Image By: Anne Marie Grudem

Content warning:

The following text describes sexual assault and violence, and can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.

✶ ✶ ✶
It’s dark
It’s in the forgotten, and the wished to be forgotten
A gray shade dominating the story—
Life isn’t black or white, and I guess
This is just a part of life
It was lighter the first time
Fifteen years old
On the couch of a party
Older kids, younger me
I looked for the manual on how to play it cool,
But found too many drinks instead
Told him I was upset, he heard opportunity
Things went one way, my wishes the other
But it wasn’t too bad, light and harmless
It wasn’t that far, things could be worse
Cover up, move along. The rumors will fade,
Along with the hickey
He’ll get the high five tomorrow, and my feelings
—I'm fine.
But, why do I feel so haunted?
Why do I feel so dirty?
He was the first for something, but not for everything.
This happens everyday, it was just about time…
Right? Oh...so light.
The second time, learning what grey is.
Seventeen now—senior year and
The world is ours,
Or maybe just his.
The closest of friends, the most comfortable of parties
Come upstairs, we will just go to sleep
He said
With all our friends a mere hallway away,
He heard yes within no
My reasons weren’t good enough,
He said
I can tell you want it,
He said
This was supposed to happen,
He said
Then why did I leave, up before the light
Before the pancakes and the coffee
The hungover stories of the best friends I’d ever had
Instead kept company by my car’s loud music,
Drowning too many thoughts and falling tears
And the familiar feeling of dirty,
Inexplicably tainted
Telling myself it’s not so bad, you’ll be okay—
And with the sun breaking the dawn,
It was all just...gray
The next time was worse.
I knew the feeling, and at some point,
This has to all be my fault, right?
A perfect, care free night
Eighteen years old with the card saying twenty–one
roaming a new city, bars and clubs and the freedom to dance
Again, on top of the world
It’s 3 a.m. and couch surfing is the name of the game
An old friend, A best friend, A new friend
With the fogginess of a night’s worth of drinks,
We fell asleep—three squeezed onto a bed for two
As the only girl, I laid in the middle—
Not a question, not a worry
Only to wake up with him inside,
Probing, exploring, taking what he wanted
A perfect night resolved to a memory
Where in the fog of a moment, I must somehow be in the wrong
I am the dirty one.
I am the reason this happens.
They take what they can because of something I say,
Or maybe do.
And with a swift move to the floor, he was forced to stop
But there was silence in the morning
And there were memories tainted
And the girl who was on top of the world,
Felt thrown to the ground,
beneath the touch of another
The last time
I decided it had to be my fault
For not standing up when I was fifteen
For not saying something to the cat calls from then to now
For the comments left untouched,
With my own body not getting off so lucky
For the times I am called a tease, or maybe a whore
And I let both stand, so as to not raise a fuss.
The lack of fuss must have led to this last time
One that is either a bit too recent,
Or maybe a bit too timeless to tell
The story of so many—of the night that goes too far
Of the signs ignored and
The empty feelings left behind.
It is not just one night,
It’s the stories between,
Often so normalized we forget they happen
The grabs,
The calls,
The whispers,
The taunts.
It’s in the fear to drink and the
Guilt for that fear.
It’s in the self–blaming,
And the guilt for daring to blame oneself.
It’s in the forgotten, in the dark
And the true fear
that the girl
On top of the world
The wild one, the carefree one
Will one day forget entirely
Of how to live,
scared of the dark
Life has shown her when she does

✶ ✶ ✶

Campus Resources:

The HELP Line: 215-898-HELP: A 24–hour–a–day phone number for members of the Penn community who seek help in navigating Penn's resources for health and wellness.

Counseling and Psychological Services: 215-898-7021 (active 24/7): The counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania.

Student Health Service: 215-746-3535: Student Health Service can provide medical evaluations and treatment to victims/survivors of sexual and relationship violence regardless of whether they make a report or seek additional resources. Both male and female providers can perform examinations, discuss testing and treatment of sexually transmissible infections, provide emergency contraception if necessary and arrange for referrals and follow up.

Reach–A–Peer Hotline - 215-573-2727 (every day from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.): A peer hotline to provide peer support, information, and referrals to Penn students.

Penn Violence Prevention: 3539 Locust Walk (Office Hours: 9 am – 5 pm), (215) 746-2642, Jessica Mertz (Director of Student Sexual Violence Prevention, Education) jmertz@upenn.edu, Read the Penn Violence Prevention resource guide.

Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention Team: A multidisciplinary team at CAPS dedicated to supporting students who have experienced sexual trauma.

Public Safety Special Services: Trained personnel offer crisis intervention, accompaniment to legal and medical proceedings, options counseling and advocacy, and linkages to other community resources.

Penn Women's Center: 3643 Locust Walk (Office Hours 9:30 am – 5:30 pm Monday–Thursday, 9:30 am – 5 pm Friday), pwc@pbox.upenn.edu. PWC provides confidential crisis and options counseling.