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Sometimes, I need to be honest with myself: I am still afraid. Part of me will always be afraid. I was harmed. I was traumatized. I spent two and a half years in danger. I am afraid of having to interact with him. I am afraid of getting too close to him. Even worse, I am afraid of what he thinks of me now. I am afraid of what he says about me now. I am afraid of the picture he paints of me to himself and to the others still in his life. I am afraid of the fact that people in my life are still in his life to some degree. I am afraid of the fact that my side of the story isn’t the only side for everyone. I have to accept at times that I am still afraid. There is a collage of photos above my desk of primarily my junior and senior years of high school. He is only in one of them, a group photo. But at the same time, he’s in all of them. There is a memory of him, an association, in every single photograph of myself I have. Truly. In photos of me as a child—I’m filled with nostalgia and grief for the girl who lived pre-him. Photos of me now—each an act of resistance, tied to this period of time post-him, when I am desperately trying to free myself of these chains every day. He still lives in me. What happened to me still lived in me. I cannot run from the truth that this is my story. And that is a terrifying truth that catches up with me sometimes. I have to remind myself that these truths are normal, valid, and simply a part of who I am in this moment. Maybe they won’t always be, but this is where I am now. But I also must remind myself that it is the fact that I live with these truths every day; the fact that I wake up in this narrative every day and rise to the occasion of continuing on every day; this is what makes me strong. Sometimes it feels like I am merely surviving when in reality, my bravery to live in this life where this is my story every day really means I am thriving. I am strong. I am strong. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am beautiful. I am beautiful. My story is mine, and I will continue writing it.

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