Imprisoned at 22

[Content warning: Rape]

My memory of the day I got my first tattoo is cold and sharp like that winter had been. The constant buzzing of the needle. The electric etching of the ink under my skin. Lana Del Rey’s Shades of Cool playing on a loop in my ear against the artist’s musical choice of Nine Inch Nails over the speakers. The sting of the needle cut through the numb haze of trauma that I had been living under for the past couple of weeks.

I spent 3 months deliberating on this tattoo with my cousin. We both wanted to get our first tattoos together, deciding on getting “XXII” to commemorate our sister-like bond. Having both been born on April 22nd a year apart, we were inseparable as children. We didn’t think to make appointments, so we walked around in the snow smoking cigarettes for a few hours until we found a parlour that took walk-ins.

I was also 22 years old when we went to go get our tattoos. 22 had been a big year for me — I met my favourite singer, I finished my undergrad, my boyfriend of 8 years broke up with me, and I left a low-paying luxury retail job for a contract with an office in the public sector. I went through a lot of changes that year, and I didn’t think my year could get any worse until a coworker raped me.

I wanted to stay silent at first. There was nothing I wanted more than to forget it happened and go back to my easy life. A week passed, and the trauma began to manifest. Depression. Anxiety. Fear. I felt unsafe seeing him at work every day, and it wasn’t fair. I knew I had the strength to speak up about it. Reporting him would turn my life upside down, but regardless of my choice, I knew my life would never be easy again. If I had to suffer, so should he.

My cousin and I scheduled our tattoo date a month in advance, before everything happened. The night before we had them done was when I reported my rape to my supervisor, who then called the police. A close friend had taken my rapist’s side and they both spent that night and morning and the weeks to come viciously subtweeting me. I almost rescheduled the tattoo, but deep down I knew there would be no better time to get it.

My sister said my tattoo looks like a prisoner number, and she wasn’t wrong. Having to still work full-time at that office for 2 months until my contract ended, and again months later for another 2 months certainly felt like a prison sentence. The emotional trauma from my sexual assault made it feel even longer. But I survived. I came out stronger than ever.

What happened when I was 22 has changed me irrevocably. My boyfriend broke up with me, I was raped and am now dealing with the justice system, a close friend turned out to be a rape apologist, but I’m still here, and to be honest, I love myself more than ever. My tattoo reminds me that I’m capable of turning my worst experiences into something positive. It reminds me that I’m unbreakable, I’m a survivor, and that my strength knows no limits. XXII is a battle wound; the scar that this year left behind. And it is a beautiful scar.

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Originally published at on October 16, 2015.

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