Surviving sexual assault: Kim’s story
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
Editor’s note: Even though our eight-week “In Our Shoes” series ended July 24, we will continue to cover the issue of sexual assault.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — I was an innocent 15-year-old girl when my 18-year-old sister threw a pool party. I decided to go. I’m still not sure why — maybe because I was seeking attention and a sense of belonging. The pool stank of mildewed socks, chlorine and stale beer. Older kids were doing keg stands and engaging in a variety of competitive drinking games. I learned a lot about teenage debauchery that night.
I watched. Then I drank some beer, wanting to fit in, not knowing the effect it would have on me. Before I knew what was happening, I was shoved into a steamy sauna, molested, screaming, silenced, raped and bleeding. I was a virgin. He covered my mouth with his hands, and I whimpered trying to squirm away from his force.
He was the most popular boy in high school, all-star athlete, talented musician with a famous dad. Everybody loved him, but after this night, I knew a different side — hateful, controlling predator of the youngest and most vulnerable person in the room.
Hot tears falling down my cheeks, lip gloss smeared across my face, paralyzed with fear, I closed my eyes and survived. Afterwards, I ran as fast as I could and jumped into the darkened swimming pool to hide, hoping the blood would disperse in the water.
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Afterwards, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I thought if I told, I would become an outcast. It was clear he was untouchable in the eyes of the private Christian school we both attended. He a senior, me a freshman. He had clout. I had fear and trauma and the emotional maturity of a fish. I buried my shame and pain for many, many years.
Sexual assault and unwanted attention became part of my relationships with men. The control and violence and invasion of space was repeated throughout my life by people I loved and thought loved me and also by people I barely knew. I was careless at times and completely innocent other times. But never did I deserve to be violated.
What: In Our Shoes art opening and community conversation
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 27
Where: Library Hall, 1289 Lincoln Ave.
The layers upon layers of trauma were tucked away, quietly surfacing in the shadows of my personal art projects, sometimes showing up as self-destructive behavior or poor choices in mates and, eventually, resting in my belly, materializing as tumors. Memories were vaguely shared on occasion, but mostly, I felt they were too disturbing to be accurately voiced.
My sexual trauma became a mixture of emotions and memories that made telling the story very difficult and confusing. The trauma still resides within me, even though I have done significant psychological work to come to terms with the experiences. Without warning, the trauma can be re-triggered and brought back to the surface as quickly as the snap of a towel or a feminist movement like MeToo. Digging deep into the source of the re-trauma can reveal the origin story that must be acknowledged and worked through, yet again. And again. And again.
Every day for the past 10 months, I have been in an active trauma protective guarding mode due to the life-altering, body-altering surgery that triggered a constant re-living of these past sexual assaults and unwelcome invasions. I started telling my story through art. The beautiful thing about art and creative expression, for me, is that the more and more I share, the less I become re-traumatized, instead recognizing the past experiences as horrible memories. Art, music, writing and the creative process are helping me heal.
As I began opening myself up to new experiences through creativity, I decided to attend a long weekend of alternative healing through sonic art performances. Not long after I arrived, this kind-eyed, handsome man with his pretty mouth moving and perfectly pitched voice, engaged the inquisitive part of my brain, and my guard lifted. Harmony and trust arrived. Hope opened the door and hitched a ride. The sound performance ended, but the night continued.
He simply touched my hand in the car. I tingled all over. I didn’t recoil or freeze up from the touch of another. His touch. So soft, a gentle stroke of the skin. Thinking of it now still sends a shiver up my spine. I will do everything in my power to not forget the moment.
Every molecule in my body was screaming for his touch to move from my hand, up my arm, over my round shoulders to cradle the base of my neck and pull me into a warm, wet kiss. I imagined it happening. Even so, I was thinking to myself — “Am I imagining this? What is going on? Where is my protective guard? Come back. No don’t.”
I longed to be touched, but I was so very scared and hypersensitive to the chronic pain I was experiencing from the surgery that removed my tumors but not my trauma. I felt inflamed every time he looked at me with those kind eyes, that sly, luscious smile. I felt self-conscious and vulnerable, but emerging from a darkness, the cloud was being lifted, ever so gently.
“Can I kiss you?” he asked.
“Can I touch your scars?”
“Yes please, no one has.”
“Can I kiss each one?”
yes. yes. yes. It all rushed back.
With him, I was that sexy, strong and sweet woman I wanted to be. Those tendencies rushed right back to the surface in his embrace. The fear mingled with desire mingled with sweat and tears, a beautiful sweat. It was a cacophony of mixed-up emotions, mutual physicalness all playing in the sandbox together creating a string of magical moments that lasted three days.
We jumped up to meet the sun each morning and raced home to meet the moon each night. Breathless, I was literally breathless from his tenderness. His asking permission, his careful, thoughtful approach to touching me. Taking care around my pain, taking care but helping me push through the fear. It was a beautiful blessing I didn’t know was possible. He shook me awake.
Today, I stay focused on my work, my healing, my friendships. Anything can happen, anything does. I tell myself, “Let go and let life happen. Mostly let go.” It’s so wonderful to know that these parts of myself are still there, resurfacing under exceptional circumstances; faith in the lush potential of love, the beauty of my sexual being, spontaneity and healing vibrations surrounding me.
The possibilities those three days offered me are the sugar I long for. A spoonful, thick and sticky sweet like black cane molasses, the decadent dessert course of life. I am ever so grateful to that chance encounter and those tender touches and the other human beings in my life that support me in my path towards love. My own willingness to disarm the protective guarding is contributing to my feminine awakening.
One day, I will be ready to fully open my heart again. Until then, I seek out opportunities to share a veiled expression of the violence and betrayal that I experienced as an adolescent and a young woman and the healing that is possible with time and maturity.
I know the adult me would have approached those early situations differently. I try patiently to let the little girl that still resides inside know that I will protect her from that happening ever again but not so much to prevent love from entering.
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