To see a special video version of Madison’s story, click here.
There’s a certain point of consciousness, where you’re no longer asleep, but you aren’t close to awake yet.
Where your body seems to sink, still, heavy into the mattress. In this unsteady place, my body feels dense; I’m stuck.
A reddish hue pushes into my eyelids, and the light from the window pulls me a little further out of sleep.
I open my eyes slightly, rays of sunlight rest on my face as they light up the room. I lay awake watching the dust settle along the billowing white down comforter. With my fingertips, I can feel a twisted sheet. I’m in a foreign bed.
There’s movement next to me. The haze of the previous evening begins to fade. My head pounds and I can hear nothing but my own heartbeat.
Lying next to me, he smiles at me as if he’s not a stranger. The image of him getting dressed in the morning glow is fuzzy and warping before my eyes; my head pounds.
My eyes are open but my body does not feel like it should. I am frozen, as if my joints don’t remember how to move, as if I cannot shift my weight, like a baby learning to walk. And all at once a rush of pins and needles consumes my body. I have every desire to leave, yet I am still, with my heart between my ears.
He walks around to my side of the bed, and I close my eyes hard. Sick to your stomach hard. He whispers in my ear, kisses my forehead. The kind of kiss someone gives to inspire trust. Comfort. Stability.
He leaves. And I look down. Like a watercolor of rough brush strokes, my blood is spread across the stranger’s white comforter. I fold the sheet over quickly to hide what has happened here. What happened here? Did he see? Does he know? But no matter where I seem to fold the sheet, there are bloody handprints. A rush of fear, anxiety, and embarrassment cloud my eyes and I am frozen once again.
Usually, when you wake from sleep, you still know yourself, you know what your body should feel like.
I have to pee. My mind is aching still as I force my legs to swing over the side of the bed. Just get up and pee, Madison.
I roll the stained sheets aside, tucking them into the edge of the bed in hopes that no one will notice. I walk toward the bathroom, avoiding all mirrors. With each new step, a pain follows, chasing out the last with a newer, sharper moment. I just have to pee.
It’s in my nature to cope, so that’s what I do.
My legs. My knees. My thighs. My groin. My hips. Everything aches and my breathing is slow. Not steady, but slow. “I just have to pee.” I keep telling myself. “Get to the bathroom and pee.”
I can’t sit on the toilet. My legs are too bruised. Too painful. I hover, praying that everything still works properly. A sharp, burning pain consumes me. I’m cut. Everywhere. The stinging blazes through me while my thoughts lose track of themselves and my legs begin to shake.
It happened. What happened? The stories you hear on the news? The stories you don’t? No.
Who’s still here? Paralyzed by fear that I will screech out in pain, I abandoned the whole bathroom situation altogether. Find my clothes. I just need to find my clothes. Find my phone. Find my clothes.
I put on what I have. The dress from last night. All at once, I’m hyper aware of how tight it is, forcing me to press my thighs together. The bruises find each other, every step reopens another cut. I clench my teeth. Be quiet. Get out.
Text someone. Call someone. Who? Do something. Madison, just do something.
My best friend. She slept in another room. She’s in the other room? My cousin. She’ll get me home. She’s asleep on the floor. My cuts burn. The ache seems to shift up and down as I walk.
Get her and go, just go get her and go. Leaving behind the evidence, the bloodied handprints that cover the stranger’s bedroom. The scratch marks. The blood dripping down my legs. The embarrassment. The shame. The confusion. The haze. The loneliness. The morning glow.
We leave in silence. I enter the car in silence. I return home in silence. I shower in silence. Still unable to pee. My cousin drives away and comes back with Plan B. Damage control. But what happened?
My name is Madison Weiss, and I was 16 when I was raped.
It was a Saturday night. There was a house party, and my friends and I were going to have a good time. I didn’t know the “host”, but his parents were out of town, and as many high schoolers do, we took advantage of that fact. There must have been 50 or 60 of us, scattered in just about every room of the house. Some friends, some strangers.
I was always the responsible kid. Parents and teachers knew me as a well-rounded student. My mom and I had a good relationship so she trusted me when I’d ask to go out.
I drank to be social in high school too, enough to know my limits, but I rarely smoked weed in the same setting. This night was an exception.
The combination of the two had me disoriented to say the least. I was, to put it frankly, fucked up. A lot of kids were older than me, and as the baby of the group, I guess I felt the need to prove myself. Little did I know I was sedating myself beyond control.
Trust is a funny thing. I don’t think you realize how powerful it is until it’s taken from you. So unknowingly, I gave it away. Innocently, I let everyone have it. Ignorantly thinking that everyone deserves it until proven otherwise. That night. I was proven otherwise.
I had no reason to mistrust my friends and classmates, I trusted them completely. I trusted myself completely. I was trusted completely. I believed I was safe. In a crowd of people who’d grown up together.
It’s been 5 years since that night. My story, my truth has never been shared, never been written down, never been told, until now. So here I am, unable to let go of even the smallest element of the worst night of my life. Like a book I’m forced to re-read, or a horror movie I can’t turn off, I’m condemned to recall and replay every detail.
