Up until last year, everyone would have said one of two things about me: Either I was a quiet girl that they didn’t think about. much, or they thought I was stuck up.
Wrong on both counts. The truth is, nobody knew me.
That was before the party. Afterward, at first I was even more quiet, even more withdrawn, feeling helpless while boys called me other words that were the furthest thing from the truth. Slut. Whore. Hypocrite.
See, I had carefully built up my image as the good girl. I was the Vice-President of Students Against Destructive Decisions. I was a tutor in the library after school. I hung out with my wholesome friends doing wholesome things. So when I decided to go to that college party, the one where I didn’t fit in and didn’t realize some asshole had drugged my iced tea, my friends were shocked and my enemies assumed that I preached sobriety and good decisions to everyone else while getting drunk and sleeping around on my own time.
I don’t want to rehash all that, not because I’m ashamed anymore, but because there’s more to me than my rape.
School & Social Life
I’m a senior at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Cedarwood, a suburban town 45 minutes east of New York City. I’ve lived here since fifth grade, but ever since what happened last year, my hometown’s felt different to me. It’s not as safe or as quiet as people think it is, and I’m sure that there are more stories like mine that people haven’t had the courage to tell. You just don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors.
Anyway, this past year I’ve started thinking about what’s going to happen after I grow up. Ever since I started speaking up about what happened to me, everyone’s interested in my story. I used to hate the spotlight, but now I like being able to talk to people and being able to use what happened to make a difference.
It helps that my boyfriend’s dad works for the Cedarwood Courier. He was the first person to interview me and he made me feel comfortable. Sometimes he feels more like my dad than my step-dad, Eric, does. (I don’t know my real dad and I’m not sure I want to know who he is. According to my mom, he didn’t even stay til morning and he was long gone by the time she learned she was pregnant. He’s never been in my life, so why should I care who he is?)
This is Molly. I’ve known her since fifth grade, when she was the first to welcome me to the class. I used to be so shy I would hide inside a book during recess but she would push me to play instead.
Everything changed after the rape, though. Even though Molly had been my best friend for as long as I’ve lived in Cedarwood, I didn’t think she’d understand what happened to me, and we grew apart. I’m not. blaming her. Not totally, anyway, even if she did have this obnoxious girlfriend who kept filling her head with garbage about me after I began to stand up for myself instead of always swallowing my feelings.
I made decisions too that hurt our friendship. I put up a wall after the party, and walls are easier to build than to tear down even though it seems like it should be the other way around. My friendship with Molly changed that fateful night that I decided to go to a college party instead of to Trunk and Treat with her. My therapist, Olivia, says that I’m right that it will never be the same as it was before I was raped, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’re still friends and we still do things together, but I’m not sure she’s my best friend anymore even though we’re past what happened between us now.
This is Sierra, my other best friend. She used to smile more, before the party and everything else. I love her for being free-spirited and I used to think she was so much braver and more confident than me.
I admired Sierra so much before the party that she was my one exception to being the ultimate good girl who followed all the rules. My parents never particularly liked her and afterward they blamed her for being a “bad influence” because she encouraged me to go to the party.
People think stupid things about her. They think she’s a liar and a rule-breaker and nothing else, and sometimes I wonder if they would think that way if she was white. I don’t like to think like that, but some things that happened after I was raped made me realize the world doesn’t see everyone the same way.
Sierra’s as much a survivor as I am. Things have happened to her that I promised I wouldn’t tell anybody, though I HAD to tell about some of it because I couldn’t let her hurt herself or keep letting a certain asshole hurt her. But she wants to tell her own story, and maybe someday she will, even though she’s afraid she’ll be less believed than me.
This is my boyfriend, Brad. I’ve liked him since he transferred into my eighth-grade English class and put his feet on the rack under my desk to annoy me.
Back then, I never imagined he’d even like me back, but I was even more scared of what would happen if he did. I knew my friends didn’t like him and never would, and I was sure my parents would kill me.
I wasn’t allowed to date in eighth grade anyway. I got in trouble because I went and bought makeup at CVS with Sierra, for God’s sake, so admitting I liked a boy who my mom and step-dad would hate… no.
By the time I was sixteen, you’d think I’d have outgrown that, but like I said, I held myself back a lot. In fact, the night of the party, Brad randomly invited me to hang out with him and his friend and I turned him down! Can you believe that? I really wanted to be with him and I went to the stupid other party with Sierra instead because that’s what SHE wanted me to do.
