Guests

12:37 a.m.

He opened the rusting, black, metal gate with no hesitation. He didn’t care if it was loud enough to wake the neighbors, the bolts and hinges would grind and squeak together no matter how gently he pushed. He always meant to fix it, but never got around to it.

As he approached the cement steps of his porch, he noticed silhouettes of people from behind the curtains. The lights were dim so he guessed his roommate, Matt, was having a movie night. He didn’t mind, as long as they were quiet and didn’t try to make small talk.

He turned the knob on the white door with cracking paint and to his surprise it was still locked. Matt never locks the door, he thought. He shook his head and swung his bag from off his shoulder and rummaged for his key. After looking closely at three other keys in his hand, he found the right one, and turned the lock. The door was heavy, but opened with ease. After he hung his coat on the chipped wooden hook to the right of the doorway, he turned and stopped. All of Matt’s friends’ eyes were on him. They did not say hello, did not make small talk, it seemed like they weren’t even breathing. It was still.

He raised his eyebrows, gave a toothless grin–the kind you give a stranger on the train after accidentally looking them in the eye–and made his way past the guests. Their eyes followed him as he moved swiftly through the living room and into the main hallway. The house was cold and felt empty. The rental had always been old and creepy, but it was different this time.

He entered his room and shut the door, and immediately after, he heard hushed chit-chatting in the living room. He fell face first into his bed and thought about the guests in his home. They were old, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why would his 23 year-old roommate be hanging out with a group of people old enough to be his grandparents? They all looked alert. Like they were expecting him. They knew he was coming but they were quiet, secretive. Their eyes were dark, and even the flickering flames from the fireplace were not enough to show the contrast between their pupils and irises. They sat in chairs, old wooden chairs from the basement, facing the door. There were perfectly good couches just feet away. They held their hands in their laps and crossed their feet under their chairs.

Their hands. They were so pail, almost translucent. Their veins, so visible. Like thick webs under the skin.

They weren’t surprised when he walked in, but they were waiting for someone else.

He couldn’t think about anything else. Despite being exhausted from his shift, he had to get one more look.

1:06 a.m.

He slowly opened his door, he didn’t want anyone to hear him this time. Trying his best to listen to the guests in his home, he leaned further out into the hallway. The guests were speaking so fast, he tried to make out what was being discussed, but no luck. It was harsh, hissed words back and forth, like no one bothered to take a breath in between. He then realized that what they were saying was not in English. Matt could barely spell out the word “restaurant” let alone have conversations with people speaking who knows what language that was. Who were these people?

He was out of his doorway and into the hallway by now, and took a step forward. He took another step and Matt interrupted his sneaking with a loud yawn behind him.

“What are you doing?” Matt moaned while rubbing his eyes.

“Who are these people? How do you know them?” He half laughed.

“What? Those people?”

“Yeah, the one’s in the living room. The old people.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, I just woke up cause I heard noise in the living room. I thought you brought people over.” Matt had been playing pranks ever since they moved in together, but when he said this, it wasn’t a joke.

“Who the hell is in our house?” Nate whispered back.

Matt disappeared into his doorway and emerged with his baseball bat in hand. He marched into the living room while Nate followed.

Only this time, the living room was empty. The guests were gone.

The fire was still going, lighting up the backs of the old wooden chairs. The guests left them facing the doorway, like they were waiting for something. This time, it wasn’t Nate, or Matt. Something else. Something important.

Matt went to the door and turned the knob, bat ready to swing. “What the hell?” He shook his head and backed towards the living room.

Nate was confused as he walked toward the entry way wondering what Matt had seen. He looked down at the knob on the exterior of the door to see a red key still in the lock. He looked closer and reached to pull it out, but something stopped him. The key was not red, it was covered in blood.

“Is it yours?” Matt asked. He had lost his key months ago, that’s why he never locks the door.

Nate reached into his back pocket and pulled out his key.

“No.”

1:13 a.m.

