Dear B…guy that was my classmate and friend in high school,
We were friends and shared a lot of laughs together in our younger years —secrets too. It’s certainly been a very long time and we’re no longer intertwined in each other’s lives. But I did hear you’ve had great success in your career and that you’re engaged to a wonderful woman. Congratulations, I wish you the best.
I know this because we share a mutual friend from outside of town. But, you see, you don’t know that this person and I are very close, that I’ve known them most my life. Our friend said you told them that you know me, however, they said you described our old friendship a little differently. Or said that our sentiments of one another greatly differ, particularly the part where you referred to me as “crazy” and “a slut”. Weird, those two labels weren’t the worst part either.
I could be wrong, as I’ve never taken a class on etiquette or anything like that. I’m not FROM Cold Spring Harbor. I didn’t live my childhood years where you did. But where I’m from it would be wildly inappropriate to discuss someone else’s sexual assault upon meeting a new acquaintance and while engaging in a casual conversation. We certainly didn’t volunteer that type of information about someone where I was raised. I guess we have different comprehension and ideologies in regard to the topic of rape.
Perhaps that’s fair since it only happened to one of us and not the two. Maybe that’s why you labeled me — because you don’t understand. Valid? Eh, who’s to say. But I tried to put myself in your shoes. I guess that’s like me saying I know what it’s like to win numerous letters for being so talented in playing lacrosse, basketball and football at Cold Spring Harbor High School; and then furthering that athletic success in college. There’s no denying you possess a lot of talent however, in my opinion, there is still something lacking.
Perhaps it’s education? Compassion? It could be a number of things. But, tell me, do you know how it feels to have your physical freedom ripped from you within minutes, seconds? Do you know how it feels to hear it’s your fault? Do you know how it feels to know people question the authenticity of your admission when you’ve used all your strength to work up the courage to say it out loud?
No, you don’t. But I’m crazy.
That’s the reason I’ve traveled all over the world to live in impoverished villages where I worked with children that are HIV+ or worked with 99 children every day in South Africa; playing and teaching them English or went on (what felt like 100 mile) hikes to do an elephant’s health check. Where I napped in bamboo huts in between Pakenyaw language lessons and took bucket showers while you most likely did things like go to Santacon; or tailgate in the parking lot at the Meadowlands Stadium or go wine tasting out east. Crazy.
Being that I’m this crazy person it makes sense that I took on the challenge of learning multiple languages, becoming fluent in one of them, and in under two years. Or I must be insane if I went back to school to become a chef and can now say I’ve cooked in kitchens on three different continents. You’re right, I’m crazy for having talked my way into receiving a private lesson in a Michelin starred kitchen in Rome and now know how they make their duck confit ravioli. Nuts!
Yes! It’s crazy that I’ve gained control over my depression, am outspoken about it and that I’m trying to help others do the same. Those that ask for my help must be crazy too, right?
I’ve lived all over the world and all by myself — underwent Indonesian surgeries in Bali, experienced Italian robberies, lived in a bedroom right over 30 roosters in Thailand and have gone galavanting through the desert in Abu Dhabi. All alone, all without fear nor hesitation, all because I’m damn nuts.
No matter what I do or where I travel I bust my CRAZY ass to send over whatever money I can to South Africa because there are two little girls there that call me “Mom” and depend on that money for school, clothes and food.
It’s all because I’m crazy and as you so poignantly noted - “everyone thinks so”.
B, you’re right. It is crazy that my compassion and humility is making an impact on others. And I am crazy for being fearless and for killing it at life; and that it’s only just begun.
Yes, I have better things to do with my time than to write this letter. I could be doing a lot instead of talking about my crazy self or instead of worrying about your knowledge on this matter. But remember? I’m the one that has fond memories of the friendship we once had. So it matters to me that it would be a disservice to you if I didn’t address this. That’s correct. It would be a disservice to you if I didn’t shed light on a path you’ve never walked along but so ignorantly believe you have the right to judge the twists and turns of — yes, that matters to me.
I’m also returning the favor because by hearing what you said I learned something. My gut reaction wasn’t negative; quite the contrary. I immediately wanted to jump at the opportunity to help you, to teach you something you’re misinformed about. So, it taught me that I 100% don’t give a damn that some people don’t like me and have less than favorable things to say about me. It’s just not my problem. I have to worry about my next shoot, assignment deadlines, impending travel or where and what I’ll be cooking next, or how and who I can be helping next. I guess today is your lucky day. Helping you understand the truths about sexual assault and its survivors is more important to me than people talking about me or mocking me for sharing this. I just don’t care about that anymore; and when survivors get to that point it’s an amazing feeling. I know my circle of survivors have felt the same and they’re my biggest role models.
However, that’s not what this is about — it’s about the path we’re on before we reach that point and I appreciate your investment to learn such.
B, every 107 seconds another American is sexually assaulted.
THAT, my friend, is crazy but it’s true. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)–there is an average of 293,066 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year. I know, a lot, right? Let us do the math. There are 525,600 minutes in a non-leap year. That makes 31,536,000 seconds a year. So, 31,536,000 divided by 293,066 comes out to 1 sexual assault every 107 seconds. Crazy.
Also, did you know that 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police? And get this - 98%, YES, 98% of rapists will never spend a day in prison or jail. Do you know why us 68% haven’t reported it? Because we’re told its our fault, that we’re making it up, that it never happened or that we deserved it.
That is crazy, and that’s how life becomes after this happens; crazy. Everything in our world as we know it spirals out of control and we don’t know how to make it stop because there is so much damage inside of us. It’s too difficult to rebuild all alone and that’s what we are, not crazy — but alone.
