Over 20 years ago I experienced a life-changing event but failed to acknowledge, truthfully, what it was. I called it everything except by its name. I thought if I gave it a different name it would lessen the impact, the effect, the trauma it placed upon me. If I thought of it differently I could, somehow in my mind, change the narrative of what really happened and how it really made me feel. If I acted as though it never happened, I could erase the memory from my mind and replace it with moments that felt better, that I desired and was a mutual agreement. Perhaps, I continued to tell myself, if I avoided everything associated with that night I would be healed and finally be able to move on.
Not even yet a teenager, my mind and body were still maturing. While I was easily influenced by the peer pressure of others, looking back I am sure I was not alone in being unwilling to participate in a series of events. Back then, the chat rooms were “lit” (as they now would say). I had an AIM (AOL Instant Messaging) username, would go back and forth between MSN and Yahoo chat rooms and between my BlackPlanet and MySpace pages, I was everywhere on the internet, in search of random conversations with people I had no intention of meeting. I remember the day as if it happened yesterday. My neighbor was 2 years older than me and she was telling me how she was about to meet someone she met from a chatroom. I looked at her like how are you going to pull that off? She told me how they planned to meet that night at a nearby park. She said they were planning to have sex because it had been a few months since she “did it.” I looked at her in disbelief. From my facial expression alone, she knew I was a virgin. She proceeded to tell me how I needed to have sex before I went to High School because everyone was doing it (so cliché right?)
She guided me through the process of creating a different alias. She told me if I created someone new, I never had to reveal my identity and could change or let go of my alias whenever I felt time. My name was now Nicole, but everyone just called me Nikki for short. I was no longer 12 but 16 and just moved from the Bronx to the mountains of Pennsylvania. One chatroom private message went from a ASL (age/sex/location) question to giving my phone number to a guy who claimed to also be a teenager, wanting to come and meet me in his Black Ford Explorer to give me a kiss because I was “so beautiful with my soft brown skin.” Since in “real life” I had just broken up with my “boyfriend” at the swing set in the park, I thought nothing of the seemingly innocent compliment. I mean I was beautiful in my brown skin…wasn’t I?
Yet, 20 years later here I am. I am finally admitting what happened, naming the course of events, processing and reflecting on how one night deeply affected me. One night changed my perspective on how I viewed my body. That night curated my thoughts and views on men. It took one night and a moment to pull my power away from me and diminish my self-worth so low to the point I was unrecognizable. I can finally look at pictures from 8th grade and tell that little girl how it was not her fault. It did not matter if she was 12 or 16, no meant no! The way every muscle tensed up and would not be at ease from the moment I smelled his breath was a defense mechanism. The way my body would not allow him to enter as he pinned me down, was my body trying to protect me. The constant vibration of my pink Minnie Mouse phone that had fallen was my mother calling me, because she just knew something was wrong at that moment.
My shoulders were in pain for years, my right worse than my left. Doctors never knew why they just said I had a pinched nerve from a car accident. It was not until I joined SHYNE and attended the annual retreat that I was given a document that finally named what the shoulder pain was. I was holding on to guilt and shame. The more I thought about certain events, the more my shoulder hurt. As I stretched before the ancestral altar and looked at my ancestor’s pictures the tension extending from my neck into my shoulders finally released. I could move my shoulders and arms without pain. I did not need to use the pain medication I had packed in my suitcase for the rest of summer.
As I forgive myself and release the self-guilt and shame related to the rape that occurred 20 years ago, I can finally look at childhood pictures without disgust. I can identify how my ancestors communicate with me through my body. I can recognize how my body protects me. I can appreciate how the prayers of my grandmother and mother over my life have impacted me. I can take my power back and speak positively over my body in the mirror. I can finally…after 20 years, begin to love me.