting ready for a run. Sipping water. Making peanut butter toast. All I could think about was how I could sneak into the woods for a cigarette, my usual trick of fastening a makeshift cigarette holder using a pipe cleaner or paper clip so my fingers wouldn’t be stained by the smell all day—would this work today? Because I really needed this to work today.
The phone rang, and my heart dropped down into my feet.
It was his friend.
“Hey,” I muttered.
There was silence on the phone. I looked at my parents who were continuing to tell their story and my brother who was doing calf stretches by pushing up against the marble counter top.
“So, he wanted me to call you.”
My heart was pounding, and I started to have a glimmer of hope.
Maybe he wanted to start going out with me, I thought. He was, after all, one of the popular sophomores. He had only the prettiest girlfriends, the ones who had all the newest clothes and drove Grand AMs or red Cavaliers and whose parents let them wear eye liner and dye their hair blonde all seasons of the year.
“He just wanted to…”
All of a sudden, I felt like I was choking. My chest tightened up, and I got lightheaded. I saw flashes of the night before and all at once it was all too overwhelming. As I started to hang up the phone, he said:
“Don’t call him.”
“Oh—okay,” I whispered, and the receiver clicked into place.
I walked to the counter where my cereal bowl sat with the milk I had just poured in it.
“Who was that?” my Dad asked.
The cereal was soggy and floating in the milk. I put the spoon into the bowl and swirled it around once and walked over to the sink and poured it down. My brother left for his run; the door closed behind him. My parents kept telling their stories from the night before, and I silently made my way down to my bedroom and closed the door.
Over the years, there was a lot of pain that came from this one moment.
This Is What I Would Say to the Man Who Raped Me
If I could talk to the man who raped me, I would say this:
After you scooped me up in the snow bank and took away my dignity, I began to hate myself—though hate is not a strong enough word. There are no words. I was consumed by such a destructive self-loathing that the little girl I once was disappeared. The drinking intensified. Then drugging. Disordered eating. Toxic relationships. Anything that could temporarily take me away from my self and to a quiet place of numbness. Anything I could do to hurt myself more so that the pain I inflicted made me forget about the pain that you caused.
When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t make eye contact with the woman staring back at me. Who was she? Broken, Dirty, Whore. There were lots of names I’d call her. For years, I wanted to hide away, even from myself. Safely tucked behind baggy flannel shirts and baseball caps—anything that could let me get by unnoticed. Even being looked at by strangers felt like a taking away. Everything was a threat.
What I once had, a shining self-confidence that loved to laugh and dance and share, was replaced by an overpowering fear. When I thought of you, I trembled. I could barely enter a room full of people, let alone speak. It took almost all the strength I had to lift my eyes to notice the world around me. I was trapped, overwhelmed by darkness, and I didn’t know if I would ever be free again.
You also helped begin a tragic cycle of disregard for the sacredness of my body. Years of letting my temple be degraded, beaten down. Destroyed.
Years of sick relationships, allowing the trauma to get stuck on repeat again and again and again like a bad song that you can’t get unstuck from your mind. And having it—sexual assault—happen again. When what is precious is taken so young, why cherish it? Why protect it? Is it not meant to—aren’t I only good for what you want of me and nothing more? Isn’t this what I am supposed to do? Stop fighting. Stop saying “no.”
Now, I Forgive You
But despite the pain and darkness and what I have lived through because of it, this is also what I would say to you, the one who raped me when I was 14 years old: I forgive you.
While I couldn’t see it at the time or for years after, I know now that you, too, came from a broken place and perhaps are still there. After all, we were both teenagers at that party drinking. We had our reasons for drinking so much, for wanting to escape. While I forgive (but never forget), my heart breaks for your broken place. I wear compassion like only someone who has experienced suffering can.
In this peaceful place of forgiveness, I’d also like to tell you that there is something else there, a treasure in the sand. Gratitude. I can be grateful for the ashes that you stirred in me that grew to reveal something beautiful. I can be grateful that I am a resilient woman who can get through anything with God’s help. And importantly, I can also be grateful because I have been able to connect with the suffering of other women, women who have walked the road I have and far worse. And there are many of us. Too many. The resounding chorus of “me too” thunders around the globe.
Despite all of it—now, I can sing and truly mean that it is well with my soul.
Now, I Have Peace
Today, when I think about you, I am not angry. I am not resentful. Though I recognize it has taken me years to get to this place—and much support. It was never something that I could do on my own, though I tried and tried. What I needed was a supernatural intervention.
When I was able to realize this, when I was able to extend my hand to the One who was there with me lying in the snow bank, the One who walked through the years of self-destruction, addiction, and hurt, the One who was there all along—when I was able to cry out and ask for my own forgiveness and love, something amazing and downright miraculous happened.
I was given a precious gift that I could then share with you.
Instead of hurt or anger when I think of you, in my mind, I see something like a Colorado mountain scene: awe-inspiring, purple-haze majesty covered in brilliant, shining snow. I think of God and how radical a life it is to follow Him. To forgive and love no matter what the cost. And sometimes it costs us dearly.
I want to show you a glimpse of what this merciful God has given me. I want you to see and experience firsthand this incredible, unbelievable grace. This ridiculously persistent love. Today, I want to share my forgiveness with you and whisper gently as I extend my hands to yours, that you are loved. There is purpose on the other side of your pain, too.
When I was able to cry out and ask for my own forgiveness and love, something amazing and downright miraculous happened. I was given a precious gift that I could then share with you: forgiveness.
Listen to this podcast episode of This Grit and Grace Life for another harrowing story of one woman’s journey to get to the other side of sexual abuse: Find Healing and Freedom From Sexual Abuse With Jill Monaco – 157