I was 16 when I grew up. I was sexually assaulted by a classmate from my mediocre high school in Utah. I was walking through the quiet halls listening to P!nk—I was too young to have any real taste in music—through my headphones after leaving my last class of the day, only a few weeks into my Junior year of High School, when I awkwardly made eye contact with a boy walking my way. I knew him, we had hung out in a group setting before but I never had a real conversation with him. He smiled, and politely asked me for a ride home from school.
I was outgoing then and said yes, we made our way out of the building and to the light blue Volkswagen my parents had let me drive to school. It was something I was proud to show off to any simple stranger.
The bluetooth kicked in and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” started blasting through the speakers. At that point I had been in love with Billy Joel for three years and had almost gone to two of his concerts but moving states got in the way of that and I would have to live out my fantasies on the radio. I quickly changed the music to something he would appreciate, today’s hits perhaps, and I let some rap play in the background of our classy conversation.
We talked about school while he directed me towards his house down the street. We passed the grocery store I had been going to for five years straight with my mom and asked him if he wanted to stop and get an after school snack.
A shrug followed by a ‘sure’ screamed through his teeth and onto my shoulders, I was dreadfully embarrassed. I sounded like I was eight years old, and maybe he didn’t want to be friends and simply just wanted a ride home, nonetheless I pulled into the parking lot and parked far away from all the other cars—my mother had always told me to park furthest away from other people because you never know what kind of drivers they might be—so I parked by the fence.
We ran in and grabbed something small. I got a bag of chips and he got a green tea (which I thought only adults could drink). It was late afternoon when we left the store and walked together to the car shining in the August sun. I unlocked the car so he could get in as I reached for my seatbelt and turned around to meet his arm.
He pinned me down, his elbow to my neck, so that I had to try to remember how to breathe. His hand went up my skirt as I squirmed in my seat. Finger after finger like a stacking game to see how many it could take till it toppled over.
Then suddenly it stopped. The screaming faded and he pulled his hand down my thigh. In slow seconds I watched his eyes stare blankly down between my legs as I noticed the black shape in his fingers. My glossy eyes moved to his hand emerging from his pocket and he flipped the switch like a light. The knife moved closer to my body and up my skirt. It felt like three years had passed while he was digging at my insides trying to find something I couldn’t give him until a car alarm went off near us and he got out of the car, running.
I thought he was coming around to the drivers side to kill me but he ran off down one of the streets I used to live on, backpack bouncing with his green tea in his hand. Death to me became his grainy face in a grocery store parking lot in the car I couldn’t afford. In a sense, I did die. But I like to make it more elegant than that, so I tell myself a different story.
I pulled out of that parking spot and saw my shadow laying in between the lines holding my innocence, happiness, and sense of self in the bag of Doritos I couldn’t finish; and that’s where I left her, my 16 year old baby who got taken from me too early.
A few months went by before I cried out for help, I told my school counselor one day when I switched up my class schedule. He had to call my mom, and I was forced to take legal action although I didn’t feel ready to do so. I think it is very important that all survivors know that they do not have to go to the police. You should feel like you have the choice of whether you want to or not. My therapist had to report my case for legal reasons that would have otherwise gotten her in trouble. I had to go to the Children’s Justice Center to give my report. I sat with a detective for two hours and we went into extreme detail about what had happened, the time, the place, my outfit, the color of the knife, it was all crucial.
After the two hours she asked me for his name, which should’ve been the easiest part.
But I kept my mouth shut out of fear of retaliation. For almost a year after my assault I couldn’t say ‘his’ name, and when I finally did I felt more powerful then he was. I didn’t want to ruin his life the way he temporarily ruined mine. I don’t regret that decision, everyone heals differently and I didn’t need justice then. One day I may seek it, but for now I’m in the process of discovering myself and that is what’s more important to me.
