Our high school reunion was in the planning stage. The handful of high school friends I had on social media were messaging back and forth with offers to help, asking if anything was in the works. I was working with two former classmates on our event committee and was enjoying getting to know the people they were now. It was becoming a very enjoyable undertaking.
I was reconnecting online with people I had valued in high school but had lost contact with over the years when several emails emerged about a person I thought I would never see again--a boy I had a bad experience with toward the end of my senior year--saying he would be in attendance.
My reaction surprised me…troubled me. Just seeing his name written on my screen caused a kind of anger I’d long forgotten to surface. At first, I audibly cursed his name. I smashed a half-full coffee cup against the wall. My physical and emotional reactions were momentarily outside of my control. A few days later the flashbacks began. Although only a few seconds long, I would feel as if I were back in that car, fully awake and literally there again, smelling the leather seats and the scent of his aftershave. I experienced a bad dream one night, one of those where you awake in a kind of panic, breathing hard, heart pounding, feeling trapped and unsafe, walking room to room turning on all the lights, checking the locks.
I began to re-live the night of my rape repeatedly.
At the time, I told no one. You just couldn’t in those days, because it was always somehow the woman’s fault. Now I realized I finally had to tell someone what had happened that Sunday so many years ago. I called my friend of 20 years and asked if she could stop by for coffee; that I had something I needed to talk about. This friend urged me to seek counseling or I might never be free of it. She told me of a service in our town that offered this specific counseling at no charge to survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. That place was The Compass Center.
In the months prior to the reunion, I visited The Compass Center every week. After my first session, I wept out of a kind of joy and sheer relief the entire ten-mile drive home. It was as if a fissure had opened in a dam and I was finally hopeful to be free of the memory of that night after all the years of keeping it in a dank and seldom re-visited cavern, of telling myself it never really occurred.
At my reunion luncheon, I did see him. He was overly boisterous, and he made a “fresh” comment to me (loud enough for everyone hear, including his wife). I looked across the wide table at him, looked him in the eye, and shook my head no. And there was no pounding heart, no hyperventilation. He never came near me rest of the weekend.
As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the reunion, because I’d finally found my strong place. All these years later, I felt whole again. And most importantly, I was now the one in control…thanks to The Compass Center.