You rush past the mirror in the hall, ignoring its pleas to second-guess you, question your existence, challenge your choice of clothes, your make-up, your hair.
You are nineteen, your freshly washed hair brushed and falling down your back, your face cleansed and without make-up, your underwear clean but old, your shorts cut down from denims, your legs bare, your white vest as plain as you think you are. You open the door and you can feel the sun on your face.
You hadn’t planned to go out today but the weather is good and you happily switch off NetFlix when your friend’s text arrives. Wine and lots of it in my garden. Enjoy the weather while it lasts.
You close the door behind you, harder than you care to but only because the momentum is carrying it with you. You push into the afternoon without asking it what it has in store for you.
You are beautiful but you don’t know it. You don’t think you are not beautiful, you are just you; you just are; without question. Your friends are pretty, popular, people listen to them when they speak. You are quiet, shy, but not uncomfortable. You are just you. You don’t dispute being you, there is no reason to.
You check the time on your phone, quickening your pace even though you know you won’t be late. You are content. You’re going to your friend’s house. You’re going to sit in her garden, drinking wine, turning your face into the heat, your sunglasses shielding your eyes from the glare. You will smile and listen in equal measure.
When you arrive you can hear laughter coming from the garden, see hips swaying into music that’s flying to the sky from a speaker on the table. You stand at the end of the driveway, as yet unnoticed, questioning your decision to leave the house as you were, your eyes mascara-less, your lips without colour. You press your finger into the bridge of your sunglasses and draw breath, hiding beneath your shyness. You didn’t know it wouldn’t just be you so you smooth your clothes, running your hands down your vest, smothering its plainness.
She sees you and greets you warmly, pulling you into an embrace that challenges the uncertainty. Your friend introduces you to the crowd and you feel your body slipping behind her, shifting gear from front and centre. You are handed a drink, a can of lager, and you take it, not because you are too scared to say no but because you want to drink it, you want to stride towards the horizon like the others.
Later you drink the vodka straight from the bottle, its fierceness burning your throat but you like the way its kick loosens your shoulders and your tongue and you find yourself in the heart of the conversation, heads turning in your direction, lips closing so ears can listen. Your cheeks are reddening and you’re throwing your head back, laughing, its sound is a music you’ve never properly heard.
You’re drinking more, the dizziness light, the sky moving with you and not against you. The group is breaking off, girl-boy pairs relocating, finding distance. A friend of a friend is talking to you, asking if you want to go with her. She’s nodding towards a group of boys, saying come on it will be fun.
You shrug your shoulders and say okay. The taxi journey is loud with adventure and you know he’s watching you. You. The you that you just are. At the stranger’s flat you’ve got another glass in your hand, you’re downing the shots in one. You’re dancing with him, wondering if you like him, feeling like you do. You’re getting closer and he’s flirting with you and you’re smiling because it feels good to know that you are the one. You go upstairs and you’re ready and then you’re not so you say no, I don’t want to do this and he’s annoyed but you’re okay because it’s fine, nothing happened, you didn’t want it to.
You go back downstairs and he’s glaring, whispering something in his friend’s ear. They are sneering and you know it’s you. You are nothing. The you that you didn’t know you could be.
You feel uncertain, you feel like you’re in a world where you don’t belong. You’re drunk, you don’t like being here, in this place where you are not good enough to be you. You want to go home. You want to leave but you’ve left your bag upstairs and you go to get it so you can slip outside and feel the light on your face but he’s followed you and he’s forcing you on the bed.
You only see him when he’s grabbing your waist, when your head is turning, your eyes briefly meeting his as your body collapses on the mattress. You know it’s him, the one that you liked but then didn’t. You try to ask him what he wants but the words don’t come out. You can’t speak anyway as the duvet is pushing into your mouth. His hands are fumbling with your clothes. Your arms are in front of you, held tight, the ache in your body worsening when his weight falls on you. Your shorts are being pulled down but you’re not saying anything.
You have no words, not even when your pants are removed. You have nothing. Your legs are pushed open and you can feel the bed under you but you can’t see because your eyes are rolling, the room spinning. You’re pushing and pushing but he’s not listening, he’s too busy stealing you. You.
The you that didn’t mind just being. The you that you never questioned. The you that won’t ever be the same again.
He’s hurting you and you’re asking him to stop but he can’t hear you, he’s refusing to hear you and you are clinging on to what’s left of yourself, but there’s something violent tearing you apart, ripping at your insides. You’re panicking but you are stuck in the space he’s taken you to and you can’t move your body from under his.
You move your head when the door opens and you see him. Another one. The one with the ear and the sneer he shared with your face. Soon he’s hurting you too, taking what’s not his, giving you something you didn’t ask for. You can taste him. It. You feel sick, bile rising in your throat. You’re waiting for it to be over. You’re waiting to be free.
Outside the moon is bright and your face is wet like summer rain. You look around, wishing you were home. You push into your feet, forcing them in that direction, willing them to find the way. They take you through a short cut, the route is dark, but they are leading and you follow them, your back arching, your head bobbing, your hair dripping in vomit. You are walking slowly, the pain too much, the blood gathering in your shorts but you get there, to home.
You close the door. Lock it. Check it again. You try to be safe.
You pick up your phone, your fingers hovering over the number nine. You want to press it. Three times. But you know what happens. You know that they don’t believe you. They never do.
The mirror demands your attention and you give in to its moment. You see what they will see. Your shorts too short. Your arms too bare. Your face too you. You are you and you did this. You.
You sit down on the floor. You. The new you. Broken. You let your body fall on to the carpet and you curl into a ball. Your clothes are soiled. Just like you. You sleep, somehow, waking when she calls. You turn your phone over. Drown out the sound. You wait for the text. You know it will come. You will be nothing to her now.
The beep comes and you look at it. You cry. The howl is deep and raw, a piercing sound finding a funnel through which to escape. You read the words. You.
I know what they did to you and I believe you.
I’ll shout #IBelieveHer from the rooftops cos you are you and you didn’t do this.
They did this.