Stronger than you know


In the last couple of months, I have heard stories that have inspired and awed me. Each one has shown me the sheer power of the human spirit and courage that comes in ways we don’t expect.

Over the next three weeks, I will be sharing these stories with you, and I hope that you can find inspiration in them as I have.

The first story came to me through our local high school’s student-run magazine. Even written anonymously, the courage and maturity of this young woman shine brightly through the darkness of the traumatic events she has lived through.

This story is hard. But it is filled with hope. It is filled with a young woman who knows how to love and how to heal. It is filled with strength that I’m sure she can’t even see that she has.

May she inspire you as she has inspired me.

(Warning: This article deals with sexual assault)

I was raped. I wish there was a gentle way to sugarcoat it – some delicate words to morph my story into being anything less than a rape victim’s, but there isn’t. I was raped.

I woke up by my car. God. My head hurts. Everything was hazy like I was waking up from a really long nap – only it was nothing like that. It was dark. I looked around and saw a pile of clothes on the ground … my clothes. I snapped out of my daze long enough to look around. I was on the ground. Next to my car. Naked. My work clothes laid several feet away. It didn’t register with me what had happened, but I knew. I could feel it. I could feel what had been stolen from me.

It’s strange. I’m typically a very emotional person, and horrible at holding back tears. So you would think that I would be sobbing a river. But I didn’t. I just sat there. One single tear streaming down my face, as if that was the only sort of mourning my loss deserved. And then nothing. I sat there for minutes … hours.

I’m still sitting there.

There was this welcoming darkness that caressed me, hugged me and wormed its way into my heart until I was nothing but a shell of the girl I used to be. I had everything and nothing on my mind. I did have one distinctive thought … how was I going to tell my boyfriend? How could I face him after that? How could I touch him or anyone? The thought of seeing his face when he found out made me want to puke.

In fact, I did just that.

Something broke that night. I had similar encounters with men before, but nothing that went that far or cut so deep. I didn’t just feel violated. It was as if an essential part of my identity, the person I was, had been wretched from my very body. There was a palpable hole in my chest.

I told my mom the next morning, and got inspected for weeks trying to get tests in. I remember finishing my explanation of what happened. She held me while I stayed silent. After a few minutes, the only thing I could muster was, “Mom, my heart hurts.” She held me tighter, and didn’t let go for a long, long time.

That week I barely spoke to anyone. Barely touched anyone. At one point, I think I cried at school. Or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I wanted to cry so much that I simply imagined those tears.

My boyfriend could tell there was something wrong – everyone could. He didn’t ask. And I didn’t tell him. I knew I probably should’ve, but we both had so much going on.

But how could I tell him that the thing I wouldn’t even give to him, was taken from me? How could I explain that I didn’t even know who had raped me because I didn’t remember? Or that whenever I fell asleep … it was my boyfriend’s face I saw as my attacker?

It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to tell him because later that week, he broke up with me. I can’t quite remember what reason he gave ... something about it being too much for him. He was going through a lot, and so was I (he didn’t even know about the latest addition to my life). All in all, he didn’t know how to deal with everything.

I didn’t blame him.

Actually, that’s not true. I did blame him, but I didn’t blame him. Honestly, I needed the breakup. Not because my boyfriend was a jerk, but because it gave me something to focus on. Someone to whom I could direct my pain and hatred that was forming in my heart.

I could cry about the breakup.

Now, let’s be clear: my ex is still an amazing guy. He didn’t handle everything super well after the breakup, but I was only ever mad at him for the sake that I needed to be mad at something. It was easier to focus my anger on the breakup than to process what had happened to me. Because I couldn’t. It didn’t feel real. I couldn’t accept it. I wouldn’t.

And it only got worse when the test results came back.

I was pregnant.

The world burned to ashes around me. No alternate dimension or fantasy could erase my new reality. I was too young to be a mother. I didn’t want to give birth. I didn’t want my classmates to notice my belly progressively growing. I didn’t want the trauma.

I. Didn’t. Want. It.

However, I wanted to give this child its best chance. Despite me still dealing with trauma, and how much I feared the judgement of my peers, I decided to have the baby. No matter how much it f****** me up.

I was already damaged goods.

However, that baby deserved a chance. My mom was my number one supporter. Whatever decision I made, she was going to support me. That meant that it was completely, 100 percent my choice if I was going to have the baby.

The amount of people who knew were limited to my mom and a close friend. However, I wanted my ex to know, too. Not for some pathetic attempt to get him back, but because when everyone else began to notice my stomach growing, I didn’t want him to think I had cheated.

Two problems arose from this. One, he was ignoring me, so finding a time to talk would be difficult. And two, I’m a coward and didn’t want him to see me the way I saw myself. I had my friend do it. Like I said … coward. He never said anything to me about it, or asked if I was OK. But, I get it. How do you respond to … that? I guess it would’ve been nice to know that he cared. His silence made me feel even more alone.

I had stopped eating. It wasn’t that I thought I was fat or ugly. I just … wasn’t hungry. Eating made me nauseous. Or maybe it was the baby? Shoot … how long has it been now? When do you start showing? It was just a routine at this point.

School. Work. Sleep. Repeat. Wait … I didn’t eat today … oh well, maybe tomorrow. Wait a sec … “MOM!”

Blood.

“Call 911!”

Blood. Pain. Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Please no. Please, God. No. Screams. Are those my screams? Bright lights.

Save my baby.

“I’m sorry.”

The doctors left us.

Silenced pierced the room. And, for the first time in a long while, I cried and the world stilled. I fell to the floor and sobbed. Banging the floor with my palms, shaking and choking. I cried for my stolen virginity. I cried for the boy I loved and lost. I cried for the new emptiness in my abdomen.

But mostly, I cried for the girl I was before. The girl who laughed uncontrollably whenever she was lying down. The girl who smiled at everyone and skipped in the hallways. The girl who felt better when she made others feel better. That girl had dreams, and laughter and love in her heart. That girl had hope. So I cried for her. Because she was about as dead as the baby that had been growing in me, and I was in mourning.

Everyone always has this “It won’t happen to me” mindset. But then it does. So what do you do? You inch forward. You cry. You scream.

You adjust.

You take one step forward, and you fall. And then you get back up and do it all over again.

And eventually, you take two steps before you fall. Then three. Four. Some days you forget your pain, and the fake smile you wear isn’t faked. And some days it takes all your strength to keep that smile up.

I’m not healed, but I’m not broken either. I’m just me. I can smile and laugh and not fake it. I can wake up and eat food and not want to puke. My goals are coming back, and I can skip in the hallways. On my off days, when memories rush and grief strikes, I serve others.

The key is not giving up. Because then he wins. He gets exactly what he wanted, and I will not allow that. He had the satisfaction of using me, but he will not have the satisfaction of breaking me.

Because I’m not healed, but I will be.

—Anonymous

(The Featherduster, Vol. 50, Issue 3, 2019)

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Karen May

Inspirational Catholic Writer and Speaker

based in Austin, Texas