It’s weird how one small incident can turn things upside down.

My life hasn’t been perfect by any means. I still struggle — physically, financially, and emotionally. But I’ve been handling it reasonably well.

I haven’t been to therapy since I moved out west more than two years ago. I could have started back up when I came back, but I wanted to try living my life without constantly diving back into my past. In many ways, I think therapy was keeping me stuck. I came to the realization that, no matter how much I talk about or try to process it, the trauma I endured from my mother just won’t be resolved in this lifetime. And that’s okay.

For the most part, my day-to-day life has been considerably uneventful. My work became my central focus. It was (and still is) something that I’m good at. It keeps me busy. It lets me focus on things that aren’t at all related to my trauma. And even amidst the coronavirus pandemic, work has continued to be my escape at a time when I otherwise would have been feeling very trapped. It was my safe haven.

Then something happened. Something that people wouldn’t think was a big deal. But it was a big deal to me.

I needed a break. I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. It was the same spot I’ve been smoking in for the last two years. My little spot away from people so I could get a few minutes of peace.

A guy walks over to me. I know him — he comes in to buy things sometimes. I’d see him around the neighborhood where I used to live. But I never knew his name. I never cared enough to even learn it, because it was never anything more than a courteous wave hello relationship. But for some reason, I always got an uncomfortable vibe when he was around.

It was dark. I didn’t even see or hear him approaching until he was already at my side. He tried to put his arm around me. I cringed and turned away. I just tried to keep smoking my cigarette hoping he would get the clue to go away.

But he didn’t go away. As I lowered my hand down to flick the ash off from my cigarette, he leaned in and kissed me. I immediately pulled back, turned my face away, and told him not to do that.

He didn’t react. It’s like my rejection didn’t even phase him. He leaned in and kissed me again. I pulled back, turned my face away and stayed looking at the ground. I told him I had to go back in. But I was cornered. Bushes on my left, the wall at my back, and him hovering over me on my right. I couldn’t get away.

He kept talking. I kept saying I had to go, but I couldn’t move. He said it was his birthday the next day and that I owed him a gift. I knew what he meant by the look on his face. He kissed me a third time and I completely froze.

I froze.

At one point, he moved away enough that I had an escape route. I managed to muster up enough strength to get away. I ran to the bathroom and washed my face with soap and water. I even rinsed my mouth out with soap and water. But I still felt disgusting. I still felt unclean. And I spent the rest of the night alternating between crying uncontrollably and disconnecting from myself to the point of being totally numb.

Then everything started flooding back. Emotions. Memories. Flashbacks. All I could do was ask myself what I did wrong. I would understand if this was the first time this has happened to me. But this isn’t the first time. So it must be because of something I’m doing wrong. Why didn’t I run? Why didn’t I yell? Why didn’t I punch him?

I watch the security footage. I try to find out where I went wrong. They tell me it’s not my fault, but I find it hard to believe them. This isn’t the first time. And it’s been a harsh reminder of what happened to me a couple of years before.

I still have the recording saved on my phone, when a social worker sexually assaulted me. I started listening to it over and over again, trying to figure out what I did wrong. What did I say, what did I do to make him think it was okay? Did I do it again? Why does this keep happening? What’s the connection?

I can’t find any answers. That makes it even harder to deal with. I am left feeling things I can’t even explain. I’m not okay. I’m riddled with anxiety. I can’t even go to work without worrying if he’s going to show up again. Work was my escape. It was my safe place. And now that’s been taken away from me.

I cry. A lot. I get so upset that I throw up. I shouldn’t be taking it this hard. It’s not that serious. It could have been worse. It has been worse.

I just can’t stop thinking that maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s me.

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