So I recently bought a book called Ten Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat. No, I am not kidding. Ha.
Ok before you freak out - no, I do not think I'm fat. No, I do not think I'm old. Am I sometimes afraid that this experience has aged me? Yes. Is that the reason why I bought the book? No. The book is just a KILLER lesson in all things health and wellness, and with a title like that- also a little convicting.
A few days after the assault, I went to a voice lesson that happened to be recorded on video. I took an Uber with the windows rolled down. Being in the subway, or any confined space, gave me severe anxiety. I felt like I was going to explode while simultaneously crumpling up into a screaming, crying, hyperventilating ball on the floor. I didn't take the subway for weeks. I needed to feel the air on my face. To know that I was free to stop the car and get out at any time.
When I watched the tape back that night, I realized that the girl on camera didn't look like me. She looked sad and despondent; unable to connect, lost in a million thoughts. Her face was dark and lifeless. I was really taken aback. I'm not sure what I expected to look like. I guess I just didn't think I would look so changed. After the experience of seeing myself in the hospital mirror, I hadn't really looked at myself in the days after the assault. I couldn't.
"What were you wearing?"
"The clothes in your evidence bag. My favorite blue long sleeve sweater, leather leggings, booties, and a leather jacket"
What was I wearing? The question struck me as odd. I guess that if I had been discovered with no clothes on, or had arrived to the hospital in different clothes, it would make sense. But considering the clothes were sitting in an evidence bag in the same hospital as we were, the question seemed redundant. Unfair. If it had been summer, I'd likely have been wearing cut off shorts and a flowy tank top. Or a summer dress. Would that have made some sort of difference to the crime itself?
They never asked, but I've asked myself, "what was your face doing? It couldn't have been the clothes - leggings and a sweater aren't exactly 'come have sex with me' attire. My hair was frizzy from the rain. So it wasn't like I had sex hair. It had to have been my face. What was written on my face that made them think - 'yes - that girl is the perfect target.'?"
Some experts say that predators can spot easy targets. Easy targets meaning a person who has already been assaulted or abused before. Did my face unknowingly give me away?
Or what if it wasn't my face at all? What if it had nothing to do with me? Maybe what I looked like meant nothing. Maybe type was irrelevant. Maybe it was simply because there were only two of us, instead of a group of girls, and two was the only number that fit within their well thought out, and perfectly executed, plan.
Or maybe type did mean something. Maybe one of their ex-girlfriends looked just like me, or just like my friend...
I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on. The rabbit trails are endless. But why keep trying to find logical reason for an illogical display of human behavior? Let's say that in an alternate world, Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler were assigned to my case. They met me at the hospital to ask about the events of that night and sent Finn (Ice-T) to the bar of the incident. He scared the owner into giving him the security footage that showed my friend being carried into a cab and me being led "like a dead fish" (to use the bouncer's own words) in the opposite direction. Through unrelenting detective work they found the guys and dragged them down to the precinct and Elliot questioned them until they broke and admitted to drugging me and then having what they deemed "consensual sex." Rafael Barba prosecuted my attackers and in a ruthless line of questioning managed to trick them into saying why they did it, and actually classifying it as rape. So after a long and arduous process, I get the reasoning behind the crime - the why behind the 'why me?'
I don't think I'd find it comforting. It wouldn't change the events of that night. Understanding why people felt that I fit the bill, won't help me reconcile that I was used to pay it.
I had to learn to love the girl in the mirror again. To see her beauty. To not study her features looking for the trigger. That took time and patience. And bravery. For a good, long, while all I saw was someone weak. Someone who couldn't fight back hard enough. Someone who questioned her ability to read others. Someone who was angry and defiant, reckless, and stupid. Then, I saw a girl who was tired, who didn't think she could fight anymore. A girl who was broken, hurting, and ashamed. A little while after that, I saw a liar. Someone so full of pride, that she couldn't admit to the pit she was living in. A girl who was past redemption. Unworthy of anything good. Totally and completely alone. Hopeless. I saw a girl who needed help, who desperately longed for it, but didn't know how to ask for it. A girl who was embarrassed that she'd waited this long. A girl who thought she was unloveable. Then that girl let go a little bit. She agreed that she couldn't do it alone anymore. After that, I saw a girl who accepted help, who opened up, who was brutally honest with herself and others, and who made the decision to find healing. Then I saw a girl who leaned on others. Who believed them and allowed them to speak truth over her. Finally, I saw a girl who decided to talk to God again - to ask him why, to beg Jesus to heal her. To throw her anger, hurt, pain, frustration, and deep loss at the foot of the cross and wait. She decided to walk with Jesus again, even if at a slow pace. To believe him, and to stop running from him. And after walking a while, I saw light, and maybe even a little joy. I looked in the mirror and saw a woman who realized she was FREE.
The reality is that our experiences do age us - but age isn't ugly. It's beautiful.
My face never did look the same as it did prior to that night. Instead, it looks unmistakably different. It looks like I gained a little wisdom and allowed myself to be humbled. Like I learned to love myself and do my best to see myself the way Jesus does. Like I found unshakeable faith, dealt with real pain, and found healing. Like I stood in the face of opposition and asserted strength. I look in the mirror now and I see a woman I'm proud to be, and for a while there, I didn't know if that would ever be possible.
I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. - Psalm 34:5