I hate #2. I hate him so much. I think he’s self-centered, abusive, and undeserving of happiness (at least for a long time). I shudder when I think about him getting married and having kids. I do not wish him well and I would not care if he died.
However, I intentionally have taken no steps to punish him for what he did to me.
I’ve always known I didn’t want to punish him, but three months after my assault I also knew I was drowning. I was literally throwing up from panic when I saw him on campus. I was not getting better. I needed to do something.
So below is the letter I wrote and had delivered to #2 three months after the incident.
First, take a deep breath and realize that I’m writing this letter not to punish or blame, but because I want to give you a chance to truly understand what this process means to me.
As of today, I have been going to counseling for nearly two months, I have moved into a new room, and mostly tried to pretend you don’t exist. And for a while, I thought I really could avoid you- that I could continue to pretend you are not, and never were, a part of my life. Consequently, throughout this semester I have followed a schedule that helps me avoid you as much as possible: I eat dinner early, study in a place no one will find me, and spend a lot of my time sitting in my room watching Netflix while others are out making the most of all Bowdoin has to offer. And it feels like, at least on the surface, that I’m surviving.
But then I walk past you in a chance encounter between classes. I see you sitting in the middle of Thorne eating dinner at an earlier time. You’re in the union when I’m giving my learning partner a tour of campus; you’re standing in the tower lobby before dinner one night. You’re meeting someone at the café when I’m there studying. Or I look behind the friend I’m talking to at a party and there you are- everywhere.
And because I know I can’t avoid you no matter how much I try, I spend my time scanning every new space I walk into and looking up every time someone new walks into the space I’m in, constantly on guard. I constantly worry that I might see you. I worry when I take a step into the union when I’m alone. I worry when I’m walking across campus. I worry about going to dinner at the “wrong” time. And I really worry when I go out on the weekends.
I worry because I know that seeing you can make my emotions spiral out of control. And on these days that your presence affects me, I know my heart will drop, I will feel like I can’t breathe, and a lump will form in my throat. I will want to cry. And most of all, I will want to have at least one person understand how I cannot stand this- how seeing you brings tears to my eyes and a deep sadness/anger/confusion/ anxiety to my heart. I won’t be able to think of anything but you, that night, and that you don’t know any of this is going on as I stare at the back of your head, or shoes, or in the complete opposite direction because I can’t look into your eyes.
But I won’t cry. I won’t say anything to anyone. I will simply avert my eyes. I will try to act like you aren’t there. I will leave and seek refuge in a safe place where I cannot see you.
I’ll sit there for minutes- hours- thinking. At times I will feel mad at myself. Sometimes I’ll be mad at you. Sometimes I’ll be sad, and sometimes I will wonder how 10 minutes could change my outlook on you and myself so permanently. But almost always I will find a way to blame myself for not being able to get over what has happened. And then I begin to hate myself more than I could ever hate you.
Seeing you changes me, and to me, it feels like you go on with your day without second thought- completely unscathed, completely without a care, completely whole.
For months I’ve ghosted around campus trying to be “normal”- to convince others and myself that I’m okay- and I’ve failed miserably. No matter how well I can fake smile away the tears or say I’m “just tired,” on some days I feel like only a shell of my previous self.
On the whole, I have become a genuinely unhappy and emotionally unpredictable friend, a distracted student, and a person who is truly struggling to be my optimistic, caring self. That night haunts me in some form every day and seeing you only amplifies this horror.
Because this was not just a “bad” night. It doesn’t happen to everyone at some point. It’s not just an unfortunate event. And it’s not going away no matter how much I want it to. That night, you were someone who could change someone’s life forever, and you chose to do just that.
And so today, I have two requests that will make each day to follow just a little more bearable for me.
First, I want you to understand that you can never become that person again. This can never happen to another girl because I would forever regret giving you this second chance- this chance to make a personal change rather than a public one. Please think of this process as a way to better understand how what happened can affect someone so greatly, and use this understanding to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
Second, I hope you will consider agreeing to the few personal requests I have compiled on the attached document. These are guidelines that I believe will help me revive my Bowdoin experience- at least to some extent. It’s your turn to care a little more- to share the burden of that night- because I want to be me again, and I know I can’t be if I have to spend a portion of every day worrying about you and your presence’s ability to take me back to that night.
I know you probably have a million questions, and I know I probably can’t ever answer all of them. All I can tell you is- regardless of how our perspectives of that night may vary and no matter how they may always differ- the effect of that night on me is indisputable. I know you’re probably confused and upset, but just know I have been carrying those feelings around with me every single day.
This process is my way of regaining the control I gave up three months ago. I’m ready to be me again, and I only see that becoming a reality if I know without a doubt that you will not be a part of my Bowdoin life.
If I had to rewrite the letter today, it would certainly be different. I would probably use the word asshole a couple times and also throw a few lines in about selfishness and entitlement and end with expressing my desire to punch him in the face if I thought that could inflict any pain. But what wouldn’t change about my letter is my singular focus on wanting #2 to learn from his mistakes.
I know on the outside it looks like I was protecting him after the assault. Everything from my word choice and my tone in the letter to my not doing everything in my power to get him kicked out of Bowdoin– and my life-immediately and completely—feel far too kind. But in my heart of hearts, I truly believe I wasn’t protecting him; I was protecting other women.
While I am almost certain #2 did this to other women before me, I am more certain he will never do this again. My letter, my film, my presence on campus for the three years after the incident—there’s almost no way he wasn’t reminded on a daily basis of what he did. It was a haunting three years of my life but I made sure it was a hauntingly eye-opening three years of his.
So while I hate him to my very core, I did everything in my power to make sure #2 doesn’t repeat his behavior and that is enough for me. I’m at peace with my decision to not seek punishment, and I don’t think I personally would feel as at peace had I done so.
I know there are a lot of competing viewpoints on what warriors should or shouldn’t do in terms of punishing their attacker and responding to their attack. But I hope we as supporters can move away from this “should” and “shouldn’t” perspective and open our eyes to what feels right, in that moment, to our warriors. I can almost promise whatever a warrior decides to do isn’t going to make sense to a supporter—not at first anyway—but I also promise warriors know what they need to do more than anyone else. It is in the power to make their own decision, that warriors can find peace.
So let’s let them do that.