About a month ago, I posted an Instagram picture talking about women’s empowerment and how I hope for a better world for my daughter. I definitely didn’t put myself in an ultra feminist category because I think I have my own preconceptions of the term feminist. You know what I’m talking about – the ultra hippy chick who doesn’t shave her armpits, probably doesn’t wear a bra, and is an outspoken, maybe even brash, activist. Well, I know that’s naive, at best. The more I thought about my work and passions, the more I realized that being a feminist very much fits into my identity. Ultimately, I care about equality for all and in a lot of ways, women continue to be treated inequitably. The #MeToo Movement reminded me of that.
It wasn’t just my realization of my own stance on feminism, it was a complete stranger that changed my opinion about sharing my story. On a random week day, I had a request in my DM on Instagram. I usually look at them, but hardly ever respond to strangers. However, this person’s message stopped me in my tracks. She told me how meaningful my little post on Instagram was to her and how she had never told another soul about her own assault. The fact that my words could positively impact someone like that, I realized I needed to share my whole story, not just allude to it. So here goes.
In high school, I had a group of friends, both girls and boys, and we dubbed ourselves ‘the groupie’ – super original, I know (we were 17). Our group of 10 was inseparable. In between classes, we had a little cove where we’d hang, on the weekends, we’d be at the local restaurant after the football or basketball games, at Prom, we all took photos together as one giant group. You get my point.
At times, different guys and girls in the group dated or liked each other, or didn’t like each other, just like high schoolers are. There was one boy in the group who always liked me, but I never returned romantic feelings. Despite not liking him romantically, we were very close. He was one of my best friends. We were such good friends he even invited me on a family ski trip. I know it might sound weird, but it was completely platonic.
For four years, our friendship continued like that, long into college. We hung out, we talked, he was one of my closest friends in the whole world. He knew me better than most people did. We partied together, he was part of one of the spring break group trips I went on, he was in my life. Although he didn’t go to the same college as me, he traveled to Madison at least a couple times a month to spend time with me and our other friends from high school that also attended UW.
Although I always knew he had romantic feelings for me, I always made it very apparent that I did not feel the same. I cared about him a lot, even loved him as one of my dearest friends, but I made it clear that’s where it ended. He knew intimate details of my love life with other men because he was my best friend. There was no point in time where I crossed that line, until he did.
The night he assaulted me was like any other night. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college. We’d been dear friends for more than 5 years at this point. We were at our girlfriend’s house, drinking, listening to music, taking photos (remember the day when it was film?), being silly. Our group, even in college, spent a lot of time together, especially in the summers. I’m not sure what I was drinking that night, but I know I had too much. I ended up getting sick and I remember he helped me to the couch. I passed out and was asleep for several hours.
When I woke up, at about 3am, I woke up to him touching me. My pants had been unzipped and my bra had been pushed up. At first, I didn’t know what was happening to me. When I realized what was going on, I jumped up. I was still pretty drunk, but I do remember saying, “what the f**k are you doing?”
I will never forget the look of fear and bewilderment in his eyes. Immediately, I grabbed my purse and drove the 15 minutes to my house. It is one of the only times I drove drunk, when I knew I shouldn’t have driven. This is long before the Ubers and Lyfts of the world. At that moment, I just knew I had to get out of there.
As I left, he tried to run after me. He tried to get me to stay. He grabbed my arm to try to explain, but I pulled away and left. Each day for the next several weeks, he called me on my home phone and cell to try to get me to talk to him. I didn’t answer. I would not answer any of his calls. This was 2001, so it was long before social media was around. We had AOL instant messenger and email. He used both of those methods to try to reach me too, but I refused to respond to any of them.
The day after the assault, I told my friend, whose house we were at that night. She didn’t understand why I had left in the middle of the night, so I explained what happened and told the other three girlfriends in my group. I wanted them to understand why I would never again hang out with our guy friend, the guy who everyone knew as my best friend.
The shocking thing – my girlfriends didn’t believe me, not really. They just couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that he could do that to me. Although they initially stopped hanging out with him, over time, they all reconciled. That was also the moment when I stopped being friends with several of those girls. I couldn’t understand how women in my life could be friends with someone who did something so violating to me.
Not only was the physical act unforgivable, it was the broken trust that hurt the most. I’ve had my share of heartbreak – both romantic relationships, and friendships. For me, in some ways, the loss of someone you truly believe is a friend hurts more.
Over time, I’ve grown to realize there really are only a few people you can trust completely. I can count on one hand the number of people I would trust to have my back no matter what. There are very few. I hate admitting that because I truly do believe people are good. I consider my friends so important to me, but over time, I’ve learned in this life there just aren’t that many people who are truly loyal and that you can trust implicitly.
So how does the story end? Well, I can tell you that for months and even years afterward I was devastated. I missed my friend, I couldn’t understand why he would do that to me, I struggled to trust men and friends, in general. I never intended to talk to him again, and I didn’t until 2009 when I saw him at our mutual friend’s wedding.
Leading up to the event, I knew he would be there and I mentally prepared myself to see him. This was 8 years after the assault, and although I had mostly moved on, I still hadn’t quite made peace with it. Leading up to the wedding, I had created a script in my head of how I would approach him. Although I can’t remember exactly what I said, I know that I told him how much he hurt me and that I had to forgive him to really move on from it all. I wished him well in his life with his wife and new baby and that was finally the moment I felt (some) peace.
I kept this secret for years. Besides my girlfriends, less than 5 people knew about this, that is until I posted a rather abstract thing on Instagram last month. Now anyone who cares to know will know, and I’m OK with that. In a way, it is freeing. In a way, I can finally, deeply bury that horrific experience.
What I’ve realized is that what hurt me the most was the innocence he took away from me. I still can’t understand how someone I cared for so deeply could do something so awful to me. It’s not the physical act that bothered me as much as the emotional and mental beating I took. To lose a friend, to realize someone who you trusted the most deeply, you could be so wrong about.
Despite my experience, I’ve chosen to live my life as open as possible. I still try to trust people openly. I continue to hold a belief that people are ultimately good. People deserve the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, that opens me up to the possibility of being hurt. I’d rather live my life with an open heart than become bitter and resentful. No matter what, he could never take that away from me.
Also, since International Women’s Day just happened this week, I also want to be sure we are here to support each other. It’s important that we stand up together and do it for our daughters. Do you have a #MeToo story you wish you could share? I’m here, friends. You can always message me or shoot me an email. I’m here to listen.