EMPOWERMENT :: In 2001 I was working late one night at my community college as a disabilities rep for my local student union, when I heard a knock on the office door. I was a psychology major at the time.
The knock on the door was a security check, made by Ray, a male security guard I was on friendly terms with. Most evenings started with a security check, a drop in for a visit, or a chat. Ray would then carry on checking the rest of the campus.
This night felt different, a little eerie. Ray didn’t seem himself, and I was feeling tired from a really long day of studying for mid-terms, and working on a project for my student constituents. I just wanted to get home. That didn’t happen.
I noticed a bottle in his bag. We both knew about the rules about alcohol on campus; I asked where he was going with the bottle. He said it was a confiscation but I could smell he’d been drinking.
Now I remember feeling a little scared but at the time my extreme tiredness overwhelmed that.
In the back of the office was a mattress. I went to lie down. Ray said he’d come back to check on me, and he locked the door behind him as he left.
I dozed off – for the whole night. I woke up to sheer horror. I was stripped down to nothing, the mattress was soaked with alcohol, water and semen. I was in pain, and Ray was nowhere to be found. I got myself together as best I could and ran to the emergency blue phones. I called 9-1-1, and within minutes, the police were everywhere, looking for Ray.
They couldn’t find him right away, so they took me down to the nearby hospital. I checked in, filled out a police report as best I could, got a rape kit done, and was tested for every STD possible then sent home.
I spent the next few days in solitude, trying to figure out why something like this could happen to me, from someone I trusted, someone that I actually liked as a person, and how he could do something so violent, hurtful and cruel.
I learned six weeks after the rape that I was HIV-positive. With two kids, ages 6 and 11, I was now an HIV-positive mom.
In 2003 I received my psychology degree. In the time leading up to that accomplishment, I decided that if this was the hand I was dealt, I had to make the rest of my life as good as I knew how. I learned from this traumatic experience that it is up to me to own my life, to live deliberately.
The improvements I made to honour myself remain part of my life now. I eat as healthy as possible. I get myself out every day for a walk. I make time to pursue my passion for photography, performance, and theatre. Self care is important to me because if I won’t treat myself well, no one else will do that for me. Every day when I wake up and am still here, my heart beating, it is the beginning of a new day where I won’t let anything get in the way of good living.
When life becomes challenging I refuse to give up on myself, and I believe angels (I have a lot hanging out in this city) all help me get me through this journey called life.
Ray was booked, charged and ended up losing his job. I was given an opportunity to re-think the kind of life I wanted to have and to make it so.
– Annabelle Harris is a pseudonym.