This wasn’t the first time Kait tried to wake me up, but I knew it was going to be the last. She already went through all her normal strategies—knocking, talking through the door, asking me about breakfast, walking in to check on me—but I held my ground each time, careful not to show any sign that I was actually awake.
She knew one final trick: the one foolproof way to get me to get up and out of bed, despite how much of a cruel and unusual punishment it was.
My door flew open, slamming against the wall inside. I jumped at the sound, my heart racing, my pulse blaring like an alarm in my ears. I curled up in a tighter ball under my covers and hoped they would be enough to protect me.
Kait began, “I tried to play Mr. Nice Guy all morning…”
I braced myself as I heard her stumble across my room, kicking discarded laundry and boots out of her path. I tried to sink into my bed, making myself as small and safe as possible. I would have to clean all that up later; I just hoped my room wasn’t completely trashed by the time she was done.
“…I even offered to make you my world-famous pancakes…”
She reached my desk and pulled the chair out of the way. The chair squeaked with resistance, the feet gripping the tile, not wanting to move an inch.
“…but you’ve left me with no choice…”
I squeezed my eyes shut. At least my desk chair was on my side.
“You know I’m only doing this because I love you.”
It was only a moment before she—
Kait threw open the black-out curtains and the blinding afternoon light filtered into my room. She walked over to me and ripped the blanket off. When I opened my eyes, it actually felt like tiny, little needles were stabbing me directly in the pupils. The light sensitivity was insane. It’s been, what, 16 hours since I last saw the sun? I allowed myself a peek at my alarm clock. Its dire red numbers confirmed, yes, it’s been too long. But I hadn’t slept much, not really. I woke up a lot, stirred a lot. I spent most of the night awake. I was so tired. I just wanted some rest.
I tried to hoist my covers back over my head to block out some of the light, and maybe return to my attempt at hibernation, but Kait went in for the kill.
“Jesus Christ, Fiona. You are getting up,” she said, over-annunciating each word. She tried to pull the heavy comforter off me again. This time, I held onto it, but she pulled harder. It was like the world’s most pathetic tug-o-war game, complete with grunting and pleading. Eventually, I let go, for fear the blanket would tear. It would be useless protection if ripped in half.
“This is getting ridiculous,” she said, depositing the blanket on the floor, out of my reach.
I had to admit, she was right. This was getting ridiculous, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go anywhere; I could stay in my room and do things on my own time, my own schedule, without other people mucking it all up. This was my domain. I had complete control here.
Kait and I had separate bedrooms, so it’s not like my sleeping in would affect her in any way. I still did my half of the roommate chores almost always on time. My life had nothing to do with hers, not really. She can go to her parties, and have her fun, and I could stay here, safe.
But, Kait was my best friend. We’ve known each other since freshman orientation. We were placed in the same group, the same room for the weekend. We didn’t sleep a wink the entire time; we just talked, about everything and anything. What we wanted to do in college—Kait was a psychology major, I was a biology major. What we were afraid of—would we fit in, would we do well? What we were excited for—think of all the clubs we could join, the parties we’d be going to! Our families and friends back home—our dads both served in Iraq, but hers actually came home.
We got along so well that when it was time to pick housing for the year, we decided to live together. This was year three of the arrangement: Washington Hall, Room 219. I just have been spending a lot more time in my bedroom than before. It’s not a big deal. I was allowed to say no to things, no matter how much she protested. After all, there would be more movie nights, more parties, more late-night fast food runs. She’d have to get over it.
What was she going to do, force me?
I rolled away from Kait and faced the white-speckled wall. The dormitory’s paint job was strange—it was almost like wallpaper, white with black and grey speckles. You’d think that the walls would just be painted one, flat color. But, for some reason, it wasn’t. It was speckled, imperfections, like tiny little holes, but they weren’t holes. They were just spots, little blips in the paint. I wanted to understand it; I really did, so I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting it these days.
“This is the third weekend in a row,” Kait said, interrupting my thoughts. I could tell from her tone that she was probably standing with her hands on her hips, unmovable. “I’m going to get you to leave this room, even if it kills me.”
“I do leave,” I said. “I go to class.”
