Where It Starts

It starts in an art closet.

You’re sixteen years old and you’re kissing a boy. The first boy you’ve ever kissed. The first boy you’ve ever dated. Your first everything.

You love him, you think.

You’re in an art closet, and you’re kissing a boy. He draws back, suddenly, and asks if you want to try it, finally. Go a little further. You don’t want to. You’re new at this. You’ve told him you don’t want to. He told you he respected it, that he wants you to feel comfortable. You thought he was dropping it.

He isn’t.

It’s the third or fourth time he’s asked, you think. You think about the guide he sent you about doing it, “to make you feel better”. You think about all he’s told you about how these things are important. How guys need these things. You think about how nice it is to have someone, a person, your person. You think about how you don’t want to lose him.

You do it.

You hate it.

You tell him you hate it. Yet, time and time again, you return to the closet. And time and time again, he asks you to do it. And you do.

He asks you to hook up. You feel sick. You repeat.

You hate that closet.

It starts in a hotel room in New Orleans.

You’re seventeen years old and you’re kissing that same boy. You’re on a school trip, but you’ve snuck into his room anyway. You’re kissing a boy, and it’s thrilling.

Until it’s not.

He tells you it’s time. He tells you he’s waited for this. He tells you it’s fate — that you’re dating again for a reason, that you’ll regret not having your first time with someone you love. He tells you you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. The same speech he’s been giving you for months.

He tells you you’d be nothing without him, that you’d still be a nobody socially. He tells you he made you.

You’re in a hotel room, but you feel like you’re in an art closet.

Right as you think to give in, finally, you notice the time. You’re almost late for dinner. Someone will notice.

“Another time,” you say.

As you leave the hotel room, he grabs your hand and kisses it.

You feel sick.

It starts at a pregame.

You’re eighteen years old, and you’ve just finished your first semester of college. Cheap liquor is in the air, and it’s deep in your blood stream. You’re holding a solo cup filled to the brim with Fireball because college, amirite?!

You’re eighteen years old, and you’re bouncing from pregame to pregame without a care in the world. Slowly, your friends get tired and go home, but the night is young, and you stick with the group, though you don’t know them that well.

You’re alone, but you don’t feel alone.

You’re alone and you’re talking to a boy you never thought would give you the time of day. A pretty boy, a boy much prettier than you. You’re drunk. You’re giddy. You’re alone.

You’re alone, and a pretty boy invites you upstairs to the attic, a place you’ve never been. You say yes.

Then it’s black.

You wake up the next morning, in your own bed. Nauseated, but alive. You check your phone. Mainly incoherencies, but you’d texted your friend about the boy, and “enjoyment” and “pain”.

On the plane ride home, you feel different. Down there.

You don’t know, but you know.

You feel sick.

It starts at a Halloween party.

You’re nineteen years old, and you’re a bunny for Halloween. You’re at some party you shouldn’t have paid five dollars for. You tried to look especially cute for a boy you didn’t end up seeing. You don’t care. You’re drunk.

You’re a nineteen year old bunny, and you’re belligerently drunk. Your friend wants to go home, but you realized your bunny ears have fallen off (The next day, you find out you face-planted on the dance floor. Probably then.).

Your friend wants to leave, but you’re drunk and you need your bunny ears. She leaves, and you go back in. You can’t find your ears. The next thing you know you’re on a couch in the dark, kissing a boy.

Mission Bunny Ears a bust, you decide to leave the party. You’re followed.

You’re so drunk you don’t even know what this boy looks like, but he’s talking to you and he’s not from your school. You think he has an accent. He’s a weekend visitor, he says. A weekend visitor that’s not getting the hint that you’re not interested. Or maybe choosing not to.

He’s a weekend visitor and he won’t stop following you. As he makes conversation about architecture, you text your friend:

With stranger. Need help. Save me.

You’re a nineteen year old bunny, and you’re kissing a faceless boy on your common room couch. He wants to go into your bedroom, but that’s the last place you want him to be. You’re still texting your friend, desperately, and he keeps trying to grab your phone out of your hands to stop you from talking to her. He’s aggressive. You’re scared. A suitemate passes by and thinks nothing of it.

Save me. Save me.

Eventually, the faceless boy gets a hold of your phone. He keeps asking to see your room. Miraculously, your friend arrives and manages to force him to leave.

You’re alone.

You’re relieved.

You feel sick.

It starts at a frat party.

You’re twenty years old.

You’re twenty years old, and your friend is arguing with a guy you’d hooked up with in freshman year. They’re arguing about nothing, then suddenly they’re arguing about you.

They’re arguing about you, and he’s yelling about how he fucked you.

You barely remember the night in question. It was unremarkable, you thought. You were at a party, you met a boy, you went to his room, it went black, you woke up in your own bed.

You didn’t think anything of it. You should have.

You feel sick.

It starts at your ex’s house.

You’re twenty years old, and it’s New Years Eve.

You’re twenty years old, and you’re at a party at your ex’s house. You don’t want to be. You think about the art closet. You feel sick.

You’re at a party at your ex’s house and you drink a third of a handle of watermelon vodka.

You feel better.

You go to another party. You make out with a boy. He goes home. You keep drinking.

You feel better.

It starts the morning after.

You’re twenty years old and it’s New Years Day. You’re hungover.

You text your best friend about what happened last night. She asks you if you remember. You thought you did.

You don’t.

She said she found you two in the middle of it. You, and that other boy that you noted seemed very drunk when you arrived. That his pants were down. That they had to take you away from him. That you didn’t know what was happening. She tells you you weren’t responsive, that you wouldn’t talk to her. That he kept trying to defend what was going on, kept talking about “what women want”. She tells you she doesn’t think there was protection. She tells you you should think about buying Plan B.

She said you disappeared, later. That they looked in every room, but couldn’t find you.

You remember a bathroom.

You think he finished the job.

You feel sick.

Four days later, you get a message from a boy because he “feels weird about the other night”. He asks if you can still be friends.

Haha yeah all good! you say.

You feel sick.

It ends when we know where it starts.

It ends when we stop making sexual assault a taboo topic.

It ends when we stop victim blaming, and we start listening.

It ends when we realize we know more survivors than we think.

It ends when we start telling our boys to look for the signs as much as we teach our girls to keep themselves covered up, or drink less, or do better.

It ends when consent tops convenience.

It ends when we realize it could be anyone — not just a stranger, but someone we know. Someone we care about.

It ends when we know where it starts.

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