Fingers that Linger
By Celina Huynh
Discussed: Sexual Assault
This is a short narrative essay reflecting on the discomfort I feel regarding the sexual assault I experienced in the past. I express how I wish to move on from it, but I feel stuck.
As if sexual assault were not already one of the most painful things a person can experience, it has to be so complicated! I told my therapist I wish it were more black-and-white. I wish the person who did it to me was just a stranger, not a part of my life. I wish they were just a bad person and I could just write them off as such, so that I could simply move on. Instead, I am stuck, held back by it all: the feelings, the confusion, the discomfort. I wish there wasn’t so much to process or decode. But here I am.
I thought I was over it, but it pains me now more than ever before. I still don’t quite understand it, what happened and why, what to make of it. It happened when I was around ten or eleven. I don’t just feel uncomfortable when I remember the incident. Somehow, it has extended beyond that, so that when I’m just living life—walking down the street, standing in my house—I randomly get uncomfortable, in a sexually self-conscious way.
It has invaded my subconscious: the feeling of being violated, the disgusting touch that my body has memorized and cannot shake off. I feel it like an invisible layer on my body. It follows me around and makes me hyper-aware that I’m just a vulnerable girl with vulnerable girl parts. I am aware that they are visible, sensitive. I am aware of my boobs, nipples, my clit, my vagina, my ass… like they all paint a big bullseye on my body. When I walk down the street, I feel like a rabbit walking across a lions’ den.
And what’s worse is that these body parts are supposed to be pleasurable; they’re supposed to be pleasure zones, my pleasure zones, and that’s been taken away from me. They are somehow the opposite now: parts that I try to hide lest I am more vulnerable to becoming a victim, parts that betray me sometimes. And they are all stuck to me, not like hair I can cut off, but essential parts of my being.
There are so many things I want to do, like love myself, love my body, feel comfortable in my own skin, enjoy sex, be confident, feel sexy in a healthy way, to live, to just walk down the street in peace and not have to think of a million things just to function in my body… but the incident holds me back. I WANT TO MAKE PROGRESS. I want to get unstuck, to just put it behind me and stop feeling so damn gross and uncomfortable and violated and tarnished. But I can’t!!! Will this feeling ever go away? How do I stop feeling so haunted?
I think that it is even worse for me because I’ve never done anything sexual with another person before. So in my mind, when you look under the index entry titled “Sexual Experiences with Another Person,” the violation is all that’s there. And that probably exacerbates things, because it’s the only experience in my memory, so it’s all I know.
I really hope I get some positive sexual experiences in the future that’ll overshadow this, and that I learn to enjoy sex and separate it from the violation. I hope to find a healthy relationship with someone, to get physically intimate with someone who cares about me, someone I love and feel safe with. I hope I can heal and move on and be a regular person and enjoy life and intimacy and not feel so dirty.
I was talking to my therapist about how I was scared of going outside, and when she asked why, I explained that my experience with sexual assault was one of my reasons. A few days later, I watched a movie with sexual assault in it. Though I normally do not get triggered, I did this time, and I think it was because I started talking to my therapist about it for the first time, so it was fresh in my mind and I was vulnerable. I then became very distressed and decided to get my frustration out on paper. At first I free-wrote, and then refined it.
Celina Huynh is a high school junior in New York City. She aspires to become a clinical psychologist in the future, and loves all forms of self-expression, especially writing.