I was trying to get away when he jammed his fingers into me and dug his thumb into my pelvic bone, dragging me back across the bed as I clawed for escape; the sheets sliding under my fingers. When I finally got a grip on the edge of the bed to pull myself away, I felt his cold boney fingers wrap around my ankle, and he yanked me back towards him. Confusion and pain. Vigorously raped by his fingers over and over and over again. His dirt-covered, unmanicured fingernails, scraping off layer after layer of skin. As I started to bleed, it started to burn. My head slammed against the headboard, his hand on the back of my neck, forcing me down, repeatedly asking, “Do you like that?”
Then the transition from his rough, stained fingers to his raw, uncovered penis. His only words, “It’ll be fine, it’s better this way.”
I remember struggling to breathe through the feather pillows. I tossed and turned, rotating my hips from one side to the other, trying shake him off me. You know those dreams, the scariest ones… the ones where you scream but nothing comes out? That was my reality.
Fighting wasn’t working, so I gave in. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I gave him what he wanted, he would stop. If I began to fake it, if I tried to believe I was okay, maybe the pain would stop.
I remember that moment. The one when he slid into me. I remember the exact moment because to me, the rest didn’t matter. I felt life draining slowly out of me, like a trickle from the end of my fingertips. It didn’t matter how much longer it would last or how much pain I was in. The moment he entered me was the moment I was defeated. I was not a virgin, but in that moment I lost my innocence. In that moment I became a victim. A victim. A word that felt so toxic it’s remained hidden for 5 years. And so the decision was made for me, to keep secrets, to put up walls and trust barriers. Sex, a previously enjoyable experience, was now haunted.
I woke when the morning light seeped onto my face. My vagina was pulsing; echoing the rhythm of my heartbeat. I reached down to pull the sides of my vagina together, trying to close the cuts and stop the bleeding, pause the pain. And I laid there, trapped in bloodied sheets, with no recollection of how I got in that position. I did not cry.
Where were my friends? Anyone? In a house with dozens of people, how did I end up so terrified and so alone? Fighting moment to moment to keep his hands off me and out of me; enduring his weight, his strength, his force. Where was my best friend as I was crawling, grasping at the edge of the bed trying to pull myself away? Where were the people I came with when I was watching myself give up? Let go? Like looking through the window of an exhibit in some of out-of-body experience.
Where was I, when I released all muscle function in surrender, letting him finish what he had started? Where was I, when I needed me most? Where was I, when I froze and let the light fade from my eyes.
In a stranger’s bed. The same stranger who cornered me at school the following Monday just so that he could tell me how much of an inconvenience it was for him to wash the blood off of his sheets. How many times it took to wash the blood off his sheets. How I owed him for washing my blood off of his sheets. Did he know how many times I tried to wash the night off of my body, his house off my body? How many times I scrubbed and scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed until my skin turned raw. Raw like the cuts on my body. Raw like the way I was penetrated. Was he aware of the nights I spent curled on the floor of my shower, letting the water burn my skin and run over my eyes, my hair being pulled toward the drain? Of the STD tests I had taken to make sure I was okay, to make sure I could have children? Did he know about the months I went unable to be touched? Of the series of troubled decisions I made as a result of my distrust in men? Did he know? Did he ask?
I wager he’s out there right now, still conveniently suppressing what he did that night. Spinning it so effortlessly, “She wanted it.” Perhaps recalling his grand conquest with some pitiful fondness. I wonder, does he recount to his friends how he confronted me the following Monday, demanding that I reimburse him for ruining his sheets with my blood? Does he think it’s funny, or is he mad that I never paid him?
He shattered my innocence. My peace of mind. A piece of my mind.
This is my truth. It’s five years later. And I choose now to share. I know you’re going to ask me why it took so long to share my story. I guess all I can say to you is that for five years, I’ve been frozen. Slowly defrosting, waiting for someone or something to do better by me. But I realize now that it’s not about what has been done to me or for me, but about how I can do better by others.
I was introduced to Ulzi my junior year of college and about a year after being dedicated to its mission, this community has inspired me to share no matter how my story may be received, or how I will be judged.
My goal is not only to share my experience, that it may help others as I have been helped, but to be part of a solution that seeks to provide protection for all of us in the form of community.
It has always been in my nature to cope. But no longer do I have to just cope. I can live and thrive and heal and be part of this revolution. A revolution that is changing lives, as it has changed mine. Because if my story can change one, inspire one, or help just one, I will have done right by that Saturday night. By sharing my story, and to be part of a bigger solution for all, I will have done right by myself.
I am no longer frozen. This is my story. And like most stories in life, I know that there is more than one version. So here I am opening the door for conversation. To speak freely without guilt or shame. To keep an open mind so we are able to learn together and grow as a society.
My name is Madison Weiss and I stand as a survivor, a storyteller, and a proud member of the Ulzi community.
To see a special video version of Madison’s story, click here.