I was 14 when it happen.
I had just entered my freshman year of high school, and with the newfound friends and classes came the inevitable party scene. I remember being so excited to go this first one in particular. I had never been to a real party before. I didn’t have too many friends until the couple of weeks prior, and even then, I was still extremely cautious about who I held close to me. I probably wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been for Sarah.
We stayed close to each other as we ran around the room, pulling strands of colored streamers, wrapping them around columns, tying each other up, making idle party small-talk I would come to know too well. And then-
“Everyone hide! She’s coming!”
Everybody sprinted across the vast floor of the McMansion’s basement, opening and slamming doors, looking for a nook to shroud themselves in.
Sarah and I found ourselves smushed in next to a large piece of machinery in one of the closets (presumably a burner of some sort). One other kid was crammed in with us.
“Hey look, Sarah! I’m in the closet again!!!”
“Pfft. Trust me, we could see where you stood before you opened that door, honey.”
The guy in the closet looked up at us.
“Wait… You’re gay?”
“Ugh. Bye. I’m getting out of here.”
He stomped out.
I didn’t think much of it.
A few hours passed by, food was eaten, drinks had been had, and by now everyone had sufficiently warmed up to each other. The dancing had long since begun; We now had a strobe light going in the basement. I switched between working my jam on the dance floor and cooling off outside with a couple friends up until that point. I heard one of my favorite songs turn on.
“Oooh wait! I love this one! Someone come dance with me!”
I didn’t wait for a response as I strutted into the stobe. I started to sway with the beat when I saw him. I had noticed him earlier at the party. He had arrived late with a group of boys, and he was wearing a hideously neon orange tank top.
He made eye contact with me, and in between the staccato flickers of light, I felt something. A vibrating pulse, an abnormal amount of blood swelling up in my arteries, pounding, hot with a sharp edge.
It sounds sensual. It wasn’t.
I felt the signals flash all over me. Up my neck, around my cranium, across my arms, down my spine, spiraling down my legs.
I started to edge away in response, but he just kept coming, a glint in his eyes, a wicked smile spreading across his face, jumping up a centimeter or so with every subliminal flash from the strobe.
He trailed behind.
I melted into a crowd of dancing girls and snuck into the shadows, tiptoeing my way around the room in the bathroom.
My friends were all there. Faithful Sarah, who I had come with, Cianna, a girl I knew from my acting class, Annie, my first friend in kindergarten, and Erin, who’s birthday was being celebrated with this very party.
The bathroom had become the designated piss and moan site (no pun intended) for the evening. We all sat in the closet-sized washroom and talked about boys, little annoyances, and how we wished those particular couples would just stop making out.
After awhile, I brought up what had happened only moments before.
Erin and Annie exclaimed about how weird that was, Sarah sat there with a strange look on her face, and Cianna slipped out, stoney-faced.
We sat there for a bit longer and moved on to the next topic, not really paying it much mind.
Then the music stopped.
The yelling began.
We all exchanged looks of confusion and piled out of the bathroom, the noise reverberating off the plastic walls from the outdoor patio.
I walked out with the rest of them to find Cianna yelling her head off, swearing at the group of boys, namely the one in the orange tank top. They would retort back at her every once in awhile, but she would cut them off and continue her raging. After a bit of this back and forth, they got up and left.
She marched back to our spot with a fire in her eyes. When I asked her what had happened, she looked at me straight in the eye with the intensity of a hawk.
“They made bets that he could get you to suck his dick.”
I stood there, shocked. My nerves were correct.
I had evaded danger.
I had evaded rape.
This wouldn’t strike me until much later. Throughout the next year and a half, several of my friends would be raped, harassed, or abused by men, some of them being boyfriends.
It wouldn’t be until I read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I would even begin to realize what had happened to me.
The main character, Lisbeth Salander, spends a good half of the book plotting and carrying out revenge on her rapist and other “men who hate women”. She instantly became an idol to me. I strived for her dramatic, rough, spiky exterior that steered so many potential evils away from her.
I didn’t truly know about my almost-rape until I was helping a friend with her own insecurities and fears, all due to her position in life as a woman. I recounted the tale for her, and with every word, clarity grew, until I realized what I was saying.
And then it was over.
For the next two months, my depressive disorder was aggravated by this realization, and I was quite unhappy.
I would fall prey to two more similar experiences of molestation.
How could there be such evil in one place?
How many rapists were out there?
Who would their next victims be?
What would I do about the rapists I knew were walking around in my very town?
How could I stop them?
Could I take legal action?
What if that failed?
Would they try to kill me if they knew I had tried to reveal their evil secrets to the world?
Would I, or the people I loved, ever be safe again?
All these dark thoughts dissolved my insides and ate away at my framework, weeks upon weeks.
And then it hit me.
Just as swiftly as I had realized that somebody had tried to physically violate me, I realized that there was also someone there who cared. Someone stood up for me, vouched for me, fought for me until the evil was gone.
I thought of the oft-quoted mantra at the candlelight ritual at every Anytown Culture Night.
“And then they came for me. I looked around, waiting for someone to speak up. But all those who could speak up were gone.”
I could’ve been another casualty, another number amongst those who suffered at the hands of hate.
But I wasn’t.
Someone stood up and spoke for me where my voice would not be heard.
And I was saved from an unimaginable horror.
The combination of these two ideas helped form the idea of community. Not the kind of community you think of. No bright cars out of the ‘60’s passing by each other in the center of town, their drivers waving to each other in neighborly recognition. No picture-perfect Harriet and Ozzy families eating lunch together at a restaurant. No amateur theatre productions put on at the town hall, or bake-sales, or Counsel meetings.
People loving each other.
People investing in one another.
People defending this wonderful treasure with all their might.
This is true community. Everyday individuals relying on their fellow human beings for a helping hand, and the precise reverse.
This made me think. Someone stood up for me.
No one had ever done that for me before.
No one’s ever done it since.
I started to really mull it over, applying to my life in a variety of fashions. I assisted in an effort to take down a racist school symbol. I stood up more for the minorities that so often find themselves the butt of every joke.
Perhaps most importantly, I started to reinvigorate old habits of showing goodwill to total strangers. Smiles, waves, and many a hug have been exchanged since.
That’s all we can really ask for.
I will stand up for you, and you will stand up for me.
Because you are my fellow human being, you are made of the same stuff that I am, we carry the same carbon structure, the same skeleton, the same organs, and that is amazing.
Because so many atoms spark and combust when they brush near each other, but we have not.
Because you have hopes and dreams and aspirations, like me.
Because you mean something to someone out there, just like certain people mean very much to me in my life, and I to them.
Because I like that shirt you’re wearing.
Because you look beautiful today.
Because you look beautiful everyday.
Because we are living in the same moment right now. We are sharing such an intimate moment that is so frequently overlooked by every person every day of every year since time began.
You are alive, and I am alive, and that’s really all the reason I need to love you.
And because I love you, I will not let you be silenced. I will not let anything break this very special connection we share of living in this same conscious space, of breathing the same atoms as each other and your mother and my mother and all other mothers past.
I propose a new definition.
Community (noun) – A group of people aware of each person’s vicarious aliveness, and who honor and affirm that state of aliveness with physical and spoken action.
With that, it’s all we’ve ever needed.
Come on. Who wants to join the community with me?