I wrote this a few months ago, after seeing a video of Laurie Halse Anderson reading her poem “Listen”. It was very difficult to write, but I couldn’t get the poem and the memories it evoked out of my head.

The italicized stuff comes from Laurie Halse Anderson’s poem “Listen,” about the reader reaction to her novel Speak.

“Melinda is a lot like this girl I know. No, she’s a lot like… me.”

Like Melinda, I was raped in high school. He was my boyfriend. He said he loved me, and I believed him. But then he pressured me into doing things I wasn’t ready to do. He sexually, verbally, and emotionally abused me throughout the course of our relationship. It was my first relationship, so I didn’t know any better. I felt worthless and like no one else would ever love me, so I stayed, even once I realized that our relationship would never change. I didn’t get out of the relationship until we had the worst fight we’d ever had, one that absolutely terrified me. No one who knew me had any idea that I was being abused.

“This book opened my mouth.”

I’ve read Speak twice, once in high school before I recognized that the relationship I was in was abusive, and once when I was nineteen, after I had left the relationship, but before I had confided in anyone about the abuse. I related so much to Melinda the second time I read the novel. I knew what it felt like to be jittery and frightened around men, to have a secret you couldn’t tell even your closest friends. I knew what it felt like not to be able to speak up. And soon after that, I found out what it was like to speak up and not be supported. In part because of this novel, because I understood that only by speaking up could I heal, I felt safe enough to confide in someone, only to be terribly hurt and disappointed by his reaction.

I’ve only told two people what happened to me in detail. Well, make that one. Justin asked me to write to him and tell him why I don’t trust guys, and I wanted him to know. I thought he needed to know; if it was going to work between us, he had to know. I was incredibly anxious about his reaction, but I stripped away all the defenses I’d built up around myself and did the best I could to honestly put my experiences down on paper. It was incredibly triggering to deliberately relive things I try not to think about, but I did it because I thought it would be worth it. I had never known Justin not to be a compassionate, kind man, so although I was worried about how he would react, I didn’t truly believe he would react badly.

“I hate talking, but I am trying.”

And then I waited. First I rationalized his silence, telling myself, “He’s busy; it takes a while for letters to get there and back; a letter will come any day now.” I didn’t hear from him for two months. When I did, he said, “I’m appalled that you don’t talk about your issues, but I’m not interested in you. Please don’t write to me again.” I felt that my faith in his kindness, compassion and feelings for me had been horribly misplaced. And I was heartbroken that the person I was falling in love with thought I wasn’t good enough because of my past. I didn’t want to ever talk to anyone about the abuse I suffered again. Lately, however, I am finding the strength to talk about it, but in my own time and on my own terms.

“I hate talking, but I am trying.”


2 thoughts on “Untitled

  1. Dear sweet girl. I’m so proud of you for owning your past and working through it. It takes so much more strength and grace to deal with it rather than bury it. And if Southern women have anything, it’s strength and grace.

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