Assault comes up. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s as simple mentioning to my friend M that I’m surprised she’s only had positive sexual experiences, since she’s had numerous, numerous sexual partners.
“Yeah, I mean, I’ve had friends, you know, who’ve been assaulted, raped, or, or molested. I had a friend who got roofied twice.”
“Wwwhhhaatt?” D says.
“Yeah, but there have definitely been times when guys have been really, aggressive,” she says to me, her eyes widening, “and I’m just like, ‘nope’ and I leave before anything happens. I think it’s because I was taught to be assertive.”
“Some girls, that kind of stuff would just happen because they wouldn’t want to be rude and say they’re uncomfortable,” D says.
“I’ve always been, definitely, very assertive and I think that’s why that kind of thing hasn’t happened to me,” she says.
“Way to go,” D says and throwing his hand across the table, they high five.
I feel my throat tighten, my smile stick. A second ago I was buzzed bravado, my voice bouncing along the walls of our booth in this dark bar, but I don’t know what to say. “Good for you?” I hear hints of “They could have avoided it,” “They should have known better,” and my mind goes blank. They make it all sound easy. I think it’s all such luck.
I bike quickly home afterwards, slowing down on hills, breathing out hard as I rethink this exchange. The question I’ve asked myself alot over the past five years since I broke up with Izzo, rattles around, “How did I let this happen to me?” “Why didn’t I do the right thing?” The right thing is always not being emotionally abused, not feeling scared and guilted into sex, not continuing to date someone after they tell you if you don’t have sex with them you don’t care about them and therefore there is no point in living.
I scowl and think, “They don’t know what it was like. They like to think if they had been in my shoes they would have acted differently, but who’s to say who they’d be in my shoes? Who’s to say if this ‘assertiveness’ or ‘rebelliousness’ they’ve attributed to many great acts, this foundation of who they are, who’s to say which way it would turn? They can’t know who they would have been with my upbringing, what parts of them are truly unbreakable.
I don’t want to be angry at anyone for the stories they tell themselves to believe they are who they want to be. Could I have acted differently? Maybe? I don’t want to hate who I was back then. She was me, she still is me, and I didn’t know better. I failed myself frequently, daily in the past, and I still wished it didn’t happen, but fuck, is it my fault? Yes, no, no, yes.
I can imagine, if it had all turned out differently, attributing some steadfast internal quality to why I was never assaulted or abused. Telling others I’ve always been a strong person, that that strength kept me out of those situations. I would thank it for getting me through adolescence sexually unscathed, but now, looking back, I see my strength was directed elsewhere. It was what helped me get through each of those days when my family thought my dad would die. It is still what helps me live independently from my family, in another state, working towards goals which will be achieved through my hard work. We don’t know how our core will serve us.