Sometimes you hear about people saying thank you to people for bringing them to the place they are today, for forcing them to become strong. But I am neither naive nor enlightened enough to thank you. I will never thank you. For though I am a better person today because of what you did to me, it will never have been worth it. You didn't carry me here, nor did you make me strong. That was me. I made myself strong.
But sometimes, in some sick, twisted way, I wonder how you're doing. How you're actually doing behind your impenetrable facade. The way you've portrayed yourself to the world as we navigate the college's sexual misconduct process is strong, callused, and unhindered by the hours you've spent trying to discredit me. You're always on the defensive. And yet, sometimes, I feel this paradoxical sort of comradery with you. Even though you have no idea what I've been through this year, you're also the only person who really knows. Each time I read something you've said with an angry and bitter heart, I know you're doing the same as me, just a screen away. I know you've shared that cold empty feeling of defeat I've felt so often during this process or else you would not have fought like you have the world to lose.
They tell me that even though you don't show it, you're feeling all the feelings I want you to feel. They tell me that underneath your tough exterior you're racked by confusion and questions and guilt. They tell me that no matter how many times you tell other people you didn't do it, it's only to cover up that deep, gnawing recognition that you did do it. That no matter how many happy experiences you have in your life you will think of me when you are with other girls, when any nurse treats you, when you go hiking in the mountains. When you have daughters of your own and you warn them not to drink too much and to be careful because the world is cruel and scary, you will think of what you did to me. I hope this haunts you.
I am a different person now than I was that night. I'm more careful. I don't trust men that I don't know and I don't open myself up to strangers without fear anymore. These past few months have forced me to grow up really damn fast. People who know me well say that I've lost the spring in my step and the glimmer in my eye and they can only catch glimpses of an atmosphere that used to surround me all the time. My body breaks down into flight or flight response when I see you. I pay attention to trigger warnings and I fall into a low-key panic when I have to climb into a lofted bed or when someone touches the top of my head in a certain way. I can't drink vodka anymore because even the slightest scent of the drink sparks a continuous reel of the moments before I blacked out, when maybe I could have changed something, playing over and over in my head. I haven't put on the shirt I was wearing that night since.
But you know another thing? You still didn't win. You might think you won because you weren't promptly kicked out of school for what you did. But I'm willing to bet that after the relief wore off, and after you and your family spent tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers, two separate private investigators and a forensic toxicologist, that didn't feel like much of a win. I bet there's still a deep core of guilt you can't seem to shake. And for me? Though I've never felt as defeated as I did through this process, as I slowly find the power in myself, that defeat begins to wash away. And I know that if you have any shred of decency in you then the kind of guilt you hold doesn't just wear away.
I would fight to the end of the world if it would mean that you would never be able to forget my face. And I will. You're about to be catapulted into yet another investigation in which they will ask you what in God's name compelled you to try to convince the friends and coworkers of the girl you raped to say that she was sexually aggressive, promiscuous, and untrustworthy. They will ask you if you've ever heard of rape shield laws, or if you had realized that whatever my sexual history is, it does not mean that I deserved to be assaulted. And if our school has even a rudimentary understanding of their own policies they will find you guilty of harassment and retaliation. And next, the Northfield police will call you and want you to give a statement. That's what you were most afraid of, wasn't it? I swear to God that as long as we share this campus, you will not forget for a single day what you did to me.
This isn't over until I say it's over.
I'm sure you're wondering how I'm doing. It's human nature. Loathing is another form of caring. So is guilt. I'll save you the trouble though; I'm doing okay. What you put me through has irrevocably changed me. I have found strength I never could have imagined and I have grieved deeply. But I have also seen immeasurable kindness and compassion from people who — after standing by my side through this — I trust with my life. When St. Olaf College's administration refused to offer me justice, I learned to have confidence and conviction in what I knew to be true. I developed friendships in the places I least expected to. But most importantly, I have begun to heal. What you did to me will never be okay. But I will be.
It's been a long and silent fight to be okay. I'm starting to find joy in the things I used to love. I'm eating more and sleeping again. I'm gaining back the 13 pounds that I didn't want to lose, but lost anyway. The dark circles under my eyes are fading. I'm welcoming the moments and hours that I'm able to set aside the complicated grief I feel and appreciate the good in my life. I'm rediscovering the power you took from me. That's how I've survived the loss, I suppose.
Finding my power, both outside and inside of myself, is painfully heart-wrenching but it is also the realest, most cathartic thing I have ever done. I've realized that my world is bigger and richer than I was ever able to see before this all happened. I'm looking forward to this new year with hope and serenity and the spirit of a warrior who will continue to fight for justice.
I still harbor hope that someday you'll realize how badly you fucked up and beg my forgiveness for all the pain and suffering you've caused. I hope that you learn from this and grow to be a better person. I hope that the time I've lost, energy I've spent, and despair I've felt has not all been in vain. But though I am an optimist by nature, this semester has infused me with a healthy dose of realism, and I do not need that from you to get up and face the world each morning. I can do that by myself. And I do. Every day.
No rapist can take that away from me.