I felt the mattress distort beneath me as she took a seat on the edge of my bed, one leg crossed over the other. I shirked away from her, to give her room, to get away. She leaned back a little and put a hand on my shoulder. Reluctantly, I turned to look at her.
“Fi. Seriously? Class? That’s literally it. You’re always here.”
“I’m a college student. I should be staying in, studying.”
Kait gestured at my current position, my slept-in bedding, and my matted, greasy hair. “You call this studying?”
“I take a lot of breaks,” I admitted, lying back again. “I get headaches, so I take naps. It’s whatever.”
“It’s just the beginning of the semester.” Kait rolled her eyes. “You can’t possibly have so much work that you literally can’t leave. That’s insane.”
Kait looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to reply, but I didn’t. When she realized I wasn’t going to, Kait started to look around the room, taking stock of everything she could see now that the room was lit up. Her eyes lingered on my garbage can. She let out a frustrated sigh.
“Have you eaten anything that didn’t come in a wrapper since the semester started?”
I sat up and leaned against the wall that I had been examining. I looked around too.
Before Kait’s violation, my laundry was in organized heaps on the floor. I reorganized it a few times this week, trying to figure out the perfect system. Right now, I decided to sort my clothes by style—tee shirts, tank tops, shorts, leggings—but it didn’t matter. Kait came and kicked them around, and I don’t blame her. It looked like nonsense to an outsider. And I guess it was nonsense. Lately, I’ve just been living in alternating pairs of sweatpants and my favorite hoodie.
I then looked toward my door. On one side of the doorway was my trash bin, complete with an impressive collection of Top Ramen packets piled in it. I had almost all the flavors, except creamy chicken, because the words “creamy” and “packet seasoning” don’t really make sense, together, to me.
“Didn’t you hear? This is where carbs go to die,” I deadpanned, not even trying to defend myself. I reached over to my nightstand and grab a Nutrigrain bar wrapper. “But hey, look, this is made with real fruit, it says!”
Kait took the wrapper from me and crumbled it up in her hands.
“We’re getting you a real food, okay?”
The dining hall loomed on a hill, overlooking the dorm buildings that lined the quad. It was getting darker, earlier, and the sun was already making its descent in the west by the time we left the dorm. I had changed into cleaner clothes and took a quick shower, at Kait’s direction. Luckily, it was late enough that the brunch crowd had already dispersed, but early enough that no one wanted dinner yet. There were few people, so we were safe to proceed.
We ascended the stairs leading up to the main dining area and then swiped in. Kait said hello to the cashier, who asked her if she wanted to use a guest swipe for me. I guess he didn’t recognize me. But of course he wouldn’t—I hadn’t gone to the dining hall once since the semester started.
Kait laughed it off, of course, as I scoped out the cafeteria. There were groups of people scattered throughout. The cashier handed me back my student ID and I started to walk away while Kait made small talk. There were some students milling about, buzzing between tables with plates of steaming food, or getting beverages from the soda machines in the center.
I pulled the strings on my hoodie, tightening the hood around my head.
Some students watched me as I walked by, passing empty table after empty table. I made my way towards the back corner and took the seat at the far end of the table, with my back where the two walls met. I continued to watch the cafeteria from here, waiting for Kait.
I watched the students at a nearby—but not too close—table lean in close, towards the center of their table, bodies hovering over their plates of the latest Sodexo creations, and talk, quietly, (or, was it quiet because of the too-loud music, with the loud bass causing my heart to race?), and then disperse, leaning back from their huddle, laughing, spit flying.
Were they laughing at me?
Kait slammed her tray down on the table, or, rather, she placed her tray down on the table and it made an unexpected smacking sound. It snapped my attention away from the clique, and to the tray in front of her. There was a bowl of yogurt and granola on one side, and a plate with some hard-boiled eggs, a small salad, and a piece of grilled chicken, on the other. A loose orange rolled from one side of the tray to the other as she slid it closer to herself.
“Why are we sitting here?” Kait laughed, lightly. “There’s like, forty other tables.” She then took a loud crunch of her granola. She narrowed her eyes at the empty space in front of me. “Why didn’t you grab anything?”
