It's 25 years ago. I am sixteen. I think I know what life is all about, I think I know who I am. It's Christmas party season and I eagerly walk to the latest party venue with my friends. We drink cider straight from a 2 litre bottle. Someone adds a half bottle of vodka when the level allows it. We giggle at how daring we are as we swig the amber liquid. How grown up we feel. We have no rules. We are free. We are young and invincible.
Everyone is there. Everyone is drinking. Who is going to tell us not to? My parents don't even now where I am.
Gatecrashers arrive. I know these boys! How cool. They are older than we are. One of them is interested in me. I'm young, I'm tall, I'm slim, I have long dark hair. I'm drunk. I feel sick. He sees his opportunity. "Come out for some fresh air." He feigns concern. I don't see his intentions.
Does he force me? I don't know. I'm confused. I'm not steady on my feet and I'm easy to topple over to the ground. I giggle nervously and try to stand. I am pushed back down. Hard. "Shhh" he says in a forceful way that strikes terror into me. I say nothing. I don't say "No", I don't know how. I don't know what to do. Is this happening? My murmurings of protestation are hushed. No. I don't want this. But he does. I'm helpless. My mind is reeling but my body does not show any signs of resistance. It shows no signs of consent either. I'm passive. Frozen. It's wrong. I lie in the garden and see people's feet stepping around us. Please somebody stop this. I want to go. I don't want to be here. Help me. I don't know how to stop it. He is rough but there is no violence. There is no threat of violence. But there is fear. Fear immobilises me. My head spins. I don't know what to do, so I do nothing. I wait for it to be over.
He's done. He leaves. I stumble to my feet. Dishevelled. Disorientated. I puke. I see the gatecrashers laughing. I know they are laughing at me. They joke. "My turn next." Laughter. I cry. More laughter. Humiliation. Pain.
My wonderful friend, the man who will later become my husband, helps me. He puts me in a taxi. He takes me to his house. I sleep on his mum's sofa. He sleeps in the armchair to make sure I am safe. He stays with me. He doesn't judge me. He doesn't laugh. He doesn't take advantage of my drunkeness, my naivity, my stupidity.
I go home in the morning. I am covered in mud. "Why are you so dirty?" my mum snaps. "Because we lay on the grass, looking up at the stars, holding hands and singing Christmas Carols." I made up this fantasy. Not to get out of trouble. I did it for myself. That's the girl I want to be. But I am not. I am changed. I am affected. But I don't tell anyone. Who would believe me? Did I ask for it? Was this my fault?
I am the girl without the tools I need to cope. I am the girl who doesn't realise that her life is about to spiral out of control.
But it's OK. I survive. I grow up. I learn from my mistakes. I understand about the tools we need in life. I understand because I know I didn't have them. I wish I could go back and teach sixteen year old me what I now know. I wish I could give her the confidence, the self-esteem and the belief that she could be in charge of her own destiny. I wish she had been aware of the pitfalls of being a teenager who believes there are no consequences. There are always consequences.
Years later I make sure my own children have the tools they need to be the best version of themselves that they can be. They do. I am proud.