I felt sweaty and suffocated. I pushed desperately through the crowds of people, looking for an exit. My feet felt like they had lead weights tied to them and I could barely move.
Why were there so many people here? Why couldn't someone just let me leave? I shouted out to the people surrounding me, but it was like I was invisible. It was like my voice was muted and no one was even paying attention. I felt like I was just drowning in the sea of people and all I wanted to do was scream.
I found a door, finally, and moved towards it. But, as soon as I saw it, someone grabbed my arm and pulled me back and I screamed louder.
"Let go of me!" I cried, ripping my arm away, only to be grabbed by another pair of hands. I screamed again, ducking beneath the crowd in attempt to evade my attackers. But then there was more grabbing and more touching and I felt like everyone in the room was trying to pull me in opposite directions. Every time someone touched me I felt like I had gotten burned.
I let out a strangled sob as my brain spun, trying to figure out what to do. I yelled out over and over again, trying to find help. Why didn't anyone want to help me?
'Kellin!' the people yelled. Yelling back at me just made it worse. I didn't want to be touched, I didn't want to be yelled out I-
"Kellin, wake up!"
I awoke with a start, sitting up and breathing heavily. I felt my own body all over, just to make sure my clothes were still on, and that I wasn't hurt. Everything seemed to be in place, but I still felt horribly shaken up.
"Kellin, what's wrong?" Justin asked from my bedside. I gasped and scooted back so that I was against the wall. Why was he talking to me? Why was he watching me while I was sleeping? Was I even sleeping?
"Don't touch me!" I choked, still trying to catch my breath, as I tried to ground myself in reality. It was harder than it seemed.
"I'm not going to, I promise," he said, putting his hands up in defense. He kept his voice soft and even. "You were screaming in your sleep."
"No I wasn't," I said, defensively. I didn't want to admit that I was having a nightmare. That would just be embarrassing.
"Kells . . . are you sure you're okay? You're starting to scare me," he said, looking at me as if he'd seen a ghost. I sure as hell felt like a ghost.
"I'm fine," I insisted, trying to relax. I shook my head quickly trying to get him off my back. "I'm just going to go back to bed."
Justin stared at me long and hard before finally sighing and going back to his own bed. I waited for him to get in and roll over before I lowered myself back down and pulled the covers over me. I didn't really sleep, though. I kind of just lay there with my eyes closed until I had to get up for class.
Another project in art class meant another day of staring aimlessly at a blank canvas. I let out a long sigh, picking up my pencil multiple times, but never actually making any marks on it. This was absolutely painful. I tried to rack my brain for ideas but it was useless- how did I even do this before? How did I even just attack a canvas head-on?
By the end of the block, I still didn't have anything down, so I just stood up to leave. I was almost to the door when Alex stopped me. I sighed.
"Kellin," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. I jumped and spun around. He looked freaked out, as if he didn't realize I'd jump so hard. It was just the hands and the touching - I was embarrassed to even admit to myself that it made me uncomfortable.
"I have to go to class, and I'll have to run because I don't have my bike and-" I said, quickly trying to explain myself so I could leave. Alex meant well, and he wanted to talk and I just-
"Kellin, I will literally hand-write you a note for your professor or whatever you need if he's really that pressed about attendance." I bit my lip and shifted uncomfortably as the last few students shuffled out of the room. We were alone again and I had nowhere to hide.
"Why do you need me to stay?" I asked, in a small voice.
"I'm worried about you," he said. I averted my gaze, fixating on the floor beneath me. I felt like I had been hearing that a lot lately. Even my mom said she was worried because I 'didn't sound like myself.' I assured her it was just because school was stressful. I mean, it wasn't a total lie.
"You shouldn't," I mumbled, still without eye contact.
"But yet I am. Ever since the first day of class you've stood out to me as a very bright, vivacious individual," he explained. I shifted my weight between my feet, looking down at the floor. "And you're one hell of a talented artist."
I didn't say anything.
"And now . . . lately every time I see you . . .you're not turning in projects on time. And when you do . . . these charcoal still-lifes are great, but they aren't the colorful Kellin Quinn originals I'm used to," he explained. Honestly just hearing him vocalizing the exact thoughts I had about my work made me want to cry. "You look like you haven't slept in days . . . like you haven't eaten much, either."
