Today marks my 21st (I typed “12st” the first time) birthday. In the state of Kentucky, and in most places in the USA, that means I am finally of drinking age. It means I’m finally a “real adult”…whatever that means.
I want to take this opportunity to consider other people—somewhere out there, those 1in4 and 1in6 moments are still happening. Somewhere out there, other people are having RYSFK moments. Two and a half minutes ago, someone in the united states was raped. Yesterday, maybe even just a few minutes ago, someone attempted to or successfully ended their life—and maybe one of the reasons they did it was because they were sexually abused.
In the past, I’ve mentioned how being sexually abused was one of the primary reasons I tried twice to end my life. Being fucked as a kid fucks with your ideas of love and with your expectations in any relationship—romantic, familial, or platonic. It also makes it harder for us to love ourselves. I tried to end my life because I could not deal with what had happened. My case also represents the fact that a majority of our social systems—government, school, family, friends, social work, mental health, etc—have giant flaws and continue to let people slip through the cracks.
I’m taking a writing class this summer. Right now, we’re in the middle of a five-day retreat at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse/The Abbey of Gethsemani in silent contemplation and reflection. Last night, we broke our silence and walked out into the woods. On the way there, I stepped in a puddle of water and it soaked through one of my shoes. We stood at the edge of the pier on a pond and made fun of frogs trying to have sex. Later, we talked about boyfriends and girlfriends and sexuality and all sorts of other things that would make the nuns turn over in their graves. We ate junk food and laughed. We sat by a creepy lake with a statue of Mary and told ghost stories.
All of this for my birthday—some people I hardly even know helped to make some of the best birthday memories I’ve ever had. They proved to me that, even in the span of just a few hours, I am somehow loveable.
When I parted with my friends, one person told me that the way to get back to my room was to take a left—he was wrong. I ended up alone in the dark, traveling being creepy-looking buildings, under a stone walkway, with only my flashlight and a few dim lamps to guide me. Every time I am out alone in the dark, I feel like someone is watching me—like I am going to get attacked. Like I am unsafe. Maybe that’s because of what happened to me, or maybe those feelings are stronger, are worse, because of it.
Eventually, I figured out that I needed to take a right instead of a left, and now I am here. I am here, with loving messages on my phone, listening to music—music and love that so many other people have never or will never get to experience. There are those of us who never made it out to become survivors. There are those of us who struggled and fought as warriors, but their demons proved to be too much. I am twenty-one now, but so many people will never reach this point in their lives. May those people rest in peace. May we never forget who they are.
No matter what happens, as long as we keep trying, we win victories every day in this lifelong war. I call us warriors because dealing with sexual violence is a struggle—it is something you have to face every day. It is more than a sword or a shield or a suit of armor can do for you—you have to become your own sword and shield and armor. Sexual abuse can come up in the most benign of conversations with friends, or in our relationships with our loved ones. It can affect everything, from our bodies to our habits to our thoughts and feelings. Being a survivor means you carry the burdens of everyone before you who hasn’t made it, of every person who has given up hope. You have to fight for those people. You have to hope because no one else will find it for you—only you can.
I am finally twenty-one, and it is a miracle. But it shouldn’t be—my twenty-first birthday should be an everyday, ordinary thing. It is a miracle that I am still alive. It is a miracle that I threw up the first set of pills. It is more of a miracle that the second set passed through me, leaving my body untouched.
It is a miracle that I am in college now, and that I am 0.01 points away from Magna Cum Laude. It is a miracle that I can have consensual sex and love another person and make them feel whole. It is a miracle that someone else can make me feel whole. It is a miracle that I can touch myself or be touched and not feel dirty or disgusting. It’s a miracle that I can even love another person and not be terrified that they will hurt me. It’s a miracle that I can write about these things and not be maimed or killed or burned with acid or fire or lynched or executed or exiled, like how it happens in so many other countries. It is a miracle that I can listen to music and eat food and especially laugh. It is a miracle that I can do ordinary things, like go downstairs alone at night, or go shopping by myself, or cry, and not be afraid.
Twenty one, and a miracle. This is why you shouldn’t fuck kids.