My assault itself may have lasted five minutes but the years of trauma that follow are equally as painfully, just more mentally rather than physically. I’ve spent my time since finding who I’m meant to be now. But I had to find myself, and first I had to want to be alive; and my reason to live became the gorgeous boy that I fell in love with. It was too soon after my assault to be in a relationship so I put my healing on pause, which was not healthy. I couldn’t love myself because I didn’t know who I was, I did anything to make him love me.
He introduced me to his best friend. His best friend and I became close quickly, he opened up to me about being abused by one of his childhood friends and I opened up to him about my assault. Months later I learned he had lied to me and he had never been harmed. In fact, he had raped his brother.
Our relationship fell in and out after manipulation and constant toxicity. Everyday was another fight, our friendship was intermittent. It was almost as if we were dating, like we broke up and then got back together. Our friendship was so forced, yet I was determined to make it work. It was easy for me to allow him back into my life, he would tell me that he was on medication, and seeing multiple therapists.
He was better.
Then, he’d prove me wrong again and again. He sexually harassed me for months before I realized how serious it was. He would send me texts about how he could see my ‘panties’ in my history class, or how he had sexual thoughts about me and ‘couldn’t control his urges.’ He started telling my story to people I didn’t know and spreading rumors about me making it up, he told me that I should ‘kill myself because it’s my fault my assault happened.’ I eventually told my parents and they helped me print off screenshots as evidence so I could go talk with his parents about what was happening.
I asked my friend to go with me, she brought her law enforcement book and recorded the entire conversation. When we went to speak with them they told us that they read all his texts and already knew about everything. I was furious and threatened to spread his secret about him raping his brother, his parents got very mad and kicked us out. I then proceeded to go to the police since they refused to do anything about it. I ended up switching to another school for safety for the rest of the year.
There were times he’d threaten to take his life and ignore me for hours until he felt like coming back so he could tell me I was overreacting. That’s how he’d win that fight; I didn’t want his blood on my hands. He’d ask me to tell him who assaulted me and when I didn’t give him an answer he’d say we couldn’t be friends anymore. He’d text me weird messages to call him and keep it a secret. He’d text my boyfriend and tell him to break up with me. Within a little friend group consisting of only three people there were so many secrets, it was a war. It was a competition over the boy I was dating, me vs. his best friend.
During our breaks I got bullied by a group of boys that, I suppose, he led. I posted on social media once when the group boys got tagged in my comments. The comments consisted of things like ‘this little hoe gotta get put out,’ explicit language, ‘cheater,’ ‘burn,’ or gun emojis until my post got flagged.
But then he’d apologize and suddenly we’d be friends again. I allowed it to happen, I fed into every word. I knew it wasn’t a healthy friendship, but I knew my boyfriend, at the time, refused to let him go, they were a packaged deal; and if I couldn’t handle them together I would have to be alone. I turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms, I would mainly cut and starve myself because I felt like I had no other outlet and I wasn’t good enough of a person.
I made the decision to walk away one day after I watched him replace my position in my boyfriend’s life. For the first time since my assault I had chosen myself and that’s how I saved my life.
It was a hard thing to do, letting go of the attachments I had made so soon after my assault. It had grown beyond unhealthy and I was relying on their emotions to tell me how I should feel.
Enough time has passed allowing me to earn my empowerment and lust for life. That doesn’t mean that I don’t leave my house everyday worried that every person I see is a threat. I still have recurring dreams every night of my assault, it has affected my relationships, and sense of self worth. I understand these things don’t change overnight, but wouldn’t we be lucky if it did. My trauma has left me feeling as though I’m less, but there’s strength in knowing I now have control, and my voice has become louder than any ‘victim’ label. I’ve had to learn how to let go of what I was allowing to define my life, I am not what happened to me. I had to forgive myself for my life not being what I expected, then I had to force myself to live in the present. Now I’m working on being completely unapologetic of where I am in my healing process and who I am becoming. Acceptance and forgiveness will set you free.
Now I am 18, and I’m not dying young.
Olivia Olson is a first year college student attending University of Utah, who is pursuing writing. She had her first publication on the cover of Petrichor Magazine and is continuing to create art that expresses stories of survivors.