Today my beautiful sister turns nineteen.
Ahhh, nineteen! Back then, I remember thinking it wasn’t a big deal – an age that didn’t really offer any benefit but another year. At the thought of nineteen now, I can feel the promise – the hope for what might be.
Like her, at nineteen I was fortunate enough to have a safety net. While our parents didn’t have much financially to spare, I always knew I had a support system that would do anything in their power to help me accomplish my goals- whatever they may be. As a girl from a relatively small town who moved to Boston for school, I was naive. In an instant, I was surrounded by diversity, extraordinary wealth and opportunity. I wanted desperately to belong, but never quite knew how to fit in. Nevertheless, I pressed on, and made some close friends on my lacrosse team, and a couple from class.
Sophomore year, I moved in with four of my teammates to an apartment close to campus. I felt so adult, having a place of my own in the city – even if I was still sharing a room, and rocking full size bunk beds. Take that nineteen, I can adult with the best of them!
By October I had made a couple friends outside of my lacrosse team, and roommates. On a seemingly ordinary night, visiting one of my new friends from class (aka: make out buddy) – my world was changed forever. I woke up on a couch, fighting a series of men off of me as they raped me.
Talk about feeling out of place… The shame, the guilt, the “what the hell do I do now?” hit me like a ton of bricks with every lonely step back to my apartment. I felt like I deserved it – I did not bring a teammate. I chose to have friends outside the fold. I brought this on myself. I tried to shake it off, pretend nothing happened, and decided that the best path forward was to bury the experience – not tell a soul, and just get on with my life.
Unfortunately, the depression that set in, had a whole different plan. I went through the motions in class and practice, and found good excuses to stay home when my roommates went to parties at night. Alone, I would lay almost catatonic, sinking further and further into a depression, eating and drinking everything I could get my hands on. By winter break, I was ten pounds heavier and could barely drag myself out of bed. So, when term was over, I said casual goodbyes to my roommates before heading back to Maryland… somewhere down deep knowing I would never be back.
I went home over break and tried to maintain what little was left of the facade. My mom knew something was wrong immediately, and tried everything she could to pull it out of me on a daily basis. After a couple weeks, and a few sneaky drinks in the basement, I confided in my brother. He told my parents the next day, and the story was out. It was real. I finally had to confront the truth, and tell the people I loved more than anything that I felt broken and could not go back to Boston. We were all disappointed that I didn’t have the strength to go back to school and lacrosse; after all, I had been awarded a scholarship which would give me an opportunity to graduate from Boston University with minimal debt. Who walks away from something like that without a fight? I did.
Dealing with the pain of what happened to me, and how I responded to what happened has taken me years to cope with. The Soundingboard Project was originally created as a declaration of what I actually needed following the assault– a sounding board. I desperately wanted someone to listen, without judging or trying to fix me. The Soundingboard Project has since become a labor of love, and, like me, a work in progress. We hope to provide a safe, supportive network for survivors and the warriors who love them to acknowledge, understand, and work toward healing from the trauma of sexual assault.
So today, on my sisters nineteenth birthday, I would like to honor her and the hope that she never have to experience sexual assault, by dedicating The Soundingboard Project to her. Coeli is the daughter, niece, cousin, sister, and friend of survivors – I pray every day that she will be spared and continue to be the Warrior we all need.
Happy birthday, Coeli! I love you babydoll! You are the reason we do what we do.