Why I Have Decided to Scream

(trigger warning: sexual assault)

When I write, it feels like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs from the edge of a cliff. It’s like I’m getting rid of everything clogging my mind. Finally after repressing, recovering, and reorganizing every polarizing thought for over a year and a half, I’m going to scream it.

It seems strange to say something like this to random readers on the internet. But for some reason it feels safer. I don’t have to see the look in my sisters’ eyes when I tell them something I once loved so much broke me. I don’t have to hear my best friend cry because she wishes she could have done something. When I write it down, no one gets to see how painful it still is to relive it over and over.

I recently fell away from the church. Hearing the hurtful teachings of confused men and women who are convinced they speak truth became too much. The white-washed history that is constantly denied became too much. The denial of any fault within the church became too much. But it was not anger that fueled this departure from something I once loved, it was betrayal. It was confusion, and it was heart break.

The event contributing to my apathy toward the church is this “something” I’ve been wanting to scream. It is not a singular event, but it was something that triggered my need for seeking answers, and something that opened my eyes to the worst part of the church that everyone seems to ignore.

In early September of 2017, I was sexually assaulted while attending BYU-Idaho. And I said nothing.

I remember walking over to a friend’s apartment after I had just moved into mine, and we were going to watch a movie. It had just rained, and I loved the smell of the rain. I was wearing the slightly baggy jeans that almost fit, but never fit just right, and an old red flannel mens shirt I had just gotten at DI.

We were in his living room with his roommates, and with a signal from him, they left. Whatever, his roommates were still in their rooms, I didn’t plan on doing anything. He began to kiss me, and I kissed back. Then something else happened, he had managed to unbutton my pants.

I said no.

He said his roommates wouldn’t be coming out any time soon.

I said no.

He said it was fine.

I said no.

He said he’d keep his pants on and he wouldn’t go any further.

I. Said. No.

But that didn’t matter.

He held me down so I couldn’t move. Pinned down my arms so I couldn’t push him back. I didn’t know what to do, I said no so many times I could not give you a number. He was bigger, stronger, and I got so tired. He told me to be quiet, not to cause a scene, so I gave up. He went too far. Farther than I wanted. By the time he was done, I felt sick. He sat on the other side of the couch and told me I could leave whenever I wanted. So I left.

I ran home. I sat in the shower for who knows how long, trying to let the scalding hot water somehow clean off what had just happened. Then I curled up in my bed and prayed.

I told Heavenly Father I was sorry.

We lived close to each other and attended church meetings in the same building. I saw him walking to church the next day. He was holding a bag of bread. And he smiled at me.

Whenever I heard stories about sexual assault, as much as I tried to understand, I wondered why it took so long for anyone to speak up, why sometimes nothing was said at all. How come so many people let their abuser walk free?

Then I understood. There is a common theme of students at church schools not coming forward with these things, whether sexual assault, or mistakes they want to repent for, they hold back. Because there is a fear of being kicked out of school, being embarrassed, or not being taken seriously. This is mostly due to the honor code at each school that can influence students to keep quiet on things that they feel they can’t let out without major consequences.

Although I understand this is a major contribution to so many situations, overtime I’ve come to understand that it can be so much more than that. I’ve realized in the last year and a half that not being believed, or facing consequences I didn’t deserve wasn’t what kept me quiet. It was the guilt that too many are conditioned to feel from too early of an age within the church.

At the time of my assault, I had worked in the Executive Office of the university for almost two years. I worked with administrators and executives that I had come to love. If I would have said anything about it, I have no doubt they would have stopped at nothing to make sure I received justice.

Unfortunately, I realize this is not the case for most victims of assault, and too many are not taken seriously. However, that was my case. And the reason I never went forward was because I felt guilty. From such an early age I was taught that it was my job to keep  priesthood holders worthy. They held the priesthood, and to show respect, we should keep them worthy enough to have it.

The words this man had whispered into my ear as he broke me played over and over again, “What did you expect?”

What did I expect? Should I have expected to give up my right to say no? Was it actually my fault? I did not expect to have my dignity ripped away from me by a man I saw as a friend.

