TW: Sensitive material ahead.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what feminism means to me, and why it's important. I'm admittedly new to feminism as a practice, although I've had a passion for social justice my entire life; I just never attached the feminist label to it. These days, however, I gladly wear the feminist badge, because it's important that there are people willing to fight for and vehemently defend the rights of women.

Here is my story.

I was an awkward child. I blossomed into an awkward teenager, and grew into an awkward adult. There was no beautiful swan transformation for me. As such, I started college socially stunted, and was immediately labeled a "cherry forever" with the uber-Christian kids, although I was never one of them, either. I knew at that point I needed to get my v-card punched, or it would never happen. I tried and tried and tried, and... no takers. Nobody was buying what I was selling. I got a job off-campus, I lost 20 pounds, and found a guy online who remembered me from psych class and was game. We set the rules for being friends with benefits and pop went the cherry. Suddenly I had a teeny bit more confidence and decided to do some dating.

After a couple of crappy dead-end dates, I met a guy online from my school and we decided to meet. He was tall, athletic build, sandy blond hair, blue eyes, and a patrician nose. For a short, chubby brunette girl with zero confidence, I though I'd hit the dating jackpot. Still, summer was around the corner, and I knew it would never last, but I was smitten, and he was fun, so we kept dating.

It was late August, right before my junior year, and we'd been together for three love-struck, sex-filled months. I lost even more weight thanks to the added physical activity. One night I made my grandpa's Caesar salad, and binged on it with garlic bread while watching movies. Until I puked. And then I couldn't stop puking. No big deal, I'd just consumed a buttload of calories, my body probably is just trying to regulate my food intake. Or, the eggs in the dressing were off. No problem, I'd be fine the next day.

Three days later, I was still throwing up. Because it was summer, the on-campus clinic was closed so we had to go to the local hospital. They sent me to the women's clinic side, which I thought was weird, but whatever. My GP wasn't there that day, anyway. I had blood drawn, I peed in a cup, and we waited. He'd come with me because I couldn't drive myself, and he waited while I saw the doctor.

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Pregnant.

How could that be?? We used protection! We used spermicidal lubricant! I mean, there was that one time when the condom slipped, but I'd gotten Plan B! I mean, that was like... Fuck. Six weeks ago. I was dumbfounded. The doctor talked about my options, but only adoption or keeping the baby. "You may not be able to have another one." "WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?" The doctor divulged her own medical issue that prevented her from being able to carry a baby, but I really wasn't interested. This was supposed to be about ME. I didn't cry until I'd left the office. The boyfriend asked if I was okay, and I started to request that we talk in the car, but the tears exploded from me in heaving sobs as I told him my diagnosis.

He had a similar response of shocked silence, but finally found some words. "I don't want you to have an abortion." "I don't want to be pregnant!" There was red flag number one. He wanted me to keep the pregnancy hidden and we'd give the baby up, but at 5'2" with no waist, I'm still not sure where I'd hide a pregnant belly. I couldn't very well stash it at the back of my closet. I decided on an abortion, and he didn't fight me on it anymore.

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I had the procedure on October 5. I tried to be jovial, but anyone who looked closely could see I just wanted it to be over with. The nurse, a large, stern-looking black woman, put my feet in the stirrups and prepped me. The doctor entered the room and wordlessly began the procedure. I felt the pinch of each of the four adrenaline injections in my cervix. I was fine until they kicked in and my heart started racing. Tears streamed down my face, and I apologized profusely in between gulps of air. I cried out for someone to please hold my hand, and the nurse ran to my side, immediately softened her face, and began stroking my head, saying, "It's okay, honey. It's okay." A couple moments later, it was.

I had only told one other person about the ordeal. He offered to help, to drive, whatever I needed, but I was still with the boyfriend and he had declared his love for me, so I thought he'd help me out. I drove us home from the clinic, still jacked up on adrenaline, because the boyfriend was too tired to drive. Red flag number two. We hadn't slept much the night before, and I nearly fell asleep at the wheel as the shots wore off, but I just wanted to get back to my dorm to sleep it off. I wasn't sad exactly; I was glad to no longer be pregnant. I looked forward to eating again, and not having to spend my day looking for places to stealthily vomit.

Things were tense after that, and I cried quite a bit, but we never talked about it. He told me we'd get married someday, and we'd have children, and that would make up for this. I believed him, and I was in love. He graduated that semester and moved home, and so our relationship became long-distance. We continued to talk about marriage, but he wanted to wait until I'd graduated to propose. Two and a half years went by, and I did graduate. He wanted to wait until I was working full-time. I got a full-time job. We moved in together. He wasn't ready to propose. In fact, he started pulling away. The more I talked about marriage, the quieter he got. I told him I felt him pulling away, he told me it was all in my head. He played video games for eight hours a day, only paying enough attention to me to have sex and immediately fall asleep. I said I felt shut out, he said that, too, was all in my head. Two more years went by.

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I decided I wanted a house. The housing bubble was at it's peak, and people my age were buying houses. I wanted on of our own, so we could finally get married and start having kids. I had a realtor friend who took us to houses in the area. The boyfriend always found something wrong with each house I liked. We saw one more house, and was smitten. It was a one-story rambler with a big yard, and it was in our price range. I was going to re-do the bathroom with aqua tile on the walls. I was going to find a banquette for the breakfast nook. It was perfect. Alas, the boyfriend thought the basement ceiling was too low. He thought the house should be a foot higher. But I wanted that damn house, and I was going to get it.

