Every morning I get up, get ready for class, and before I step out of my house – I put my shoes on. I have a pair of shoes that go with basically every outfit I put on my body, so six times out of the week I put the same shoes on. This particular pair of shoes are white Chuck Taylors with a single zipper up each side.
This past summer I visited my family in the Philippines. My cousins always tell me that they ardor my clothes; my shoes and this time was no different. One of my cousins, who is just a few years younger than me, took a liking to my white Chuck Taylors and asked if she could keep them since she liked them so much. Usually, when I visit my family in the Philippines, when my cousins take a liking to something from my closet, I end up gifting it to them. What’s mine is theirs; I like sharing. I also know that they probably won’t be buying new clothes or shoes for another year or so. Hence, I’m free with my closet and try not to act too sad to part with my more familiar articles of clothing.
However, in that instance, I didn’t give her my shoes. Initially, I felt bad about it. I gave my cousin money to buy a pair for herself instead. I kept my shoes because my mom had bought them for me just two months before. They were an early birthday gift for me. I wanted to hold onto my mother’s gift just a little bit longer before I gave them away to someone else. I wore my white Chuck Taylors everywhere. When I left for school after coming back from the Philippines, I brought them with me, seeing as they were now a necessary part of my wardrobe.
A month into the beginning of my first semester as a sophomore, I was raped.
I had been drinking.
I knew my assailant.
I had been in his room.
And I was wearing my white Chuck Taylors with zippers up the side.
After the fact, I returned to my room and took off all my clothes. They were strewn on my dorm room floor as I robed myself in a towel and rushed to take a shower. When I came back from my shower I stood there, looking at my white Chuck Taylors for what seemed to be an eternity. I thought to myself, “I was…….in those shoes.” I couldn’t say the word at that moment. I couldn’t fathom that it had happened; that it had happened to me.
I withdrew from my university for various reasons, one of them being that I knew in my heart that I could not stay there any longer. I couldn’t walk across that campus day after day after what had happened. I just couldn’t.
I’m much happier now. I’ve sorted out my desires, my regrets, my feelings, and everything in between and all the while, standing in these white Chuck Taylors. A lot has happened since I was raped. I’ve found out what people really think about the word, what assumptions people make, and who actually stands by your side when crap goes down. I was an emotional wreck when all of this was occurring.
Occasionally I think of my visit to the Philippines; the little period of time when I was surrounded by sun, family, love, and laughter. I think of my cousin. She’s only three years younger than me. I think of how much she wanted my Chuck Taylors; how much she desired the gift I had received from my mother.
Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t give her my shoes. You see, in the midst of all the craziness that I went through, I found out that I wasn’t the only one in the family that had been raped. My mom is a rape survivor. And I know that this may sound crazy and overreaching, but I’m glad that I kept those shoes; that gift from my mom because I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone else. Yes, I realize how I sound. As if a pair of shoes could somehow “be” rape itself. I know, no pair of shoes can lead a person to be raped.
Rape happens no matter the heel, shoelace, or size. I know this. But sometimes I look at these shoes and think with very ill humor that this was my mother’s gift to me: rape. And it wasn’t by way of these shoes. It was by way of giving me life. Because just by giving me life, I was also given the possibility of being raped. Because one in five girls have been or will be raped at one point in their life.
My mother didn’t think of that when she had me. I’m sure she thought of other things, such as what accomplishments I’d make, or what kind of nose I’d have – my father’s, or hers? She didn’t think of all the people in the world who could be a potential threat to her newborn baby. She didn’t think that what had happened to her could possibly happen to me.
This…gift, it’s been passed down from generation to generation. Our mothers suffered through it, our sisters. Many of our brothers too. I’m glad I kept those shoes. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. No one should have to go through the agony and suffering that inherently comes with rape. No one. And yet, it happens. It happens despite our prayers and deepest desires that it wasn’t so.
I have been shamed.
I have been scorned.
I have been lied to, comforted, healed, and destroyed.
I’ve walked a long way to get here, and I’ve still got a long way to go.
But despite the slow process of recovery or the onslaught of pain that rears its monstrous head when rape happens, I am still here, standing in my white Chuck Taylors with zippers up the side. They’re worn out now, the edges are frayed and the coloring is graying. And yet, I step into them daily, ready to take on whatever else the world throws at me; certain of only one thing: I am a survivor. And years from now, I’ll be the girl in the beat-up, white Chuck Taylors with zippers up the side, and I’ll know that my story impacted someone. And if this story leads just one person to truly think about rape and what authentic consent means, my shoes will have served their purpose. And only then, can I give them away.