I looked down at the table space in front of me. It was empty, and my heart was racing, and my brain was empty. Smack! Crunch…
Right. We’re here for food.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, sliding out of my chair.
I walked along the edge of the dining hall until I reached the far entrance of the buffet. It was more like the exit, but it was closer to my table. I grabbed a tray, put a small plate on it, and started to go through the buffet backwards. There were no other patrons, so I took my time. Nothing looked particularly appetizing, but if I came back empty-handed, Kait would throw a fit.
I took a scoop of some meat-and-vegetable stew-like substance and plopped in on my plate. I turned and looked towards the beginning of the buffet, and the steady stream of hungry students making their way towards me. I turned and walked straight out of there, bee-lining it to my table. I forgot to grab a drink, but hey, there’s gravy on my plate, that’s a liquid. That must count for something.
Kait had moved onto her orange, peeling it in a long spiral. The skin seemed to bounce as she moved along, end to end. The fresh smell of citrus radiated from the table. She smiled as I sat back down, investigating my plate. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell she was pleased by my choice.
I took my fork and stirred it around in my stew for a moment. I decided to stab it into what I thought was a potato. I popped it into my mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Yes, potato.
Satisfied by my eating, Kait finally spoke, “I just got a text from Jeremy. He says—”
“The frat boy? No thanks.”
“C’mon, Fiona, you don’t even know what I’m gonna say.”
“If it involves Jeremy, later tonight, and booze, I’m good.” I took another bite, a carrot this time. It was mushy, but not terrible. It still tasted like a carrot, so I guess it had to be a carrot.
“It’s going to be low-key,” Kait huffed, finishing off her peeling. She punctured the fruit with a nail by accident, orange zest spewing everywhere. I recoiled a little, not wanting to get the vapors in my eyes. She sucked the juice off of her finger, popping it from between her lips.
“Only a couple people. It’ll be fun.”
“Kait, you know I don’t drink anymore,” I replied, using my fork to separate the stew into its parts. Carrots, potatoes, beef (?) chunks, and celery. Each had their own quadrant on my plate, connected only by thick gravy lines. It became gelatinous as it cooled.
“You never told me why that is.”
“I just don’t want to drink, okay?”
Kait separated her orange in half and put one half on the clean part of my tray. She smiled, completing my food pyramid, and started peeling her slices apart, one by one, slowly putting them in her mouth.
“Did something happen this summer?” she asked after a few slices. It wasn’t the first time she asked. I was her favorite drinking buddy; we spent long weekends drinking sportsball players under the table, winning beer pong tournaments. We were the kings of Kings, but I relinquished my throne to the next drinking game champion.
We were more than just drinking buddies, though. We did almost everything together, before. Kait was a shy girl in high school and wanted nothing more than to break out of that. I was the same way. We inspired each other to change, to succeed. Together, we ran for Hall Government positions—co-presidents—and won. When she was inducted into our college’s National Residence Hall Honorary chapter, I was the one in the audience cheering the loudest. When I failed my first organic chemistry exam last year, she found me a tutor the same day. Every weekend, we were inseparable; I’ve fallen asleep in her room just as often as my own. She has half of my clothes in her closet. Her number is the only one besides my own that I’ve memorized.
But now, I’ve abandoned her, left her to do everything alone.
I stared at the muddy gravy on my plate and put my fork down. It was in lines, like roads, connecting each mound of stew to the next. The fork created little groves, like tire tracks. A country song began to play in the cafeteria, something about a truck, and a girl, and the hair started to stand up on the back of my neck. Whenever I blinked, I saw a campfire, empty Mike’s Hard bottles, the speckled camper ceiling…
I needed to keep my eyes open.
“You went to Europe, right?” I asked, putting on a smile, looking at Kait with interest. When she didn’t respond right away, I added, “You were studying abroad. That’s what happened this summer—”
“No, Fi, I mean—”
“Where was it, Amsterdam? A-something—”
“Valencia, but close, I guess,” Kait said, her eyebrows narrowed. Worry created deep groves in her pale forehead. She neglected the remaining orange slices on her tray. “And that was over winter break. I was with my grandparents in Minnesota all summer.”
“No shit? That’s right.”
“How are they doing, anyway? You call them since school started?”
