As I sit here staring at a blank page on a laptop, I try to choose which sexual assault story to share. I laugh to myself - because I have a dark sense of humor which has undoubtedly kept me alive - it’s ridiculous I have more than one to choose from. Even more ridiculous though, is the fact I’m trying to choose one. They’re all important, they all hurt, they all cling to the dark corners of my mind which I’ve found I can control...but not erase.
So I’ll share them all...month by month...one by one.
Rewind 14 years, early Summer. At the time I was living with my best friend and her family in Bismarck, North Dakota. Said best friend was away that evening, meaning I was left to my own wandering mind.
In my teenage angst I crawled through the window, nabbed a cigarette from the 18 year old next door, and took off for a walk...at 1am. There’s this beautiful hill near the house. Even though it’s in the middle of the city, surrounded by a couple schools, this hill is beautiful. It’s where I went sledding, where we would roll down the hill on a nice Spring day, and where we would meet up after school to laugh, play M*A*S*H, and maybe even kiss a boy. It’s also the first place I would feel terror.
So there I was...perched on the side of the hill with a smoke in hand. Starring up at the stars, wondering what life had in store for me. (I was, after all, living with my best friend - things were not exactly going as I had seen them play out in my mind years before.) Upon inhaling the last breath of sweet tobacco, I stood up and laughed as my young body - still unaccustomed to a nicotine rush - stumbled down the hill. Not ten steps from where I was sitting I heard a truck coming. It’s now past 2am and it strikes me as odd. (Keep in mind, this is North Dakota pre oil boom...very much “small town” even in it’s capital at this time.) I pay no mind, but pick up my pace slightly...something doesn’t feel right.
Before I’m able to process what is happening, I’m running. There is a guy hanging out the side of this truck banging on the side, yelling “We’re gunna kill you Squaw!”. The only thing that came to mind? My Mama’s voice telling me to “cut to the side if you’re ever in the path of a tornado” - and this was much worse than a tornado. Yet still - I had no other advice, I was out of ideas...I cut to the side and ran. I ran towards the college across the road. There was a brick building and some type of shed which I was able to place myself between...and tell myself over and over I wasn’t going to die this way.
A sentiment I wasn’t so sure was the case when I heard that big truck rumbling up to the building. I had nowhere to go. I had no plan...and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to scream. I had frozen.
They pulled up, of course they knew exactly where I was (it’s truck V human...I knew they would find me). A clammy hand grabbed me, and ripped me out of my safe space into beer laden breath and devilish shouts I could no longer make out. The whole thing is a blur from there. I know one guy kept watch while the other took the time to shove his hands up my shirt, down my pants, in my mouth...he was speaking, but I wasn’t exactly all present to even know what was being said. In my mind, I was riding my horse through endless fields. I didn’t want to be there. Anywhere but where I was. Even if the escape was only in my mind.
(Later I would learn the body has three responses to dangerous situations; fight, flight, or freeze. It brought a certain amount of peace to me knowing my freezing was a natural response. Knowing my body did what was right in the moment for me to survive. I no longer felt as if I had failed, but as if something deeper in me took over and kept me alive.)
What I’m sure had only been a few minutes, yet seemed like hours, had passed. I can still hear the one keeping watch telling his friend they needed to go - how he felt like someone was watching. With some coaxing, it’s exactly what they did. They left...and me? I dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks. I still couldn’t move, but I was alive. I couldn’t even believe it, I was alive.
After some time I found it in me to pick myself off the ground and walk back home, squeeze back in the window, and curl up in bed. I wouldn’t speak of it to anyone for six years...not even to myself. As long as I didn’t say anything aloud, it didn’t really happen.
It’s now been eight years since I finally told my first story. I told it to myself first...speaking the words aloud in my room. It hurt, terribly...but it also lifted an immense weight I had been carrying. I hadn’t realized how much energy I was spending trying to make that night nothing more than a bad dream. I realize now, I was running from my own healing - but I also realize maybe it was good for me to run for a moment. Sometimes we’re simply not ready to begin healing...and there’s nothing wrong with that. I beat myself up for a while after I began healing for not starting down this path sooner...but I’ve realized it was probably for the better. I just wasn’t ready before.
For the first few years when I told this story I would sob uncontrollably...there are times when I choke up still (if you’ve taken an Arming Sisters course, you’ve probably seen me shed a few tears - or even cried with me), but they are now tears of healing. No longer tears of terror or fear. Telling my story has immensely helped lighten the load for me - and finding out I wasn’t alone, knowing others had experienced similar situations, made me feel like I could speak up. It made me feel like I had some form of backup. Above all, sharing my story helped me shed some of the heavy weight from my shoulders so I was finally light enough to take a step toward healing.