Schafer: I’m hyperfocusing on… painted nails

Columnist Schafer shares the story of a past relationship in hopes that somebody else might see a reflection of their own situation and feel less alone. After two years, Schafer still struggles with coming to terms with what happened and strives to continue to grow over time.Something that still hits really hard for Schafer is getting to paint her nails. For 16 months, she wasn’t allowed to choose the color of her nails, and being able to do so now feels simultaneously liberating and condemning. If only cured nail polish could undo the past.

Cameryn Schafer

Content warning: This column contains information about relationship abuse and sexual assault.

This column is a part of a series called “I’m hyperfocusing on…”.

This weekend marked a huge milestone for me. Friday was two years ago to the day that I broke up with my ex, let’s call him Louis. I even wrote it down on my dry-erase calendar so I could prepare for the big day. While most people probably don’t keep track of a day like this, I had to make sure that I wasn’t caught off guard by the emotions that bombarded me throughout the day.

From my perspective, my first date with Louis had been perfect. We met at a high school robotics competition in the spring of my junior year of high school, and had been talking nonstop for a few months when he finally made the drive to my hometown. It was a full two and a half hour drive and he even made a stop along the way to buy groceries so he could make breakfast for my family when he got to my house at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. After breakfast, he accompanied my family to church, and afterward I brought him the local park, where I accepted his request to be his girlfriend. Then we went out for ice cream and went driving on the backroads to the neighboring town, where we watched trains zoom by on the tracks. On the way back to my hometown, we pulled over to kiss.

As we continued, I pulled away and set a clear line for what I was comfortable with. I told Louis that we didn’t have to stop, but I wasn’t ready to go any further that day. I don’t even know how much time passed between that statement and the moment I felt the pain, fear and confusion as consensual heavy petting turned into rape. I still remember the song that was playing at that moment through his car’s stereo. I remember what that dress felt like on my skin. Perhaps worst of all, I remember thinking ‘He wouldn’t do this unless I wanted it. He cares about me. I must’ve wanted it and not realized.’ When he’d had enough, three hours had passed. Three hours, and I still only remember bits and pieces.

It took a full 472 days for me to realize what had happened that day, along with everything else that had been going on since then. 472 days that I had to send at least one new explicit photo to keep Louis from throwing a fit about how sharing my body with him was sacred to God. 472 days that I wasn’t allowed to sleep unless it was during school, that I had to hide the painful, deep hickeys and bruises that covered my skin, that I couldn’t even pick the color that I painted my nails. There was a point in time that I believed that I was in love with Louis, that we’d get married and I’d be the mother of his “dynasty” and give up all of my dreams to do everything exactly as he wanted for the rest of my life.

I owe my life to my freshman year Salt Company C-Group. Two years ago, the subject of our Monday night meeting sent me home deep in thought about my relationship. I owe my life to the friends that sat on the phone with me that night as I started to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I owe my life to my high school best friend, who refused to allow me to dump him in person for fear of my safety. I owe my life to every single person that has held me tight while I relived the trauma at one point or another over the course of these two years. And finally, I owe my life to all the other survivors in this brutal world. You’re not alone, and I stand with you.