on assault and high school boyfriends
By the time I started dating in high school, I’d already been sexually assaulted. Those early relationships were a little extra fraught for me—I’d only had the terminology to accurately describe what had happened to me for about a year, and the idea of talking about it in any detail was downright terrifying. Still, I was a teenage girl who rocked out to Taylor Swift and desperately wanted to know love, and when presented with the opportunity, I dove into dating.
My first boyfriend, who lasted approximately three months and was away for summer vacation for almost all of that time, never found out about my assault. (We still follow each other on Instagram, though, so maybe he knows now.) My second boyfriend, whose tenure neared a year and spanned my final months of high school, did. He was the first person I’d told besides my mom, who found out when it happened.
That moment, that conversation, could have gone very badly. I was sixteen and he was fourteen; I didn’t expect him to have the vocabulary or knowledge of the world to accurately process my reality. Hell, I didn’t have the words to process it. I don’t even remember if I used the term “sexual assault” when I told him; I was in a weird kind of denial for several years as a teenager. The words came out unrehearsed over iMessage, sent from my iPod Touch to his back when we didn’t all have smartphones. I can’t remember most of what I said, but I think I started with “I have to tell you about something that happened to me when I was little.” The words were simple, because they were all I had, but they laid my story bare. At the time, I don’t think I realized why I was telling him any of it, but some part of my heart and mind foraged on anyway.
I didn’t have high expectations for the discussion—I wasn’t familiar with virtually any discourse surrounding assault, but I’d heard the boys at my high school joking and cackling about assault and harassment starting the day we’d learned about them. I, on the other hand, spent days poring over the federal government’s mandates on and definitions of sexual harassment and sexual assault, trying to understand where my attack best fit and why it could seemingly belong in both categories. High school me didn’t understand enough about power dynamics and control to put the nail in that coffin and say, authoritatively, yes, it was assault. But I knew it was bad, and I knew if I was going to really commit to a relationship, my partner would need to know.
His response was everything I’d never dared to hope for. The exact words are adrift in my memory somewhere, but the message was clear—he understood, he acknowledged my pain, and he said that oh-so-important line: this should never have happened to you. At the time, that idea blew me away; of course I understood that assault was bad and wasn’t supposed to happen, but I don’t think I’d let myself truly entertain the idea that I had deserved better. The victim-blaming had already sunk in deep, but with just a few words, my boyfriend threw me a rope to start climbing out of the abyss. It’s one I cling to to this day.
When I realized this was how I wanted to close out Sexual Assault Awareness Month for 2020, the truth of the matter startled me: here I was, a person constantly advocating but never daring to truly hope, ending one of the darkest months of my writing year on a high note. I could have dove deeper; I could have dropped you all in the dark and shown you what the bottom of that abyss looks like. But my mind and my writing chose something better, and I’m grateful for it, because we need these stories, too. We need the people who are confronted with unspeakable horrors for maybe the first time whose immediate reaction is compassion and love.
You see, this story doesn’t stop with my high school boyfriend. It’s been Cameron, my undergrad work spouse who followed me into the dark for some of my favorite voiceovers in Don’t Tell; it’s been my fantastic partners across the years, all of whom have been both accepting and accommodating; it’s been everyone who’s ever played on a Letters piece; it’s been Vince and Chaz and Connor and everyone who’s learned the vulnerable look on my face when I ask for a walk to my car; it’s been Brandon and Kyle, my little cousins who didn’t know until just about a year ago but who worried more about making sure I was okay than how they felt about it.
This story continues as the years go on, because even now, that reaction isn’t one I take for granted. I don’t expect to be believed. I never assume anyone’s in my corner unless I hear it from them directly. That may never go away, and it magnifies the significance of everyone who’s ever held their heart close to mine just to bear some of the burden.
So, my friends, allies, colleagues, fans, and those in uncertain standing, thank you for bearing witness. Thank you for holding this space and making my words part of your life. Thank you for reading week after week as I continuously say we have work to do. And even if you’re not in the fight yet, even if you’re trying to work your way out of complicated power dynamics that make you complicit in what I’m actively fighting against, please know your presence does not go unnoticed. In these matters, I can only speak for myself, but I’m grateful for your time, even when I proceed to demand accountability from you elsewhere.
And now, I think, I’ll put Sexual Assault Awareness Month to rest on the blog. I deeply love the writing I get to do for this series—most of it is written six to ten months in advance, with the exception of this post, which is about three weeks ahead of time—and I’m always grateful for the folks who show up to read what lives in my brain. While I probably won’t start writing 2021’s content for a couple months yet, please know your response and support keeps me in this (and, as much as it can, keeps this fun). If you have a story to share or a question to ask, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. My inbox is open.
Next week, we’re taking another deep dive into power dynamics, and I’m stoked to have you with me. For now, let’s go change the world.
Thanks for reading! This blog is part of my writing for Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2020. If you like what you read (or got something out of it, or feel fulfilled/validated/educated), tune back in every Saturday at 8pm MST(/PDT). For more, join me on Patreon, or follow me on Instagram @ordinarilymeg.