I have a few and I hope it’s ok to just clump them all together. I feel like, in a way, they kind of all go together. When I was about 8, I was molested by a high schooler down the road. My parents tried to play dumb about it and because of that, I thought there wasn’t really anything wrong with what he was doing. All I knew was that sometimes, hands hurt. Eventually, I told them a few details and my dad went and threatened the kid. No more, no less. Trouble especially started when I hit puberty. My hair curled up, I grew into my eyebrows, and I became womanly. Oh, I’d try to hide myself with oversized hoodies and sweatshirts.

Apparently, that only encouraged men to let their imaginations run wild. Half cousins tried sticking their hands up my shirt or would pick me up in ways that their hands were between my legs or make disgusting comments about how wonderful I was to look at. Half cousins. I couldn’t stand being touched because hands caused pain. Guys at school only wanted me because they thought I would be a great night. No value to my name or my thoughts, just wet dreams about what they wanted to do. A guy I was interested in, he played nice at first. But then I guess he got tired of trying to get to know me and tried to force himself on me on a bus full of other kids and adults. And no one came to help. Another time, he slapped me because he didn’t get his way. I wasn’t going to put up with that, so I just walked away.

Strangers and their comments and their disgusting attempts at flirting. Never an “I’d like to get to know you.” It was always “Damn, girl, the things I’d do.” “I can tell you’re a girl who likes to have fun.” “How about tonight, we just pretend you’re of age?” Even my own dad made comments about how he knew what I looked like naked.

Before I left for college, I met an older guy while I was working. He couldn’t get over how wild and beautiful my hair was, my one pride and joy. He said all the right things. I decided to hang out with him one night, completely naive. I honestly thought it’d just be a nice movie date, nothing more or less. Besides, I had just donated blood earlier that day. I felt weak and was in no mood for getting frisky. But he was. I’ve always heard the first time may hurt, but I wasn’t expecting the added pain of a guy forcing himself on me and in me. I begged him not to do it, I wasn’t ready, just wait. I tried to push him off, but he was 235 pounds of muscle. I was 135 soaking wet. And he asked me why I looked like I was about to cry, I just needed to relax. When he was done, he put his hand around my throat and told me to tell him it felt good. In one night, I was raped and lost my virginity. Everything hurt. It was one of the most painful nights I’d experienced. I panicked and told him I was bleeding and it was no more “I’ll whisper sweet nothings to you.” He became every other guy. “That’s called having your cherry popped.” But damn it, he just couldn’t get over my hair. How beautiful it was. That mixed with my obvious innocence, I was intoxicating to him. I wanted to be sick.

A month later, at college, I was raped again. I thought I’d be safe, I was right next to the door, we were just playing cards, and there was nothing intimate going on. He just randomly told me that I should probably go. I was confused and asked why, if he was ok. And then he just...attacked me. I said nothing and did nothing. What was the point? They don’t stop. They don’t listen. What was my voice worth?
I tried to seek counseling but the woman didn’t want to listen to me. She encouraged me to act like someone else who was happy, to hide my sadness. By the way, I’m opening my own, private practice. I’d love to see you there. I didn’t go back. I was broken.

And then I met him. He showed me the beauty in the sound of someone listening to me. His hands showed me comfort, not pain. They held me, instead of restrained me. They wiped away tears instead of causing them. He let me cry and scream and when my dreams became too much, he held me closer and told me he was there. My pain mattered. It needed to be felt so I could begin to heal. He even slipped the ring on my finger with gentle care. It’s still a battle, but he’s always by my side. I can sleep again. I don’t cry as much as I used to. There are other things to occupy my mind. Like our kids.