There are teenage girls in my choir. All of them are beautiful, inside and out. They are wise and gentle and vibrant, and they have their whole exciting lives unfolding in front of them, and the way they care for each other and for the people around them fills my heart with hope. They cannot help but exhibit the love of God, and I find myself smiling whenever I think about them.
But I fear for them too. Despite all they go through – and I wouldn’t wish myself back in the turmoil of adolescence and high school, not for the world – they are untouched, unsullied by a world of violence, of darkness and fear and evil. I know that their innocence is bolstered with strength, but I also know that one day someone or something will mark their unblemished brightness. But for now, they are innocent.
I am not innocent. Part of me – even as I fear for the innocence in these beautiful, frightening fragile and yet vividly strong girls – wishes I was. I’m lividly frightened at the idea of one of these girls, my friends – for whom I would walk through fire without a moment’s hesitation – might one day know what fists feel like. Might one day live with the knowledge of rape, by which she will be marked forever. And I rage against the idea that, statistically, at least one of these girls will face some sort of violence or unwanted sexual attention in her lifetime.
Part of me wishes that I was still an innocent. I’m not naive – as a social worker, whenever I’ve moved to a new town I’ve learned where you can buy weed before I’ve learned where the good restaurants are – but I wish I didn’t know what fists feel like. What rape feels like. What ownership feels like. My innocence – the innocence of someone who has never been hit, who has never been raped or sexually abused, who has never been owned by and frightened of another person – was taken from me. Was sullied. I am no longer untouched by the world of violence and fear and evil which has not yet claimed these beautiful girls. And I’ve had enough beer as I’m writing this to acknowledge: it sucks. I’m pretty pissed off about it, actually.
And yet, there’s strength in my loss of innocence, strength that a true innocent doesn’t yet have. I know I can take a beating. It sounds counter-intuitive but there’s comfort in that knowledge. I’m a rape survivor. I’ve already lived through one of the worst things that one human being can do to another. If I can survive that, then I can and will survive panic attacks, and flashbacks, and nightmares. I can and will survive post-traumatic stress disorder. I can and will survive whatever the hell life wants to throw at me. Bring it on, girlfriend.
And screw you, domestic violence. Screw you, rape; screw you, PTSD. I’ve already survived. I might have lost my innocence, but screw that as well. I’ve already survived: now I’m going to thrive.