Last year when my daughter told me that her college friend had been raped, I grieved for a young woman I did not know. When I received a message today that Mary Beth Griggs had written an article about her experience, I will admit that I did not want to read about it. It seemed too sad, too tragic, but I felt that if she had the courage to write it, I had an obligation to read it. Mary Beth deserves to have her voice heard, as do so many others who do not have the strength to speak out. Hers is a story not only of violation and tragedy, but also of triumph, survival, and hope. I am honored that she has allowed me to reprint her story here. The following words are hers:
a year ago today.
MARY BETH GRIGGS·TUESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2017
cw: sexual assault
Filled with fear that ran so deep I couldn’t think even if I wanted to.
Fluorescent hospital lights blinded me at 5 in the morning. People were buzzing all around me, drawing blood from my veins, stroking my hair, clamping monitors onto my fingertips, wiping away tears I was unaware were falling from my eyes. I was surrounded by people, some of whom loved me dearly, some of whom were just doing their jobs, all of whom contributed to the surrounding chaos. I had never had that much emergent attention in my life, yet the feeling of being alone overtook me.
I kept hearing the nurses say, “I am so sorry this happened to you, this was not your fault.” It was a phrase that came so easily from their lips that I was certain they had spoken it to countless other victims. Victims, plural. There are many of us, more than you will ever be able to fathom. I had now joined them; we are the ones who could have never seen this coming. My new subidentity was unexpectedly forced upon me, and I felt more vulnerable than ever before.
I was completely naked underneath a scratchy hospital gown that tied at the neck. All of my clothes had been stripped off of me and thrown carelessly into a brown paper bag. The police took my favorite sweater and my fleece lined leggings; they took my warmest wool socks and my brown boots. They took my undergarments and made sure they were securely sealed in an evidence bag. They took pictures of my body and all of my freshly formed bruises and abrasions. They took what little was left of my energy through interrogation; asking an endless stream of the same questions over and over again to check for inconsistencies in my story.
The nurses took four and a half hours to complete an exhausting and invasive examination. They took away the comfort, (for lack of a better word, because this procedure is not at all comfortable), of lubrication during the internal speculum part of the testing. They took pictures of the bruises on my thighs, on my breasts, and on my cervix. They took a black light to my body in order to search for leftover emissions from my three rapists. They took more swabs, inside and outside. They took more blood. They took my DNA by ripping clumps of hair out of my head from the root, for the rape kit that would never be tested, sitting alongside thousands of other untested kits in North Carolina alone.
My rapists took my dignity. My rapists took my sense of self. My rapists took me and claimed me as their own, just to throw me away after they were through with me. My rapists turned my body, where the essence of my very being resides, into a crime scene. My rapists left their handprints all over my skin, marking everywhere they traveled with a trail of bruises that meandered both inside and outside of me. My rapists took my happiness, they took my motivation. My rapists took away my ability to function on a basic level.
For months, I could not sleep. For months, my roommate and friends had to make me eat. For months, I could not bring myself to put two feet on the floor in the morning. For months, all I thought about when I closed my eyes was the way Isaac touched me at the house. The way David offered to “walk me home.” The way Floyd carried me, nearly passed out, across the threshold of Room 122 in Newland Hall. For months, I unwillingly relived every detail I remembered. I could hear their coercive voices, feel their rough unwelcome touches, see flashes of the horrific things they did to me. For months, all I could do was weep and mourn over all the things they took from me, and all the terror they left me with. I have learned over the years to rest in the Lord during times of grief, but this level of extreme stress and exhaustion zapped me of the energy to reach for the Bible sitting right next to my bed.
I quickly grew to question His plan and to doubt His goodness, the very One who chose to rescue me from the pits of despair before my ancestors were even alive. How could something like this happen to me? I never thought a kind and loving God would ever bestow this pain, this utter grief, upon me.
But even in my doubt, His mercy carried me through.
Though I was living unfaithfully, His grace abounded all the more. Though I felt worthless, He called me worthy. He reminded me of His sacrificial love in the little ways. He was patient with me, He lavished kindnesses upon me. He didn’t give up on my resentful heart. Our God is a God who meets us where we are.
For everything they took from me, He gave me far better things. He was merciful to me by giving me a best friend and advocate to walk alongside me, to grieve with me, to pray for me when I couldn’t find the words. He gave me a roommate that cared for me in the way a loving mother would when her child is sick. He gave me floormates who cared about my mental health, who held me outside in the snow amidst a breakdown, who I could call on in the middle of the night to talk to.
During the trial at App in July, He gave me the strength to continue on with the long, drawn out process of seeking justice. He gave me people who were willing to sit beside me and hold my hands as I sobbed in front of the hearing officer. He gave me a friend who rode with me to Boone just so I wouldn’t have to make the drive alone. Our God is a just God, and all three men were found guilty to some extent.
And looking back on all of this, having somehow made it to a year later, I can see how the pieces of God’s plan have begun to come together for my good. It was a terrible thing that happened to me, but I wouldn’t change it. If I did, I would not be the strong woman I am today. I would not be this resilient. I would not have a passion to fight for justice.
I wouldn’t have grown close to my best friend and sister in Christ. I wouldn’t have had the utter joy of loving on and taking care of the cutest two-year-old girl ever during my year off. I wouldn’t have been this close to my sister during her first year of high school. I wouldn’t have been around to experience my little brother’s voice change. I wouldn’t have ever struck up a conversation with the love of my life; we wouldn’t be in a beautiful committed relationship. I wouldn’t have been able to forgive the way I have learned to forgive.
But, above all, if my life hadn’t ended up this way, I would not be able to use my platform for the glory of God. I would not have a voice of advocacy. I would not be able to tell other survivors that they are not alone. That they are not victims, that in Christ, they are victors.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecc. 3:1,4
I have spent a year weeping. I have spent a year grieving. I have spent a year in mourning. But now, now is my time for laughter. Now is my time for dancing. Now is my time for rejoicing, because the Lord has kept me in His hand even though I couldn’t see His purpose. He has upheld the righteous. He has sustained me. He has kept His promises.
He always has, and He always will, even to the end of the age.