Trigger warning: This piece contains descriptions of rape and sexual assault.

I always defined myself as a romantic, and always felt I could sense the love in the air of any room. That love filled me with excitement, joy and hope. For me, love was always bigger than everything else. Love and romance were the keys, the answer — they kept my world spinning and my heart beating a thousand times a minute just at the thought. 

Growing up I had a predilection for romance novels, love songs and movies where the tall, dark, bright-eyed man got the pretty girl at the end. But being different — black, poor, obese and gay — robbed me of many of the experiences of love that I sought so deeply. Vague memories of doodling hearts in my notebook, blasting Sarah Bareilles or Adele on my way to school and the creation of fictional relationships with boys in my classes who didn’t know I existed colored the memories of my childhood — and much of my adulthood. 

In high school, most of my friends had lost their virginity in experiences I could only describe as quick, fatuous, obscure and painful. I decided young that I would wait until marriage; this was an answer that pleased the ears of many adults around me — who were both shocked and proud at my unyielding stance. I had made my decision not for Christianity— even though I was a Christian — nor for any reason other than romance and love. I was determined to find my prince charming, my Peeta Mellark, my Tobias “Four” Eaton — the man who would love me in the way I knew I deserved, the way I yearned for. 

I knew I didn’t just want the lust and desire of sex. I wanted to make love to a man who accepted every part of me, every curve and edge, every quirk, every crack, every bruise, every flaw, every habit, good and bad, every insecurity, my bitchiness, my big heart and even bigger mouth. I realize now that was just a fairytale, a lie, a facetious conception of reality. 

My dream came crashing down when the virginity I sought to keep sacred was taken from me — snatched from my hands. Through my struggles and pains and, inevitably, the torture of life, romance raised the sun and kept my earth spinning. Until the day I laid face down on a twin size mattress — having what little pride and dignity I possessed unduly ripped from me as the man lying on top of me soiled me from the inside out. 

Soiled, spoiled, unclean, unfresh, used, disposable. 

I felt broken, like something inside of me was being taken — stolen. I felt like I was being ripped in two. I wanted to run then. I remembered running track and how free it felt to run, the motion of my legs, and the refreshing feeling of the breeze on my perspired skin. But I wasn’t running. I was still, silent but screaming on the inside. With every thrust, I held back a mountain of tears welled up and burning inside me. As my emotion spilled out into the changing season of September’s cold, I felt dead inside, ice-cold, frozen. 

Frozen is how I felt in the weeks that preceded, but not right away. At first, I told myself it was only a nightmare. I tried to convince myself I read it in a book, or had just seen it in a movie. I refused to believe or admit that it happened to me. 

It wasn’t until this very day that I accepted what had happened. This day, the day before I find out if my assaulter poisoned my body with an STD, some type of virus, some type of disease. 

I’m scared. I’m sitting in my lavender pajamas at four o’clock in the morning listening to “Hold On” by Shawn Mendes, typing away because I can’t sleep and my eyes burn from the perpetual crying and I’m hoping that you will understand how this feels — not because I would ever want someone to know what this feels like, but because I’m in pain. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t focus on my school work, my job or my friends because I keep replaying the day that romance died inside of me. 

Something that once brought me so much joy in life, so much hope for the future, now brings me pain and aching in my heart, and ice-cold shivers to places that were once warm. I’m writing this because as much as I would never want this to happen to anyone, we live in a cruel and evil world — and if it should happen to anyone, they shouldn’t feel alone. They should take some hope for the future; and for those who have the privilege of never experiencing this type of degradation, you take with you some empathy. 

To everyone, I hope you spread both kindness and awareness. My story doesn’t have its happy ending yet, but I am not the victim. I am the victor. 

I am forever a hopeless romantic, and I am a survivor.

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