I am going to say it, I have never met anyone more entitled than a mormon man who thinks God made him untouchable. Some of the worst, most terrifying men have come from the LDS church. I say this because it’s the men we are taught to trust that are developing these behaviors. It’s terrifying because I was taught to see priesthood holders as good men, and then I trusted one and he tore me apart. I still trust and see my priesthood holding friends as amazing, and worthy, but they do not see themselves as untouchable, immune. It is, maybe the few, but too many other men who are blinded by their conviction of superiority.  There are groups that justify each others’ actions with the mormon culture they believe is doctrine. I know “not all men” and the next person that says that to me I’m going to egg their house.

The point I’m getting at is that there are too many.

That night I ran home, I prayed. And I said I was sorry. I was sorry. For something that shouldn’t have happened to me. After normalizing this behavior for so long, the harm was so completely done.

I was too afraid for too long because of the idea that I was in trouble. Because of a culture that shames those who don’t want to stay quiet about things that are happening anyway. This is so dangerous. This mormon culture surrounding sexuality, marriage, and women is so dangerous. Let it die. Just because you’re uncomfortable with the fact that entitled men never receiving consequences doesn’t fit your idea of the perfect church you love, does NOT mean it doesn’t exist.

Are you aware of what this culture is capable of doing? Are you aware that the things so many of you ignore are causing so many of those you claim to love to rot from the inside? Are you going to keep turning away from this conversation because it makes you uncomfortable?

I want to reiterate this to you just one more time; I told Heavenly Father that I was sorry.

Because of someone who I trusted, someone that I saw as a good priesthood-holding young man, I was broken. I felt betrayed. I spent so many nights under scalding hot water, letting it turn my skin red because it felt like I was cleaner. I still spend Sundays zoning out because I remember more details about that night in a boys apartment. I feel cheated out of something I put so much work into. After the assault, I decided to go through the temple. I threw myself into the church because maybe if I did, I could be complete. I did everything I was supposed to do. I studied every scripture I could, I gave my testimony in church, I taught classes, paid my tithing, and I prayed. And as much as I begged myself to feel complete, I never did.

Because after that night, I began to look more closely at those around me. I saw the toxic culture being taken as truth, and I noticed how so many people around me were oblivious to the faults within this ungodly thing they worshiped. They were more concerned with pleasing an institution than being human beings.

I tried. I really did. And like some of my friends have already told me, no, I did not distance myself from the church because “I fell for the temptations of the world” or because a bad man ruined my testimony. I distanced myself because after already questioning the harms of a culture and the teachings of an institution, I saw the ugliest side of something I once though was beautiful.

We talk about “causes of sexual sin”, we argue about the credibility of victims. We talk about how to prevent it, how to defend ourselves, but when are we going to talk about the amount of perpetrators? When are we going to discuss the narrative that makes them think this is okay? When are we going to stop acting like this isn’t a big enough deal? Especially in recent months, the conversation has become larger and louder, but it’s just not loud enough. We are just not doing enough.

To the good men that respect the women they date, the women they’re friends with, and any woman they come across, thank you. But we need you to do more. We need you to listen to us, to believe us, to help us. To yell with us.

It’s not enough to just be a good guy. You need to start a conversation as well. Talk to and educate your friends, roommates, brothers, classmates, and remind them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. Educate one another, and be an advocate for women. This is not just a conversation for victims, but one for those who are willing to listen.

Support us. Support every woman and man who will come to you seeking comfort. Do not let this culture that you’ve grown used to restrict your right to speak up. Don’t let it make you believe that you are less than you are. Let yourself get angry about this, then do something about it. Don’t let that anger sit with you, but put it towards changing the narrative that allows this to happen. This is just too common, and it doesn’t need to be.

There are too many men I’ve had conversations with that think this idea is radical. When I speak up about this terrifying and growing issue in the church, I am radical. When did the notion that your sisters in the gospel deserve to be treated like women of God become radical? When did men who wear white shirts once a week become untouchable? When did questioning the culture forced by people, not a gospel, become apostate? When did conforming to fit the ideal in a toxic culture become more important than having faith in Christ?

