My life changed forever 5 years ago. I was 16, he was 19. All I cared about were good grades, friends, and partying. I went to his apartment with two girlfriends. We met him a week ago. I thought he was cute and I loved that he was tall. We started drinking right when we got there.  He and I talked and I thought he was amazing—he even kissed me.I don’t know how much I had to drink, but at 105 lbs., I was wasted and passed out on the couch. I woke up to him picking me up. Startled and dizzy, I said I wanted to leave, he said I wasn’t going anywhere. He accidentally dropped me and I tried to get to the door, but I fell. He grabbed my hair, dragging me across the floor toward him. I fought, but he managed to carry me to his bed. I was terrified. My “friends” had already left.

He was on top of me. I took a swing at his face, but he grabbed my arm and I screamed as he twisted it behind my back.  He said if I ever tried that again, he would break my arm. I believed him.

I believed every threatening, disgusting, soul crushing thing he said to me. He said I was worthless and just something to be used. He told me no man would ever want a fat, ugly slut like me. He said he would ruin me and I would forever be “damaged goods.”

When I wouldn’t quit fighting, he stopped and turned me so that my head was on the nightstand, then repeatedly slammed the back of my head into it. I was still awake after four hits—his look of disappointment told me that wasn’t his plan. He started raping me again.

Feeling powerless, I laid there and sobbed. He told me to shut up, but I wouldn’t. Then, his hand was around my throat, I couldn’t breathe. I struggled for air, unsuccessfully trying to peel his fingers off my neck. I felt myself slipping away and I thought I was dying.

I woke up gasping for air. I wondered what he did while I was passed out. Then, I tasted blood in my mouth and decided that I never wanted to know. He reached for something on the nightstand—a knife. He said if I moved or cried “one more fucking time,” he’d kill me. I whimpered. He pressed the knife against my ribs, digging it into my skin; I felt blood trickle down my side. He said, “That’s your last warning.” I had a choice: fight, scream, and die OR do nothing, be quiet, and live. I had to lay there in motionless silence while he beat me and violated me. I thought about how freeing death would be, how it would make him and the pain disappear. But no, I had to live, whatever it took. I can’t describe how consuming and excruciating the pain was; I closed my eyes and told myself the pain meant nothing—if it did, I’d already be dead. Now, in my weakest moments I remind myself of the strength it took to survive, of the strength it took to choose experiencing a temporary hell in order to live. I can honestly say that choosing to live was literally the most painful decision I have ever made; it was also the best decision.

When he was done, he told me we would never forget each other and that he would haunt me for the rest of my life. Then, he fell asleep right next to me, like nothing happened.

I waited a while, then finally got up. My whole body ached; I felt so weak and sick. I went to grab my clothes and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror; I was ghost white and covered in blood—it was in my hair, running down my chin from a busted lip, and all over my legs; there were smears of blood on the rest of my body and I wanted to throw up when I realized they were his hand prints.

I got dressed, opened the front door, and bolted. The door slammed behind me. As I made it down the first of three flights of stairs, I thought I heard his door slam again. I kept running, certain he was right behind me. I made it down the stairs and fell. My heart sank. I wasn’t getting away, he could get me now. But, I got up, ran to my car, and locked the doors. I looked around, but he wasn’t there. I swear he was right behind me—sometimes, I still feel like he is.

I was able to hide or explain away my injuries and they had almost healed when I decided to go to the police. I had to live it all over again during every interview. The detective’s questioning was unnecessarily harsh and I felt like no one believed me. (I’m still afraid that people, who hear my story, don’t believe me). My rapist got 6 months of probation for providing alcohol to me, a minor. Sleeping is difficult. I’m afraid he's waiting for me in the dark. I’m afraid he's just around the corner or hiding behind the next car in the parking lot. I HATE it when people try to scare me; their harmless prank makes me think I’m about to be killed. I can’t stand yelling or door slamming. Sometimes I just can't help saying negative things to myself about my appearance and I don’t always think I’m pretty. The flashbacks are horrifying—I can see, smell, and feel everything; they’re physically painful and exhausting.

Fear is still there, but it doesn’t control me anymore. I face my fears every day, even just by walking out the door (I’m terrified he’s on the other side). I resist the urge to constantly look over my shoulder when I’m on the stairs. I tell myself that the things he said aren’t true, that I will find someone who can love and accept me for who I am and that I’m not worthless.

I have dreams, I know what I want for my life, and I won’t accept anything less. I realized that I could choose to be happy and that I deserve to be happy. In spite of everything, I can say, without a doubt, that I have an amazing life and I am proud to be alive.