It’s a dark, narrow hallway to the back rooms of my mind. A creaky door that opens to a single bulb, presiding over the dusty files of the memory. The back corner, jammed with my old Rainbow Brite bike and some old stuffed animals, is stacked with the files of pain. The memories that I can’t get rid of, but don’t want to ever look at again either. The files that I’d rather would just fade, damaged and disappearing through time. Here are the dying evenings in late August, intermittently shining with the pulse of fireflies and sticky with humidity. Here I am locked inside a room with one desk lamp and two boys. Here is the loss of childhood and the introduction of fear. Here is a fight that I lost, that I know exists but never want to revisit.

In the twenty years since, the conversation of rape has shown up in my life in a hundred different ways. I know how I feel about it. I know what is lost from it, what insecurities are born from it. I remember the cracks in the walls and the light through the window shades. I remember the distance to the door handle, and the faint sound of laughter from another room. But I don’t want to talk about those memories. I don’t want to be looked at through sad eyes that tell me it wasn’t my fault. I don’t want someone to tell me I shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s my memory to carry. And I have carried it alone for a very long time. The way it replays changes through time, but always hovers over a thought that I could have—should have—fought harder. That the no’s weren’t frequent or forceful enough, that my pushes not with sufficient aggression. I get it: one no was enough, one push more than expressed my feelings. But knowing that doesn’t change the feelings that I could have been more clear-headed. The feeling that it was somehow my responsibility to be compliant to be liked.

When the conversation comes up, I feel angry on the behalf of anyone who has been taken advantage of. I don’t want to feel sorry for them, in the same way I don’t appreciate being felt sorry for. For every moment someone said no, and it somehow meant yes to someone else. I’m angry that such a thing makes us broken. That it weaves itself silently into the ways we trust and care for the ones we love. That for whatever reason, we weren’t protected in that moment, and no one can go back to protect us. I’m angry for the walls that get built up around our hearts and tell us we can’t really be who we are. Vulnerable. And sometimes afraid. And often strong enough to take a moment, put it in a box in the back of our brains, and go on living. Because we don’t want to talk it out. We want to move on. We want it to be the moment that it was, and not the definition of who we are.

“I don’t want to be looked at through sad eyes that tell me it wasn’t my fault.”

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