That doesn’t make what happened to me my fault. I know that. But I will regret it for the rest of my life, not only because of how badly I got hurt, but because Brad has been my rock in the year since. He was one of the only people who stood up for me when people were whispering about me and spreading rumors, and the more I got to know him, the more I realized he was more than what people said about him, too.
Brad has a past. He was so hurt and so heartbroken about his home life that he did self-destructive things and got himself in serious trouble. But now he’s dating the former Vice President (now President!) of Students Against Destructive Decisions and we’ve started over together. I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen next year when we both go to college. Now that Brad’s in my life, I don’t want to go back to being apart.
My mom is the ultimate backseat driver, and I say that with all the love in the world. It used to annoy me that she was so overprotective and so hard on me, but now I know that’s the only way she knows to show me she loves me.
One thing you have to understand about my mom is that she’s screwed up a lot in the past. It’s not entirely her fault. She is bipolar and I guess it took her a long time to accept she needed help or find the right help or whatever. Anyway, before it was under control she drank a lot and did other impulsive, stupid things. One of the things she did when she was drunk resulted in me being born and lately I’ve wondered if my sperm donor (sorry, not calling him a dad) raped her that night. She says that’s not true but she never talks about it other than to say that she’s glad she had me.
Anyway, she doesn’t want me to make the same mistakes she did, and I guess that’s part of why I used to hold myself back so much. She tried to kill herself when I was six and her unpredictability before that always scared me. For a while after the rape I was so moody and unpredictable myself that I thought maybe I inherited it and it was coming home to roost, but my therapist says that PTSD can cause similar problems sometimes.
My step-dad, Eric, has been in my life since I was 10. Mom met him online when we were living in Florida and we moved all the way to Cedarwood to be with him.
I’ve always called Eric by his name. It felt weird to call him “Dad” since, you know, he isn’t. Not that my “real” father is my dad either, so there’s really no reason to stand on ceremony.
I don’t have a lot to say about him, really. He’s nice. When I was younger, he helped me with homework and taught me to ride a bike. You know, all the stuff dads are supposed to do. He likes to cook and he has me help him in the kitchen whenever he has something to say. He and Mom are a good team and I’ve never once had to worry that her bipolar disorder was going to screw it up, not even after me going to that party got her all stressed out.
Grandma Julia is my favorite person ever. Mom and I lived with her in Florida before Eric, but now we only see her once or twice a year. She can’t stand cold weather, but she came to visit anyway when she found out what happened to me.
After the party, I both wanted and didn’t want my grandma. She was so comforting and supportive when I was little, but I was afraid she might be ashamed of me or that she might blame me for the rape.
My mom ended up telling her, and I wish I’d done it myself, but it turned out to be a good thing either way. Grandma knows how to give me extra courage. I have a framed photo of her on my desk that I look at when I hear Mouse’s voice in my head telling me that I need to hide.
Before the party, I was so quiet that my friends called me Mouse, and afterward I didn’t want to be Mouse anymore but I felt like she was a second girl who lived in my head that I was always fighting with.
I know that sounds weird, but I”m not crazy, I swear. My therapist says that it’s just a creative way of saying that I have a quiet side and a not-so-quiet side.
I’ve done a lot of work on myself already to not give in when Mouse wants me to be quiet and I know I need to speak up. At first, it freaked out my friends because they were so used to me being Mouse and I had a LOT of fights with them, especially Molly.
I guess I can’t blame them. Mouse wouldn’t want me to do half the things I’ve done even though they’re positive things. Mouse would rather watch Brad from across the room and fantasize about him than actually date him and she definitely wouldn’t get up in front of the whole school and talk about sexual assault.
After the party, I felt like Mouse was my enemy. I didn’t want to be her at ALL. She was an annoying voice in my head that kept telling me to shut up and go back to hiding when that’s not who I wanted to be anymore. But I understand now that being Mouse is part of who I am and now that I’ve started standing up for myself, this year I’m learning how to use my quietness effectively instead of being one way or the other 100% of the time.
If you’d like to learn more about my junior-year transformation, author Jack A. Ori has written this amazing book about what happened to me and my attempt to reinvent myself afterward.