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September 24, 2019 | by  | in Features Splash | [ssba]

Skeletons In Your Closet

CW: Sexual Assault, Spiked Substances


Dusk possesses an indiscernible allure. Wallflowers transform into live wires—like werewolves, except with more charm and less fur. It’s then that I see my firecracker of a friend let loose, hair down, volume up. She calls it liberation. Light means scrutiny. At night, no one can see how large your pores are or how dirty your hair is. No dance move is too cringe, no laugh is too loud. We’re free to be our most authentic selves. But what happens in the dark, stays in the dark. You can bury your skeletons in the satin black, tuck them away for safekeeping. There are some parts of us that aren’t meant for the light of day, a fact which fucks with me.


That’s my burden: the curse of the sober mum friend. I carry the light into the dark, like a torch that ruins other people’s night vision. And what I witness stays with me—the good, the bad, and the haunting. When you’re a critical observer with a formidable memory, it’s frustrating to be surrounded by peers who would rather talk about their inflating student loans than recall what they did when they were hammered. 


On a superficial level, there’s the agony of hooking up with an acquaintance in town who is both too attractive and too out-of-it for their own good. Waking up the next day, remembering the crowd of mutual friends that gathered around you, spectators cheering for their favorite sport. Not knowing if your teammate themselves holds any recollection. 


Post-hookup culture is a hypocritical phenomenon: Leading up to the main event, all manner of people will congregate to fill you up with liquid courage, and you’ll be egged on with a socially acceptable level of peer pressure. But once the deed is done, no one wants to talk about it. We tell people to live truthfully—but no, not like that. Knowing smiles are passed around the next morning like backhanded compliments. They know what you did, but are you brave enough to call them out on it? The pressure is on to be low-key, leaving you with a million afterthoughts and no audience. 


Yet the reluctance to discuss the happenings of a night gone by pose more than just superficial threats. What we do in the shadows isn’t meant to carry over to the next morning, especially when those conversations don’t go down easily over a Sunday brunch. It’s like a switch is flicked on our morals and ethical responsibilities all but go out the window. This oath of silence we’ve all nonconsensually taken is what gives perpetrators a free pass. 


On an afternoon bubble tea run with mates, the chit-chat starts fizzling out, so I dubiously offer up the question, “What’s the scariest thing that happens at night but isn’t talked about during the day?” It’s stark, out of the blue and potentially triggering. I hear a sharp inhale. 


We get to the counter and one friend ponders my question and her order at the same time. 

“Sexual assault,” she declares.

Trading war stories, it’s clear the most dangerous perpetrators are the ones who appear harmless for the most part.


We talk about how we only felt safe with him in the presence of a crowd. How he knew I hadn’t realised that someone could look at us without really seeing us. How if a single person had interjected and told her to run for the hills, she would have. One person who risked overstepping their boundaries by speaking up, instead of risking our safety. Maybe then, he wouldn’t have got away with it.

After the sun sets, no one knows what the bad guy looks like and the only thing worse than not knowing is knowing. What if it’s your best mate? How do you cut someone important out of your life for something they don’t even remember doing? The rhetorical questions are endless because no one wants to imagine themselves in a scenario where they would be forced to answer them. 


Another friend shakes his taro milk tea in contemplation, speaking from experience at parties. “It’s hard to place your anger on a part of someone who only comes out in certain situations.” He confesses he had to rethink every memory he had of his friend, asking himself if he missed the warning signs. 


“It’s easier to compartmentalise.” Wishing to end that line of discussion, he moves on. “Being drugged is probably the scariest. It’s as easy as dropping in a pill while you walk past your victim. Alarming success rates with no accountability.”


It hurts me that our young men are getting roofied and no one is talking about it. Spilled over a cup of coffee, overheard in the hallways, confessed on a bubble tea run, I’ve heard the stories so often they’re getting predictable: An unprotected drink, an assumption that he’s just wasted, a toilet bowl full of vomit, followed by all the other symptoms of being drugged. There’s shame involved—stereotypically, women are the ones to have their alcohol spiked. It’s this idea that a bolstering 20-something bloke could be reduced to nothing by someone half their size in a matter of seconds. Bro culture would rather have us rejoice to a wild night on the town than acknowledge that men aren’t exempt from violation. 


We’re stuck in that canteen scene from High School Musical, the one where outcasts are chastised for daring to admit that when it comes to people, the truth is not all that meets the eye. The message is clear: stick to the status quo. Keep your mouth shut, or lose your seat at the cool kids’ table. 


But our lives aren’t harmfully stereotypical, grossly American-ised movies. I’m not too cool for the truth, and neither are you. If you see me the morning after, have the decency to make eye contact. If we continue treating simple issues with shame, we’ll never be able to make room for difficult but necessary conversation. 


It’s that much easier to get away with something when you know that silence is the norm. I used to dream of being able to lie in a park and watch the stars, comfortable in my loneliness. Now I’m terrified of the night, and being in the company of others invites danger and not comfort. If shit goes down, we need to talk about it. 


If we can only find liberation when we are stumbling around in the dark, that raises a flag too red to ignore. Authenticity shouldn’t become synonymous with alcohol. Try challenging the toxic social norms which dictate when you are and are not free to be your feral, unfiltered self. In the meantime, go get lost in the Botans to find yourself. Switch off all the lights and have a rave in your living room. Keep your friends close and your enemies as far as possible. 


The night is a gift. Use it well. 



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