In The Service of Prettier Blooms
The moment a line is crossed is never a defined one. I mean sure, you have the technical definitions in your head of rape and sexual assault and coercion, but the first push is a gray area. A small decision that breaks all the rules you keep in your head because if you give in just for a second, maybe that'll be enough. And sometimes it is. Sometimes you give yourself away only to get it returned to you in near-mint condition. And, for some reason, you're grateful. You're grateful because the last time you gave yourself away you were lost. You were taken. You relinquished control to men you barely knew because the warmth of another body almost felt worth the loss of your own. You long to be held and he longs to conquer, so let's both pretend we're getting what we want for a night.
I console myself by saying it's fine, even when it's not. I tell myself I'm letting it happen, even if I can't move. Even if I'm left waiting, staring at a TV in the corner of a room in an apartment I don't live in, in a city I don't like. Even then, as long as I decide it's okay, then it is.
I used to have these delusions of grandeur as a kid. I would hear these stories that painted women as victims and damsels waiting to be saved by the same men who'd threaten their lives on the flip of a coin. So I'd imagine myself to be more than a woman, more than a girl who knew she could never protect herself if the chips were down. Instead I would pretend I was a martial artist, I would pretend my cross-country stamina and whip-smart intellect could outwit a man two, three times my size. When other girls were fantasizing about boys, I was plotting against men. Little did I know, the boys were just as bad.
I lived in these fantasies for a really long time. So long I almost forgot they weren't reality. And then push came to shove and I couldn't—
I couldn't do anything but make a sly remark and hope my bratty tone was enough to absolve my sin of existing. And nothing happened. Not really. Just a hand on my lower back from a drunken man I didn't know who surely wasn't a bad guy in the daylight. But under the harsh lighting of frat bathroom in the middle of the night, he could be anyone. And even if he was Jekyll and not the Hyde that I assumed, that fear never left me—the reminder that my safety was given to me by the world and it could just as easily be taken away.
That was the only moment where I couldn't decide if it was fine, but it's what defined every other moment that came. Every other concession I made because maybe if I decided what piece of me I let them chip away at, then it really would be okay. My sacrifices would be pruning in the service of prettier blooms. And if that's a lie, another delusion I fabricated to protect what's left of the fragile ecosystem that is my mind, then I pray it shatters. Shatters like the windows of burning buildings and the hearts of young girls who don't know that existing is enough.
Jada Fulcher is a queer black woman studying journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Originally from the south suburbs of Chicago, she spends her days writing movie reviews for the school paper and half-heartedly creating musicals she swears she'll finish eventually. This is her debut creative nonfiction publication.