There's this myth I heard a while back, about how all of the cells in the human body are fully replaced every seven years. It's a comforting thought, believing that one day, just four more years in the future, I would have lips he never kissed with vile intention; skin he never bruised; a body he never violated and took advantage of. Sadly, it's not true (the science is a lot more complicated than that) but even if it were, I'm not entirely sure it would change much. The memories would still bury themselves in my mind and once in a while come out of that wretched hibernation (like they tend to do) to remind me of the real reason why I can't shake this nagging feeling that I'm a stranger in my own body. Those memories race by my mind distant and foggy, close, yet unable to be touched; dangerous, like when you were a kid sitting in the backseat of the car, speeding down the highway and trying desperately to keep your gaze focused on each car that whizzed past outside the window until your head ached, your stomach twisted with motion sickness, and your eyes watered from not being blinked. When those memories come I feel everything so much, so deeply, until they leave me exhaustingly numb. Last night, I was on FaceTime with my current partner when my mind was flooded. I started to shake, my whole body froze, tensed up for no apparent reason. Fight or flight. Fight or flight. Out of nowhere, I suddenly felt like that kid in the backseat again. But this time there were no cars passing by that could drown out my fear. I am 14. It is close to 2am. There is a man in the front seat. He is not my dad, but he wants me to always call him “sir”. The son of the man, my boyfriend, sits next to me in the backseat. He moves his hand to my thigh without asking. Hesitantly, I cross my legs. My eyes are focused on the glimmer of metal. There is a handgun on the middle console. I shut my eyes - hard - and open them again. It is still there. I blink back tears. Somehow the only thing louder than the music on the radio is my heart pounding up my throat, in my ears. And then another memory flashes by behind my eyelids, this one earlier than the other. It is night in the neighborhood and I am between the fences of two strangers' backyards. My skin is wan, bloodless in the moonlight. I can't get the taste of dirt out of my mouth or the grass stains off my pajama pants. Shivers of disgust and self-loathing crawl up my spine. I want to throw up. Just because my “No” was a whisper and not a scream, does that mean that it was my fault? I thought he loved me enough to stop when I told him that it hurt, when tears rose in my eyes, when I started to bleed. I guess I was wrong. I am back to last night, in my bed on FaceTime with my partner, and I am trembling so hard that I feel I might suddenly fall apart into shards of the 14 year old girl I was on the floor. They remind me where I am, when I am. They help me to breathe. I tell them I am sorry for being so fragile. Every time a man yells, I am a child again, being dragged by the scruff of my neck and taught to be obedient. Why am I like this? My partner, like many of even my closest friends, doesn't know exactly what happened. It's hard to speak up, not because I'm afraid of some sort of ridicule or negative reaction but because I'm afraid of being treated differently if I do. Being treated like what I am: weak, when I so desperately want to be strong. I don't want to be pitied, you don't need to feel bad for me, I already feel bad enough for myself. And f*ck you if you try to glorify or justify my experience. I am not suddenly brave - a “survivor” and not a victim - the moment that I speak up about something that rendered me silent for so long. It will never be okay. My trauma did not toughen my skin, it denied me the childhood I deserved. It did not make me stronger, and it did not make me kinder. It made me scared, angry, and vulnerable. I had to pick up the sharp, bloody shards of who I was and build myself kind and soft again. My abuse is not poetic. It was not justice. It was not necessary to get me where I am today. I prayed then, every night, but “God” left me to die, and I saved myself. There is no such thing as karma. So you tell me I am gentle now? I should be grateful now? I did not deserve the violence it took to become this gentle.

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