They say that after a traumatic experience, you begin to describe yourself and your life as being “before” and “after.” I finally understand that.
The me that existed before January 29 was a very different person than the one that exists now. Of course, I’m still me. There are some things that will never change. There are some things the can never change. And there are the things that will never be the same.
I shut down after I was sexually assaulted. I lost myself. I wandered around for two months, trying as hard as I could to pretend it wasn’t real, to pretend that I was fine. But in the end, I lost. It bubbled up and boiled over, in an instant, and I was caught unaware. I lost a lot when it happened – I lost my first love (my naiveté); I lost much of the ground I’d gained – my self-confidence, my self-esteem, my belief in myself as human being; I lost my ability to feel happiness. When I let it bubble over, I lost my composure, the one thing I’d worked so hard to keep.
Strength isn’t something that you can actively seek. It exists inside of you, and it exists in the bonds that you’ve formed with the people who you care about. When you lose your inner strength, you have to rely on the strength of the love you’ve cultivated. Thank god I’d cultivated some strong friendships. I cried on, and relied on, the people who I love the most. They saved me.
One silly piece of advice I got, the silly piece of advice that has propelled me through the darkest nights and loneliest hours, was that you have to live for your pets. That’s dumb, and I realize that. But honestly, thinking about Carlos was the one thing that pulled me through some nasty spells of despair. Who would feed him wet food if I wasn’t here? Who would he sleep next to? Who would feel that pitter-patter in their heart when they saw him? Only me. There could be no one else.
When I gave my three weeks notice at work, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. After that day, I didn’t think about New York all the time. My waking moments were no longer consumed with rumination about it: the not knowing, the bitterness, the rage, the sadness, the hopelessness. Instead, I felt nothing. Sometimes feeling nothing is better than feeling everything, all the time. It’s exhausting.
I was cautioned that this is a roller coaster. I was told that there would be moments of elation, of pure ecstatic joy, of rage, of sadness, of pain, of heartbreak, of grief.
I forget that sometimes. I am blindsided, still, by the emotions. They overtake me when I least expect it, when I think I am safe. But you’re never safe, not from something that haunts you. That’s the horror story here — you can’t run. I know, because I thought about it. I thought about packing a single bag (I know, I know, a single bag for a new start? In actuality, it would be more like four bags, and the cat. Of course the cat gets to come. He’s the strange salvation) and running. Driving forever, until I ran out of money and ended up anywhere. But you can’t run, because it follows you. And you can’t run out of money, because without money, you are nothing.
And now, I stand ruined. I doubt I’ll be receiving references based on the two and half years of my life I gave to the company. Instead, I imagine it will be a curt discussion of my failures. And that’s funny, because even though I didn’t manage to come through in the end, I gave them my all when I was breaking down, the seven hours that day spent crying in April to finish a proposal that “he” was responsible for ended in a lucrative contract. And to me, that hurts almost more than all of it. I did that. I packaged it. I prepared it. I shipped it. And he gets the commission. He gets to go home to his wife and children with a huge paycheck, and I have nothing but the job I held in high school, a last resort, a refuge from the constant reminder that I am vulnerable and weak.
“You’re not being fired, but you’re free to leave,” they told me, when the HR investigation came back “inconclusive.” Of course there was no proof. When it happened, I was so worried about my job (the irony here stings) that I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I sat there and wondered how I’d afford a plane ticket home. “You’re not the first woman who didn’t know she had options,” said one of my doctors, when I’d spilled the story to her in a fit of word vomit that I couldn’t contain.
My boss told me several times throughout the course of the investigation that at worst, it would be a smooth transition, where I would stay there until I found a new job. I choked on those words. Smooth transition, my ass. This is not a smooth transition. This is the part where I live on fucking chili cheese dogs because they’re free. This is the part where I fuck up and don’t finish the last of my semi-contract work. This is the part where I finally break, where my body gives out and my spirit follows.
This is the part where I realize that there is a cost far greater than you ever imagine. The traumatic experience was not just the assault itself, it was everything that followed. I know I have to go forward, but where do I go from here?
I’m working full time at my high school job. I’ve just started applying for new jobs. I’m paralyzed by the fear that my references will be held over me, my actual work lost in the downward spiral that was the end.
Here’s to the existential crisis I hoped I’d never find myself in. Here’s to digging myself out of that deep, dark hole. Here’s to the future, in the hopes that there is something left of it. Here’s to the hope that somewhere there is a light that will lead me out of this desolate place. Here’s hoping…..