I saw an old friend yesterday. We met for a drink at a bar in Korea town where we always liked to frequent.
“How are you doing?” she asked with that slightly condescending tone stinking just enough of pity.
“I’m fine,” I replied casually, tossing back a shot of soju—Korean rice whiskey. It’s smooth, so very dangerous.
“You’re so strong.” She shook her head in wonder. Eyes wide with what I suppose was sympathy.
“I can’t even imagine what it must have been like…”
I had no response. All the words I’d planned to say had dried on my tongue.
Don’t worry. I’m fine…
And yet—on the inside, nothing was “fine.” Sometimes it felt like it never would be ever again.
In November of 2015, three days before my 28th birthday, while on my way home from that same Korean bar, stumbling from too many shots of soju, I was intercepted by a group of men, taken to the basement of a house a few blocks from my Crown Heights apartment and violently raped by one, and then another, and then another…
“Girl, you’re so fine—” They’d said to me on the street trying to get my attention.
But everything that was, died in that basement bedroom… or so it seemed.
Everyone said it was a miracle, a blessing that I survived and got out of that situation alive. How did I do it, you ask? I’m about to get real. (Trigger warning)
I got out by pretending—by getting aggressive. For a brief moment I took my power back, pure survival instinct kicked in. Because looking back on it—I can’t really believe I did what I did.
“So is anyone else going to fuck me?” I snapped, challenging them, throwing them off their guards. “Because if not, I’m going home.”
As steadily as I could, I stood from the mattress, adjusting my clothes and grabbing my bag.
“I’m going home.” I stated, and moved past the men who had been tormenting me the past hour.
It was like they didn’t even know what to do—my behavior had completely confused them. Were they expecting tears? Was I supposed to beg? I will never know why it happened the way it did, but I walked out of that basement of nightmares on my own two feet.
It wasn’t until I was out on the street, walking at a fast pace through the crisp November night, that shock and terror set it. I was intensively frightened and disoriented, and I just took off, not even paying attention to where I was going. I remember walking and walking, and feeling like I’d never get home.
This all took place within a three-block radius of where I’d lived for three years, mind you. That’s how out of my head I was—I was lost in my own neighborhood, the place I thought I knew like the back of my hand. It was at this time I also discovered they had taken my phone, my wallet and my keys (including my car key, which led to my adorable VW Beetle getting stolen and burnt to a crisp after a high speed chase through Long Island—but that’s a story for another day).
I didn’t know how I was going to get home. When I momentarily came out of my shock, I realized I’d wandered so far in the wrong direction, I was on a street I’d never even heard of. I saw a cab and begged him to help me out. Luckily he got me back to my place and with incessant buzzing I was able to wake my roommate from the downstairs lobby.
“Hello? Who is it?” A groggy voice came over the speaker—at this point it was past 3am.
“Kelly let me in, let me in! Let me in! Please!”
A savior. A blessing. I’d never wanted a roommate in my 1 bedroom apartment (necessity had led to that) but at this moment I’d never been happier. If she hadn’t been there, I would have been in a lot more trouble.
Inside I was able to call the police and my mom who lives in Dallas Fort Worth, and that set off a whirlwind of gritty, miserable events and experiences.
The attack itself had been surreal; it was like I’d stepped outside myself. But now harsh reality had hit and I was dealing with the fallout under the biting neon lights of the emergency room and the SVU detective’s office. The whole experience left me reeling, shaken to the core—in shock and struggling with the early signs of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
I was not fine. I couldn’t event fathom feeling stable or normal again; like the person I’d been before was completely and utterly lost to me.
But I suppose… somehow, through all of it there was something guiding me—some positive energy or “bigger reason” why this had happened. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I had to believe it was more than just chaos. It also helped that I have wonderful friends and family who supported me and showed their love in many ways, from helping out with expenses, to just making me laugh, to even tweeting out about my cause when I was fighting with the banks (another story for another day that involved checks getting re-cashed and money stolen).
Anyway—through this intense darkness, there was this thin ray of light, almost invisible at first but getting slightly bigger week to week. As corny as it probably is, I literally visualized it as a light at the end of a tunnel, and I just moved towards it step by step, sometimes even less then that, sometimes tiny centimeter by centimeter. Sometimes I even moved backwards, but that light was always there. In the distance.
I cocooned myself, leaving the cruel city to stay with my mom in Texas for a few months. I was surrounded by family, but mostly I just liked being by myself. When I was with others I had to put on a mask and pretend like I was ok. Not that they all expected me to be ok, but I’m the type who doesn’t express her more intense emotions very well. And my family, though very supportive, are not of the “lovey-dovey, talk about feelings” variety.
Still, this break was good for me—the demons seemed farther behind me than before, and at last I felt that I had come to the end of the tunnel, ready to step out into the sun. I decided it was time to come back to New York.
I was returning to a better situation, many friends who were eager to see me, and a new apartment far enough from my old place that I’d never have to return to that area—never have to walk down those streets littered with bad memories ever again.
But I can’t say it’s been easy.
After the whirlwind of moving, my mom flew back to Fort Worth and again I was on my own, for the first time since the night I had been attacked. Every day is a struggle and the Post Traumatic Stress has reared its ugly head more intensely than before. I get scared and startled easily—something I’d never experienced before—and my anxiety is off the charts. I have intrusive thoughts, visual flashbacks, every day.
But the nightmares have stopped. And I do feel like I stepped out into the daylight. That darkness is still right behind me, just over my shoulder, and sometimes (more often than I’d like) it reaches out a slippery tendril and coils its way around me.
Regardless…it is behind me. And every breath I take, every waking moment, propels me away from it and into that light.
Since this trauma happened, I’ve been determined to make something of it, to turn it around, to find a way to channel it and maybe—possibly—help others who have experienced something similar.
For a long time I wasn’t ready. I still may not be; I don’t really know. But I’m a big believer of “Fake it till you make it.” So for now, I’m going to keep pretending I’m Fine, and wait for the day I finally am.