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The guy I called "my best friend," Anonymous (17)

When I first realized what had come to pass, I had just barely begun to awaken, still well within the purgatory realm between unconsciousness and alertness. The quiet was peaceful initially, but it was also disconcerting, for it signaled to me that I was no longer at the party, as did the hard, corrugated surface supporting my head. In the process of attempting to orient myself, my nearly-senseless fingers found pine needles in places one should never find pine needles; they felt bruises in places one should never feel bruises. Paradoxically, in places where one should always find undergarments, they found only cold, bare skin. I was too incapacitated to open my eyes and examine my whereabouts, let alone move my body. While I couldn’t see or move, nothing – not even the frigid February air – was enough to numb me to the sensation of his deceivingly warm, intrusive presence inside my cold, unconscious body. After his repeated thrusts hurled me into full attentiveness, I finally gathered the strength to open my eyes. I stared at my perpetrator through blurry eyes, unable to make out his outline. However intolerable my physical affliction, it was no match for the sickening feeling that crept over me when my limited field of vision came into focus on that which was closest to me – his left wrist. It was locked in position atop my left shoulder, effectively disabling any remaining physical ability I had to attempt an escape given my intoxicated state. In that fleeting moment of visual clarity, I found myself face to face with the bracelet I had tied on my best friend’s wrist just a couple of days prior – my best friend who had so kindly elected to be this evening's designated driver, and thus had not consumed a droplet of alcohol. Every day since then, a mysterious body has occupied my bed – one that is attached to my head and shoulders but does not seem to belong to me. In the first few months, whenever I ran my hand from my neck to midsection to confirm it was mine, I could not shake this feeling of detachment – this estrangement between body and mind. For the first week, I lived in full denial, forcing myself to buy into the "mind over matter" mentality I had rejected and considered ridiculous all my life. Despite the daily flashbacks, I convinced myself it was nothing more than a vivid nightmare. The denial kept me together, at least on a superficial, go-about-your-everyday-routine-like-nothing-happened level. However, it failed when he confessed to me the following weekend, in a fit of tears and deep remorse. I asked him why he waited so long to tell me. He responded that in the one moment I woke up and realized what was happening, despite how evidently inebriated I was, I consolidated the minuscule amount of physical strength I had to beg him to stop. When he didn't, I told him that I wouldn't remember that night; that my shame and hurt would blacklist the encounter from my mind, if my drunken state wasn't enough to accomplish this on its own. I made him promise never to speak of February 23, 2019, again, to never give me confirmation that the pain I felt was real – that it happened. Then, I passed out again, leaving myself subject to his continued assault for a period of time I do not know to this day. Sitting there on the other end of the phone, alone with nothing but a bottle of vodka for comfort, I despised him for falling short on his pledge to me. He told me that the days of the past week had felt like years of suffocating on guilt and regret, and he simply couldn't go another day without apologizing for the pain he had caused. Somehow, I very much doubted that the previous week had felt nearly as never-ending and unendurable for him as it had for me. Still, I forgave him, either by force of habit – emotional muscle memory developed over years of best friendship or because of my own tendencies to be submissive and let people walk all over me. I was raped by my best friend. I know this, but writing it is much easier than saying it out loud, and over a year later, I still have yet to do so. I refuse to sugarcoat the situation; the February incident is not an obstacle I have overcome. To this day, I still lie in bed at night wondering how a disgraceful decision made by someone else could have so much power over my perceptions of my own moral character and self-worth. After the trauma of my assault, my brain began a perpetual tug-of-war: my conscious mind, understanding it was objectively his fault; versus my subconscious, flooding me with unwarranted self-doubt and guilt. In the past year, I have worked relentlessly to reclaim a feeling of belonging within my own body. Everything I had built, from my grades to friendships to relationships with family, seemed to be disintegrating before my eyes. It was during this time of intense desperation that I found an outlet in journaling and writing, my solace and sanctuary. For me, writing has served as a way to seize control of the narrative, thereby shifting the power balance to my court and asserting autonomy over my body. While some journal entries have been concise, I have written something every day since February 23rd, working to reassemble the sense of self-love and harmony within my own skin that my rapist stole from me, along with my virginity and dignity. ***Below, I will attempt to sum up the self-discoveries I have made across hundreds of pages of introspective journalling and soul-searching into a few paragraphs: Those in my life I am lucky enough to care about and be cared about by telling me I am crazy for letting him back into my life. What do I mean by this? No, we are not best friends again. But we see each other occasionally, whether in passing or at group social events, and I am cordial – even friendly – with him. People are surprised to hear that seeing his face and hearing his name do not usually re-trigger the pain he put me through. I attribute this mostly to the fogginess of my memory from that night, and the fact (which I am so grateful for) that my eyes never made clear contact with his face. But that doesn't mean I have healed fully from the incident. I find myself reliving my few wakeful moments from that night when I happen to walk by a playground or park, perhaps even on a beautiful, sunny day during which I have otherwise felt nothing but carefree and happy. The flashbacks might come completely unsolicited and unexpected when a friend drives me home, maneuvering the steering wheel with a wrist full of friendship bracelets. I remember the pain when, out of the millions of things to see in everyday life, my eyes choose to latch onto one of the few they physically ~could~ latch onto that night. Sometimes, I am deeply grateful to have been unconscious during such a traumatic event. Other times, I am perturbed by a deep frustration, indignant that my memory of one of the most (unfortunately) impactful experiences of my life has been robbed from me. At times, not possessing the ability to remember has made it feel impossible to find clarity and closure. However, now, I recognize that in some capacities, not remembering is a gift. There is a certain level of clarity that comes from the fact that the last, focused pictures of his face stored in my memory are not those my brain captured during the biggest mistake of his life – the mistake that left me with physical and mental scars to last a lifetime; but the happier times we shared as best friends. And there is a certain level of closure in being able to commemorate and mourn the vital, positive role he once played in my life, but also to accept that he can play that role no longer; to accept that it is time for me to click "resume" on my life, but this time with more assertiveness, strength, and a grain of salt for self-protection purposes.

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