Somewhere in the sun-washed space between Southern California's hills of sand and the present desolate volcanic sprawl I was crossing, my legs had strengthened, but - invisibly - so had my will. The wisdom of my body had cultivated vibrantly since those sadness-drunken months after the rape when I'd felt so numbed by the hurt and shame that I didn't move further. No longer.
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I saw now that bad men existed who would take advantage of any weakness and insecurity they found when violating a victim. I saw it was not my fault; I did not choose to be raped or kidnapped. But now I was learning how to protect myself from the predators, to trust my No and my instinct and my strength. I was learning I was not to blame, I couldn't prevent men from trying to hurt me, but I could definitely fight back. And sometimes fighting back worked.
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In the power of my newfound strength, I saw clearly-even though I'd been empowered to have my old college finally address my 'horrific trauma, ' make me finally feel heard, this event would never have happened had I not first given myself my own voice, the permission to call my rape rape and not shame. In telling, I forced the school that silenced me, that minimized my trauma, that blamed me for the rape, to finally respect my voice and give me the platform they should have given me in the first place. I did not need the school to call it by its name; I did it myself, and they listened. I was the powerful party that brought the closure and empowerment I'd hoped, in first finding their invitation, that Colorado College would bring.
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The harsh dimness that follows loss isn't static, but charged with the energy of immanent change. Hurt, I was left with a choice: wallow and stay in the dark, or seek light and fight to reach it. These two paths emerged. I had this choice to make. Loss is the shocking catalyst of transformation. I saw that this mountain valley, haunted by senseless murders, darker, had absorbed unthinkable violence and turned it into mesmerizing light. My rape became my catalyst. Rape gave me cause to flee the muteness - forced me into making a bold and forceful change. I chose to fight to find a way to leave to seek my own strength and beauty. I was searching to find the way to make light.
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It finally had to. I understood that it wouldn't be easy, it would be very hard; I'd need to resist the habit I had developed long ago - with conviction. I'd have to be impolite, an inconvenience, and sometimes awkward. But if I could commit, all that discomfort would add up to zap predatory threats like a Taser gun. I'd stun them. They'd bow to me. I'd let my no echo against the mountains.
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For all my life, I had been passive when faced with dangers. I was stunned as I swam to find that I had, for the first time in my history, asserted myself and been truly heard-respected. It felt monumental, I was buzzing with adrenaline. It was as if I'd become someone else entirely. I had escaped a kidnapper. It finally felt real. My body unclenched tension in the balmy pool. I was proud of the strength I'd found. I was the one who asserted he take me back; I caused him to listen. I was no longer a passive Doll Girl, trapped. This was me learning I could trust my voice-I'd used it, and it finally worked! I was triumphant. This escape showed me: I had grown, and grown vividly.
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All I could think as he was speaking was that, if he touched me at all, all the miles I'd walked, the pain I'd felt, the beauty I'd drunken like milk, like good wine making me happy, the four million steps I'd taken, would all add up to nothing. They'd be stolen. They'd vanish like the teeth children lose when they get hit. Only after the blood was washed away would I see that they were gone.
From that unremarkable gap in dense northern forest, I could finally see clearly that if I hadn't walked away from school, through devastating beauty alone on the Pacific Crest Trail, met rattlesnakes and bears, fording frigid and remote rivers as deep as I am tall-feeling terror and the gratitude that followed the realization that I'd survived rape-I'd have remained lost, maybe for my whole life. The trail had shown me how to change. This is the story of how my recklessness became my salvation. I wrote it.
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He was sprightly and uncommonly good looking, with a quiet, magnanimous confidence that attracted people. He was my hero, too, and I listened to him. He gave me lots of wise advice. He told me to put myself in win-win situations, and that, 'You have to know what you want, and you have to get it,
I couldn't yet piece together the disconnected clues to understand the origin of these lights. To explain away strange magic, I'd convinced myself there was an unseen road cutting across the boundless desert floor like a scar. I imagined its different possible courses. The mystery intrigued me. I couldn't think of the real destination this road would have been built to lead to, but I accepted I couldn't see, and I accepted it was there, strange but - from where I stood - a beautiful vision.
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This was a vision of wildness contained - caged. Huge, powerful animals whose wild dignity was stripped from them. Panic jolted me. These animals had had their freedom seized by people who put their own desires first. In the glint of the silver cage bars I saw the same steely repression, the same cold entitlement that allows people to feel it is okay to steal bodies and lives as I glimpsed while frozen beneath Junior. The boy who had put his few minutes of pleasure before my entire life.
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I didn't know what I would do. There was no way I could survive. I stared at my damp tent ceiling, feeling the frigid air against me, the frozen ground against my bottom, so cold my bare skin burned. I needed to get to the next trail-town, Mammoth Lakes. There was no one here to save me now.
I hoped my solitude would help me reclaim my innocence, remember who I'd been, to find who I wanted to be. To become her. To love her, Deborah, Debby, Doll Girl, Wild Child, me, despite the irreversible truth that I'd been raped. I was learning again that I could trust myself and, also, I was seeing, other people. I was brave enough now to go out alone towards what I wanted, to trust that I was strong enough for it, to know that help would come when I needed it. It always came.
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I reached into my pack and held something small in the fist I made. 'It's a pocketknife, ' I said, enunciating each letter. I was asserting myself, I'd snapped out of something; he visibly snapped out of something too. I saw it acutely in his dropping posture: doubt in his movement. I said, 'The truck works.' And so it did.
I was able to pitch a tent and carry a backpack twenty-five miles a day through mountains-I'd mastered a thousand amazing physical feats-physically I'd become undeniably confident and capable-but physical weakness had never been the problem that I had. My true problem had been passivity, the lifelong-conditioned submission that became my nature.
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It took me almost two thousand miles in the woods to see I had to do some hard work that wasn't simply walking-that I needed to begin respecting my own body's boundaries. I had to draw clear lines. Ones that were sound in my mind and therefore impermeable, and would always, no matter where I walked, protect me. Moving forward, I wanted rules. First-when I felt unsafe I'd leave, immediately. The first time, not the tenth time. Not after a hundred red flags smacked in wind violently, clear as trail signs pointing the way to SNAKES. Not after I'd been bitten-the violation. If I wasn't interested, I would reject the man blatantly.
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If I could mark clearly, convincingly and consistently what was good for me and also what was bad - if I could say yes and also no, as if it were the law - it would become my law. It finally had to. I understood that it wouldn't be easy, it would be very hard; I'd need to resist the habit I had developed long ago - with conviction. I'd have to be impolite, an inconvenience, and sometimes awkward. But if I could commit, all that discomfort would add up to zap predatory threats like a Taser gun. I'd stun them. They'd bow to me. I'd let my no echo against the mountains. And better to feel bad for a moment saying no - and stop it - than to get harmed.
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