I remember so much of that night like it was last night. I had just finished a long double closing shift at my serving job, so, covered in food splatter and grease, I undressed and started the shower. Out of habit, I wrapped myself in a towel and double checked the locks on the front door and every window of my apartment. This was a nightly ritual, but it became especially important on the nights when I would be blocking out the sounds of the outside world with the running water of the shower, therefore making myself vulnerable. I had two roommates but both were out with friends that night.
My bathroom was located inside my bedroom, so tonight I had left the bathroom door open and the bedroom closed, the usual. I needed to be able to hear outside of the 40 square feet of space I was enclosed in.
After determining that I was safe in my home, I turned on some soft music (romantic, my favorite), lit a couple of candles and finally began to wash away the sweat and stress of the day.
After a few minutes in the shower I heard a bang, like someone forcing their way in to my apartment. My ears perked like a dog’s, my senses immediately heightened. Within what seemed like the next second, there was a man in my bathroom. A man I knew all too well, or thought I had. A man who had witnessed my weaknesses and shared in my celebrations for the past year. My ex-boyfriend. Before I had the chance to get out of the shower and cover myself, he was in it. I saw stars as my head met the wall as I was shoved. His hands groped me, and I used all of my might to tear his fingers off one by one. I cried out, knowing there was no one home to hear me.
Unaware of how I got there, I was on my bed, my body still unclothed and soaking wet. A cracked, dry palm covered my mouth, another hand pulled my hair. Lips violently swept across my neck. I kicked and I punched, but there remained what felt like an enormous weight on top of me. I felt the scratches of a rough mustache on the inside of my thighs, fingertips digging into the backs of my forearms to keep me down. The sweet melodies of the romance music playing in the background intensified, covering the sounds I managed to get out, as everything around me seemed to conspire against me. Then I felt a different kind of pain. As this man, who I once trusted, kissed with joy, was inside of me, a new kind of pain flooded my entire being. If there hadn’t been tears covering my face before, there certainly was now.
I can’t remember much of the rest of the night. Whether my mind has chosen to delete the memory, or the extreme pain and exhaustion enveloped the memory and dragged it away, I remember enough to know I’m thankful the rest is gone. Hopefully forever.
The first thing I did the next morning was call my manager to tell him I wouldn’t be at work that day. Then, I called my best friend. Sensing the urgency in my voice, and having been called into work to take my place, she came over immediately and asked what was wrong. I half attempted to keep my composure, but I knew that was a lost cause. I began to confide in her, to tell her what had happened. She listened only for a few minutes then left, saying that she would be late to work. I was alone in my apartment again, and I had no idea what to do next.
Determined to be strong and unaffected, I returned to work within a few days. You would have thought I had walked through the door with the plague. I quickly learned that the woman who I trusted as my best friend told others what I had confided in her. You see, the man who violated me was popular and well-loved. To most, he was kind, funny, sweet, one of the best men they knew. During our relationship I had learned the dark parts of him, and eventually broke it off. So, coming into work that day, I was now the whore who spread rumors and lies about their beloved college football star.
My workplace became unbearable. I was insulted daily, I lost all close friends and acquaintances I once had there. Not once did anyone ask if I was okay, if I needed a friend. To them, I was a liar. To them, I was out for revenge against a man who had broken my heart.
All this happened after months of harassment. That one night was a culmination of months of being followed, of having to change my number, of police reports, of police escorts to make sure I arrived home safely after work. Of having my apartment broken into, of threatening notes and messages left in my bedroom and in my text messages. It all seemed like a horror movie, one with the worst kind of ending, but it was my reality.
Now, I can’t be touched by my husband without having flashbacks. I own a gun and grab it before answering the door when I’m home alone. I carry a knife, and have it open when I walk alone at night or with my 9 month old daughter when we’re alone. If I wake up in the morning and find the door unlocked, I check every room and closet to make sure there is no one in the house. I nag my husband for not ensuring a window is locked when he shuts it. If a stranger happens to be walking behind me when I’m out for a walk, I turn the other direction even if it’s out of way.
I tell this story not to throw a pity party or to ask for sympathy; for the most part, I have worked through the effects of that night, knowing there will be some that will never go away. I tell this story in response to something that was said to me: “As a woman in America I find it hard to understand what women in America feel they don’t already have. Maybe you can enlighten me.”
So, stranger, I will enlighten you. Besides the obvious, such as equal pay, how about safety? I am a woman in America. I am one of countless women who will never receive justice for horrible crimes that have been committed against me. In place of that justice, I have received insults, threats, and blame. And now, because I am a woman, I no longer feel safe in my own home. When my husband is away, I stay up all night and read while I watch over my sleeping daughter, rather than make myself vulnerable with sleep.
Today, millions marched in solidarity with women seeking equal rights. To those who say we have equal rights, or that we have everything we need already, I say this: We women must march every single day.
I am marching when I seek safety in my own home. I am marching when I bathe my 9 month old and talk to her about why her “privates” are private. I am marching when I ask my husband to take the car for an oil change because I am tired of being spoken to like I’m stupid. I am marching when I do double the work to land the job I am competing against a man to get. I am marching when I speak against the unwanted advances of strangers on the street. I am marching when I put thought into every outfit choice and think, “If I am raped and killed while I am wearing this, will I be blamed?”
So, to the women who don’t agree with a women’s march, or don’t understand the point, I am so glad that you have not had the same experiences I have had. I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. I’m glad that you have never felt limited because of your gender. I’m glad that you have been privileged enough not to see the point. But I, and the millions around you who haven’t been so lucky, will continue to march.