This story is based on my personal experiences. It includes content about sexual harassment.
I woke up mid panic attack this morning. Drenched in sweat, heart pounding, brain trying to catch up. I think I was dreaming about you.
I struggle to place myself. I am not home, but it is light here. It is snowing outside, it falls thick and slow, the ground white like these crumpled sheets. I heave myself up to watch the snow.
Slowly, my mind connects me to where I am. This hotel room, the city of Tromso, the Arctic Circle.
Today is not a day to have panic attacks, it is not a day for you. I am here with hope in my bones; we are going to chase the northern lights. For a little while, I forgot how to look forward to things; today I am excited again.
I breathe, long and deep, I count the things I can see, hear, feel, sitting here in this hotel room. I try to bring myself back to me.
It has been a year since I reported you for sexual harassment.
You and I met when we were students. We volunteered for a society that ran in Universities across the world, bringing together young, hopeful people who wanted to solve big problems.
When we graduated, we bonded through being a part of this organisation that felt like family. We were tied together by mutual friends and memories made somewhere in between tequila shots at house parties and summer evenings on the Southbank.
I went on to work for this organisation, my first job out of University. Full of ambition and aspiration, I was everyone’s go to girl, and come to me they did.
The first few acknowledgements of your inappropriate behaviour didn’t quite land on me. I was uncomfortable, but unequipped. Slowly, we started talking about it; there was more of us living out different versions of the same story, more of us that knew what you were doing wasn’t ok.
Explicit messages, unwanted comments, escalations. Slowly but surely, steadily mounting over several years. Your behaviour was methodical, measured, finding those who were vulnerable. You layered your unreciprocated wants with compliments, in-jokes, hazy nights out, promises of forever friendships.
We stand around the table with our glasses of wine. It is New Year’s Eve and we are at a friend’s house in the countryside. The topic of you comes up.
You were not invited. Your closest friends are here and you are not, because we have acknowledged out loud that what you have been doing is not ok.
I was 40 minutes late to work the day the New Yorker article about Harvey Weinstein was published, I read it twice over, unable to get out of bed that morning. I needed to hear the stories of those women, to read about what he had been doing, in order to know that what you had been doing was also not ok.
We have been drinking, and we have been discussing you. It gets heated. Somebody has said we need to confront you, somebody has said we need evidence, somebody has said the boys should deal with this.
Nobody knows what we do next, but in my heart of hearts, I know it will be me that does it.
It gets closer to midnight, we drop the topic of you and gather our glasses. The countdown is on, we hold on to each other and sing auld lang syne. Drunken, happy, light. Just for a moment.
Shortly after that, I confront you.
It is -14 degrees outside, somewhere in between midnight and dawn, somewhere in between Norway and Finland. We have been driving for miles, and as the road disappears beneath us, I think about the distance I crossed to get to you.
After that New Year’s Eve, you and I sat down to talk. You arrived in the reception of my workplace and my stomach sank. I felt every thud of my heartbeat as we walked to the meeting room.
I explained how we got here, I went over what you did and why it wasn’t ok, how you had made me and many others feel. I travelled from why and when to where and how, and eventually I reached you. The journey left me exhausted.
You acknowledged, you apologised, you explained too. We discussed what comes next, how we carry on from here. After you leave, I email the CEO of the organisation we met through. It is an uphill battle, but you are asked to step down from the organisation.
The car slows. We have parked in the clearing of a forest. I look up through the trees, I am surrounded by snow and sky. I am small in the vastness of these woods.
Hours from where I started, I am here now, looking for the Northern Lights. The bonfire cackles in the background, I sit down to roast sausages, I wait.
As I watch the flames lick and flick, I think about what this past year has done to my friendships. You were a filter for me, through dealing with you, I found the ones worth holding on to.
In the end, we all made excuses. I don’t want to damage his life said one friend, another told me how you’d be their best man when they get married, another stayed clear of the subject because you worked in the same network. I let all of these people go.
I could have spent my whole life explaining that a sexual harasser is a sexual harasser, regardless of whether or not they’re your friend, colleague or future best man. These excuses though, they only exist to protect you and exhaust me.
Through it, I also saw the people who carried me when the weight of you was too much, the ones that held my hand during the darkness, the ones who drew the line in between me and you. These, I decided, these are my people.
There is something about the vastness of the sky tonight. It is big, dark, open and empty. It tells me that it is time.
The sky and I, we slowly start turning. In this air, I can breathe again. And as I do, I finally begin to let go of you.
Across the thick blackness, appear steady specks of bright white light. Slowly, and then all at once, the sky is filled with their brightness. This light, it builds and builds, until the auroras appear.
The sky is taken over by greens, pinks, purples, all playing together, here to take the centre stage. The Northern Lights dance above me, the entire sky is theirs. I stand and stare.
The colours fill the sky, and as they move, I begin to believe in magic again. I breathe, long and deep. I count the things I can see, hear, feel, standing here in these Norwegian woods. I am in awe, in awe of this sky that brings me back to me.
I look up and remember the world is so, so much bigger than I ever knew, much bigger than me. Most of all, I realise, it is infinitely bigger than you.
As previously mentioned, this story is based on my personal experiences. If you have experienced or are going through something similar, here are some resources that helped me:
- Spark and Co. Resource Directory can signpost you to support services based on your needs
- Bloom is a free, web-based support service run by Chayn (designed for anyone who is currently experiencing or has experienced domestic and sexual abuse)
- NHS Help after rape and sexual assault
- The Survivors Trust
- 14 Women share their #1 coping mechanism after sexual assault
- How to help a friend who has been sexually assaulted
- From Aggressive Overtues to Sexual Assault – Harvey Weinstein’s accusers tell their stories
- Chanel Miller’s statement in the case against Brock Turner
- These articles contain mention of sexual assault and harassment
- Sexual Consent Training: if you’re advocating for change or looking for training in this space, drop me a note on email@example.com - I'd be happy to share a collection of resources on this.