I graduate soon. It was a long, icky road to get to this moment. I didn’t get here in a clean way; I didn’t enroll consistently semester-by-semester, live on campus, or get involved with student groups. I wasn’t exactly a model freshman to start off with; I definitely drank too much and skipped most of my classes. I never went to the library or went to any of the free events they would advertise in my dorm. I went home most weekends my sophomore year to help with my family and work. College didn’t feel mine in the first place. It felt even less like a home when I was raped there.
I really tried hard to reconnect with campus. After some physical time away, I tried to remind myself that University officials could not have possibly prevented what happened to me. No one else had reported him, and they took action when I went to the student conduct office. Their sexual assault advocacy center truly did everything they could for me; more than I ever thought was possible. Aside from a select few, my professors understood my frequent absences, my stops-and-starts, and the times I would exit the classroom crying. I know so many other campus survivors who have been so horribly mistreated across the country, and I tried to convince myself that I needed to start loving my school again.
Regardless, I don’t feel at home here. I forced myself to go out and party after it happened more than once – a lot more times than just once. I would walk past the building where I was raped; I would feel my chest tightening when I walked past the block where I was carried away into an ambulance. I convinced myself that I had no reason to feel upset, and that all I needed was some drunken exposure therapy. I would hear people at parties talking about me – or I would be in full conversation with someone and they’d say “did you hear about what happened to that girl at Floco?” Even worse was going to class; being completely sober and fully aware of my surroundings, and panicking every time I thought I saw my rapist walking around. I always got into my car crying all my mascara off and desperate to get back to the suburbs by the end of it, but I did it. I stuck it out, and tried to shove the uncomfortable feelings down. I thought that was what mattered.
I finally gave myself permission to quit trying at the beginning of my last semester here. I just knew that there was nothing for me here. I’ve tried so many times to feel nostalgic about this place. Even when I felt simply disconnected during my first couple years on campus, I always thought that I would look back with pride. Instead, I’ve found that there’s a pit in my stomach that grows every time I drive down University. No matter how good of a time I have here these days, I feel absolutely sick when I leave. I wish I could say that I had a good experience in college. I tried, and I know that everyone here tried to accommodate me the best that they knew how. But I don’t know how to forget what happened to me here. People tell me that I should feel triumphant, courageous, or accomplished, but all I feel is finished.
This is my resolution: I won’t force myself to just swallow the bitterness I have about the time that was stolen from me. Instead, I’m just actively looking forward to all of the sweetness that I’ll find in moments that will feel unspoiled by the past few years. As of May 11th, 2017, I am moving on in life. I might not get up the nerve to walk across that stage, or even into the arena, but I will finally feel like I have the freedom to move on and grow from what happened to me here. I wish I had a cleaner resolution: a direct takeaway about how I can help others, or what I learned about resilience. But I’m just glad to be done. I’ll be happy to leave. I feel heavy with the pain of myself and other folks who had their college experience marred in the same way. I’m so saddened for anyone who has had any time in their life ruined by something so horrible. I’m just here to say: I get it. You deserved to have memories that were free of trauma and suffering. Even if you feel like you’re obligated to be around painful reminders of your rape or sexual assault, I’m here to say: you don’t have to. I wish I would have given myself the permission earlier to just leave those reminders behind and surround myself with things that feel safe.
Thank you to the University of Minnesota and those within it who made my college experience more tolerable. Thank you, and goodbye. No hard feelings, but I’m going to try my hardest to find healing elsewhere.