It all started my junior year of college. I had been in a long-distance relationship with Ryan*, who I’d dated for around four years starting in high school. We went to different schools and had different lives—I was in a sorority at the University of Texas at Austin, where I was studying psychology. Ryan was the captain of his prestigious school’s football team, studying business in one of the most competitive programs in the country and was busy keeping up with the high demands. We were growing apart.
It was around then that I met a few cute guys on campus who I was actually interested in… not good. So I broke up with Ryan, long distance, through a series of phone calls, texts and emails.
The consequences of the breakup didn’t lie in my favor, and the fact that I had a new relationship when the school year ended didn’t help my case. Rumors that we broke up because I had cheated on him spread like wildfire, and because Ryan and I shared so many mutual friends, most of them ditched me because of my new reputation. Well, all but one.
Hayden* hadn’t always been my closest friend or even my favorite friend, but for some reason, he stuck around. He didn’t have the best reputation either; he pretty much hooked up with anyone and everyone. But when I didn’t have anybody else, his carefree nature was refreshing. Plus, because he was Ryan’s friend, I didn’t think he’d ever cross that line with me.
The rest of my time in college went as well as it could—I started a new relationship that I thought was great. After graduating from college, though, that relationship ended in a horrible break up. I moved to Dallas to begin a master’s program in counseling, and I was feeling the pangs of heartache. My parents had recently gotten divorced, so I moved in with my mom. I felt like a complete failure for not having my own place. My friends from college were busy with their new jobs, their new roommates and the adrenaline of Dallas. Meanwhile, I dwelled over the rejection and felt an incredible sadness—I felt shattered and like I had been abandoned. I was completely alone, and was in search of comfort.
During this time, Hayden was still around, and I embraced a friendship with him. I felt like I could tell him anything, and he would make light of the problems I brought to him, in a way that made me feel better about the situation. With him, I felt like the happy-go-lucky high school girl I used to be. I was so comfortable around him that I confided in him that it had been over a year since I had last had sex. And of course, he made it feel like it was no big deal. Perfect.
Eventually, Ryan came around, too—we had started to establish a pretty healthy friendship. Finally, things were starting to look up for me again, and I was relieved that the dark period of my life was over with. It was nice to feel like we had all grown up.
After I finished my first quarter in my masters’ program, I started a new job bartending at a neighborhood restaurant. It was kind of a blow to my self-esteem—I had tried and tried to get a “real job” but saw rejection after rejection. I put myself whole-heartedly into my counseling program, which was one thing I truly enjoyed. I was enrolled in a Psychology of Sex class and was sure that I wanted to be a sex therapist. Being so involved in the program allowed me to grow into myself some more.
Excited to meet new friends and get back into the swing of things, I reached out to Heidi*, a coworker at the restaurant. Drinks out on the town? Absolutely. I was excited to have a night away from all the stress of work and school and being alone. I couldn’t wait.
Heidi and I arrived at a trendy bar in the city, along with her new boyfriend, Pete*. Given my total lack of social life lately, I hadn’t been drinking very often—so the vodka sodas this night were hitting me particularly hard. While we were out, we ran into Hayden, who happened to be at the bar across the street. We hung out for a while, until Heidi and Matt were ready to head home. I clearly wasn’t invited to leave with them, so Hayden offered to let me sleep on his couch that night. I knew that Hayden and Ryan were roommates, but didn’t hesitate too much—I figured it wouldn’t really matter, because Ryan knew Hayden and I were friends.
As the night went on, Hayden continued to encourage heavy drinking since I wasn’t driving back. Excited to be social and out on the town, I happily accepted the challenge. Many beers and some late night pizza later, and were ready to call it a night. Back at his apartment, Hayden kept calling me “his sister,” and reminiscing about all of the fun times we had growing up together in the suburbs. He was right—we had gotten close—almost like brother and sister. We goofed around, hung out all the time and there was never any sexual tension between us. It really was a great relationship.
“Kali, you should sleep in my bed tonight—Ryan is home and asleep and it might be weird to see you in the morning.”
