Editor’s Note: The author of this piece has chosen to be anonymous given the sensitive nature of their account. In accordance with our ethics policy (which can be found in full in our bylaws), the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editors of Michigan in Color are aware of the author’s identity.

Content warning: sexual assault

The sun beat down through my opened bedroom window and warmed my room. Every light in my room had been on for hours, increasing the warmth. Clothes covered every inch of carpet, except for the 3-foot space in front of my full body mirror that my dad and I built together a couple of years prior. That space was instead covered with every makeup product I owned. The brushes lay on the bare carpet, leaving small pink eyeshadow marks behind. My phone rested in the middle of my bed charging, while it simultaneously played my November Spotify playlist, repeating my favorite three songs from it — one being “Good Habits (and Bad)” by Saba Lou, a song that made me reminisce about my childhood due to the innocent nature of the song. (The song, which focuses on what a child considers as bad habits, is sung and written from a child’s point of view.) The sun was setting and it was starting to get dark. I was already late. I applied my final coat of mascara while my hand shook from the excitement that rushed through my body and the nervousness that clouded my mind. It was my first second date, ever. With the same guy who took me on my first real date, ever. 

Our first date, a week prior, was a picnic — something we liked enough to agree to do it as our second date. The green flags and sweet things he did on the first date all ran through my mind: how he helped me climb in and out of his car through the driver’s seat door since the passenger door was blocked by another car; how he was so understanding when I told him about the anxiety I get while driving, and immediately said that we would only picnic at the park by my house so that I wouldn’t have to drive much. How he didn’t change his mind after realizing it would take him over half an hour of freeway driving one-way; how he didn’t get uncomfortable holding my hand even though my hand was grossly sweaty from being so nervous; how he let me play my music the entire car ride, even though his music taste was the complete opposite. And my favorite: how at the end of the date, he asked me if he could kiss me before just going in for it. 

I waited in my car at the park, texting my best friend about how nervous I was. “What if he ends whatever this is cuz he doesn’t like me anymore.” She reassured me, ending our conversation with our normal “have fun, be safe <3” text. When he arrived, he pulled me into a hug with his warm hands. They were warmer than mine, something I hadn’t found with anyone else. But the warmth was nice and comforting and made me feel safe. So safe that my nervousness shifted to a blissful feeling. So safe that I forgot about all my other worries to just enjoy his company. So safe that my eyes wouldn’t let out a single tear no matter how much I wanted them to as he lay on top of me less than an hour later. So safe that my mouth wouldn’t let out a single noise no matter how much I tried to say no. So safe that my body wouldn’t move no matter how much I tried to push him off. 

At that moment, I felt numb. I no longer felt the warmth in his hands. But I just knew his hands were still there. I laid in silence, with my eyes wide open, and emotionlessly stared at the stars in the sky, even while he kept kissing me. The extreme amount of layers I was wearing didn’t stop him. But worst of all, neither did I. 

To make things worse, I was so blinded by his attention and validation that I normalized what happened to me. I went home that night and was so worried that he didn’t want to go out again, that I failed to realize I didn’t. And when he texted me the next day about how the whole night felt off because we were both just tired, I agreed, putting some of the blame on myself. The fact that he was the first guy that I went on a date with worsened the entire situation. 

He knows what he’s doing. This is what happens on all other dates. Maybe he just couldn’t tell I was uncomfortable. I should’ve said no. He didn’t do anything wrong. This is just his way of showing he’s into me. He’s probably done the same to all the previous girls, so I should be fine with it as well. 

Maybe I wanted it. Maybe I reacted badly because it was just new and not that I didn’t like it. Maybe I gave him a vibe that made him act on it. Am I making this entire thing up? Am I overreacting?

My final thought was that I was overreacting. I agreed to continue seeing him. Our third and final date was short. I didn’t bring up what happened and didn’t talk or do much. He made a move again, which I uncomfortably agreed to in fear that this attention he was giving me would end. And it did. After that date, I never saw him or talked to him again.

It took me a while to come to terms with what happened. I finally told my best friend, who helped me realize that what happened was not my fault. I was valid for feeling the way that I did. I had every right to be upset. And while I never pushed him off or told him to stop, I never agreed or consented. He never even asked.

But after all this time, his “safe” warm hands still hold a grasp over me. One that has led me to cancel every date with a man at the last minute for almost a year, no matter how much I liked them. One that makes me think of what happened every time I go to that park, my favorite picnic spot. One that made me delete every song from that playlist because I go still every time I hear “pov” by Ariana Grande, “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second” by STRFKR and “Good Habits (and Bad)” by Saba Lou, all songs I listened to with him or while getting ready to see him that night. One that made me push away from music, something I previously couldn’t live without, leaving my December playlist almost empty. One that caused me to run out of a party after agreeing to dance with a guy since the feeling of his hands around me felt suffocating.

I recently went out on another date, the first since what happened, with a man so different in the best way. But when he first grabbed my hand, I sank a little when I noticed how warm it was — warmer than mine and warmer than his. When he first told me his love language was physical touch, I started to overthink what this would mean and lead to. And when he kissed me, I pulled back almost immediately, even though I didn’t want to. When I catch myself feeling safe or comfortable around him or anyone else, I get a little scared. Not scared that I’ll be put into a situation like the one I was in with him, but scared I won’t know how to react to the situation. 

But, I’m hoping that finally telling this story will bring me an ounce of comfort and keep me going.

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