Updated: Sep 6
My assault last November was more than a violation. It was an execution.
My rape lies at the epicenter of a devastating earthquake. Sudden, unexpected and crippling to my world, the last year has been filled with aftershocks and tremors –– seismic reminders of the irreparable damage done to my life.
I survived the assault, but my rapist killed me.
The earth is often used as a metaphor for stability. We use idioms like "solid as a rock" and encourage the practice of grounding oneself. But what happens when something you perceived as a constant is not as fixed as you thought?
Who I was –– the person that I built my life around –– is gone forever. And worse than grappling with the death of your closest loved one, I've been forced to reconcile with the loss of myself.
One's identity encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that form a sense of self.
I am a daughter. A friend. A student. A woman. A feminist. A Tar Heel. I am a seasoned Delta Advocate for the University of North Carolina. I am informed. Careful. Smart. Empathetic. Kind.
I am NOT a victim of rape. Of violence. Of betrayal. Of abuse.
I don't know her. It's no wonder I couldn't recognize the face of this new woman. This new body. This new self.
According to Psychology Today, identity is an amalgamation of experiences that creates a steady sense of who one is over time, even as new facets are developed and incorporated into one's identity.
So how could one night of my life and an assault by a stranger strip me of 22 years?
Why is my resistance, no, unwillingness to allow my rape to become part of who I am destroying everything I thought I knew about myself?
I took my love, took it down
I climbed a mountain, and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Till the landslide brought me down
In 1973, a 27-year-old Stevie Nicks wrote the song "Landslide."
In a 2004 interview for Q Magazine, Nicks says,
"I wrote it in Aspen. Three months before I joined Fleetwood Mac, along with Rhiannon. And uh, that's where the snow-covered hills come from ... I realized then that everything could tumble, and when you're in Colorado, and you're surrounded by these incredible mountains, you think avalanche. It meant the whole world could tumble around us and the landslide would bring you down."
My rape produced a landslide.
Simply put: life's not fair.
People often ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" I often ask myself, "Who's to say who good people are?" Or, vice versa, "Who's bad?" Mother Teresa believed poor people should suffer, and Al Capone opened free soup kitchens throughout Chicago. Saddam Hussein gave free education to Iraq, and Abraham Lincoln, despite passing the Emancipation Proclamation, was extremely racist.
Maybe that means there's no rhyme or reason for why things happen, good or bad. Or maybe, it means that we all have a little bit of good and bad within us. Ironically, Lady Justice is often depicted wearing a blindfold in addition to the scales and sword she holds. But is justice truly blind? Or rather, should it be?
I met my rapist on the night he assaulted me. I don't know if it was his first offense or if it'll be his last, yet I have to take action –– practically slam the gavel myself –– to achieve what society deems as "just." I couldn't live with myself if I didn't, but it's something that will never sit right with me.
I hate the man who raped me. But who am I to judge anyone?
The bitter truth is that there is NOTHING anyone can do or say to alleviate the pain of what happened to me. And there is NOTHING that can be done to him to equal the harm he caused me that night.
I want to rip my hair out and scream. I want to cry. Throw up. Punch something. Kill myself. There is no justice. No solution to make it all go away. No bleach to wash away this stain on my life. How THE FUCK am I supposed to be OK with that?
These are the emotions that washed over me as I sat out-of-body, watching as everything I'd been building in my life come crashing down.
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Uncontrollable and suddenly changing. Only after you're on the way down do you appreciate what was lost on the top of the mountain.
In theory, we know that the earth is changing constantly, from simple erosion to great seismic shifts. Landscapes change: mountains get folded, rivers change course and islands get created from volcanic eruptions on the ocean floor. Yet, it feels unchanging.
An earthquake is a dramatic event. It creates devastation, lives are lost and homes are destroyed. Landmarks that have been around for over a hundred years crumble. But still, the rumble will be cleared and life will be rebuilt.
Life moves on. Can I?
Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder, even children get older
And I'm getting older too
Life did move on.
Mere days after my 9.0 magnitude earthquake, my finals week came and went. The application deadline for my dream graduate program passed. Christmas break flew by cheerless, and New Year's didn't feel like a new year at all.
Normally high-spirited, I lost the joy in my face. I lamented over the little girl whose hopes, dreams, trust, and happiness were compromised by an immense violation out of her control.
'Cause I've built my life around YOU
I take my love, take it down
Oh, climb a mountain and turn around
And If you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Well, the landslide will bring you down
Oh, the landslide will bring it down
It's not the stages of grief, rather it's the fragments of grief.
My body and identity bear the permanent scar of a horrific trauma. I must learn to navigate my new allocation in the world, gauge safe situations, trust others, and feel worthy of love again.
I can adapt to live with this new body and self, but I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully grieve what was taken away from me on the night of my assault.
I am forever changed. But landscapes change so, of course, our lives certainly will.
I want to clarify that only part of me fell down the mountain. The half that fell –– naive, pure, metaphorically whole –– is what is worth fighting for. But the half that remains is worth fighting for too.
While I mourn the loss of who I was before my assault, at the bottom of my mountain, a great shift of perspective encourages me to climb again. Inevitable, I hope my next landslide will be letting go of the things I cannot change.
When an experience shakes you to the core and you feel the ground open beneath your feet, let the landslide bring you down.