December 17, 2016.
This will be a day forever etched into my memory, a day that will no longer be just another day in my history books. This is the day you tried to take everything from me, the day you tried to break me, but you did not succeed.
I was your perfect prey. A naive, young 18-year-old who wanted nothing more in the world than to be loved, having had her heart broken so many times before. Your sweet words of affection, like music to my ears, lured me in and made me believe that you were safe, that you could be trusted. You had mastered the skills of predation, and you knew it was only a matter of time before I took the bait.
I was at my best friend's house, enjoying his annual Christmas party, when you texted me. We had been talking in the days prior, but you were growing impatient, eager to see me. You would not be taking no for answer. I originally said that I was busy, but you pressed on with fierce determination and a few coercive lines telling me how beautiful I was and that you didn't want to do anything sexual with me that night, you just couldn't wait any longer.
Eventually, I caved. I had taken the bait and I could imagine you were very pleased with skills of persuasion. You sent the location at which I was to pick you up, because, as I would come to find out, you were too intoxicated to drive.
I made up some bullshit excuse as to why I had to leave the party immediately, but I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew that my friends were the best people in the world and that I should not be abandoning them and their company to go see someone I had known for only a few months, but I was all too vulnerable to attractive men saying all the right things.
As I drove to you, a voice in the back of my head told me to stop, to turn around, to go back to the party, and to leave you in the dust. To this day, I don't know why I didn't listen.
After driving for upwards of 30 minutes and around a neighborhood I had never seen before in my life, I found you, standing outside of a random house holding a bag of weed and a water bottle that I assumed didn't have water in it. You hopped into the passenger seat of my car, reeking of alcohol and weed, so much so that I was almost repulsed by your odor. We began talking, as you had promised, but I knew that was not all you had in store for the evening. You kissed me, and I, not refusing your advances, kissed you back, but that is where my consent would end and your abuse would begin.
Your kisses became more aggressive, your grip became tighter around my neck, and your other hand began moving places I had not allowed it to go. I told you to stop, but as I looked into your beady eyes, I knew you would not listen. I began to panic, repeatedly saying "stop," "no," and "please don't," but it was like talking to a rabid dog - those words meant nothing to you. You tightened your grip around my body, using all of your strength, like a snake suffocating its prey. I thrashed and tried to fight you off, but you were far stronger than I was. As I began gasping for air with your grip clasped tightly around me, I eventually gave up. I figured there was no use fighting anymore - there was no way I could win.
When you were satisfied, you got out of my car and left me lying in the back seat wearing a ripped dress with tears streaming down my face. You did not care about whether or not I got home safely since you had already taken what you desired.
The next day, my mom came to me asking me about my night, and I told her everything I could remember. I knew something horrible had happened, but she was the first to realize that I had been raped.
This happened at the worst possible time in my life. I was halfway through my senior year of high school and in the midst of applying to 13 colleges. I had 24 essays to write by January 1st and less than half a month to do it. My mom knew that too, but she also knew I was extremely damaged. She told me that I didn't have to do this, that I could take a gap year and recover from the intense trauma I just went through. But, that last bit of flame in me that you had not managed to burn out immediately said no. I declared, only about 12 hours after you raped me, that I was not going to let you ruin my life.
I had plans for myself, plans that there was no way in hell I was going to let you interfere with. I wanted to have a full life. I wanted to go to college, learn new things, and ultimately discover who I was meant to be, and I was not going to let anything or anyone put those plans on hold.
In those two weeks that followed, I discovered a whole new level of resilience in myself that I didn't even think possible. I fought back against you and your horrible deeds and found the strength to not just go on, but to thrive.
So, despite your efforts to break me, you did not succeed. In those weeks and months that followed, I discovered how strong I truly was and now, two years later, I do not deny that you changed me, but it was not for the worse, it was for the better. I left that vulnerable and scared girl behind and I rose up out of the ashes you had spread in my life 100 times stronger and as a whole new powerful woman.
Now, I am an advocate for other survivors, because of you. Now, I am not afraid to speak out, because of you. Now, I know who I was truly meant to be, because of you. Now, I love myself, because of you. I went to hell and back and found myself along the way, and although I would have preferred a different journey of self-discovery, I'm happy that I unlocked this version of myself early. Now, this strong and resilient woman can handle anything life throws at her. So, in the words of Maya Angelou, "You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I'll rise."