The Day I Started Being Brave About Everything
Every Friday, my friend and I take turns watching each other’s children so the other can go to adoration. It was one year ago today that I was at her house. I had just finished my hour of adoration and it was her turn to go. I noticed I had a message from an old Christendom College friend: “Simcha Fisher is writing an article about sexual assaults on Catholic campuses, do you want to talk with her?”
I thought about it for a minute. I’d never gone public with my story. In fact, very few people knew it. I wasn’t too excited about the idea of people knowing. I like to be cheerful and strong. I didn’t want people to think of me as a victim. Plus, I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life. I should probably focus on my family and not worry about what stories reporters were writing about my alma mater. I went to write something back to him like, “sorry now’s not a good time for me” and I was surprised to see I’d already responded with, “I will talk to her. Thanks!”
What?? What in the world did I just agree to? Why now? Twelve years later–but other brave women were coming forward and if I was to join them, the time was now. So when my friend came back from adoration, I told her, “Simcha Fisher is writing an article about rape at Christendom and I’m going to tell her my story.”
She stared at me. “You were raped at Christendom?!”
I told her my story. I told her how I didn’t know if it was prudent to come forward at the moment, given everything happening in my life. We talked it over.
“You can be anonymous.”
“It’s just one article. It’s not going to change your life.”
“There’s always a reason not to.”
“Prompting from the Holy Spirit.”
“Prudence isn’t always about being quiet. Sometimes standing up and being loud is the prudent thing to do.”
We decided it was time for bravery. So I did it. I messaged Simcha. I told her my story. I was physically shaking as I went into greater detail than I ever had before. She was kind and gentle. Talking to her was surprisingly easy, especially given the difficult subject. She passed no judgment on my wish to stay anonymous, though I felt like a coward.
I waited on pins and needles for the article to come out. Finally it did. I read the article with my heart in my throat. The first part was about Adele. I didn’t know her at Christendom, but her older brother is a good friend of mine. And the second part was me and another anonymous woman. I felt like throwing up. This is not the kind of thing I usually do. I don’t talk to reporters. I don’t have articles written about me. I certainly don’t talk to reporters about rape! But there it was. I ran to my parish office and flopped down in a chair across from my priest. “Simcha Fisher wrote an article about rape at Christendom and I told her my story and it just got published ten minutes ago!”
He responded, “You were raped at Christendom?!”
I have got to figure out a better way to tell people this. We talked for a long time. He helped me once again become confident in my decision.
Leaving his office I felt much better. After all, it was just one article, how much of an impact on my life could it possibly make? I was about to find out. I had no idea the response from Christendom alumni that was about to hit. The pure, unadulterated hate that would be leveled at those who dared speak up. The Christendom alumni group became a horrifying place as friends and people I’d looked up to tore apart the articles, tore apart Simcha, and tore apart the victims. Never in my life have I seen such ugliness. The pain was almost unbearable. I felt so alone. I sat in my hallway that first night at 3 am, unable to sleep, sobbing and clutching my knees wondering how any human being could possibly respond to rape stories they way the alumni did.
And these weren’t just any people, these were my friends. The Christendom community is like family. This was a family fight. And what’s worse, Christendom, with its vow of fidelity to the magisterium, has no qualms about speaking for The Church. For many years Christendom was The Church to me. So not only was my family coming after me, so was my church. I have never had any particular devotion to St Joan of Arc, but at that moment I understood abandonment. I understood being betrayed by the church you gave your heart and soul to. I raised my eyes to the heavens (ok, to the ceiling, but that’s much less poetic) and thought, “Ok. I can do this. I’m not the first one to do this. I have friends in heaven and on earth who support me. And even if it gets really bad, it’s not likely that I’ll be shot with arrows or burned alive.”
Donna invited me to join the support group she and Adele were forming. I jumped in right away. We changed our name many times in those first few days before settling on the Order of the Phoenix. We were all huge nerds (we are Christendom alumni after all) and the phoenix was the perfect symbol for us. More victim stories came flooding in at an alarming rate. The floodgates were open. We had no idea how big the problem was. Our heads were spinning. We weren’t alone. We were shocked and appalled by how many people shared our same pain, but comforted in knowing it wasn’t just us. Those first few days were a flurry of, “You, too? I thought it was just me!”
The Order of the Phoenix soon split into two groups, a support group and an advocacy group. That’s how the Christendom Advocacy and Support Coalition came to existence and, later, Dinah’s Voice. I’m struggling to describe just what these first two groups mean to me. Some of the members I’ve been close with for the past 15 years. Some I had never met before. Some were old acquaintances, people I’d seen around campus. And here we were with our deepest wounds exposed. But I saw, for the first time in my life what can happen when trauma is met with belief and love. Unconditional love. We are a diverse group despite having all come from that small Catholic bubble in the Shenandoah Valley. But I can truly say I have never seen a person be embraced for exactly who they are as I have in CASC. Each member is treated with the dignity that each human being should have. It is beautiful and though it may sound dramatic, it has changed my life.
Reliving my college rape is only a fraction of what I went through this year and the members of CASC have been there through it all. I have made some seemingly impossible decisions that I could not have made without their support. I can honestly my life took a massive turn the day I messaged my friend saying I would be part of that article. And I thank God every day that I said yes.