Sixteen years ago, on this day, I was a virgin. Sixteen years ago on this same day, I was raped. I'm the daughter of two very conservative and religious Chinese immigrants. My grandpa is a well-known pastor and I grew up with a religious father who spoke at church almost every week.
In high school, I was known as the "girl who played the violin." In "real life", I was a girl who was trying desperately hard to fit in. I'd fake inhale cigarettes and would pretend I knew what all my friends were talking about when discussing all the bases. I wore JNCO jeans - otherwise known as "skater" jeans - without ever having learned how to skate.
My parents were in the middle of a divorce, so I never wanted to be home. My mother would stay at the house I grew up at every other week to take care of my brother and I, so I knew that this particular week, the house she moved into was going to be empty. It was finally my break; it was my time to have a high-school party. When my mother wasn't looking, I went ahead and stole the keys to her house and said I was going out for the night. Little to her knowledge, I was planning on throwing a party at her house. I told a bunch of my friends earlier that day. A lot of the cool kids were going to come, even some of the most popular high-school senior football players.
I lost my virginity under the roof of my mother's house to one of those senior football players. He kept pulling me into different rooms of the house and each time this occurred, I'd find an excuse to get away from him.
It's funny what you remember during these times, like the little cracks in the off-white ceiling. It was so difficult to go back there for years without vivid memories flooding back. These ceilings symbolized my disgust, shame, guilt, and my failure as a daughter and as a female young adult. My mother didn't know what happened. I was scared. Would people believe me? Did I give the wrong signs? Would my Christian family disown me?
No one believed me at school. They would say things like, "Why wouldn't Melissa want to lose her virginity to the most popular guy on the football team?". I snuck out of school by myself to go to the closest Planned Parenthood I could find, which was in Hempstead, which was known to be an unsafe neighborhood at the time. I wore a skirt because I wasn't very comfortable with my body and I didn't want to take off my clothes.
I still remember what the lady at Planned Parenthood said to me, "Well it doesn't surprise me that this happened to you when you're walking around wearing skirts like this."
I hitched a ride back from a complete stranger, who I approached as she was throwing chicken wing bones out of her window. I've never felt so lonely and ashamed in my life.
I remember the next morning like it was yesterday. I couldn't get out of my bed. I didn't want to look into the eyes of anyone I knew, especially my mom. I had no motivation, no hope, and lost my sense of self. I remember thinking to myself, this feeling is going to last forever. I'm not worthy. No one is going to love me now. My mom found out about the party from her neighbors and grounded me. I had no one.
A couple of months later, I was no longer the #1 subject of town gossip, things started to feel normal again. I hung out with friends and I even started to laugh again. My experience no longer owned my mind and better yet, it no longer defined me. What I didn't know at the time was that I gained something very valuable from this experience: a strong sense of empathy and a strengthened ability to connect with others in rapid speed.
Two years later, I went to college, and ironically was the target of sexist, racist, verbal harassment. This time was different. I fought back.
I've learned a lot in the past 16 years and this is what I would have told my16-year old self.
Dear 16-year old Melissa,
Since February 15th, 2000, you will have counseled numerous rape and sexual assault victims in addition to anyone who has been hurt, scared, confused, and empowered them to figure out how to release the burden of regret, and hatred and watch them transform... into an Army of Pain Transformers. Overcomers. Believers.
16-year old Melissa. You will be thankful for this gift. Enjoy the ride.
Melissa (i.e. your future, happy, bad-ass, fearless self)
If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). You'll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area. They will direct you to the appropriate local health facility that can care for survivors of sexual assault. Some service providers may be able to send a trained advocate to accompany you.
"This piece originally appeared on DJ Kitty Cash' The I AM WOMAN Project"
WRITTEN BYMelissa Ng Goldner