Do you know what it feels like to have your peers, your teachers, your parents' friends and your acquaintances all bare witness to your reaction — your life spiraling out of control? Do you know how it feels when these people might label you or say you are “troubled” rather than reach out to your obvious cries for help?
I do, we all do. Although we may have seemed aloof or unaware, that was an act. We are smarter than that and are completely aware of the callow judgements cast upon us without an ounce of consideration. Whether it was an adult at our family’s club to a younger student at my new (at the time) high school in Cold Spring Harbor I am aware of it all - every single unkind word. I still see those adults at the club or those former students but for me personally, it’s (now) okay. It has made me grow a very empathetic heart while simultaneously molded me into a tenacious fighter. But not everyone arrives at a point where they’re settled with that and it reopens their wounds over and over again. You don’t know how that feels, do you?
Let me ask you this - Do you know what it feels like when you’re “friends” never believe you? How it feels when they say “that never happened, he wouldn’t do that.” Well, be aware that the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey also indicates that, no, the rapist usually isn’t some masked creep we’ve never met before. 82% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger and someone you would never have expected because you know them and “they’re a good person”.
But still, a lot of the time the rapist is believed and not you. What happens? You become even more ashamed and don’t want to tell your parents or anyone that can possibly help you. You become afraid to admit this to your family for years until it comes out when you hit rock bottom — the first of a few bottoms that this might make you fall to.
Do you know what it feels like to be alone in this and come to know and expect and almost accept failures? Do you know we then come to believe we’re no longer smart or talented or worthy of having a happy life? Can you imagine how that feels?
The little self-esteem, if we are even lucky enough to have it, completely diminishes. We are reduced to nothing and go on allowing the life we were once proud of, the person we were once excited to be continue to spiral out of control.
It is awful. Agonizing. You stare in the mirror in horror because you’re in great disbelief that this has become your life - that this is real.
Do you know what it feels like to be involved in an intimate act that you’re not comfortable with, that you didn’t agree to? If there wasn’t consent, if YOU did not want to partake then yes it is rape because ‘no’ means no.
Do you know what it is like to feel helpless when your cries for help are silenced by a hand to your face? Please, B, try to imagine what it feels like to be turning 30 and (since then) never have allowed anyone, not even a loved one to gently touch your face because of that one hand that remains in your memory bank. I don’t know what it feels like to have a man I care about passionately kiss me while his hands are cupping my face; like how a girl, this girl, imagines and wishes to be kissed. I don’t know what that’s like. And, furthermore, do you know how it feels to know that it kills my parents to see me flinch every time they go to touch my face, something they once were able to lovingly do with ease.
That is known as a ‘trigger’ and we survivors live with them for the rest of our lives. The goal is to work to reach a point where our triggers no longer have such a hold on us, a point where they don’t conjure up flashbacks, old feelings and fear. It’s the one thing I’ve got left to do in order to say I’m totally healed from this and I’m working on it. I’m close but it takes commitment. Maybe I’ll have that kiss someday and I’ll let you know if I do. But do you know how it feels to have to work hard for something like that? To feel comfortable with something that most don’t think twice about?
Do you know what it feels like to watch your hard working and loving parents week after week, month after month, year after year, empty their physical and emotional pockets because they are dedicated to saving you. Their love feels great but with that comes guilt - not brought on by anyone but yourself because you hate that they have to sacrifice so much because of this. This thing that wasn’t even your fault.
And, lastly, this is one of the worst parts for me personally… Do you know what it feels like to see alterations in your younger siblings lives because of the incident in yours? Do you know what it feels like to see it affect them? To see them unable to participate in fun “kid” things because the attention needs to be on you? Or what it feels like to have them look after you when you’re the big sister, and now, even more so than before want to be strong enough to look out for them - to protect them. It kills me to know that because of this I’ve taken parts of their childhood away that they’ll never get back. It kills me to this day and that's something I’ll think about for the rest of my life.
No — you, and apparently “everyone”, that believe I’m crazy have no idea what any of this feels like.
It takes unimaginable strength in us to one day make this stop conquering our entire lives. It isn’t easy that’s why I said “unimaginable strength” because those feelings feel deadly and sometimes they kill. It’s not to say that those that die from this pain weren’t strong enough. It just means they didn’t believe they were stronger than the pain itself. But I KNOW they were strong fighters. We all are, and we figure out just how strong we can be because being strong is the only option we have.
Please think about the weight of yours words, your judgments and your dismissal of someone that unfortunately does know how all of this feels and more.
B, Thank you for reading my letter. Thank you for giving me your attention so you can become educated on this matter. Thank you in advance for being an advocate of sexual assault awareness and prevention. Thank you for supporting us fighters, the 68% of us and beyond will appreciate it. We will appreciate it every 107 seconds.
You don’t have to call, email or send me a message of any kind. I don’t expect nor do I need your acknowledgment of the authenticity of my admission. I don’t care for an apology for what you said and had I not already grown from this how it might have made me feel. No, I don’t need one. You don’t even have to tell me how you now have a small idea of how the other 68% and beyond have felt and might continue to feel.
It’s all good on my end as long as this message sinks in and that the biggest takeaway is kindness. Kindness is what I’m sharing with you because it’s what this experience has shared with me - it is what I learned most about going through this because I didn’t witness a whole lot of it during the process. I say this very often but I’ll say it again so it sticks with you:
“Each and every one of us is facing a battle. Every person has a scar. There is not one person on this planet that wakes up in the morning that doesn’t have that ‘thing’ that once made waking up difficult. And although we all have the vulnerability to be hurt, we all equally have the ability to be kind.
Kindness. Understanding. Compassion. Empathy. "Let’s spread that shit like wildfire.”
Take care of yourself.
All my best,