I know what too many of you are going to say, “this is not a common thing, there’s just a few bad eggs making a bad image for everyone!” Stop. That reasoning is why it is still happening. Brushing it off because it’s not big enough for you is what is making it bigger.

This behavior and this culture of being untouchable and ignoring the voices of hurt or concerned women is not taught by the gospel. It is taught by entitled men to others.

I am adding this paragraph due to the comments from members of the church stating I let one man ruin my relationship with God. He did not. If anything it brought me closer to God than ever before. I do not blame the priesthood, I do not blame God. I am pointing out the culture of the church that makes some men believe they are immune from consequences. The culture that has conditioned young women to feel responsible for things they shouldn’t be responsible for. I love my God and Christ and I have felt the comfort of Him in my worst times. My testimony of them is not reliant on my testimony of an institution.

I am not radical. I am not apostate. I am not overreacting. I am desperate for others to listen to so many people who have been hurt and silenced. This church is not perfect. The people who lead it are not. Your bishops, leaders, and teachers are not perfect. I have been taught too many times that things the common man teaches should be taken as gospel. But that is what got us here.

That is what got me here.

I would also like to add that this is not the end of my contribution. I’m not done telling these stories, or participating in this conversation. To the brave women and men who came forward and inspired me; thank you.

To the men that have taken me and so many women for granted, harassed us, assaulted us, made us afraid, and kept us from speaking; this is not over. I hope the fear that you will not always be free to walk away from your decisions sits with you. I hope it forces you to see yourself for what you really are. I hope what you have done rots you from the inside, like it has to us. We are not done with you yet.

And as for me, I don’t know if I will ever be brave enough to say his name out loud. He knows exactly what he did. I confronted him, and he mocked me. He still finds ways to contact me, to . patronize me. I understand why it is so difficult to say their names out loud. It was terrifying. But I am no longer afraid of him. I am no longer as angry as I used to be. And although he walks free, and he fools everyone with a pat on the back on Sunday afternoons, I know exactly who he really is. And I think deep down inside, that scares the shit out of him. Maybe this is why the men that are too many, continue to become more aggressive. They get uglier, sneakier. It becomes a common behavior, because if it happens more than once it’s no longer a mistake. The cold, holy exterior hides the fact that they are exactly what they swear they are not.

And because he seems to find me no matter how hard I try to hide from him, I have a strong suspicion that this incredibly ugly man will eventually find this article. So I dedicate this last bit to him.

I won’t try to convince a jury or an institution that you are not who you say you are, because I have found peace in a better justice.

The God you think made you untouchable, is the same one that is going to remind you that you are not.

Old Friend

Hello old friend.

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at you.
I’ve seen you, from the rear view mirror,
Or maybe I’ve glanced upward when leaving a job that
Makes me tired.

The craters in your face, like wounds,
Make me wonder how much you’ve seen.
How much you have looked at, studied.
Witnessing things that have made you tired.

I’m sorry you’ve seen so much.
I’m sorry we’ve made you look at us hurt.

I know the feeling of being forced to witness unbearable hurt.

But in a way, I am jealous.

I am jealous of you because
Although you see so much bad,
You get to see all the good.

What is it like to see two people
From far away
Who’ve never met
Never spoken
Never known one another’s mind

What is it like to see them lie down
And look at you
To look and wonder at the same time?

What is it like to watch two people
Who do not know each other hope
For the same good you get to see?

What is it like
To witness that most human thing
Of wondering if someone is looking
At the same thing you are?

To see them love something
The same way?

That must be what keeps you around
When the world gets ugly.
It hurts to keep looking
But you can’t stop.

I don’t think I’d be able to look away either.

Spots of Light

you remember that night when
I was sick to my stomach and the world made me sad
and you held me until my wet, tired eyes could finally rest.
and you touched my face and intertwined your hands with my hair
and I don’t know if you knew that I was still awake.

you don’t remember that I can remember.