We went home to gather paperwork for the loan application. We found everything but one piece of paper. The boyfriend sat down and started playing video games. I asked him to find the paperwork so I could drive to the realtor's office and drop it off. "I'll do it." I asked again, could he please get the one last piece of paper we needed? "I SAID I'LL DO IT." He didn't I was frustrated and angry, and we didn't talk the rest of the evening. I fell asleep before he did. I had a dream, not quite lucid, but I could feel things being done to my body. The dream was pleasant, and the person in it was having sex with me. My eyes opened, and the boyfriend was on top of me. He kissed me, and was more loving than usual. How sweet, I thought. He's trying to make it up to me.

The next morning I asked him about our session that night. Had he used a condom? "I don't know what you're talking about," was his answer. "You don't remember having sex last night?" He giggled said no, he did not. I was concerned, but I decided not to press the issue. It happened again a few nights later. This time I was worried. I knew people could do strange things in their sleep, but sex? I took to the internet and discovered the term sleep-sexing. He snored, sometimes, but I'd never seen him sleepwalk. Was it possible this was the manifestation of a sleep disorder? He again proclaimed he did not remember us having sex the night before, but scoffed at the idea of seeing a doctor for it. Not wanting to strain the relationship further so close to becoming a homeowner, I didn't press the issue.

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Weeks went by and he'd left me alone while I slept. He still refused to find that last damn piece of paper, but I was tired of fighting and I was giving up on buying that house. We decided on a townhouse close to the apartment we were in, close to his parents house. Once again, all we needed was that last piece of paper. I said nothing because if this was the house he wanted, he'd need to take the initiative.

That night I awoke abruptly, feeling something being jammed into me; into my anus. He had rolled me onto my side and pinned me. The look on his face was twisted and menacing. He began massaging my anus and sneered into my half-awake face. I pushed him off and he rolled over. Any fight-or-flight response I might have had right then betrayed me, and I drifted back to sleep. I confronted him in the morning. I was concerned with this new nocturnal affliction, and I wanted it to stop. Again, he plead ignorance. Frustrated, humiliated, and lacking a well-formed argument, I yelled, "Smell your finger!" He did, and giggled. I demanded that he see a doctor. I did not want what happened that night to ever happen again. "You don't even remember doing these things to me, you do them in your sleep!"

He lifted his head and sneered. "I remember. I was awake."

My throat went dry. I demanded that he pack a bag and go to his parents' house. I did not want him there anymore. The sneer became a wide-eyed glare and he came toward me. I yelled for him to stop, and threatened to call the police. He did as I asked and left. We broke up and moved out, but I still wasn't processing what had happened as assault. I told everyone about how he'd been pushing me away and dragging out the mortgage application process, but said nothing of that last night. He kept coming over when I was packing, pleading with me and telling me how much he loved me. We'd have sex, the best part of our relationship, but I knew I needed some time before giving him another chance. My dade came to the apartment to help me move furniture and the last of my things, and the now ex-boyfriend came in. He cornered me in the spare bedroom. He affected big puppy-dog eyes and said, " I know I should have done this sooner. Will you marry me?" I lost it, and started yelling that yes, he should have, and now was the shittiest time he could have picked to propose. I threw a wire shoe rack at his head for added emphasis. My dad and I left, and played break-up songs on the drive home. He told me he was proud of me, even for the shoe rack thing. He said I was truly my mother's daughter.

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The ex and I texted a couple more times, but we cut off contact when we'd planned to spend the day together and he texted me at 6 p.m., saying he was about to make the hour drive to my house. I texted back to not bother, and went to have sex with someone else.

In the following months I came to realize what really had happened to me, but I only told my sister about what had truly transpired. I started dating again, and met Mr. Waffle. We clicked instantly, and I'd never met anybody so genuinely interested in me. We were an instant couple, but two weeks in he had to leave for a road trip he'd been planning. He called every night, texted to let me know where he was. One day he called and I just could not talk. I was distracted, sad. I had no idea why until my sister pointed out the date: October 5. The sixth anniversary of the abortion. I'd always gotten sad around that date, but the events of the past year culminated in an 18-wheeler of emotion that slammed into me and dragged me down the freeway. I called Mr. Waffle back. I apologized for the earlier conversation, and I told him everything. All of it. I sobbed and he listened, and he assured me everything was okay. I broke a six-year silence to find that somebody was willing to listen. He would be back in a few days, and he could hardly wait to see me. I was thrilled that after a conversation that intense, he'd still want to be around me.

One year later, on October 4, we were married. I no longer cry on October 5.

I never have regretted the abortion. With everything that happened to it, I am glad that I don't have a link to the person who would become my rapist, my abuser. I was too blind to see the gaslighting, and I was too willing to excuse the assault. I've often wondered why he admitted assaulting me—was he stupid, or evil? The only answer I can settle on is 'yes.'

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And so, several years later, I joined Groupthink and found a group of people, some with similar stories, some with stories much worse, and I know that I have to fight for these people, to make sure that we're all treated as humans and equals. I have found my feminist voice, and I intend to use it, because if we don't make noise, and we don't fight for equality in all forms, it will become unimportant and we'll lose our rights all over again. That's not a chance any of us can afford to take.

Thank you for reading.