In the almost-four-years since my last relationship, I have spent a lot of time telling people, friends and family alike, why I don’t have a boyfriend. I’m just not interested in dating right now, I’d say, or I’m not actively pursuing anything because there are more important things in my life now. These weren’t lies exactly, but it was more complicated than that. The truth always is.
I was sexually assaulted when I was 15. My boyfriend was older. I didn’t know how to say no, or that not saying yes should have been enough. I didn’t know that what had happened to me was assault until almost five years later. That realization broke something in me, and I spent weeks trying to deny it, to push it away, to bury it. But something inside me refused to be silent anymore.
After denial came questioning. The intervening five years were meticulously analyzed through the I Was Sexually Assaulted lens until I wanted to stick my fingers into my brain and find a switch that would turn it off. My two relationships and breakups after the assault, my anxiety, my dislike of the idea of casual hookups were violently scrutinized. Were they because of the assault or just because of some fundamental part of me? Can I even separate the two? Is there a me without the assault?
I told people that I didn’t want to be in a relationship when the truth is that I was so starved, so desperate for love that I thought it was going to make me sick. I thought that if I was desired, if someone wanted me, that it would mean that he hadn’t ruined me, that I wasn’t broken. And in waiting for someone to tell me those things, I lost sight of the opinion that matters most: My own.
When I was a kid, I never understood why Rapunzel didn’t realize she could use her hair to escape just as she used it to let the prince in. I get it now. Fear too often makes us prisoners of our own bodies, but I’m done waiting for someone to rescue me.
I am not ruined.
Part of me is broken,
but it will mend, and when it does,
it will be by my own doing.
Elena is a student, accidental poet, and voracious consumer of words. She is a staff member of and contributor to Persephone’s Daughters and fiercely believes that poetry can change the world.