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Caroline Catlin

My Abuser’s Gender Made Me Doubt My Experience

Caroline Catlin | Longreads | February 2018 | 11 minutes (2,695 words)

Here are some things I know: It happened in September of my junior year at college. It happened on a Friday. I left the party and went home with a well-liked acquaintance. The next morning I met a friend for coffee. She laughed, and said she was proud of me for being so “wild.” As we spoke, another friend walked into the cafe, said I looked “off,” and asked if I was okay. I began to cry. I lay in the bed of a third friend while she researched the process of reporting rape. As I waited, I curled my body into the shape of a comma. There was a circular bruise between my legs. There was blood in my underwear. I saw a therapist, just once. She offered to bring me to the hospital. I refused her offer. Instead, I took pictures of the marks on my body and hid them in a folder on my desktop named “other.” Just in case, I told myself.


The summer before I turned 13, I spent most of my time alone in the woods. Something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I knew not to talk about this with anyone, knew that the adults would minimize or escalate what was happening inside of me. Besides, even if I wanted to talk about it, what would I say? I convinced myself that if I followed certain patterns, I would feel okay again. Three taps on one tree, two taps on another. Despite my efforts, by the time my birthday rolled around in October, I was becoming unhinged. My parents, loving and generous, had gifted me a birthday trip — a once in a lifetime opportunity to go with my mom to Florida to see dolphins. For the big unveiling, I unwrapped a small wooden box engraved with a dolphin on its front. That night, I took the box to bed with me, cradling it as I cried. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t this — even this — make me happy?

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