A #SurvivorStory by Jill
There was a time in my life when I despised sleep. It never came naturally to me and I didn’t understand how others could take it for granted. As a child, I dreaded nap time as much as I dreaded going to the doctor’s office for shots. While other kids were in trouble with their parents for saying the swear words they heard under their father’s breath or stealing dollar bills from their mother’s purses for the ice cream truck, I got in trouble for sneaking a flashlight into my room so I could read The Magic Treehouse stories after my parents told me “lights out”.
It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade when I made a “Summer 2012 Bucket List” with my friends Colleen and Kirra. All of our lists had one common factor: to pull an all-nighter. Sometime in mid-July, the three of us had a sleepover at Kirra’s house. This would be the night when we would become women: we would stay up until it was light. We spent the evening prank calling boys and watching the Twilight series.
The next morning my early teen sulkiness was amplified. My mom asked if my stomach hurt or if I was craving junk food, assuming my first visit from Mother Nature was due any day. No – I was exhausted, not premenstrual. Gymnastics practice that day was brutal. Four hours in a gym without air conditioning or fans, being yelled at by a perpetually irate eastern European, is hardly a trip to Disneyland on an easy day but this time it was almost unbearable. I prided myself for being one of the few girls who never passed out or threw up, but it came close that day. I was cranky, tired and looked like a raccoon, but so what? I just pulled an all-nighter. I was metal as fuck.
Later in life I learned to appreciate sleep. In high school I said “no” to many social opportunities in order to get my full 8 hours and wake up with the sunrise to go surfing; the brisk ocean water starting my day in the most invigorating way. After finals week the fall semester of my freshman year in college I slept an entire 12 hours, compensating for the week before of non-bucket list related all-nighters.
It was during that winter break when I experienced a different type of sleeping. After the 2017/18 New Year’s, my friend Jack and I drove up to Morro Bay for a surf trip. It was no secret that I liked Jack and he liked me. The final full day of our trip was a day of barrels, laughter, and a shark encounter, followed by a venture to downtown San Louis Obispo for pizza. Evening rolled in, and we sat by the fire making Jiffy Pop popcorn and listening to the Lumineers. We reminisced of waves and talked of everything under the sun from when the next big swell was due to what our biggest fears in life were. We laughed about the guy out in the lineup who said, “Jack and Jill? With names like that, you two better get married!” Soon, Jack’s hand was holding mine. Through the light of the fire, his crystal blue eyes met mine. The next few seconds were a blur, but our lips were connected. In a seemingly cinematic moment, fat droplets of rain began to pour from the sky. We enjoyed a few soft moments of kissing, before looking at each other in silence. His hand still holding mine, we walked into the tent.
We shared a smile. “I’ve been wanting that kiss for a long time Jill”, Jack whispered.
“I had a crush on you since the first day I met you working at the surf camp”, I replied.
“You’re really something else”, Jack said with a smile.
“So, what now?” I asked softly. With a yawn, Jack said, “Let’s go to sleep. The swell is supposed to peak at 12 feet tomorrow morning.” I smiled as he wrapped his arms around me. Even with the central Californian winter temperatures and pouring rain, I was warm. Maybe the fuzzy socks and beanie played a part, but there is something comforting about falling asleep in the arms of one of your favorite people and knowing you will do your favorite thing the very next day. I slept with abandon.
Sleep is a luxury. The flannel PJs. The sinking into a soft mattress. The dreams. Maybe a nice herbal tea with honey. The waking up ready to kick the day’s ass. The beloved snooze button adored by lazy asses like myself and dreaded by roommates everywhere. For some people, the arms of the one you love. Like that old platitude goes, you never know what you have until you have it taken away from you.
Some asshole robbed me of my sleep, and I’ve been trying to get it back since.
“So, what can I help you with today?” the woman asked with a soft smile. She was an older woman, maybe a few years older than my mom. She wore jeans and a sparkly t-shirt. Her office color scheme was baby blue, creamy white, and the color of Hawaiian sand. The wall was decorated with paintings of seashells and a poster saying, “by the beach is the best place to be”. She looked at me still smiling. Jesus lady, what an opener. We both know what kind of place you run here. Some parts of my life are a little fucked up right now and I need you to un-fuck them. That’s what you can help me with today. My hands fiddled in my lap, each knuckle cracking.
“Well, this thing happened to me, and I know that it is negatively affecting my life in a plethora of ways…” The therapist gave me an inquisitive look.
“What kind of thing?” she asked, knowing exactly what kind of thing I was alluding to. Not wanting to say the dreaded word – to align myself with statistics, politics, and pity – especially pity, I took in a deep breath.
My story is messy and ongoing – hardly something worthy of a Lifetime movie.
It was a weeknight, a Wednesday I think. Early November, close to my birthday. I was wearing the mustard yellow Topshop sweater I bought while shopping with my aunt in London, and my trusty pair of mom jeans. I read somewhere that yellow tones counteract dark circles. My hair was a mess, but this was a police station not a Miss America pageant, so who gives a damn? I parked my car. Quickly, I said a little prayer. God, please help me be make the right choice here and please give me to courage to not back down. I saw my friend Annie’s car parked opposite of mine with her standing right outside. A wonderful person and one of my best friends since 9th grade, she insisted on coming for moral support. I stepped out of my car and she gave me a hug. Together, we walked up to the door and hit the buzzer. A petite female officer opened the door. She couldn’t have been much older than I was. But she had a presence about her, a strong presence that declared don’t fuck with me. A presence that if I had, maybe I wouldn’t be here. “Jillian?” she asked. I nodded. “You’re here to report a sexual assault?” She asked in a way that was more of a statement than a question.
