I met my rapist 10 days after I graduated from high school. Fresh-faced and doe-eyed, I was quick to fall in love with a boy two years older than me. This man had two whole years of college to mature him, while I hadn’t been in school since halfway through junior year. I thought he was so cool as he told me of his college exploits — the parties, the drinking, the wildness. I felt embarrassed that the closest experience I had were the cast parties for theater. I thought he was so much cooler than me.
Our relationship moved quickly. I became his girlfriend on our fourth date. A month later, he moved into the home I shared with my parents. He never once asked me if he could — he just did it. He made my bedroom his bedroom without, for a moment, considering how I felt about it. With him in my home, I was cut off from the friends I would otherwise see every day. Before him, we would hike and drive and laugh together, but with my partner constantly attached to me, that became impossible. No other relationship had left me that isolated.
Then college started. His grip on me tightened. He forbade me from going to parties — he was afraid that I would cheat. When I asked him why he didn’t trust me, he claimed that it wasn’t me he didn’t trust, it was the boys at the parties. At that point, I thought he was afraid of me getting raped, so I acquiesced. But it wasn’t rape he was afraid of. He just wanted to wholly possess me.
In the end, I had no reason to fear the boys at the parties. My monster lived, slept, and spent every waking hour with me. My monster ate my mother’s cooking and took my father’s praise. My monster was the one I thought I would marry one day.
Looking back on it, I should have realized who he was sooner. I should have realized it when he would continue thrusting into me when I fell asleep during sex. I was so exhausted that I would drift off and instead of getting off me, he would continue until I woke up and then guilt me for falling asleep. I should have realized it the first time I tried to break up with him, when he gripped my clothes so tight that his fingertips stretched out my T-shirt. I should have realized it when the first time he got angry at me, he shoved me off of him and onto his bed.
There were so many instances when he revealed himself to me, but I chose to ignore them. I loved him. I loved him even after he raped me.
I had a long shift at work. Eight hours of food service exhausted me to my core. I went over to his dorm with the intention of getting drunk and watching “La La Land.” I know I drank too much. But I was with my boyfriend, the one I would call when walking to my car in the dark. I should have been safe.
I blacked out a quarter into “La La Land.”
I woke up in his bed without pants on, feeling the nausea I only feel after someone finishes down my throat. I couldn’t remember anything from the night before. I woke him up and asked him what had happened. He told me we had sex, and he made a joke about how I began reading off my cashier script while he was inside of me. There was this tar-like feeling in my stomach. I had been so incoherently drunk that I did not know where I was, and my boyfriend had had sex with me. I was so scared.
I Googled my situation as soon as I got home that day. I clicked through all the links on the first three pages of search results. They all told me that same thing — I had been raped. But I did not want to accept it. Even after finding a video on my phone where I was so clearly intoxicated that anyone who saw me would know that I could not possibly give consent, I refused to acknowledge it. My boyfriend, with his kind eyes and sweet smile, could not have raped me. I didn’t tell anyone for six months.
But I internalized it, and suffered the repercussions. I realized I had grown afraid of men when I was no longer feeling any attraction towards them. Initially, I thought it was because I loved my boyfriend so much that I couldn’t be attracted to anyone else anymore. But I thought it was strange when I saw celebrities I once used to blush at the sight of and feel repulsed. My fear of men had overtaken my ability to be attracted to them.
I also would no longer drink or smoke if it was not at my house. I did not care if my parents caught me. I did not care if my room smelled like skunk and saccharin ethanol. I did not care because at my house, I was safe.
I changed the most in regards to my sex life. Before him, I loved sex. There was something addictive about the pleasure, about feeling wholly desired. But then, I was raped, and sex became an obligation. I would only do it if he asked. I only said no once. In response, he huffed, turned his back to me, and gave me the silent treatment for the next hour. I never said no again. I knew his anger would only escalate.
Sometimes during fights, it would slip out. “You raped me.” And he would only respond with excuses.
“I was drunk too.” You had three drinks and did not have a single gap in your memory.
“I’m just so new to sex. I didn’t understand what I was doing.” I’d had sex with virgins before. None of them raped me.
“We had planned to have drunk sex.” No, we didn’t. And even if we did, you should have stopped when I began listing off Chick-fil-A sauces.
But I still didn’t want to believe that the person I loved so much would hurt me. I let him convince me it wasn’t rape. It was easier to believe that I was overreacting. I would rather be crazy and psychotic than a rape victim. But I was decaying. For six months, I watched from the outside as a girl who looked like me went about her day. I was completely hollow, only allowing myself to feel explosive anger. My boyfriend had raped me and I couldn’t tell a soul. My friends were so happy that I’d finally found a nice guy. My mom had said that she could die happy now because she knew I was with someone who would take good care of me. I wanted them to continue loving him. I had to protect him from the consequences of his own actions.
Then after months of living a lie, I finally broke down and told my mother what happened. I didn’t use the word rape once but she did. Then I told my best friend and she called it rape. Then I called ReStore and they called it rape. Every person I told called it rape.
My boyfriend raped me.
The weeks after accepting it were the hardest. I wanted to take my skin off and gouge out my insides. My body was no longer my own. I was desperate to feel okay again. I wanted to know that I could trust and love again. I had no interest in finding justice. I wanted peace.
When we imagine rapists, we imagine strangers in alleyways. We do not imagine the one we love the most, the one who you revealed all of yourself to, the one who is supposed to keep you safe and secure. But intimate partner rape is all too common. The people you love can hurt you so deeply that you no longer feel like you own your body. In these situations, you need to take care of yourself. You need to stop protecting the one who hurt you and put yourself first. Find what will give you closure — be it a Title IX investigation, therapy, or screaming until your throat is raw. Do not for a moment consider what would be good for them. This happened to you — not them. This is about you. Do not have sympathy for them; they did not have sympathy for you when they violated you. I spent too long protecting my rapist instead of putting myself first.
I wish I could call myself a rape survivor, but in truth, I’m a rape victim. I do not yet feel like I’ve survived — I’ve simply endured. I’m tender and weak and vulnerable. I cry myself to sleep and wake up with heart-pounding anxiety. I’ve defined myself by my academic success all my life, but now, I cannot focus on a single assignment. When I look in the mirror, I feel that my own body isn’t mine and in the shower, I scrub and scrub until my skin is red and raw. Rape has ruined me. My rapist did not make me a survivor. He did not make me stronger. He weakened me into someone unbearably brittle and delicate. He made me a victim.
However, one day, I will make myself a survivor. I will put myself back together again. I will be whole again. I will trust and love with my entire body and soul. My body will be mine again.