I've been to Atlanta several times. It's an amazing city and I've had many wonderful experiences there. But, me and Atlanta have a love-hate relationship. The city is beautiful and has so much to offer, but at the root of my relationship with Atlanta is a really bad memory that I've spent years both erasing and unpacking.
On a trip to Atlanta my freshman year in college, I met up with a guy who I had befriended in Chicago when I was still in high school. By the time I'd graduated, we'd blown past friendship right into a very inappropriate situationship. In pursuit of personal holiness and creating a new life for myself in college, I decided I'd stop talking to him as much. Slowly distance myself from the bonds that were keeping me bound. I figured it'd be easy since we'd probably never live in the same city again. I wanted to make changes around my dating life and getting rid of this guy was the first step.
It was a dangerous relationship-- full of sin and ugliness and hiding. Sure he was a cool person, but he was not the type of person that somebody like me should have been with. He was over 10 years older than me, and he most certainly was not a Christian. My entire relationship with him was built around flirting with sexual sin. We shared virtually no mutual acquaintances, so being with him in secrecy was easy. Chicago is a big city with many places we could go and enjoy one another with no fear of being spotted and questioned. By the time he came into my life, I'd had several brushes with sex (though still technically a virgin) with older men, so I figured I could have a little fun, go to college, and move on. I was turning 18 soon, so I was "grown" anyway.
Moreover, he was a place I could go and be someone else. Someone that I may or may not have wanted to be, and no one would ever find out unless I told them. For a brief moment I liked it that way. Living a double life was full of excitement. I got to go to church and read my bible and even have very deep relationships with brothers and sisters in the faith while flirting with the mirage of self-control and desire. I felt powerful and attractive. I felt like there was nothing in the world I couldn't handle or have. But as He always does, the Holy Spirit got the best of me. Soon after I graduated, I decided that I'd begin a new journey of self. I cut my hair and spent the summer preparing for a new life in Nashville.
I thought I'd been delivered from the foolishness when I got to college. For the first two months, I basically screamed from the rooftops that I had no desire to date anyone seriously and I most definitely wouldn't be out here kissing and God knows what else. Sure I went on a date or two, but there were strict boundaries. It was clear that no matter what. I was only seeking platonic friendship.
But there I was on a December night at my hotel, waiting for this 30-something-year-old man to pick me up. Now I had full intentions on being chaste. I planned to watch a movie, laugh and catch up, and return to my hotel the same way I left. Nothing sexual was on my mind at all. He was aware of this when we got to his place. But as men often do, he began to take the same liberties that he used to have, and after several less-than-forceful no's, I quit protesting and just let it happen.
It was fast. It was rough. It felt out of body. But I never said no after I stopped saying no. And because I had said yes so many times to so many different things before, I think he felt I was saying yes this time as well. Would I call him a rapist? No. Do I see myself as a victim? No. Would I say it was completely consensual? No. There are so many grey areas in that moment. So much I chose-- and still choose-- to forget. So much I still don't understand. All I know is that it changed me forever. That night took me to a place I hope to never return. That night in Atlanta sent me on my first trip to depression. For weeks I considered dropping out of school, afraid of pregnancy. I seriously considered hurting myself. I considered running away. I was anxious and lacked motivation, even for the things I loved. I cried. so. much. I felt stuck in the bottom of a black hole with no way to escape. And while I understood the incident was, probably... somehow... his fault, the feelings that I experienced afterward were my own.
For once, though. I didn't hide. I told my mom the very next day. I told my youth group leaders and my friends within the following two days. They were gentle and understanding. They prayed for me and helped me to realign myself with what was true and beautiful. But instead of finding grace in the mist of repentance, I felt desecrated. I felt as if there was nothing left to live for.
When I was delivered from depression, two months later, God showed me where the root of my pride lied. I was validating myself by my false sense of purity. I was defining myself based on my own expectations instead of the ones that God had not set for me. Do I firmly believe that God desired me to be a virgin until marriage? Absolutely. But did God give me leeway to play a consuming flame and expect not to leave unscathed? Absolutely not. Moreover, did He require my false sense of purity be the crown of my identity? Most certainly not. He alone was what I should have boasted in and the loss of my virginity helped me to see Him more clearly. It helped me to see who I truly am, how weak I am, how depraved I am, and how every single quality that I have that is good comes from Him. I finally understood that it is by no will of my own that I am the woman that I am.
It wouldn't be the last time I battled with depression conceived of my own sin, but that moment in Atlanta redefined what I thought about myself in both good and bad ways. That trip to Atlanta still brings me to tears sometimes. It hinders my sex life with its imagery. It threatens my self-esteem with the ghost of its smell. It haunts me in the versions of myself that I forget exist. I've gone to Atlanta several times since. Created new memories and forged a new relationship with the city. But the woman I created there has been dead for years, and I will never visit her again.