Today was a hard day. As some of you guys know, I was sexually assaulted in my past; first something bad happened to me as a kid and then later on again –-approximately four times-- in college by somebody whom I had trusted with my whole heart. I always get the question, why would you stay in an abusive relationship? Well, that’s so eerily simple. Because I was a scared freshman, who didn’t know what my identity would be if I left him. Because I thought my “no” was less important than his “yes.” Because he had first done all sorts of things to me to lower my self-esteem, mainly comparing me to other females (both celebrities and girls we would see/know in our daily lives), so I thought I could never find better. Because he made me feel like there are so many other girls out there, why would any guy ever pick me for? Now, I know better. Anyone who makes you feel that way is the real loser, not you. I’m not ashamed of it, because there’s no reason to be ashamed of it. However, I’m still a little traumatized by it.
So giving you that background, now you can understand where I’m coming from when I tell you about what happened today: I’m started out when I went to the mall this morning; I was walking through the food court, and I was pretty far away from the security guy standing in the doorway of a jewelry store. I know that what you’re wearing shouldn’t even matter, but I was wearing a very modestly-cut sundress. No cleavage, and the length of my dress falls just above my knees. He looked me up and down in a way that made my stomach hurt, and he shouted out “How’re you doin’ today!”, still looking at me like that. I just offered a half-smile and walked away, making sure to avoid him later entirely by taking a different way to exit the mall when I left. Whenever I get a little creeped out, I repeat in my head, “My body is all mine, my body belongs to me only” over and over again until I begin to believe it is true and feel more relaxed.
So, I tried to shake it off and forget it, but then when I got home, well, I live right by the park, so I thought I would go enjoy the sunshine and take a walk around and look at the pretty fountains. I was feeling so great, just soaking up the hot temperature and the beautiful palm trees and Spanish moss around me, when two guys on bicycles rode up beside me really fast. They smacked me on the butt so hard (which definitely triggered a LOT of painful feelings, because not ALL sexual assault is P-in-V, you know…) and they started cracking up with laughter, pedaling away even faster than they were before. I was wearing sunglasses, so thankfully nobody could see my tears. After repeating to myself over and over this morning how my body belongs to me, it certainly felt like I had been telling myself a lie. A while back, there was a point of time in my life after I was sexually assaulted where I didn’t want to leave my house because I was so afraid of somebody touching me, or worse. Thankfully, in the park today, though, like I said, I was wearing sunglasses so nobody could tell I was crying behind the lenses.
I immediately began heading towards my apartment, no longer feeling happy and at peace with myself and the nature around me. But then I realized – I would be DAMNED if I ever let anybody take away my happiness again. Nobody deserves or gets to make me feel endangered or afraid of anybody. Nobody deserves to trigger post-traumatic flashbacks, or nauseating feelings. Nobody deserves to make me feel like I have to throw up to rid myself of everything, and all of the emotional poision that I so desperately wish I could get out of my system.
So, instead, I marched myself right past my apartment building. And then? I kept on walking. I walked and I walked; I walked so many laps around that park that I lost track of how many times I did. I only stopped walking when eventually my Birkenstocks gave me a huge blister on my foot and I wanted to put on a band-aid. But the whole time I walked, I smiled genuinely at everyone who walked by so nobody knew. Nobody could see the hidden tears. People even kept saying hi to me, because the look I kept on my face was so friendly. Now this is important to note: I wasn’t being fake. Quite the contrary. Just because my own happiness in that moment had been robbed from me doesn’t mean that I still couldn’t spread happiness and joy and love around to others, even if I didn’t have it at that particular moment, myself.
The lesson I would like to share here with you is this: Walk the park. Even if you literally JUMP every time another bicycle riders rides past you for the rest of the time. Walk the park. Even if you’re hiding your tears behind your sunglasses. Walk the park. Even if you flinch and your hands shake a little when a runner runs by you. Walk the park. No matter what you have been through, no matter if you have gone through periods of time in your life where you didn’t even think you would honestly ever make it to 22, you keep pushing on for me. You don’t focus about the “hows” or “what ifs”, you just keep walking. Walk your park… And you will never be a “victim.”