Do you remember you?

By Zuleka Pukwana

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault

My rapes have all happened at vulnerable moments in my life.

I was asleep. I was drunk. I was a child.

I have been raped by someone I considered a friend, a family member, a lover and molested by countless others. For a long time, I centred my existence around these incidents – allowing them to define who I am. Some were brief, some were long. Some were scarring, some were not. I live in constant fear that someone will violate me again. I fear that they will shatter the last bits of me that are still intact. I am afraid they will kill me.

For nineteen years, I have been silenced by fear, but I am now taking ownership of my life and sharing my story. Not only with others, but for myself as well. I had locked away the memories so tight that they started to feel like a figment of my imagination. I will no longer let others silence me and take away my voice. I am loud, I am free and I am finally happy.

I have survived and I am living.

It’s taken me my whole life to recognize my beauty – inside and out. And on this journey, I have come to realise that I am smart, I am kind and I am important. I have learnt that my existence is not a waste of oxygen, but rather a beautiful celebration of life.

I wake up every day and remind myself that I am a brown girl wonder. That I am excellent by being.

However, there are days when I am afraid. Afraid of the victim that I have become. My life is lived in fear of what might happen if I wake up. I am so mad. So, mad at myself for living in fear, especially when I had just started loving myself.

They always say, “boys will be boys”, but the boys want to kill us. They want to rape us. They want to diminish lesedi la rona.

I now suffer from clinical depression and anxiety. An illness that I will always have. There are days when I am paralysed by my depression and when I’m not, I fear leaving the house because I am too anxious.

Ke entseng? What did I do to deserve the pain that has continuously been inflicted upon me?

What I can vividly remember from my sexual abuse as a child was not fear, but rather anger that this was happening to me. Then I would catch myself in those thoughts and be ashamed because, “who else must this happen to?”. A pain that I thought if I endured others wouldn’t have to. An act I thought I was the only one in the world experiencing.

We are taught to watch what we do, what we wear, how we behave. But I was 5. There is nothing I could’ve done to stop the abuse.

I struggle with trust and letting people in. I can’t afford to allow them to be close enough to hurt me. The walls are high and no one has gotten through, not even me. I have gotten so good at hiding my emotions that the yearning for good, wholesome relationships eats me up inside. I do not know how to handle love. How to reciprocate. It is not lack of love but the inability to love. Five-year-old me loved love. Five-year-old me was precious. Five-year-old me is who I aspire to be.

And in my attempts to move on from the hurt and the pain, I have forgiven my perpetrators and crucified myself in the process. I have wanted to end it all to let them live. And oh, how they have lived while I walk around an empty shell of who I once was.

I have hurt and I have cried. I have lived and I have died. And with this story I have been reborn.

For more pieces of this nature read Almost Deaths, which deals with depression and this piece asking why we are silent about lesbian rape. There is also a short story called Daughters Who Became Lovers. There is also this piece about speaking about assault in black families.

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