I walk into my apartment, turn on my lamp and hang my keys on the hook by the door just like always. I try to calm my breathing as I sit on my bed. With sweaty, hurried fingers, I pick up my phone and google
"am I allowed to call myself a sexual assault victim?"
"how do you know if it's sexual assault"
"definition of assault"
"have I been sexually assaulted?"
"How much has to happen to call it sexual assault?"
I find phone numbers to call in the event of rape. I find instructions on how to report a rape. I find resources for women who had been raped. And in my head, the familiar voice chimes in.
This voice says, "this isn't you. What happened to you wasn't that rape. It wasn't even that bad, you're being dramatic. It was seven years ago. You're fine, you have no lasting physical scars. You're overreacting. It wasn't that bad. You walked away. You don't even know what happened. You wouldn't be able to recognize the guy in a lineup. You don't even know what color his skin was, his age, you can't remember."
"It happens all the time," this voice continues. It sounds like me, but it is not. "This is part of living in the big city.
This voice lives on me, like a parasite. Living off my love and flesh and thoughts and joy. This voice sucks me dry, and I hear it loudly and clearly.
"It happens all the time," this voice continues. It sounds like me, but it is not. "This is part of living in the big city. You're gonna get sexually harassed. You're gonna get catcalled. You're gonna get touched and grabbed. You're not special, stop looking for attention and playing the victim. You're fine. You do not need to add another label to your long, long existing list of reasons why you are damaged, why you are so crazy, why no one will ever love you, why you are so screwed up. That list is terribly long. Do not try to add 'sexual assault survivor' to that list, you crazy idiot!"
This voice is correct. There's so much wrong with me already. This voice is so often correct.
"Besides," this voice takes a big deep breath after monologuing so long. This voice always loses its breath after it spews so much self-hate and bile and self-invalidation into my little ears, usually at night or at moments where I start to feel confident. This voice does not use its diaphragm properly and could benefit from dialect classes, ones I will inevitably register it for and pay for it to attend. And then this voice will be so strong, it could headline at the Met.
“Don't you think you're mostly to blame? You were drunk. You were passed out. What did you expect?”
"Besides," this voice says silkily. "Don't you think you're mostly to blame? You were drunk. You were passed out. What did you expect? You went to that open bar, determined to drink your fill so you could shut me up so you didn't have to hear me anymore and look where it got you? You. You didn't know where you were and you couldn't figure out how to get home because you were so drunk, so you took two cabs to two different trains and finally got to the redline where you passed out cold. It wasn't sexual assault because you don't remember it. You don't even know what actually happened, just that you woke up at Jarvis to the feeling of a man's hands on you and you ran. Ran through the train doors and all the way back to your apartment in Edgewater. And you can't remember how it made you feel because you were too drunk. And you were too drunk for four more years after that and though you'll never be too drunk ever again, never, never, never, again, you got drunk that night, and you did this to yourself. It wasn't the girl in Stanford's fault. It wasn't the girl at St. Mary's fault. It wasn't your friend from college's fault. They were drunk, but it wasn't their fault. Not them. But you. You were drunk and it was your fault. You are stupid and selfish and reckless and you deserved it. You deserved it, you deserved it, you deserved it, and I hope you learned your lesson about what you deserve and who you deserve it from."
And this voice repeats the things it has been repeating for seven years.
"It happened, get over it. It's kind of funny if you think about it. It's good material! You're sober now, stop dwelling in the past. You get so angry about street harassment, you get so jittery whenever you're alone on the train, you have such trouble with physical intimacy ever since this happened to you, but whatever, that's your own fault. You're just a Petri dish of dysfunction, and you deserved this, you brought this on yourself", and then I scream. I scream with my voice, my throat voice, the one that connects to my heart and back to my brain, not this filthy hateful voice, I scream, "NO. He shouldn't have done that me. He, that man, that person. He shouldn't have done that to me. He shouldn't have touched me. Or grabbed me. He shouldn't have done whatever else he did to me. Things I will never know. That shouldn't have happened to me. I am wrestling with the guilt of my alcoholism and the many, many, many things I should not have done when I was drunk. But 'riding the train' one night is not one of them. He shouldn't have done that to me."
And like that, the weight I haven't realized is strung up around my neck, loosens and falls away.
And I will spend my days trying to give voice to other people. And I will give voice to myself. I will speak loudly about my life with my real voice, my loving one.
I am so tired. I am so tired of this systematic patriarchal oppression, I could spit. I am a powerful, smart, and woke intersectional feminist. But this horrendous voice, this parasite is so ingrained in me. It is so deep into my bones. I want this poison sucked out. I want it out of me. And I will spend my days trying to give voice to other people. And I will give voice to myself. I will speak loudly about my life with my real voice, my loving one. I cannot dull this other voice with alcohol or drugs anymore, so I will continue to muffle it and to yell, "you are wrong", until I can find sleep at night.
I will ride the train wearily, I never won't. And whenever the Jarvis stop approaches, I will remind myself to breathe, not bolt. I'm alright. It happened. I'm surviving.