I remember walking down the hallway after my last class, feeling the vibration of laughter in the atmosphere, and hearing people say “This isn’t Goodbye!” “Come back and visit!”. You know, the typical high school farewell. I remember feeling the summer heat on my skin as the door opened to the rest of my life.
I’ve always been a pretty happy person. I’ve always been an adventurer, constantly going places and asking as many questions as possible. I’ve always been passionate, giving my all to everything I do. I’ve always been pretty independent. I’ve always thought the best of people and let them in with a wide-open heart.
I met a guy from my freshman class at Southwestern University that summer, and he was amazing. We went on a few dates and became exclusive before school started. On move in day we found out that we are living in the same co-ed dorm - it was a dream come true for me, but my mother was not so thrilled.
Three days later, a flip switched.
He shut down, completely alienated himself from everyone - including me. He started getting violent and controlling. He cheated on me. Twice. Then he got verbally abusive. He came into my room one day and screamed at me until he turned red and his chewing tobacco was all over my face. After that I was afraid to walk down the dorm hallway alone.
He came to my room later that week to apologize, and I forgave him. We decided that I would go home with him that weekend to meet his family.
Even with all the warning signs- I stayed in the middle of the train tracks trying to find a way to bring back the guy I was with that summer - staring blindly at the train chugging straight toward me at full speed.
I met his family and loved them. His mom set up a bed for me to sleep in while I was there.
I was a virgin.
And he knew that.
I said no.
And he knew that.
I trusted him.
And he did it anyway.
The period of time back at school was a blur. I felt lost, dark and confused, but most of all, I felt worthless.
We broke up at some point. I don’t remember it.
I felt like a rose shriveling up, from color to black and white.
Then he attempted suicide, and blamed it on me. And that’s when I realized he had problems I could never fix. And that those problems were there before I ever knew him.
He dropped out of school and I spent a lot of days in my room crying for absolutely no reason, and a lot of nights out at parties hooking up with guys to feel beautiful and worth something.
I went home for the holidays and had an explosive argument with my parents that sounded something like “What’s wrong with you Annabelle? You’re not acting like yourself” after I was caught sneaking out. I was so lost, and my numbness was clearly affecting my actions and my judgement. So when school started again, I started therapy.
“Annabelle, that’s called rape. You are a survivor.”
My therapist’s words rang in my head for days.
Fast forward to half way through second semester. One of my friends took me to a coffee shop to introduce me to a woman named Abbey. She was sitting on one of the comfy brown couches in the corner of the room. “Abbey meet Annabelle, Annabelle meet Abbey!” She said. After some chit chat Abbey turned to me with her sparkling green eyes, looked straight into my soul and said “And you Annabelle? How are you?” I burst into tears. She saw me, and that’s all I had wanted. She was warm and graceful and I wanted to be like her. I spilled my whole story to her that day.
Summer came and I felt free again. I went to NYC (My hometown) and did all of the things I loved. I danced, did photo shoots. I learned about business, making friends, and chasing dreams with my dear friend William Coles, who also bought me my first SWL tank to remind me that I am worth it. That summer I started a blog called The Opened Book to work through the healing process and share each discovery I made. The blog brought me friends who struggled alongside me and encouraged me to keep writing.
Fall of sophomore year came alongside some volatile Anti-Rape protests on campus.
Everyone was talking about it everywhere all of the time and I became overwhelmed, hopeless and trapped. There was one day I remember feeling especially beaten down, I went to my apartment, and used my hands to find the couch because my eyes were too puffy too see and I cried. Ugly cried.
My roommate/best friend came home early and found me. Emily, familiar with my story, just sat down on the floor next to me and held my hand.
She loved me in my mess.
All my friends did. Constantly supporting me and giving a piece of themselves to me to fill in what I had lost.
After quite sometime, a group of people had gathered around me, each of them supporting and loving me through all of breakdowns at different times. Each one of my friends reminded me that I was worthy of love and that no one could take that away from me. Even though my personal battle looked different everyday and my mood changed often and my decisions weren’t always the best, the one thing that I had that was constant was the love from my friends. From Abbey, William, Emily and many more unmentioned but just as deserving and warm people.
Slowly but surely, my depression and numbness went away and my self-destructive habits started to disappear. I stopped hiding behind solo cups, and I found myself again.
I decided to chase this way of life, or way of love, and learned how to love other people the way I had been loved.
I’ve always been a pretty happy person - but now I radiate. I’ve always been an adventurer - but now I explore with a purpose. I’ve always been passionate - but now I don’t have to chase my dreams alone. I’ve always been pretty independent - but now I depend on truth and wisdom. I’ve always thought the best of people and let them in with a wide open heart - but now I know that everyone is messy, everyone has scars, everyone has felt broken beyond repair, and I have to learn to love myself before I can love others without trying to fix them.
It’s thanks to the friends that loved me relentlessly and believed that I was worth it that I was able to get through everything.
I continue to write on my blog because even now, life isn’t always easy - and I want people to know they are not alone in that. I have also started writing a book, called Into the Darkness that I hope will be used in support groups mainly for survivors of rape to facilitate the healing process.
For a while I didn’t want to share my story with other people because it left me so vulnerable. But now I have accepted it’s not a story about me, it’s about how love triumphs. It’s a modern day love story. Loving people is magical, and the best part is that anyone can do it.