Immediately I felt guilty, wrong and like a complete idiot. What was I doing in Ryan’s apartment? I immediately got the feeling that this was a mistake.
Full of anxiety and regret from the decisions I’d made after an abundance of alcohol, I began to become tense and nervous. I made no effort to hide my emotions, but Hayden wanted none of that. Without skipping a beat, he rallied up that carefree attitude, and offered me a joint to kill the nerves. I had tried weed a couple of times in college and absolutely knew it was just not my thing. But at this moment, weed seemed like a very logical choice. It’s funny how alcohol can do that, huh?
I took one hit, and that’s really all that was necessary.
All I remember after that point is waking up to him on top of me, breathing hard, as I continued to say, “No.”
My life has never really been the same since. I remember him joking the next morning that everybody needs a dirty little secret, like it was no big deal—an attitude that I had once liked, but realized now wasn’t a good thing. And if that hadn’t been enough, he added, “Someone needed to brush out those cobwebs down there. Over a year, you said?”
I was nauseated.
When I got home, I turned off all the lights in my bedroom and watched Sex and the City reruns until I could force myself to fall asleep into a long nap. Later, I would tell my mother, and then my brother, and then my father—their reactions varied from deep sadness, to outraged anger, to incredible frustration, and back to sadness again.
It was my fault, right? I’d had too much to drink, I accepted that joint, I agreed to stay at his apartment! I brought this on myself. Or at least, that’s what I made myself believe. I wasn’t even sure you could consider the act “sexual assault.” His word against mine, and we all know how that would play out given my previous reputation and my actions that night.
The following months were consumed with dirty guilt. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and was convinced no one would believe me anyway. Plus, how could I explain the events, if I didn’t completely really understand it myself? My mind was haunted with the flashbacks, and I honestly felt like I couldn’t think straight. Six months later, I convinced myself to see a school therapist. And in one session, this woman changed my thoughts forever. This is what she said:
“Kali, years ago, I lived in a very safe neighborhood not too far from here. The neighbors were friendly, the crime was nonexistent, and there was simply no reason to lock our doors. One day, I was out, and someone broke into my house. There was no forced entry—the door was open for anyone to walk in. I was so embarrassed, and took complete responsibility. It almost felt silly having the cops arrive when it was all my fault. But the police told me, ‘Just because you didn’t lock your door does not mean you invited anyone in to steal your things.’ And I’m telling you now, just because you trusted somebody and didn’t have your guard up, does not mean you willingly allowed them to come in and take something away from you.”
To this day, I still say these lines to myself.
Hayden took a lot away from me, and a part of me will always be angry with him. I watched someone I called a best friend turn into somebody I hate. I ended up telling Ryan about the incident years later, and was shocked that his reaction was of complete disgust—in me. He doesn’t seem to believe me, because what I told him wasn’t enough to make him reconsider his friendship with Hayden. In addition to everything else that changed in my life, Hayden also took away my ability to trust people—especially guys, whether they’re friends or significant others. I absolutely deserve to be angry.
Now that I’ve let go of my guilt, though, the anger doesn’t drive me anymore. I’ve told my close friends and family, and the majority reacted with comfort, support, and empathy. Others, like Ryan, play the blame-game, but that’s not my problem. I know what happened, and it’s really not for others to decide.
Fast forward three years, and I am now the proud founder of an online life coaching company called Blush. My team of coaches provides life coaching—or ‘counseling lite’—to girls in their teens, twenties and thirties from across the country. Although our main focus isn’t sexual assault, our mission is to build confidence and release guilt in almost every facet of life. If I have learned anything, it’s that girls hold on to guilt and shame for things that weren’t ever their fault. And I want to stop that from happening.
My hope is that my story will help other girls and women see that the burden of guilt isn’t on them for the dirty or shameful things that have happened in their lives, no matter how small or big. I may have made the decision to drink and smoke to the point of oblivion, but I had every right to put into my body whatever I wanted—and that doesn’t give anybody permission to cross my personal boundaries without my consent.
*Name has been changed.