I Am Not Stupid

One of the unfortunate laws of atrocity is that the ones who truly come to know its nature are never left to tell of it.

Trigger warning: violence, abuse.

As my Lyft driver turned off of my street and into the night, carting me off to LAX where I would climb onto a massive airplane, drift off into a melatonin-induced sleep, and wake up on familiar, distant soil, I couldn’t help but think, “I will return back to Los Angeles a different person.”

I’m not one to invest too much in my feelings, because they change so often. But this one felt strong, and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because I would be spending more time with my family than I had since moving across the country the previous year. Or perhaps it was because I was adamant about avoiding an ex-boyfriend whom I had made an effort to see during each of my past short visits home (our doomed long-distance fling had come to an “official” end in early November). I finally rationalized that it could be attributed to coming to terms with the fact that my family would be moving from NC to Atlanta in June — though when I forced myself to think about it, their move didn’t really bother me on a personal level.

Wherever that sharp, dramatic thought came from, it planted a seed in my mind and the feeling spread throughout my whole body. Sometimes things happen to you and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. You can only absorb them, feel them, and begin to mold the shape they take into part of the person you’re becoming. They are a part of you—they will always be part of you—but they aren’t you.

On the night of December 27, I was taken from a bar in Downtown Raleigh, where I had been spending the evening with friends. An artist who has become a dear friend and confidant to me was playing a show at a new venue that I had never been to before, and I was excited to see her and catch up with our mutual friends at the party. I felt safe. I felt loved and welcomed. I could have never guessed that I would black out in the bathroom of the bar and wake up in the backseat of an SUV with a man in the driver’s seat yelling something incomprehensible at me, my drug-addled brain struggling to understand his words through the hazy veil of my own half-consciousness.

To be frank, this was not the first time something truly bad had happened to me. I was previously in an abusive relationship with an addict, and there were a few terrible nights that struck fear into my heart that I had never known before. But the fear that I felt on the night of December 27 is something that is difficult to put into words. I feared for my life. I thought I was going to die: really die. Not the feeling-like-you’re-going-to-die that you felt the first time you had a terrible hangover, or the panic and breathlessness that overwhelmes you before speaking in public. As I hid behind a row of leaf-bare shrubs lining a dorm building at Peace College, I accepted that I might die within minutes, and if I moved even an inch and gave away my hiding spot, the men I had just escaped might end my life.

It’s hard to explain exactly what happened, because there were only two moments of lucidity that I experienced: waking up in the back of the SUV, and hiding behind the bushes. The most pervasive emotion I can point back to feeling is fear. The only sensation I can really remember is wetness. It had rained that day, and the ground was wet. The rainwater seeped through my clothes as I laid on the ground. Mud caked my brand new shirt and pants that had just received as a Christmas present from my mother. I will never forget watching my dad painstakingly clean the mud off of my pants in our kitchen sink the next day, while I sat expressionless across the counter.

I don’t know how I was able to send my parents the address of where I was located. In the moment of clarity behind the bush, I knew that I was near Peace College. Two of my good friends (two people who have been formative in my spiritual life and my life as a whole) lived in an apartment nearby. I kept thinking “if I could just escape past my captors and get to my friends’ apartment, I will be safe.” But I also thought, “if I die here I will be okay. Because I am near a place where I was loved and I was accepted, and that is enough.”

My mom slept in bed with me that night. I remember telling her, “I am afraid. What if they find us here? What if they find you and dad and Will? Are you sure that we are safe?” And I remember waking up and sobbing to her, trying to tell her how sorry I was. How I didn’t know how it all happened, and how I didn’t think anyone would believe me. “I am so stupid,” I said over and over again. I am so stupid.

We all sat in the kitchen, silent for a long time. Each member of my family shared a small section of the story. They had seen the nondescript SUV with its lights off parked not far from where they found me. When the men in the SUV saw my parents grabbing me and stuffing me in the car, they sped off. My parents tried to follow them and get license plate information, any information at all, but they weren’t able to keep up. Once in the safety of the car, I was inconsolable and said “crazy things.” I told my parents what the men wanted from me, but that I didn’t think they believed me or my story.

I sat in the kitchen with my head pounding in unimaginable pain, random numbness tinging areas of my limbs and back, prepared for a different kind of pain: the pain of disbelief and denial, of my story meaning nothing, or worse, meaning that I was crazy. But they believed me. Evidence or no evidence, they believed me and told me I was not stupid.

The aftermath of what happened is even more difficult for me to talk about than the event itself. The ignorance and dismissal I experienced at the hand of the Raleigh Police Department is abhorrent and inexcusable. But what matters most, right now, is that I survived and I am here to tell of my experience. I am pressing on and living my life despite what has happened to me. Most importantly, I am able to talk about what happened honestly, and in hopes that in some small way, my story will help others. That actions I take will help this violence and abuse against women stop and that maybe, by reading this, you will take other women’s stories more seriously.

I wanted to include all sorts of important statistics in this post, and paint the bigger picture of what’s happening on a local, national, and global scale. I will do that sometime, but I can’t right now, because I have to keep telling my story. I have to believe my story and believe in the stories of other women.

I have to fully accept and know that I Am Not Stupid.