Sarah

The first time I drank, I was 18.

My roommate and I got a hold of some tequila through a schoolmate. A few of our friends watched as we played a drinking game – it involved cups, clapping, and a lot of laughing.

I’d had a few sips of beer growing up. I’d never felt tipsy before, let alone drunk. I was giddy. I was happy. I was stress free.

I was terrified.

I’d been attacked by a fellow freshman a few months ago. He thought I was someone else. He caught me in the elevator lobby, held a knife, and asked why she didn’t love him. Why we couldn’t sleep together to make her love him. Why did no one love him?

My only happy memory of that night is meeting a local policeman who stuck by me until I had to leave Portland, a year later. I slept on the floor, half underneath a friends’ bed that night.

Now, I found myself taking shots of warm, liquid gold. I forgot about the friends in the room with us, the guys I’d spent most of my freshman year with. I forgot they scared me. I forgot that I’d been avoiding touch for months. I forgot about being held against a wall. I forgot about the knife. I forgot about his dead eyes.

After a few shots, we giggled. I calmed. I went a few doors down, even though my friends told me not to. I could get in trouble! I knocked on a door. He answered.

Learning Assistants are meant to help you learn, to grow. I think he helped me learn too much.

He knew I was drunk. We sat down, chatted. He knew about my assault a few months ago. We watched “Spongebob Squarepants”. I felt safe. He was one of the authority figures that responded that night. He was one of the reasons I’d survived. He made me feel safe again. He was the first person I told that my mom had cancer.

I fell asleep in his lap, watching cartoons, drunk as hell for the first time in my life. I felt so, so safe. So. Fucking. Safe.

I was so. Fucking. Wrong.

As an 18 year old virgin to a 26 year old man. A college employee to a student. As a young girl, recently assaulted, to an adult she trusted. As an idiot to a predator.

He choked me.

His response to my drunken confusion was to choke me. To roll me under him, to choke me, and grind against me.

I played along.

To this day, I still don’t understand what happened.

I was terrified. I froze. A million thoughts ran through my mind but the #1 instinct was “shut the fuck up and survive”. “You’re smaller.” “Your mom is dying.” “You already survived something like this, just shut the fuck up and play along.” So I did.

The next day, I went to lunch and sat with my friends. I drank some water, had a salad, stole some Saltines and went back upstairs. Someone made a joke about cum being salty. I vomited for hours.

I vomited for months.

I vomited until my friends got worried. I told them, we filed with the school, and they had a hearing. I lost half of the friends I’d made. He kept his job and we worked together the next year.  They said I was a slut. Despite still being a “technical virgin”. Despite having been attacked multiple times. Despite him having a record.

So, when my mom died and it all become too much, I was the one who left school.

*

I didn’t feel strong again until I found rugby.

Not playing it. Christ. Playing it terrifies the shit out of me, because I have an extremely healthy respect for those that do. I’ve also seen quite a bit of blood in the last 5 years.

The day I was introduced to rugby, I also met my partner. Then I met 40 new partners. I met a new family.

It took me a long damn time to be comfortable around this community and to trust I’d be safe around them, especially being drunk around large men. However, they keep proving me wrong.

My relationship with the Valley Kangaroos has been my longest one yet.

I used to get frustrated at why the men’s club didn’t more quickly accept me. I quickly grew to learn that I was one of the first women in their ranks, and similarly to my trust being slow to earn, so was theirs. The entire club was practicing the same safety mechanism I was – if you don’t allow strangers in, they can’t hurt you.

By constantly testing me, trying to push me away, I’ve made myself believe that I’m worth fighting for again.

One day, one of my closest friends in the club gave me something I will always cherish. He approached me at a game, hand closed tight and told me to open my palm. I held my hand open, palm up, and accepted whatever he dropped into it, expecting a spider or some other ridiculous shit.

He gave me a Valley Kangaroos pin. I cried myself to sleep that night because I was so ecstatic that I’d finally been trusted by them. By my new family.

I still have my moments of jealousy. I’m sad that more don’t love this sport.

I love this community for everything it is worth. I’ve volunteered 20 hours a week for free while living paycheck-to-paycheck. Through all of this, I’ve worked for my team. They’ve been my foundation.

I’ve had to endure not being trusted because I’m not the right sex. I haven’t been on the pitch. Proving myself by not being a stereotype, again and again. I’ve had to prove myself for years, while other boys join the club and instantly receive what I’ve been fighting for. Whether or not they stick around.

I keep my head down, my heart open and my spirits high. These boys and men have reminded me how to fight. They’ve taught me that when life dump tackles me, I get up, tell it to go fuck itself and make a damn try. I am more than my past. I am more than my future. I’m part of a family.

I find the club frustrating, only because I believe we can be so much more. I spend so much time on it because if my family succeeds, I succeed.

My rugby club made me feel whole and safe again. 

Valley helped me live again.