I remember getting the feeling that you wished
my hair was actually my hands.
I remember peeking through my hands
to see you looking at me.

and I remember how much I could feel.
not the sickness in my stomach or the hurt the world caused.
but I could feel electricity in my spine
as you held me
after such a long time of feeling nothing.

but I never told you.

now you are so far away but when you call me
to ask me what kind of juice to buy
or to just sit in comfortable silence until I’m tired
I feel like you are next to me in the front seat of my car
looking out to the world that hurts to see
but it’s so beautiful.

and when we speak
it’s like we’re counting each individual spot of light in the sky
like we are never going to be done
because there will always be more

and while sitting in those front seats
I’m waiting for a dying comet to come along
to let me know that it’s okay to tell you how numb I wasn’t.
I look at you like the way you might have that one night
when you thought I wouldn’t remember.

sometimes when I look at you I swear
I can see you searching for that same comet,
but I can’t tell if it’s real or because I want you to.

so I won’t tell you.

because this is not as easy as I’ve seen in the movies
and it’s not cute or romantic
but it hurts.
but not in the way the world hurts me.

because although it hurts to feel these things
it is a privilege to be hurt in this way
not because it feels like I can’t breathe
or because it feels like my legs will give out beneath me

but because in those moments
when I might catch you looking at me
it feels like the electricity in my spine.
the kind I felt that night when all I did was cry.

I know you were probably never looking for the same thing I was
and that you simply loved the way the night looked
from the front seat of my car.
but it was a privilege to want something that bad.

I hear all the time
that wanting something you’ll never have
is a waste of time. of energy.
of feeling.

but I don’t feel like this is a waste
because now I know what it feels like
to love so hard you ache.
to love so hard it feels like you can’t breathe.
to love so hard that suddenly the world doesn’t hurt you
as bad as it used to.

so I’ll just sit in this seat
watching you enjoy the night
until you find something
that makes you feel the way I felt that time you held me.

even though I know you might not be watching me
or wanting me
or wishing my hair was my hands.

I will never tell you
any of this.
not a word.

because the comet never came.

Sunday Afternoon

I know that my heart is light and eyes are calm
I know my fingers are gentle and my spine is delicate
I know that when I want to be,
I am in no way fragile or small.
I know that I am a gentle force.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why.

Why I’m never the one you call at 2 am
While looking at the ceiling, feeling sad but not knowing why.

I still wonder

Why I’m not the one you stare at
While my eyes are not looking.
Why my gentle fingers are not intertwined with yours
Or why my spine is not the one you trace
On a Sunday afternoon before falling asleep.

I know that someday I will be this person,
Not to you, but to someone.

I know this someone will look at me
The way I wish you would now.

I know that I will be everything.

I know this.

I know these things.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why
You do not.

Student Death Letter

When I heard the distant sound of sirens,
when I saw the faint blue and red flicker
against the white sidewalks,
making the rooftops bleed,

When I was forced to peer out my window
and wonder what it was like
to see the night sky
for the last time,

I began to catch my breath.

I became silent enough
to hear the working parts inside of me
keep themselves alive.

I looked upward
and saw my breath leave my body
and I was there.
I was alive.

And I could see snow begin to fall
and I looked even closer
toward the home of each tiny flake that eventually
fell to the ground.

Each tiny piece of the sky fell onto my tired eyes
and I wondered if it was falling
so someone who would never see the sky again
could at least feel it one last time.

And I wondered if the pieces of the sky missed
being up that high,
watching everything below,
instead of turning red then blue.

Continue

I look at my tiny blue veins
Running from one end to another
And I think about how there really is no end
To the streams in my body.

They move constantly. They do not stop.
Even in the lowest of lows
They still run.

And I think about how we are like
These small blue endless rivers
Constantly moving. Never ceasing.
And we are the veins of this existence.

Maybe one day we will stop
Flowing. We will stop rushing.
But as for now we circle around this body
Creating life.

And we will continue to do just that
We will continue to run and move
Until this body becomes too dry and tired
To continue.