It was a normal day when I had to choose which line to check out in. I took my basket and set it on the counter when I looked up to see an old face, a friend of yours, bagging my groceries. I instantly regretted my decision to choose the shorter line. He stared at me instantly, and I feared what he would say, so I attempted to avoid eye contact. But then I went to reach for my groceries and made the mistake of looking up.
What came out of his mouth landed deep in the pit of my stomach.
I ran to my dorm before tears began to fall and searched for the truth behind his words. After one quick Google search, I found it.
I forgot your middle name.
It’s been two years since I’ve seen you, but I stare at the picture cemented on my computer as if you were standing in front of me. As if it were 2016 again and no time has lapsed. I watch your eyes as if they were looking back at mine. You grew a mustache, and you’ve gained weight, but I bet you still have the mole on the left side of your neck. I bet your pinky is still swollen from high school football. I had to throw away pictures of us, with that ugly finger splint captured at the moment, holding my waist close to you. I bet it never healed quite right.
Just like I never fully healed from the way you forced yourself in me without my permission. Or at least that’s what my psychiatrist says.
I jump in my sleep thinking it’s you lingering in the shadows of my bedroom, or when I think it’s your arm behind my head at night. I scraped at the skin where I remember your hands have pressed. I showered in water that burned my skin under my clothes in hopes it peeled off layers of dirt you left on me. I held in screams that slashed my lungs like I wish I slashed your tires last year when you dared to visit my campus.
FYI, it was me who keyed an ‘R’ into the side of your car that night. In case you couldn’t put it together, it stands for RAPIST.
Your friends used to call me crazy, they used to tell me I wanted it. They said I used it as an excuse to break up with you. They said I used it as an excuse to go sleep with someone else.
I was your girlfriend after all, doesn’t that give you consent? Even when I was unconscious? As I slept?
I let them win; I let you win. I had no proof, I thought. I couldn’t win, I believed.
I didn’t tell anyone about what happened, and I have hated myself every day because of it.
Two years later, I am laying on my back, in the middle of an empty dorm room, and I feel gravity pull my tears down past my ears. I sob loudly, laughing, after seeing your picture on my screen. Next to it is your new identification number: Prisoner A740619.
You now rot in prison for 11 more months and register as a tier I sex offender for 15 years after that.
I took a shower after I sobbed on the ground of my dorm, and when I stepped out, I felt clean for the first time in two years. For the first time in two years, I am not scared of seeing your area code come up when I get a call from an unsaved number. For the first time in two years, I am healing. No amount of self-reflection, talk therapy, medication, acceptance, substance use, or suppression compares to the feeling that has stripped away the filth I have wallowed in for years now.
You have no idea how long I have waited for this moment of release. You have no idea how many times I laid in bed, sobbing after I threw another broken relationship into my trash like wadded paper in the room of an aspiring poet. I sobbed out of anger of not being able to love and to be loved in return; I sobbed out of frustration that I was a puppet on your strings still held tightly by the waist by your hand and that ugly finger splint.
Your friend, while bagging my almond milk and Lean Cuisines, told me what you did, which made victory harder to celebrate. After we broke up and went our separate ways, you went to college and sexually assaulted a girl only six months after sexually assaulting me. She trusted you to walk her home the same way I trusted you to hold me— to love me. We trusted you.
But here’s the difference between her and me: She was strong when I was not. She knew her worth when I didn’t. She didn’t let you and your friends bully her into silence. That’s bravery I have never felt and bravery she shouldn’t have had to.
I hope she sees this; I hope she knows the good she did. I’m mad at myself for not saving her, but she saved me, and I will never be able to repay her. I’m searching for her like I have searched for peace, and maybe I can find it in the same place. Maybe we can heal together.
In her words to our offender, “I will eventually learn how to forgive you, but that forgiveness will not be for you. It will be for me, so that maybe I would no longer be the victim that you’ve created me to be.”