It's been 23 years, and although most days it never crosses my mind, there are times that I'm taken back to that day, and it seems surreal.
Picture this: A bright, sunny April day in 1990. My high school- the place I knew so well and felt so safe. A friend I'd known my whole life waiting in the parking lot that afternoon. What could possibly go wrong?
What went wrong is this. That "friend" I had known forever raped me in that parking lot that bright sunny day. In an instant, I found myself in a situation that I never would have imagined. Not then. Not there. Not him. But the truth is that rape, sexual assault- whatever you want to call it- is no respecter of persons. It doesn't matter if you're a "good girl" or "bad girl". It doesn't matter how much money you have or don't have. It doesn't matter if you're a teacher's pet and straight A student. It doesn't matter if there is a building full of people just inside those doors. The only thing that mattered was that I was there, and he had a plan to harm me. And so it was.
I never told my story then. I wanted to hide it. Heck, I wanted to hide my entire self. I was embarassed, afraid that everyone would believe about me all of those horrible things he had said to me in those 20 minutes of hell. I wanted to run. And run I did.
Six weeks later, I walked across the stage to graduate from that high school, smile on my face, pretending that everything was just fine. Two months after that, I walked onto the campus of EKU, my new home, the place I "ran" to in order to get away from it all, lying to myself that I'd move on and forget all about it.
That didn't happen.
It's a long story, and I won't go into all of the details here now, but suffice it to say that I lived for years with shame and humiliation a part of my daily routine. They ate me alive. In the end, I wound up depressed, ready for it all to end. And finally, 8 years later, I heard a story of healing and redemption that changed me.
Another survivor told her story of rape, of depression, of shame, and of ultimate healing. And I knew that if she could have that, then so could I. And so my journey began. Y'all, I'm not the same person anymore. As I said in the beginning, most days I never give a thought to that day. Most days I feel as confident as can be, full of life, full of purpose, full of joy.
But when April rolls around and the days get longer and warmer, there is a gnawing in the pit of my stomach, a reminder that this day feels so much like that one. And those memories come back to haunt me again. Oh, I don't get sad or depressed again. I'm done with that. I don't feel like a victim anymore. NOT EVEN CLOSE. But I do remember because we humans, we are wired to remember. And that's okay.
Those memories cannot hurt me, and in fact, I believe that they help me. What's that, you say? Yes, I think they help me. You see, I am a better person because of the pain I endured that day. I'm strong. I'm secure. I'm healed. I'm redeemed. I know who I am in Christ, and that day is a part of that story for me. And so it's okay to remember and be a little down about it for a short time. I'm not that 17 year old girl anymore. I'm 40, and I'm okay.
This week I read a story of another 17 year old girl who committed suicide after being gang raped, then harassed about it. My heart breaks for her. I wish I had known her before, could have walked beside her, taken her hand and said "It's going to be all right. This does not have to defeat you. It doesn't even have to define you". But I didn't know her. However, if statistics are right, there are plenty others that we do know who are suffering now with that shame, their self esteem eaten away bit by bit as they start to believe the lies told them during those moments of abuse. It doesn't have to be that way. I will do whatever I can to make sure it's not that way for those girls.
I can't heal people. I can't change their stories. I can't tell anyone it will never happen to them. I can't take away the scars-physical or emotional. But I can relate. And I can cry with her. And I can tell her that her worth is not found in the words or actions of a monster. I can show her how the Lord renewed my life, restored me to a girl I actually love which I never thought possible at one time.
And so I share....and share.... and share some more.
Until all those other girls know they are not alone...
PS: If you are one of those girls (or guys) struggling, hiding your story or rape, afraid to tell the truth, please please please get help. Don't wait a minute longer. If you want to share your story with me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll help you find the help you need to heal. It's not easy. You don't have to do it alone.