Being Invisible: One Sister’s Story of Sexual Assault

Catherine Holland

This blog post shares the story of a sexual assault and may be triggering. This post coincides with one of Sigma Kappa’s RESPΣΚT themes, sexual assault, in which we provide resources and encourage our chapter members to start a conversation about this problem, as well as help sisters who may be dealing with it. This blog post comes from Catherine Holland of our Theta Kappa Chapter and was originally published on her personal blog, The Chick with the Kitty Shoes. If any of our sisters have experienced something similar, Catherine is available to listen. She can be reached at catherine@catherineholland.com.

I’ve said before that fat people are weirdly invisible. It’s true. For me, I think on some level I wanted — needed — to be invisible, particularly to men.

While I did not deliberately set out to gain weight and become invisible, I think my subconscious led the charge to protect me from a past that I couldn’t let go of and didn’t know how to reconcile.

It’s interesting how a single act on one night can dictate your entire future. For me, that act was one of despicable violence perpetrated by a power-hungry coward masquerading as a decent human being. I can say that now, all these years later.

My first — and last — college boyfriend raped me. I had just turned 18 and was wrapping up the first semester of my freshman year. He was 21.

At one point, he punched me. Hard enough that I saw stars. Not the good kind. I had an imprint of his fraternity ring on my jaw for a couple of weeks. Copious amounts of appropriately applied makeup can make all kinds of badness seem to disappear.

And then there was the damage nobody could see and no makeup could hide. And I’m not talking about mental scars.

Barely conscious after he decked me, I remember little more than a girl screaming, as if from far away or perhaps in a nightmare, and vaguely wondering why nobody was helping her. I didn’t realize until later that the voice was my own. I also remember pain. The worst pain I have felt in my life. (That includes the kidney stones I had years later.)

I also remember him muttering something. He was not really talking to me or even at me. I had ceased to exist for him, nothing more than a means to his end.

“We’ve gotta loosen you up, Honey.”

Apparently, a bottle — a broken one — was the perfect tool to achieve this. Who knew?

A young doctor at the inner-city hospital where eventually I found myself, far too late to mitigate what would become permanent damage, said he’d never seen anything like it. It literally made him sick. His boss told him to wait, that I would not be his last.

I just cried. For me. For the young doctor. For everything and nothing. It was all I could do.

The funny thing, not that there is any humor in this whatsoever, is that I thought I was being smart.

It happened in my dorm room, a place where I felt safe and should have been safe. Neither one of us was drunk. There were no drugs involved. We weren’t at a party. None of that stuff. I was with some who I thought cared about me, somebody I trusted. Mistakenly as it turned out. We had been seeing each other a few weeks, and he apparently decided he was tired of waiting. Simple as that.

This was the early ’90s, before date rape on college campuses was widely recognized for the problem it is, when “these things sometimes happen to girls” was the mantra.

The counselor I saw days later, SOP at the student health clinic, said the school could not do anything because “the alleged perpetrator” was not a student there.

“You should really just forget about it. Pretend it never happened and move on with your life,” the counselor said.

It would be years – at least a decade – before I learned her advice was epically bad, the worst counseling in the history of ever.

But at the time, I tried to take what she said to heart, which means I never properly dealt with what happened. Like many girls and women in similar situations, I was convinced it was my fault. I know now that is not true, but a traumatized brain does strange things. Even now I wonder and have to actively remind myself that I did not deserve that.

You know how they say you never forget your first time? I dearly wish I could.

Would you believe he had the balls to thank me for “letting” him be my first? He wanted me to appreciate the “effort” he put into making it “memorable” for me.

I’ll give you a minute to digest that. I can see you clenching your fist.

I honestly tried to let it go. I did a reasonably good impression of a carefree college co-ed, a happy-go-lucky girl who had not been robbed of every ounce of dignity and self-respect. I pretended to be a normal college student, a fun-loving sorority girl who was not constantly questioning herself and everything she believed, who was not constantly in a state of high alert, watching for the next hidden danger.

A couple of my friends suspected I was hiding something, noticed that I rarely allowed myself to be in a situation in which I was alone with the member of the opposite sex. But it was a don’t-ask-don’t-tell kind of thing. They didn’t and I didn’t. We all abided by the unspoken rules.

I never told my sorority sisters, but those who knew me before and after saw how I suddenly changed. Even those who only knew me after said they always thought I was hiding something. Having them close by always helped me even if they never knew it.

I am not the first person — woman or man — to whom this has happened. And sadly, I won’t be the last.

But this is not an oh-woe-is-me story. There is actually a takeaway here and it’s this: There is more going on with most people than meets the eye. There are things going on that we don’t understand, possibly they don’t understand.

For me, and I’ve only recently come to this conclusion, being fat and thus invisible meant being safe. No guy wants a fat girl. And if no guy wanted me, then no guy could hurt me.

I get that this is incredibly flawed logic. Again, there’s no telling what a traumatized brain will do to protect its owner.

In all honesty, I don’t think I was aware of what I was doing to myself until way after the fact. It was my mom who eventually asked me if I was hiding from something. I had not yet come clean with her, but moms always know stuff.

I’m not a “victim.” I’m not a “survivor.” I’m just me. And like everyone else, there are things both good and bad that have made me who I am.

Sometimes life serves you a crap sandwich on marble rye toast. It’s not only important how you deal with it, but that you deal with it. It’s taken me more than 20 years to come up with that little nugget of wisdom. Better late than never, right?

I finally figured out that was up to me to say, “I don’t want to be invisible anymore,” and “I don’t want to be ashamed anymore.” Now it is up to me to make both of these things happen. Piece of cake! (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

I’ve come — way belatedly — to the realization that not only do I have nothing to hide from, I have so much to share. And I can’t do that if I’m invisible.

So I’m not going to be.

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1 comment

  1. You are courageous and strong to share your story. I think it will help others who have gone through a similar trauma. And it will serve as a reminder to all of us that EVERYONE is going through something, no matter how perfect their lives may seem on the outside. Know that you are loved and cared for by many people. xo

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