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Rayon shirts, black and white polka dots and the cafeteria staff.

They say that smell is the sense most closely related to memory recall. Since I was 15, my memories have been tied to clothing. I remember the black and white polka dots outfit. The top was white cotton with rayon black polka dotted sleeves. Underneath were black cotton biker shorts with white polka dots. I remember wearing it with the cutest black patent leather shoes. They had black satin ribbon laces. I thought those shoes were so edgy. It was one of my favorite outfits. I felt so grown up in it. I wore it exactly three times. I wore to the BBD and Keith Sweat concert, to my first mixed gender basement party and the night I was raped by one of the men who worked in my highs school cafeteria. I never wore it again.

I imagine in most schools there is little to no intersection between students and cafeteria staff. In our school, the cafeteria staff were the only folks who looked like us. The cafeteria was, for some of us, the only place we could catch a break from the watchful, critical eye of the all-white staff. No, I’m not counting the token Black male art teacher we had in middle school. We knew the crew and yet they were virtual strangers. They knew our names, and they would ask us if we were ok. Tim, the dessert bar chef, would even make our favorite desserts by request. The ladies would give us a little extra love with our serving. Then, there was Ramone. Ramone was young, had beautiful teeth, and dressed well. He was flashy, and I liked him.

Eventually Ramone would approach me about meeting up outside of school. I didn’t know how to navigate the meeting. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve. I understood that I could not tell them. I also understood that the meeting would have to be done in secret. I couldn’t go alone. I was too scared. I’d never even been alone with a boy, and he was a man. I needed support. My friend Lily and I hatched a fool proof plan. She agreed to keep the secret.

The Plaza is a Kansas City treasure. It was one of the few spaces my parents would allow me to navigate unaccompanied. Lily and I planned to meet there and catch a cab to Ramone’s house. I had never been in a cab. Lily taught me how to ride one. I felt so grown! We arrived at his house. I don’t remember exiting the cab, nor entering the house. I remember the walls being mostly bare and it felt more like a campsite than a home. Ramone pointed Lily toward the TV in the corner of the living room. She sat down. I was so nervous about breaking my parents trust I had the nervous shivers. He took my hand, and it felt magical. He said we were going to talk in the next room.

He was smiling and looking at me in a way I had never experienced. It felt good and grown up. We walked around the corner to the bedroom on the left. The blinds were slightly open, and I remember the streetlight was shining in my eyes. He pushed and held me down, covered my mouth, yanked down my polka dotted shorts and raped me. He didn’t say a word. He finished, left me there and walked out of the room. I got up. Pulled up my polka dot shorts, walked into the other room where Lily sat happily watching tv. I looked at the clock and asked Lily to call our cab so we could leave.

She had no clue. She never knew. She was in the next room and never knew. To date, we’ve never spoken of that night again. There was no 15-year-old girl recap on the cab ride home. I was confused and as I look back, in shock. That night was a pivotal moment in our friendship. She is an unknowing anchor in my life. I learned to compartmentalize that night. I was a high school sophomore. Ramone never spoke to me again. I saw him almost every single day for the next 2 and a half years. It would take me 13 years to share the story with a therapist.

Ramone was an adult, and I was a child. He was a grown up and I was a kid. He was an employee, and I was a student. I could not yet drive a car. He had a car, a home, and a job at my school. He made me feel so special. I felt special because he was a grown man, and I was a teenage girl. All I could comprehend was that when he smiled at me, I felt like the world faded away. I felt seen, and I was intoxicated by that feeling. I wanted to chase it and feel it over and over. It’s a feeling all of us chase.

Until my early 30s, sex was at best, utilitarian. I chased orgasms and enjoyed the control being a good lover provided me. I did not have emotional connections with the people to whom I gave my body. I made a game out of making them believe I loved them. People believed they were the most important. Everything was a lie and I wanted to die. I tried to die. I was not successful with my first, second nor third suicide attempt. I woke up every day, went through the motions, did the things in the order people told me to do them. I went to college, graduate school, created a magical a career, had an adoring husband, a child, a home, and I felt nothing.

For years, I separated my physical pleasure from my mental pleasure. I was liberated when I learned to align the two. I was liberated when I stopped using sex as performance art. I’m sharing this story to help someone; anyone choose to live their life out loud and on their own terms. I’m sharing this as a testimony to women who have been raped and do not see themselves as victim nor survivor. I am sharing this testimony in hopes that women cultivate unlikely friendships with people who will unknowingly anchor their lives. I am sharing this so you can know that I fought like hell for this life. I almost died getting here. I am sharing this story for women who want to feel the world melt away when their lover smiles at them.

I am sharing this story in hopes that you will give yourself permission to feel good after you’ve spent a lifetime feeling nothing.

If you or someone you know have experienced sexual assault, and need help tap the button below for resources and support.

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