**TW: sensitive topic; indirect mention of sexual abuse**
I get ready to go to college. I try to dress as simply as possible. I hate drawing attention to myself. Maybe that's why nobody notices. Nobody sees it. Or even if they do, they don't care.
Or maybe I don't really want them to notice. I pull my hoodie over my head, trying to hide behind it.
As I walk the street, I keep my head low. I don't like looking at people, even more than that I don't like people looking at me. But I look around often, just to check if it's safe or not. Just to make sure he isn't around.
Things have fallen into a pattern now. Like they always do. They go from incidents and accidents to routine.
I leave for college in the morning, unmarked but come back not quite the same. I come back feeling dirty and marked all over the place.
I have lost interest in everything. Everything seems colourless and bland. I enter my room after coming back from college. Everything here is the same as it was a few months ago when I moved in here. I was happier than ever; optimistic and bright. I don't know what happened to that girl. No, but I do.
I wash myself again and again, trying to get the dirt off me. But it doesn't. I feel the imprints of his hands all over me. I change into different clothes but it makes no difference. My stomach clutches as I am reminded of all this.
At night, I cry alone in the bathroom. I look in the mirror and I can't ever look myself in the eye. The girl in the mirror blames me; for not standing up for myself, for keeping quiet, for suffering all alone. Telling me that I am stronger than this. But I don't know.
I want all of this to be over. I want to get out of this cycle of guilt and shame. I want to tear out of this filthy skin. I want to be free.
But I can't do anything. I can't tell anyone because I know how it'll all go. Everyone will blame me. And maybe they are right. I am guilty. I should have never talked to him. I should have never tried to be friends with him. I should have maintained my distance. I should have minded my own business.
Wiping away my tears and washing my face, I come out of the bathroom. Maya, my roommate, is already in her bed.
"Good night," she says.
"Good night," I reply, out of habit.
She doesn't notice it either.
I go to my bed and switch off the lights. As soon as the lights go off, my fears enclose upon me. Dark shadows lurk around my bed. A terrible knot forms in my chest.
I am afraid of the dark.
I am afraid of the monsters hiding under my bed.
I am afraid.
Not of ghosts but of monsters nastier than them.
Not of dying but of being not able to live.
Not of being alone but of being with the wrong person.
Not of speaking but of silence that screams in my ears.
Not of sadness but of feeling nothing.
I lay on the bed waiting for sleep to come. But I know it won't come this easily. It won't come before reminding of all the terrible things that I don't wanna think about. Everything playing in my head like a continuous reel. All the guilt and shame weighing me down. I try to reassure myself that no one is here. He is not here. I am safe.
But it doesn't work. I shake badly, my ears ringing. I want to scream.
Maya calling my name breaks me out of it.
"Yeah?" I say, my breath shaking.
"Is there... is there something wrong?"
The knot in my chest tightens.
"Ha," I let out a fake laugh. "No, why would you think so?"
I try to speak normally but my voice cracks.
"Lily," Maya says calmly. "I know there is something wrong. I can feel it. And sometimes it's better to talk about it. See, I am not forcing you or anything but…"
The silence hangs in the air between us.
There were many times when I mustered the courage to tell someone about it but backed away because of the fear of being judged. The fear that people would not believe me or think that I'm dirty and not talk to me. The fear that they will find the fault in me and blame me. The fear of the unknown.
Today, I'll take the risk.
I'll tell her. Everything.
And so I do. I tell her about him. About how he told me things he shouldn't have, showed me things he shouldn't have, touched me in the places he shouldn't have, made me do all the things he shouldn't have. About how I ignored it every time, assuring myself that it was not a big deal, that it didn't matter, even though it did. I tell her all of it.
But I become anxious as soon as I'm done. I fear what she will think; what she will say. I think of all the bad things that I have heard people say. Because I have this belief that if I keep thinking about something bad, I'll somehow avoid it from happening.
Maya takes a long moment before speaking.
"You don't have to feel guilty, it wasn't your fault,"
Something moves in my stomach. This isn't what I had expected. Nobody ever said that to me.
"Maybe," I say. "I don't know."
I really don't.
Maya reaches for my hand in the dark and takes it.
"Really, don't blame yourself. He is the one who's guilty."
"Hmm," I nod. I don't have the ability to form words yet.
All I know is I feel a little lighter. And fresher.
At that moment, I realise that instead of suppressing your feelings, it's better to talk about them to someone.
After all, I am who I am, with all my fears; and my past is just the way it is. I can not run away or hide from it. At some point or other, I will have to confront it. And I guess, it's better that way.
I squeeze her hand lightly.
"Thank you," I say, before I submerge into sleep.