Kait looked down at the plate in front of her, contemplative. She didn’t answer. The music seemed to get louder. 2017’s Top Country Hits, on loop. I blinked. A Chevy, driving too fast through the woods. Mud splattering everywhere, smacking against the sides of the truck. My seatbelt didn’t work. He was laughing, whooping. Crunching over fallen branches. Popping open another beer…
I backed my chair up and grabbed my tray.
“Are you ready to go?” I asked.
I left the table before I even got a reply from her. I ditched my plate in the deposit bin by the exit and rushed down the stairs as fast as I could without raising suspicion. I needed to get away from the dining hall as fast as I could, away from the music, away from…
I could see the windows of the exit, and lost in my determination to escape, I skipped the last step. I slipped and collided with someone coming in through the door. His hands grabbed my upper arms and I wasn’t falling anymore. I was upright, but his hands stayed on me. There were words exchanged, but I couldn’t catch what he was saying. All I knew were his hands. I looked up. I blinked. Dark hair, ragged beard. Chevy. Country Top 50. Mike’s Hard, hard mattress. Specked ceiling, camper ceiling…
I struggled and struggled to get free. I pushed and squirmed and my voice rose out my chest without my permission—
“Let go of me, get the fuck off me!”
The boy released me from his grip, backing away, arms up, and I pushed past him, and went straight out the door. I stumbled on the concrete and allowed myself a glance back. The boy who caught me was standing in the doorway, his mouth pulled into a frown. I blinked a couple times, but there he was, clean-shaven, blonde, and visibly confused.
On my way out, a few students standing by the door stared at me.
“What the hell was that?” one student murmured.
I couldn’t catch my breath. My stomach was sour. My heart starting racing again and I fled. I ran all the way to my dormitory and collapsed near the entrance, on the grass, under a small tree. I hugged my knees to my chest and exhaled, exhaled, exhaled, but seeming to never inhale.
Moments later, Kait was beside me, gently rubbing my back, small circles.
I couldn’t stop shaking.
The RA on duty rushed out of the office as soon as we came inside. He reached out to steady me, or to comfort me, or to something, but Kait waved him away, frowning. She kept a possessive arm around my shoulders. The RA looked at me and raised his eyebrows, waiting for me to say something, but Kait spoke for me.
“We’re fine, we’re fine, move along,” She said, trying to dissolve the situation. She gestured around us, to the wide-open lounge, complete with curious eyes. The RA took the hint and thankfully retreated back into the office without any further questions. Surely, he would fill out a report, and I’ll find a pamphlet for Student Mental Health Services in my mailbox in the coming days. Great.
A few passing students hesitated near us and she gave them a look that sent them running. Kait always turned into such a mama bear when I was upset. She was always the first person to jump to action and take control of a situation, even without me asking her to. Sometimes, she knew what I needed way before I did.
“You wanna go upstairs.”
I nodded, even though I knew it wasn’t a question.
When we got to the suite, Kait sat me down at the table in our common room and raised her eyebrows expectantly. She didn’t ask too many questions; I think she just wanted to understand. But I didn’t say anything. I looked beyond her, to my closed door. I wanted to be behind it. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to her, or to tell her. I just didn’t know what to say, or how to say it. I hadn’t even been able to admit it to myself, let alone out loud to someone else.
And now, Kait was in her own room, I think, getting ready for her party. I could hear her moving around in there. We shared a wall. I could hear her moving back and forth from her closet to her desk and back. She didn’t ask me again about going with her, and I was thankful that she let it go.
When I went back to my room, I didn’t bother to try to reorganize my clothes; I didn’t bother to take out my trash. I was so drained. I just wanted to go back to bed, and stay there.
So I did.
I stayed in bed for a while, curled up with my cellphone under my comforter. I kept the lights off. The gentle blue glow from the screen was all I needed to see. I spent a lot of time on my phone lately, even more than normal. The eyestrain was worth the distraction. Before, I was never one of those girls, glued to their cellphones, constantly refreshing social media pages. But after, I became obsessed with it, being able to lose myself in lives of others. It was the perfect catharsis. I didn’t have to focus on my own life any more.
