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When I was 14, a boy a grade older than me got my number from a friend and started calling me. One night while playing hide-and-seek in the dark, I felt his hands traveling up between my legs, and heard him whispering in my ear that he knew I liked it. He knew? How could he know what I liked? I still remember the taste of cherry cough drops on his mouth. The rest of the night I couldn’t get his hands out of that place. I moved around while watching a movie, I’d twist or turn but he’d always find me. I didn’t know what it was or why he thought that would feel good, but no matter what I said he told me what I should feel. I told him to drive me home and vowed to never talk to him again, my body still numb all over. 

For the next three years, he was always there. I’d see him sneaking around corners with freshman girls who I had heard rumors of him having sex with. I’d hear whispered stories about him assaulting friends of mine in dark cars in parking lots. He’d text me sometimes, begging me to send nude photos of him. I dated and loved but he was always there no matter how many times I told him no. Maybe I was too nice. But maybe that’s all I’d been taught, how to be a nice girl. Nothing of what sexual assault was, or what my feelings were, or how to protect myself, or how to run.

When I turned 18 he decided to join a church. My church. And it was as if I was the only one who knew the truth. He was the golden boy from then on. Blonde hair, blue eyes, tan skin; went to all the events, everyone knew who he was and talked about him. And lucky me, somehow, as always, I was the one he wanted. No one would believe me when I told them stories of his past. And who was I to judge him when he was a changed person through Christ? Suddenly, he was doing everything right. Why was I the bad person who didn’t see the good in him? He kept asking and asking me to be his girlfriend, and finally I said yes because even my Mom loved him, and can’t you trust your mom? 

It started as no laying down together, don’t kiss for more than two seconds and never be in the house alone. But it turned into climbing into my bed late at night, waking me up and begging me to grind into his lap. My mom thought it was cute that he wanted to say goodnight. He got everything he wanted willingly. Except me. When I didn’t do what he wanted, he was angry, he would shut me out and then demand I give him what he wanted. When I broke up with him, everyone took his side. He’d have texting conversations with my parents. They’d tell him they wish he would take me back. When he got his wisdom teeth out they took him popsicles. When I broke up with him I was grounded. No one would listen. I started to wonder if maybe I was wrong. Maybe this what love was supposed to be. Everyone took his side, even my own parents. 

I remember him calling me in the middle of the night. "Come over." I went, because everyone thought I should. I just wanted to be held. If my own parents didn’t choose me at least he was choosing me, right? He turned off the TV, pinned me down and started banging his hips against mine. I tried to move him, I tried to stop. I used all the strength I had to keep my legs together. I said no. Church music was playing in the background. “Open up,” he said, and forced my legs apart. He shoved my head down and I cried and whispered the word no over and over but he only told me to watch my teeth, then sent me home. My body was numb and my mind was begging me to fall asleep, to please never remember it again. He left. I cried. But still no one listened to me. 

It was a year later when I told someone, the email began with the words, “ I don’t know if you’ll believe me…” and the therapy session began with, “I don’t know if this is true but….”. Eventually, I knew for myself that it was true. It was my truth. It did happen and there was a reason I was so scarred. I spent the next year in therapy, breaking down every ounce of anxiety I felt when the boy in the library asked for my number. Coming home from dates raging at the guys who thought they could put their arm around me when I told them not to. Sitting comatose and glazed over with fear in the hours leading up to any date activity. Having panic attacks when boys paid attention to me. Trying to be normal but couldn’t. 

When I met my person, I had been in therapy for a year. When he held my hand the first time I cried and thought, “not again, not again, not again” because I was still so scared. But when I told him how I felt, he listened and said he wouldn’t do reach for my hand again until I said he could. When he kissed me the first time I glazed over, staring at the ceiling unresponsive, reliving all the flashbacks of my past. He told me he wouldn’t do it again until I was comfortable. After months and months of listening to me wholeheartedly and working to remove my fears, he’s now my husband. And he’s taught me that more than anything, what I have to say matters. That I am heard. That what happened was real life, but what I am living now is real love. On our wedding night, all I remember thinking was, “This love is amazing,” as tears formed in my eyes. How amazing it is to feel real, true love and welcome it.

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