Happiness, the New Lie
There are those who do not survive the events of their lives. When this happens in the service of one’s country, many people consider those people to be heroes. Heroes are meant to be honored, but what can you do when all that remains is the body of the hero, and not their name, nor any clue as to who they were in life besides the wreckage of their corpse? A common grave is given to those known in war as the “unknown soldiers,” and they are honored not for the sacrifice they gave, but for the sacrifice they represent.
There are unknown survivors, too, and not just of war, but of a sadly innumerable array of atrocities. Odds are you know a survivor. I am a survivor. The only honor most of us ever get is the time we still have left to live.
My friend survived sexual assault recently, and I have spent time trying to comfort her and make sure she is doing alright. As a child, I, too, was sexually assaulted, and, as a friend and a fellow survivor, I want to give her the sort of strength and support I wish I had gotten when it happened to me. As always, it is as reassuring as it is heartbreaking to know that I am not the only one.
“When it happened to me.” In writing this column, I realize my default is to make sexual assault sound like this thing that just happens to unlucky people, like when your dog dies or you come down with the flu. Here’s the thing: It’s not, it’s an outrage every time, and we should stop describing sexual assault in passive and impersonal terms.
You live a comfortable life. Your food is cooked for you. Your halls are swept for you. Your toilet is scrubbed for you. You might even have paid for your laundry to be done for you, and for clean water to be brought to you. You don’t really have to worry about the heating, or the electricity bill, or the Wi-Fi. Admit it, you’ve got it good.
But don’t forget the cooks, the cleaners, the laborers, the drivers, the mechanics, the electricians, the gardeners, the building managers, the security guards, the mail people, and all the other helping hands that make your life so easy. Maybe you’ve been in their shoes at some point in your life, maybe you’ve only had a taste of the lives they lead, or maybe you can’t truly say you’ve ever worked a day in your life — to tell it short, it doesn’t matter.
Listen, we’ve all been there. You’re at a party off-campus, or a bar in the city, or back wherever you call home. You’re probably trawling for your next midnight conquest, so you are striking up conversations with attractive strangers. Maybe you’re interesting, you can hold a conversation, or your go-to method is just to ask more questions than a section kid — whatever the case may be, the words are flowing and you think they might be interested in going home with you tonight.
Then they look at you and say, “So, where do you go to college?”
Hi again. Late last night after a fun time with the boys I decided to go to the dining hall and grab some grub before bed. When I got there, I saw you at one of the tables, your soulless, half-shut eyes illuminated by the white glow of your laptop. It seemed your fingers had a life of their own, furiously hammering out line after line of code, answer after answer for your p-set. I figured I’d see you again in the morning, same table, same ghoulish look on your face, once I returned from my Wednesday morning workout.
Really, I thought very little of you. I live that fitness life, so I always get my eight hours of rest to maximize my gains. You probably sleep eight hours a week if you’re lucky. But, since my heart is just as swole as every other part of my body, I’ll cut you some slack this one time. So, before we get you counting sheep (if you can even understand me through all your sleep-deprived delirium), I’m going to wake you up to some cold hard facts.