During the summer, I spent a lot of time scrolling endlessly through Facebook. I had enough connections on there that there was always new content for me to look at. But that ended in September, when Brock Turner’s face was everywhere I went. It was like 2015 all over again, except this time, I couldn’t look. He violated an unconscious woman, and got off easy for it. Six months sentence, out in three. All the newspapers sung his praises—listing his swimming scores at the bottom of their reports. Their headlines might as well have been Rapist: An Upstanding Citizen!
Before, I was disgusted with our so-called justice system, and I was glad that he was getting blown up online. Awareness was always good. And sexual assault cases certainly could use more attention.
But, after, I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t read about him anymore. So when the page from that criminal justice textbook went viral, the one that told his story, and more importantly, his victim’s story, I couldn’t handle it. It was too soon for me. I saw him everywhere. I was reminded of what he did, of what happened to her, and consequently, what happened to…
Seeing no end in sight, I deleted every single one of my social media apps. It’s not like I was actually talking to any of my friends anymore anyway.
At first, I didn’t miss social media much. I spent more time reading, actually reading, not just glancing at headlines. My attention span actually started to increase. I spent more time on my hobbies, less time stalking old friends. It felt good. I was in my own little bubble.
When the semester started, though, I missed seeing what my friends were up to. Most of the events on campus were exclusively advertised on social media. All the clubs I used to be part of planned meetings and events using Facebook. There were Instagram challenges and Snapchat filters everyone else knew about but me. Because of that, I stopped being able to contribute in most conversations. Everyone’s lives were so involved online. Even Kait and I’s conversations slowed a little once she realized I had no idea what she was talking about half the time.
A slight pang of sadness tightened my chest. I didn’t mean to shut her out.
I tried my best to ignore the guilt and was desperate for a distraction from it. I kept scrolling through the apps I still had on my phone. After finding the bottom of last week’s Buzzfeed articles, my thoughts started creeping in directions I rather they didn’t go. I glanced over at the corkboard hanging above my desk, where Kait pinned a flyer for a new club she wanted us to join. Something about environmental activism?
I slid off my bed and dodged heaps of clothes as I walked over to my desk. I pulled the flyer from the corkboard and sat down. On it was a cartoony illustration of Earth with the recycling symbol in the middle. Outside of the club’s name, there was very little other information actually on the flyer.
Find us on Facebook to learn more!
Of course. Find us on Facebook. But hey, Environmental activism. That could be a worthy distraction. I leaned back in my chair and looked at my computer apprehensively. Did I really want to go back down that rabbit hole?
I powered my laptop on and typed in my password when it prompted me to. I double-clicked on my Internet browser and hesitated. Things don’t stay viral for long, I tried to rationalize. Hell, things can go viral and disappear in the matter of a few hours, a few days, even. After all, everyone seemed to have forgotten about Russia’s involvement in the election already.
A few weeks away from social media should have been long enough for Brock to disappear again; it was time to see what everyone was up to on social media. At the very least, seeing what this club was about would give me something to talk to Kait about tomorrow in case she starts asking questions again.
I logged into my account and noticed several unread messages and over a dozen missed notifications. Without thinking, I checked out every single one. One screen led to another, which led to another, and after scrolling for a while, I decided to check the trending column to the right of my Facebook feed. There were the usual Famous People, and the buzz surrounding their feuds; there was the occasional political rage, some debate I should be aware of, but didn’t have the energy for. Sometimes, there were hashtag campaigns, and that’s exactly what caught my attention this time.
I clicked on it and my screen was flooded with news articles, with tweets, with statuses, with blogs, videos, gifs…everything. This thing was everywhere. Eventually, I found the message that started it all.
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
I kept clicking around and after scrolling on a page of other women’s stories, stories so similar to my own, I got out of my chair. I grabbed my phone off my bed and re-downloaded Twitter. My heart was racing as I typed in the hashtag. I read some more for a moment, and then decided it was time to break my silence, too.
I slid out of my room and knocked on Kait’s door. When she answered, blonde hair pinned up in curlers, I handed her my cellphone. She scrolled through it for a minute, and raised her eyebrows in confusion.
“I need to talk to you,” I said quickly, before I lost my nerve. “About this summer.”