On Graduating

There will be no tears. There is no sadness here. I won’t miss my time at Agnes, and I will not feel bittersweet once I’m gone. I will not look back on my time here with fondness. With any luck, I won’t look back at all. 

During my first year I entered into what I have been told was an emotionally abusive relationship with a student on campus who will remain anonymous. Do not ask me who she is; she is not the same person she was then, and knowing her name or the things she did will not tell you who she is now. Don’t ask me what she did; I don’t remember. All I remember was what followed.

I say I have been told it was emotionally abusive because the three therapists I have seen in the interim have told me so, gleaned from my early descriptions of our relationship.

They have told me that post-traumatic stress disorder reacts poorly to attempts to dredge up traumatic memories, so I am not allowed to try to remember what I don’t recall.

My therapists have helped me piece together what I do know about that time, and wove for me a narrative that is neither too painful to talk about nor too unremarkable to be forgotten.

I am left with remnants of the first two years of my time here that would nevertheless render the last two years on the precipice of intolerable. Here are those remnants.

For years, my mom told me I would love college. “People there are just so mature,” she’d say. “They’d appreciate you.”

But then I came here. And the bullying started. And I know, people have told me, not to let one or two bullies define my “college experience,” but at some point, that feels out of my control.

How can I define my college experience by anything else?

It started after I broke up with my ex. The breakup alone made me stop eating, stop talking to my friends, left me lying on my bed for hours, staring into nothing. But one month after the breakup, she and her best friend spent an entire day— from 11:30 in the morning to 11:30 that night— texting me a litany of all the offenses they believed I had committed against them.

Some of the things— pretending to be friends with my ex’s friends to keep the peace, for example— were true. But most of the things—encouraging a friend to harm themselves, ignoring a friend who had recently undergone a cancer treatment, forcing our friends to turn against my ex-girlfriend—were false. But I apologized immediately and profusely anyway.

Because I wanted them to stop. And because I was sorry. I was sorry.

But they continued like that. All day. Nonstop. Until my friends found me facedown on the floor of my room, incoherent, in the throes of my very first nervous breakdown. The next months were spent in a state of constant, heart-racing panic, head bent, eyes on the ground, or closed to block everyone out.

The next year, a friend of this ex approached me in person, finding me alone, and barraged me with more accusations. She said I had called my ex and her friend horrible things. Surprised, confused, I tried to convince her of my innocence, only to end up apologizing again. I went around the next few days, my head ducking, dodging whenever I happened to see them. But it wasn’t enough.

Weeks later, a high school student sexually harassed me at a dance. She was seen the night before, arguing with them loudly. I didn’t know her real name. I still don’t.

I spent the next few months trying my best to stay out of sight and to keep them out of mine. But I saw them everywhere. I requested a no-contact agreement, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel safe. They continued to find me when I was alone two or three more times before they finally learned I had nothing to say.

I lasted a year in student government meetings before I couldn’t take it anymore, haunted by rumors that always seemed to find their way back to me. Theater became unbearable after one show, staring into their faces staring back at me in the dark. Participating in the a capella group on campus lasted a little longer, but they took the music out of me too.

I met with the campus lawyer, though nothing came of it. I made arrangements to transfer. I applied to schools in the area, I let my friends and family know, and I said some goodbyes.

But the Dean of Students convinced me to leave would be tantamount to giving up. And I believed her, so I stayed, and she hugged me when I walked, head down, across the stage to receive my class ring.

Over the summer between sophomore and junior year, the idea of returning often made me lie on my bed and stare into nothing for hours. I stopped writing. I took long walks in the rainy evenings to visit the Lincoln Memorial, to sit in that silence and feel a little stronger.

When I came back, I moved into an apartment off campus. I retreated from all my on-campus activities, and stopped going to public places alone. I bought noise-cancelling headphones to block out whatever they might dare to say to me, and I invested in a Spotify account to fill my head.

And I kept the emails from the schools I applied to, just in case. Junior year was a whirlwind of studying abroad and avoiding campus at all costs. I went to therapy regularly, I took my medication, I stayed home most nights. I still do.

Some might have called it giving up, but I prefer to think of it as getting through. And I did get through.

I don’t say all this to cause a stir or invite your pity; I am no victim. I was bullied, harassed, and abused for two years, because I allowed it to happen. Because I valued myself so little.

And I would have continued to do so, had I not experienced what I have. So I thank everyone who was involved in that, though I doubt they will read this.

They have made me stronger. A little less joyful perhaps, a little quieter, a little less optimistic. When people reminisce about their time in college, I will have little to say.

But I am stronger, braver, more faithful, and more in love with the person I have become as a result of their actions than I ever was with the person before.

And when I walk across that stage next Saturday, it will be all the more triumphant.

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