The day after it happens, I go to school with a headache and slivers of memory. There are pieces missing, things I can’t find an explanation for. When I see the smirking faces, I feel blood burning in my brain, my body reacting without any input from my mind. I bolt to the bathroom and throw up.
The private jokes. Notes “accidentally” left at my desk, cryptic jabs swirling psychic jetsam. Like a monster in the yard I can hear and almost see through the blinds.
I’d rather sink deep down to the bottom of the ocean. If even half of what I remember is true, I want to die, but the bullying continues. They’re clearly getting to me. They throw lines around my legs, hooks digging into my flesh, haul me up, lifting my head above water, forcing unwanted views of the surface.
I remain quiet. Try to go limp. I know the more I struggle, the more noise I make, the more they will hurt me. I know what has happened to me is wrong. That my body was present that night but not my mind. But by the time I accept this, by the time I am healthy enough to even ponder coming forth, let alone legal action, it’s too late. The damage has been done, the physical evidence long gone, judged as a whore in the court of public opinion. I curse myself for staying silent, for the weakness of my body and mind. There is no coming back from these lies. I will simply outlive them.
I jolt when I see his name in my inbox, consider deleting it without reading it. Curiosity gets the better of me. It’s a formal apology. Sorely lacking in details, though I understand the legal implications of why. “I’m sorry for how I treated you. You deserved better. I hope you’re doing well. I heard you sitting in with a group at the Blue Moon one night. It was beautiful. Good luck with your music and your life.”
It’s out of the blue. Over the next few months, it gets back to me that another girl has come forth, that he’s done something to someone new, that the courts got involved, he’s in rehab, anger management, did a bit of jail time, on probation, the works. In a way, I’m glad. As betrayed as I feel, I loved him, and part of me still does. But the momentary lift is canceled out by the knowledge that the pain I went through happened to someone else. That my keeping silent may have played a part in it happening again. It weighs heavily on my conscience.
I draft a quick reply that I understand he had issues of his own that explain a lot of his behavior and that I’m happy he’s getting help. I wish him the best.
I try to believe it.
You can’t just say something when you say it well. When you are sincere and reflective, and people like you. Your words get to people, have weight, whether you want them to or not. Your influence is greater than you would ever intend, far more than your needs or even your desires. It’s frightening to even speak, to express displeasure, publicly or even privately, for fear of how you could affect things.
Staying silent seems so much better, so much safer.
But then I think of myself at 15 and how much I wish I’d had the courage to come forward. I think of the other girl and how much the convenience of my silence probably cost her.
So I try to be brave and speak my mind these days, even on the little things. Especially on the little things.
I couldn’t live with myself otherwise.