For 98 days, I have been quarantined in a room that I’ve been raped in. In quarantine, your room becomes an extension of your body. It smells like you, remembers your mornings and nights; a room keeps everything you thought you lost.
Under this ceiling, I was pushed inside this room, half-conscious on cold medicine. Between these walls, the same person asked, “What if I keep doing the things you don’t like because it gives me pleasure?”
Turned away from the window with scissor cut curtains, a different person asked, “Isn’t that inevitable?” the night after I didn’t know what I said yes to.
Being sexually assaulted in the past makes one 35 times more likely than others to be sexually assaulted in the future, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
On the hardest days, I tell myself on loop, “He was right. It is inevitable.” It’s not sadness, it’s not rage — it’s said with the emptiness that comes with feeling like I have no control.
I didn’t move out because I thought I could find a way to reclaim the space and, in turn, reclaim my body. Over the past four years in this apartment, I have tried to do this by rearranging the furniture. I moved the bed to the middle of the room, moved it to the edge furthest from the closet, moved it to an angle so I could wake up to sunlight first thing. I gifted myself a new ceiling with strands of lights, paper birds folded into flight. The walls have been painted and re-painted as orange, lavender, mint green, red velvet, and back to white.
I always tried to make my bedroom a different place than the one that witnessed my hurt, and did nothing but stare. A blank faced wall, bored with my struggle.
Perhaps if it felt like a different room, I wondered, maybe my odds of being raped would go down? Is it only 10 times more likely to repeat? 5? Can anything get undone?
But quarantining in this room has reminded me that nothing gets undone. A room is more than paint, just as a body is more than makeup. And to leave this room is a risk to my health in the age of COVID-19. To leave this room is to feel guilty for potentially leading to the death of another person.
But to stay inside is to lose track of the day, the time, the year until the inevitable happens again. To stay inside is to feel crazy for seeing what nobody else can see.
I’ve been told to be strong, to change my narrative. But how does that happen exactly?
As someone who is queer, has been physically harmed by other queer people, and as someone who doesn’t identify as a woman, I know that most resources that exist are not for me even if I could leave. 85% of advocates surveyed by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported working with LGBTQ+ survivors were previously denied services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, for example.
Navigating isolation in COVID-19 is not only an issue for people currently experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse — it’s an issue for those of us who live amongst ghosts, whether it be within our own bodies or in the rooms that follow us through everything we now do.
After all, it is not always enough to leave an abusive situation. The hardest part is knowing it’s not my responsibility to hide it or decorate it — it is not my responsibility to continue to live in the house as victory over a story that I did not write for myself.
With this, I have decided to move out before my lease ends, at my own financial risk. I did not want to spend another anniversary of these events calculating how to change the memory of this room — again. Some might call this “changing my narrative,” some might call this giving up. In the age of uprisings and COVID-19, we must all continue dialogue of what a “new normal” can be.
As a survivor, a survivor still living in the room where it happened, I cannot try to find a “new normal” in the place where I’ve been taught that violence is inevitable. I cannot find a “new normal” when I know the summer heat in this room, the creaks of the wood, and all the things that will feel chillingly the same to my body and memory.
My “new normal” is simply one where I know that I deserve better. My world, and my future, is bigger than this room. I apologize to a past version of myself that made me stay because it was simply the way things were.