Julia Aldrich | Officer and Contributor
Author’s Note: I wrote this piece a little over a year ago as a means to come to terms with my rape, which occurred my first year of college. In a few months, I’ll be graduating, and it was my goal to revisit and rework this piece, as I’ve grown considerably since I first put it to paper. I’ll never be able to forget the event, or be the person that I was before it, but through this piece, I found a sort of reconciliation, perhaps recognition.
Imagine. The birds, oh the birds, swallows, make a pilgrimage from the tree in your backyard that holds within it a slipshod white birdhouse you and your uncle made some years ago. But the birds and their pilgrimage away from that birdhouse down the eastern coast make stops in Raleigh, Charlotte, Columbus, and Savannah. Where they land isn’t yours to say, but they’ll come back, I promise, like the memories from when you built a treehouse with your uncle when you were eight do whenever you peer out the window at that tree.
As you grow older, beyond elementary school, you begin to notice, slowly, how you’ve changed. Days pass; your gaze alternates between a square mirror hung atop your dresser and a framed photo of you and your sister from Christmas when you were only ten years old. Your dreams, once so young and harmless, are slowly replaced by desires as you sweep through four years of high school. Days turn into months turn into years, and soon the photo is placed into a storage box where it follows you as you leave, leave from the nest you’ve grown up in for unfamiliar skies, your own kind of pilgrimage.
In September you were alone, but now it is November and you’ve formed friendships with others you think are just like you. You giggle and gush about relationships, boys, sex. They speak about their experience, and you, with only one kiss from one boy two years ago, begin to feel inadequate, perhaps undesirable. You are eighteen years old and the state calls you a woman.
You have a dream. Imagine: You are walking through a forest alongside a creek. The scattered flowers tell you it is spring, but the snow lining the creek tells you that the flowers may lie. You prefer to trust the flowers, though the winter insists in a low, warning voice. You concede to consult your breath, examining how the air feels entering your lungs, searching for the burn of winter or the crisp freshness of spring. You inhale. Your breath is not working. You find yourself trapped under a sheet of ice, hear the snow taunting “you didn’t believe me,” and the mocking grows muffled as you push at the ice. If it truly is spring, the birds will be on their way home, flying overhead, and you hope even more that if they are, that they are the birds that inhabit your birdhouse in your backyard, because they will recognize you.
But before you find out if it truly is spring, you wake up.
On this night, you recite to yourself the advice you’ve been given by your friends––what it’s like and not like, trying to reason your insecurities away. You’ve lived your life as Artemis but tonight you are Athena. You vanish into the night time with your companions as you do most Friday evenings, but tonight is the night for you to take chances and relinquish a part of your youth. You quell your bubbling nerves with more drink than usual.
You find yourself amongst others, bumping and bustling in a dark musky room, and your confidence is wavering, so you drink some more. And a bit more. And in a second, you’re approached by a smiling figure two inches taller than you, and you return your own smile
But you are silly! Please do not take anymore! But you do! And I know it’s not your fault––I promise you are innocent. You think he must be generous, because he takes none for himself, but he gives you more and more to drink. You accept because you are nervous and you accept because it will make it easier and you accept because you thought this was what you wanted. And then you accept because you are past the point of refusal. You are felt but you cannot feel, and the birds are gone by now, gone to god knows where, and you are here and you lay there still and wish you would’ve listened to the winter’s warnings in your dream, because this is not spring at all, and you are drowning in the fast-rushing ice.
The next day you remind yourself this is what you wanted. The next week you remind yourself this is what you wanted. The next month you are in the grocery store reading the price on a carton of milk and then your heart is racing and you have to leave the store, and you’re crying and you tell yourself that this is what you wanted! And then you try to carry on and feel like you did when you took a photo with your sister during Christmas when you were ten. But you do not feel like you are the person in the photo, or ever were for that matter, and you start to feel lost. You imagine a spaceship hovering over you and you disappear upwards into the beaming light, and then you are gone, but not really because space is just another place. Eventually the aliens grow bored and give you back. But the people on Earth won’t believe you, and they’ll find out it was you who drank too much! This is why it happened! So you don’t tell.
But one day you will realize that this was not your fault. And that day you will realize that it is not okay. And I will be there to help you along.
The future is a delicate spectacle molded messily from our thoughts and from experiences and sometimes your experiences press too hard on the mold, forcing craters into the surface. You can smooth the craters with days, but there will always be more. But it is not the craters of life that define you, but the way you navigate them, and now two years have passed and you are still the same girl but you’re stronger. And you’re not stronger because of what has happened to you, but because you are yourself, simply and strangely enough. But like the birds making their pilgrimage, making their annual journey to escape from winter’s burn, you know that spring always comes and that you will always come back.