"So?" I said, defensively. Was my train wreck of a mental state that obvious? Jesus.
"I just want to know what's going on . . . I want to help you if I can," he explained. "Not even as your TA, but as a friend."
"I don't think you can help me," I said, honestly. I mean, I didn't even know what to do, what made him think he would know what to do? He was just an art teacher. "I'm sorry."
"At least let me try?" he asked, giving me a sad smile. I shrugged. "Look, let me buy you coffee or something."
"I have a boyfriend," I blurted out, backing away instinctively. I bit the inside of my cheek, hating myself for doing that. Dammit. I just couldn't help the defensiveness.
"Relax, it's just coffee," Alex said, smiling as he studied me for a moment. His smile faded slowly. "Or we can just go to my office if you'd be more comfortable with that."
I nodded, and then waited for him to gather up his things before following him out of the classroom. His office was on the second floor of the art building. Unlike most TAs he actually had some of his own space, but instead of going there he lead me to one of the conference rooms down the hall.
"Don't worry, just so you can talk without interruption," he offered. I guess that was considerate of him. He closed the door behind us, so that no one would disturb us or listen in on our conversation.
I sat down in one of the chairs as he sat next to me. I felt so uncomfortable. I knew Alex was a nice guy, but the thing was I just didn't know if I could actually bring myself to tell him what was actually going on.
"So what's getting you, Kellin?" he asked. I shrugged.
"I mean . . . I guess I'm sad because my boyfriend left campus," I said. That was reason enough to be sad, right? I didn't have to tell him the other stuff. I mean, I actually didn't have to tell him anything. Whatever.
"Why'd he leave?" Alex asked, just out of curiosity. I met his eyes briefly, finding sympathy and kindness in them. That shouldn't have been a surprise to me; I knew Alex was a kind person. I still felt uncomfortable though.
"His brother was in a car accident," I said. I took a deep breath in and then on the exhale it was like everything just came spilling out and I couldn't stop it. "And he got hurt pretty bad and his mom thinks that he needs to watch after Vic and since he can't she pulled him out of school and it's just not fair ."
"Vic's the boyfriend?" he clarified. I nodded. "Why does his brother have to look after him?"
"I mean . . . he really doesn't," I shrugged, then decided to elaborate. "Vic's blind. And his mom sort of treats him like he's a child that can't fend for himself. So he left . . . and I miss him so much."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Alex said, softly. I noticed he was giving me a bit of a suspicious look, as if he didn't quite believe that this was the full reason why I had been acting weird. I fidgeted nervously. I desperately, desperately wanted to be able to tell someone. Besides Vic I really didn't have anyone anymore, and I did want another friend . . .
I opened my mouth to speak, but instead of words, only strangled sobs spilled out of me. Alex looked a bit alarmed, so I laid my head down on the table, shaking as I cried. God, this was so embarrassing. I couldn't help it though. It felt as though no matter how much time passed, I was never going to be able to shake this feeling.
Abandoned. Violated. Alone.
"It was this - he-" I choked, trying to calm myself down enough to speak.
"Shh, it's okay," Alex said, calmly, sending a box of tissues my way just in case I needed them. "N-no it's not," I said, shakily, choking on my own tears. "I - they raped me, Alex."
"Oh my god, Kellin," he said, sounding genuinely shocked to hear what I had to say. I laid my head back down, breaking into another fit of sobs. This time, Alex just let me cry as long as I needed to. He didn't say anything; he just sat there, trying to be supportive.
"Who did that?" Alex asked, once I had calmed down. He didn't sound angry or judging and I was so thankful for that.
"I can't tell you," I said, shaking my head as I sat up again. I reached for the box of tissues. "I don't want them to find out I told anyone and - oh my god, I- I'm just terrified of-"
"No, shh, it's okay, it's okay . . . I won't tell anyone, I promise," he said, evenly. His eyes were wide with worry, and his voice was soft as he tried to calm me down. "You don't have to tell me who did it . . . just promise you'll consider reporting it. Especially if it was another student, they could get expelled."
I bit my lip and nodded slowly, even though I had no plans to do what he was saying. While the thought of Jack and Zack getting expelled was a pleasant one, I just couldn't begin to imagine going through the process of doing that. It would mean telling people - so many people- and it would mean the possibility of the campus finding out I was violated and I just could not accept that.
I wanted it to go away.