This coming weekend, New Years, marks my TEN-YEAR anniversary. For those of you who don’t know me personally, you may not know what anniversary I am referring to. It’s not an anniversary that comes with Congratulations, balloons, or cake. However, this is the most significant anniversary in my life. Not just because of what happened that evening, but because of everything that has happened in the ten years that have followed.
This memory still haunts me. Revisiting it already feels like cutting open an old wound. One that took me a very long time to heal from. A wound full of raw, deep, and painful memories.
I was a sophomore in college, it was around 10pm and my roommate, who was also my best friend, and I were getting ready to head to another apartment in our complex to celebrate the New Year. As we closed the door behind us she turned to me and said, “Did you see how slowly that car just drove past us?” No. I didn’t think anything of it- we lived in a large, gated apartment complex and it was New Years. I didn’t think it was unusual for a car to be driving past our place. As we continued to walk to the other apartment, she told me that three men were following behind us, but again, it was New Years, so it didn’t seem odd that other people would be walking through the complex.
I carried on our conversation and she pointed out that the men following behind us were now even closer. I knew it was making her feel very uneasy but I just responded, “Don’t keep looking, if you give them a reason to stop us, then they will stop us.” I continued on with my conversation, not realizing that my roommate was no longer standing next to me, and suddenly I heard, “What do you want, my purse?”
I turned around and my heart dropped. NOOOO. An indescribable fear took hold of my body. There was my roommate standing next to a man who was holding a gun to her side. I mouthed to her to give him her purse, hoping with everything inside of me that they would keep walking and be on there way. I was wrong.
The other two men, who were dressed in dark sweats with bandannas covering their faces, were quickly approaching me. One of them yelled, “Give me your purse!” I don’t have my purse. I threw my arms up, terrified, and screamed, “I don’t have a purse, I don’t have a purse!” He replied with a look on his face that made me fear for my life, “Shut your mouth. I don’t want to hear anything from you!” And inserted his gun into my mouth.
I knew at this point if I panicked, he would panic. All I could think as I stared at the blue bandanna covering the bottom half of his face was that this was pre-planned and I wasn’t dealing with three men just trying to take a purse. So I stood there with the gun in my mouth and I didn’t move, but in my mind, I had fallen to my knees, begging and pleading for my life. Everything I loved- my family, oh my family– went flashing through my mind. No, no, no.
And suddenly there was hope. Headlights were coming towards us and I prayed harder than I had ever prayed before that there was someone in that car who was going to save us. I thought about waving my hands in a final plea for my life, but as the car got closer I noticed it was the same car that had driven slowly past our apartment just fifteen minutes earlier. She was right.
The other guy took my roommate’s purse from her and told her to start walking. I knew in that moment they weren’t letting me go. She turned back and looked at me as the other two men blocked me off and I nodded for her to go, trying to tell her with my the deep sorrow in my eyes that I loved her, I was sorry, and I would never see her again. As she walked away all I could think was- this is it, my life is over. These men are going to put me in their car, rape me, and kill me.
In an instant, I was willing to give up. What would be the point in fighting it? All he had to do was pull the trigger and I was done. Fear held onto every ounce of my body, urging me to be still and submit. My mind took me right to what it would be like once they put me in the car. I imagined they would take me to some run-down space where no one would be able to hear me scream, gang-rape me over and over, and beat me until they put a bullet in my head.
I stood there frozen and pleaded for God to watch over my family and tell them that I loved them. Please God, please just take care of my family and tell them that I love them and I’m sorry.
The car pulled up closer, at this point I couldn’t see my roommate anymore and I knew it was over. I pleaded with God one last time Please, please just take care of my family. And as the side door to the car opened, by divine intervention, the two men stepped out of the way and signaled for me to go. I didn’t have time to think, to even breathe- so I started walking, I walked as fast I could to the first corner, not looking back once, and when I rounded the corner, I ran faster than I had ever run in my life.
I couldn’t sleep for weeks after that. Nightmares of that night played in my head, over and over and over again. I would wake up drenched in sweat, my heart beating so fast I could barely catch my breath. Here I was- alive. Alive without a mark on my body, and inside I felt like I was dying.
The first few months were the worst. I couldn’t go out alone, I constantly looked over my shoulder in fear that every person was out to get me. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I was living back home with my parents. How was I going to finish school now? I can’t do it here. I had worked too hard to start back at step one. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what happened. I could see it in their faces, every time I was around, that- “I don’t know what to say,” look. I didn’t know what to say either.
Depression had made it’s home in my bed and I wasn’t sure I could ever go back. Months went by and the darkness that covered my soul had completely taken over my life. The sweet, fun-loving, easy-going, full-of-life girl I had always been was nowhere to be found.
And then one morning I woke up and I knew I had to make a choice. I could keep living as a victim, no one would blame me after what happened, or I could take control back and overcome. So I packed up my stuff and moved two states away to finish my college degree and start my new life.
The first night I spent alone since that horrific night I suffered my first massive anxiety attack. I was hyperventilating, my throat swelled up in panic, tears streamed down my face, and I could barely breathe. That wouldn’t be the last one either. I was taking night classes and I couldn’t help but watch the clock count down the last fifteen minutes in a panic. I knew once I left the classroom that I would spend the whole walk to my car in fear for my life. I started to feel like a crazy person. The rational part of my brain would tell me that everything was fine, but the anxious part of my brain would send off fireworks- forcing me to give in.
The thing I was about to learn was- what happened to me that night was never going to go away. I had to learn to use my tools and resources to grow and to heal so that I could move forward in my life. I couldn’t continue to live in fear anymore. So I got into therapy and I started my journey to healing. Even today, I still find myself triggered at times by what happened that night. But today, I am in control of how I respond and my fight is even stronger.
This weekend, as I celebrate TEN YEARS as a survivor, and reflect back on what happened that night that changed my life I can’t help but be filled with bitter-sweet emotions. That night God saved me. I think the one thing that makes me the most emotional as I approach this anniversary is when I reflect on all of the blessings and experiences I have had over the last ten years because God didn’t allow those men to take my life. Now that’s something to celebrate!
Oh, and I forgot to tell you the best part– I met my husband on New Year’s Eve, one year to-date after that night. And this weekend we head to Whistler to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary and so much more!
Happy New Year!