“Yeah”, I said meekly.
“Were you the one who was assaulted?” I gulped.
After going through the legal formalities, she asked, “When did the assault occur?” I told her that it happened almost six months ago, back in late May. She looked at me curiously.
“What made you decide to report it now?” I slowly inhaled then exhaled, sick to my stomach with fear.
“Well, I just tried to forget it even happened, and I was handling it fine, but about three days ago he called me. I haven’t slept since.”
That god damn phone call was just as bad, if not worse, than the rape itself.
I was sitting on my bed in my dorm room. There was deep conditioner in my hair and a face mask on my face; I was in a red bathrobe. I was fidgeting with my glasses, trying to keep the muddy face mask from getting on them while I did my reading for my Lit Theory class. I was distracted by my phone screen turning on, hoping it was Carmen, sending me a link to the Quizlet I asked her for. “Danny is calling”, the screen read. What the fuck. My stomach dropped. I don’t know what the hell inclined me to not ignore the call and block his number, but he baited the hook and I bit it.
“Hello?” I more asked than greeted. Instantly, fear took me over. I dreaded hearing his voice again.
“Hey Jill, it’s been a long time. How have you been? How was Ireland? Are you still doing cheer?” His voice made me sick. I sighed.
“Why are you calling Danny? It’s been months.” There was a pause.
“I’m here to apologize” he started with his silver tongue. I let out a cynical chuckle.
“I didn’t know you were capable of showing remorse for your actions.” He followed with a schpeel of how he had a traumatic childhood and he’s a mess of a human being, but now he’s found Jesus. I had enough.
“How many other girls, Danny?” I asked the point-blank question.
He stuttered, “I-I-I don’t know what you mean, Jill.” I took a deep breath.
“Bullshit. How many other girls have you hurt the way you hurt me?”
“None. I swear to God, you were the only one. I’m sorry. I’ve been praying about it, God forgives me. I know you do too because I know how good of a person you are.” His voice was shaky when he said this, as if even he didn’t believe what he was saying.
“You don’t know the first thing about me.”
The call ends and the tears begin. Knowing my roommate will be back from class soon, I go to the one place I know I’ll have privacy. I sit in the shower, Tears making my face mask run like mud on a rainy day. I sob as my salty tears mix with the shower water. After single-handedly bringing back California’s drought, I throw on sweat pants and my biggest jacket and I crawl under my covers like a child hiding from the monster under their bed. I cry more than I’ve ever cried in my life—until my head is pounding and I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like a shell of a human being. I need to do something, anything but cry. I go to the gym. Even with my ear buds on full volume, his voice replays in my head. Faster, faster, faster. On the elliptical I try to run away from my own thoughts.
The next 72 hours are brutal. I try to sleep. No luck. I try to be productive, to use whatever I’m feeling as fuel for my writing and art. My mind is blank, as if a black hole enveloped any iota of creativity that I possessed. Netflix and mindless scrolling through Instagram become my new hobbies. I try to sleep again. I can’t fucking sleep. His voice echoed in my head, vibrating throughout my entire being which doesn’t even feel like mine anymore. His voice, the same voice calling me every obscenity in the book as he bruises my face, the same voice asking if I felt like I was going to die and laughing as I cried and begged to go home. The sun comes up. Coffee. Clothes. Allergy pill. Brush your teeth. I sit next to my friends in class, telling them I was up late working on a paper when they say that I look tired. Pay attention. Try to focus. Raise your hand.
I remembered that awful night and how I lay in my bed after running home—putting up my salty hair that he nearly pulled out, peeling off my leggings and Endless Summer t-shirt and tossing them to the floor. My mind racing, trying to understand what happened. He wouldn’t do that to me. He must’ve been drunk. This is just a misunderstanding. These thoughts played in a loop all night, keeping me awake until the sun came up. I thought back to the phone call with Danny—the shakiness in his voice. How many other girls has he stolen sleep from? How many other girls will he give matching dark circles and bruises?
I can’t live like this forever. I’ll go insane. What if he does this to somebody else? Maybe I was being proactive. Maybe I was behaving irrationally due to lack of sleep. It doesn’t matter why I did it. “Hello? I’d like to report a sexual assault.”
I sat back in my therapist’s office a day after getting a phone call from a detective interested in further pursuing the case.
“You mentioned feeling depleted”, my therapist observed, “How has ‘the thing’ as you call it negatively impacted your life?” I shifted in the cushy, aquamarine armchair and popped out the leg rest. “That’s a good question….” I trailed off. “I mean, I know it was a violation of my personhood. I lost a lot of happiness. I had to lie about it the next day when my parents asked what happened to my face. I had to lie about where I was going on all the trips to the police station. I’m jumpy and always looking over my shoulder. Sometimes I think that I see him in the crowd when I’m cheerleading and I feel like I’m going to throw up. Sometimes I have to just hide somewhere and cry. The thought of a boyfriend makes me shudder. I even find myself recoiling when my friend Jack hugs me.” She looks at me with empathy in her eyes, taking it all in. I let out a yawn. “Honestly, I just want to be able to sleep soundly again. Maybe that’ll happen when they catch him. If they catch him.”