I'm not sure who I'm saying this to but I felt like it should be said; this post may be triggering or upsetting for survivors of sexual violence.
I was fourteen the time a close friend of mine walked into class late one day and asked me to walk her to the bathroom about two minutes after she'd first sat down at her desk. She looked sick; shaken, pale and dishevelled. I followed her around twenty metres out of the classroom, down the steps into a courtyard, and then she turned around and threw herself into my arms. She was about a lot taller than me and she curled her shoulders so that she could hide her face in our hug. I realised she was crying harder than I'd ever seen before and knew this was something horrible, not just the normal dramas we'd shared up until this point in our friendship. I didn't even get the chance to ask her what had happened before she told me, in one crisp, clear sentence, that she'd been raped.
I stared at her, determined not to believe it could be true but certain that it was. These things didn't happen, I thought, they didn't actually happen. They didn't happen to my friend. They didn't happen when you were fifteen. I'd been certain I'd be sheltered from all the ugliest realities of being human for the rest of my life. And in an instant, I knew that if this had happened once it definitely could happen, and it could happen again, and it could happen to her. It could happen to me. I put my arm around her and walked her to the bathrooms, washed her face and held her whenever she needed me to. All this time, I gently asked her to tell me what happened and encouraged her several times to go to the police. The more I heard though, the more I knew that she never would, and that if she did her life would definitely be worse for it.
That's the thing they don't tell you when they start educating you as a young woman. They say "anything ever happens, tell someone". Sometimes the only person you can tell is your fourteen-year-old classmate because the rest of the world thinks you're promiscuous and probably lying when you say you said "no". Sometimes you know about someone's having been hurt and you know that if you break their trust and tell someone, you'll never be able to help them again. Sometimes you can see how it will look to the police and the friends of the person who hurt you. You reapply your make-up in a high school bathroom. You help your friend walk back to art class. And you keep your mouth shut.
I'm fairly ashamed of what happened that day. The way I've gone all these years, through more accounts from people I care about of things that have hurt them, and not hated myself for the way I handled the courageous and heartbreaking honesty of my friend. That I pride myself on taking care of people, protecting them, helping them, and all I could do in that moment was give her small, brief comfort. Because I knew now. I was part of a world where "these things unfortunately do happen". It was just an event that occurred in people's lives that we dealt with in any way we could. The horrific, the unthinkable, had become part of my school day. I was able, through being exposed to this truth, to go on with things as though it were not still unreal. And I have done ever since.
I wonder who else has felt this way? Has seen the shift from horror to resigned sadness in their own mind? Has looked back on the very first time, early in life, that they knew the latter response would become a familiar one? That they would feel helpless and disgusting for not being able to help or change? I still wish things had been different, would be different. I look at my crying over these memories today as an indication that perhaps I'd not gone as numb as I feared. More than anything though, I want to know how to fix the whole wide world for what happened to my friend, starting with myself.