I have a story I need to tell, because it’s the truth and I’m not afraid. It’s a story written far too many times before; it happens every day.
My first experience with sex was assault at age 14. There were three perpetrators, one of whom was an adult. I won’t begin to tell you the devastation I endured in the weeks that followed that horrible night. I don’t need to. Too many of you reading this can feel it — no words needed — because too many of you have your own horrible night too.
I told no one, only my best friend, just a child too. She stroked my hair as I sat sobbing. What else was she to do?
I told no one, only my body, with razor blades and long sleeves. I told myself the story over and over again. My adolescent brain tried to put the pieces together, but it always ended the same.
And then one day, I got tired of the battleground written across my body and firing in my head.
I got tired of his sickening words, hovering in my ear, “Don’t worry. We do this all the time.”
And finally, I arrived at angry. Furious and brave. I was going to make sure they never destroyed another life again.
So I told my story.
I told it to a (male) school counselor. I told it to a (male) police officer. I told it to a (male) district attorney. I told it to a (male) defense attorney. And I told it to a (mostly male) jury.
And do you know what they told me?
They said: Write it down. Every detail. Let’s hash it out for inconsistencies.
They said: What were you wearing? Like my gray hoodie and jeans were just begging to be violated.
They said: Why didn’t you scream? Fight. Run.
Not one of them ever stopped to ask: Why didn’t they respect you? Why didn’t they leave you alone?
But I wasn’t afraid anymore. I lifted my chin, told the truth to room after room filled with strangers.
And then, in unison they replied: We don’t believe you.
All three of them walked free.
Do you know what that does to a young girl with a broken heart and a ravaged body? It tells her she doesn’t matter. Never did. Never will.
And then she lives her life that way, under shadows and shame.
She tells her story to a (male) psychiatrist after a suicide attempt. She tells her story to every (male) that she crawls her useless body into bed with, hoping for love or something like it. She tells her story to a (male) therapist, who eventually makes his own pass at her. She tells her story to the (male) who beats her and then says it’s because he loves her.
And she tells her story to herself a million times a day in a hundred different ways; it always ends the same.
But nevertheless, she persisted.
Claws and grit. A tiny fire that’s her own. A flicker of a light they could not extinguish. She goes and goes and goes, oftentimes alone.
She works hard. And she heals and breaks in waves that crash and ebb and flow.
And by some beautiful twist of goodness she tells that story to a (male) who took her hands and said, “I see you. I love you. And you did not deserve this.”
Maybe some days she believes him, but still some days she does not. Because one good voice — even a deeply resonant voice — still cannot silence the deafening noise of the shadows.
But with claws and grit, by love and grace, she grows. Into a mother of sons, who will raise them in a way that will change the world. Change the story.
And then she grows into a mother of a daughter, and it rushes back in a way that hits like every hit she ever took.
That beautiful girl in her arms rips every wound wide and gaping, because the girl in her arms is the reflection of the girl still inside her broken, hurting heart.
How will I keep her whole?
How will I keep this from becoming her story?
And the truth is, I don’t know. I live in a world that makes it seem futile.
We are Survivors, Mothers, Daughters in a world where men can rape and return to swimming. Leave our bodies by dumpsters and laugh.
In a world where men can grope and grab and issue half-assed apologies for the sake of keeping their name.
In a world where a man can have multiple allegations of terrible, vile assaults. Where a man can grab ‘em by the pussy, and even be elected president of the good ol’ USA.
And what does that do to the women with the broken hearts and ravaged bodies? We might have grown, but the message is the same: It doesn’t matter. It never did. It never will.
So what do we do? What do we do with our silent, awful stories?
I’m convinced we need to tell them.
Louder, louder, louder until they hear us.
Stand up. Scream it. Shout it. Until they know we are done with being quiet.
And we need to tell them to each other. Hand in courageous hand, tilting our chins, higher and higher.
We need to tell ourselves and tell each other:
You, who were not honored.
You, who were not believed.
You, who did not receive justice.
You, with the scars and the hurt and stomped-on self-worth.
You, who persisted and kept a tiny little light burning inside.
You, with the daughters and the worries.
You are not alone in your struggle to build yourself and claim your peace.
You are not alone in this world of injustice.
You are not alone in this story.
You are not alone in your healing.
And you are not alone in your ascent.
Because you never, ever deserved to be beat down, but you have always deserved to rise.
So I am going to keep telling this story, on a hundred different days in a million different ways, until they hear me and they see me.
And I’m going to take your hand and listen to you, too, until they see you and they hear you.
And I’ll be holding my daughter tightly, but it won’t be for fear of this life; I’ll be holding her tightly as we rise and rise and rise.
Maybe we cannot change our stories, but we can make damn sure our stories change the world.