Sitting in Women’s Health this morning, I looked at the table on my left and saw a bunch of cards with a dark teal ribbon attached to it. Sexual Assault Awareness month. Funny that the ribbons are the same color as ovarian cancer. So I took a card and plan to put it on my bag. But at the same time, there is a growing dissonance within me about the whole thing, and I’m getting angry about it.
You wearing the teal ribbon does not mean you understand how my life blew apart from one night, the bloody pieces flying everywhere. You do not understand how I searched and searched for every last piece, stubbornly refusing to accept that there are some that are gone forever. Wearing that ribbon does not mean you know what my 4 years of college were like, what I endured at the hands of him and all the other boys I threw myself under. You don’t know how the smell of beer makes my stomach turn, how the taste of it on my lips from someone else makes my heart pound in fear. You cannot imagine what that night was like, the snapshots of memory that are slowly coming back, his face, his body, his weight, his hands his hands his hands. You don’t know the morning after, the didthatreallyhappenMaybeitdidn’thappenhowIthinkitdid. The disgust at the reflection in the mirror, the next month of hoping I wasn’t pregnant. You don’t know the shame at being disposable and used, wrung out and thrown away. You have no idea how it feels to be powerless underneath the hands of someone else, trying to register what is happening above you.
That teal ribbon does not explain how that one night turned into several nights with him, how that first night with him never really ends, it just keeps coming back again and again and again. It doesn’t tell you how for months I had to sleep with lights on, how I jumped at everything, kept seeing him in boys that were really someone else. It doesn’t describe the hatred I developed towards me, when it should have been at him. That ribbon doesn’t tell you that when it gets bad, I still check all the closets when I come home to an empty house, that Pap smears are still triggering, that I hear his voice asking me what my intentions are, that I wake up in cold sweats with a vague, hazy idea of the nightmare I just had.
That neat little pretty ribbon does not represent the ugliness that my life turned into because of one boy. The HPV he gave me that nearly turned into cervical cancer and still damages me to this day. That attractive pin does not adequately portray the damaged goods that I became. It doesn’t show the daily struggle I have to re-inhabit my body, to see it as mine, to learn to trust it again. It doesn’t betray the jealousy I have toward other girls and women, because they probably got to have a choice in losing their virginity, and I didn’t. It doesn’t tell you the longing I have for a consensual “first-time” story. It doesn’t tell you that, at 28, I still feel stupid for caring about this. It doesn’t capture the anger I have at the way my sexuality was hijacked and turned into something sinister. It doesn’t tell you how I panic if I am underneath a boy – by choice – and he’s been drinking beer that I taste on his tongue, or when his body on mine becomes too heavy and I need to escape. It doesn’t tell you how I thought there was nothing good left about me after that first night, and continued to think that for years.
Anyone can wear that ribbon. Are you willing to really support Sexual Assault Awareness? Are you willing to bear witness to someone’s story, even though it’s not pretty, or easy to hear? Are you able to simply sit with that person in her pain, and let her know that it wasn’t her fault – and really mean it? Can you hear her say the words out loud, breaking under the honesty and vulnerability she’s been trying to avoid? She doesn’t need you to make it all okay. She’s past that, because it will never be okay. She needs you to listen without looking away. To see her, really see her, and not shy away from the most violent night of her life. She needs you to just be in the room with her and listen to her speak. She needs you to hear her, every word of her story, and be able to sit with the discomfort and ugliness.
Can you do that, or are you just going to wear the ribbon?