I am floating between reality and dreamscape; on the edge of sinking effortlessly into my own breaths, as they ease themselves in and out of my body. I feel his hand on my shoulder, warm and inviting, comforting. As I fall asleep I am hopeful for what may come, the comfort of another soul to walk this life along with me. My heart skips a beat wondering what the days ahead will bring. Time passes, sleep and I are now in our usual dance between dream and peaceful silence. The pressure from his hand on my shoulder deepens, as he tickles the skin between my hip and belly button. He lifts his body onto mine and slightly covers my mouth with his hand.
I had met him a few weeks prior through a dating app. His eager smile and liberal openness to my passions regarding advocacy for disability rights and mental health made him stand out among the various profiles. Rather than boast about notches, sports or money, he wanted to learn more about me. He was passionate about fitness and health and had an endearing personality. We talked movies, work, politics and cooking. He loved dogs and was always down to take my pups for a walk. Every time I left him, I was excited to see him again.
We had slept together the once, a few weeks into seeing each other. It was sweet and exciting. He made me feel sexy and safe all at once. Sleepovers suddenly became more often, and our relationship began to develop even more. I met his friends, he met mine; I started thinking of him as my potential boyfriend.
That night, as I slowly drifted off to sleep in his arms, everything seemed fine. We had a minor disagreement (as all couples do) because he felt he was ready to have sex without a condom. I on the other hand, was not. As things had gotten heated, he begged and pleaded, “just for a little”, “you’re on birth control, why do you care?”, “come on, I know you want to”. With each indication of what he wanted, my heart rate rose, my breathing laboured, and every time I answered “no, I’m not ready”, “not tonight”, “that makes me uncomfortable”. Eventually, he begrudgingly accepted my stance and backed off, pulling his underwear on, muttering “guess we will just go to bed then, ‘cause I don’t have any.”
I felt guilty. But at the time I knew that it was a boundary I had set for myself that I was not willing to cross. So, as we lay down to sleep, I told him I was sorry and that I would buy more the next time I saw him. Everything seemed okay, as I slowly fell asleep thinking of the day I had ahead of me.
I awoke to a hand over my mouth, and a body smothering mine. I could feel him inside of me, breaking my trust with every movement he made. I was frozen. Was this a dream? Did he find a condom? Why is his hand over my mouth? Is he going to hurt me? Does he know that he already has? Is this a nightmare that I’m going to wake up from?
They say it isn’t abnormal for an individual experiencing rape to feel frozen. To be unable to fight back. He was much stronger than me - and even more importantly, he was someone I thought I could trust. It didn’t take him long to finish. He turned over, off of my frozen body, and left me there to clean up the mess he had made. I did not move until the sun slowly rose, illuminating the room I had once felt safe in. When he woke, he turned and smiled at me, “did you have a good sleep, babe?”
The much more mature, definitely more angry, and educated woman now wishes with every fibre in her body that she ripped that boy a new one. That the softer, naive, young version of herself had punched that excuse for a man as hard as she could. I daydream about it sometimes, even now. But, I was young, and I thought that this was love - so instead I asked him, “did we have sex last night?”. He responded with a smile, and a “yes, don’t you remember? It was so good.”
Like nothing had happened.
Every inch of my being dreaded having to ask the next question.
“Did we use a condom?”
I already knew the answer. But I needed to hear him say it out loud. I needed to know why. He replied, “Oh, well... we were snuggling and it just felt so good... so I figured we would be fine, you’re on birth control, it’s no big deal right?”
I left his place that day feeling numb. I told no one of what had happened. I passively agreed that it was no big deal. Meanwhile, as I tried to fall asleep the following night, my mind was racing.
What did I do wrong? Did I deserve this? Was that normal? Is that considered rape? I should have said no. Why didn’t I say anything? Will I get a disease from him? What if I get pregnant? What is wrong with me? Why does this feel so wrong to me while he seemed okay? Am I wrong to be upset? Is this my fault? Is this some sort of sign that I am not good enough?
I didn’t sleep for over a week. I stopped eating. I pushed my friends and family away. I saw him one more time to try to understand what was going on with me, with us. He acted as if nothing had happened. I broke up with him the next day. It took a month of self-hatred, fights for no reason and emotional blowups for me to finally admit to my mom what had happened. When I finally told my stepdad, he asked me why I was there in the first place, and why I didn’t fight back. For the next three months, my social life consisted of watching Outlander daily with my mom and sleeping for as much of the day I could. I stopped attending classes, I refused to look at myself in the mirror. I avoided every possible social interaction outside of my home. I feared the touch of every single person in my life. I was trapped in a body that no longer felt like my own.
It is hard to describe this experience as “rape” as most often one thinks of violence and anger. A stranger in an alley. An abusive husband who has had too many drinks. It took me many, many years to admit that what was done to me violated my consent. That even though we had been intimate together before did not mean what he did was okay. That my silence was not a replacement for the word “yes” and it was not my fault for freezing in that moment of desperation and fear. That my being able to appear to “function” normally to friends and family did not invalidate my feelings of despair and hopelessness.
I honestly believe that to this day, he doesn’t even realize the harm he caused. I look at my experience and see it as an example of the myriad of flaws within our social system. Boys will be boys, right? We live in a world where rapists are elected to the House of Commons, sexists run as President (and win), where the colour of a woman’s underwear can be used in a trial as evidence that “she wanted it”. Planned Parenthood clinics are shut down by white men who care more about a fictitious god than the rights to bodily autonomy of their own wives, their own daughters. Don’t even get me started on the experiences of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, their families, friends and communities.
However, despite it all, women are fighting. They are using every tool at their disposal to influence and change the unfair hegemonic practices that have been at play for far too long. More women than men now attend university. We had the highest number of women elected to Congress this year in the history of the United States. Young women are teaching their sons about consent and respect and love for one another. New Zealand elected a woman president, one who is unmarried and just had her first child. Despite it all, women are finding their voices and vocalizing the inequities that they are experiencing. A rapist may have been elected to the House of Commons, but a woman was strong enough to speak her truth in front of millions. And even though he was elected, in my eyes, she was truly the one who won.
Since that time in my life, I still struggle with anxiety, nightmares and flashbacks. But I have also gone on to earn two degrees. I just applied to the Masters program of my dreams. I learned how to love myself without the help of anyone else. I developed a deep, loving relationship with my beautiful, strong mother. Day by day, I mended the pieces that had been shattered all over my bedroom floor. I created something beautiful out of my own personal disaster. I explored my own interests and made plans based on what I wanted to do. I fell in love with myself once again. I relearned the curves of my body, the aches, the pleasure, the freedom that it so gracefully provides me. I designed a mental health event, made incredible friends and fell in love with a man who respects and admires me. A man who supports me. A man who shows me unconditional love, every day.
I did not do this because of that boy who believed my body was simply an object to provide him pleasure. No, I did it despite him. And I will continue to grow into the wonderful human being that loves dogs and crime thrillers and advocating for those who cannot. Because in the end, despite it all, I am here. I am loved. And I have overcome. Despite it all.