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Authentic Eagles: Samantha Costanza On Reclaiming Yourself

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Samantha Costanza, MCAS '16

I like to explain the contents of my mind as a checklist of different boxes. The boxes come in various sizes and levels of importance, but like a puzzle, each box must be filled if a true sense of order and happiness is to be reached. If a box is left empty, I am consumed by the feeling that something is off-balance, and I work tirelessly to make sure that it gets filled by something or someone.

The summer after my freshman year at BC, my high school boyfriend and I tearfully, yet amicably, decided to end our long-distance relationship. My box that had been nicely kept full for the past year and a half was suddenly turned upside down and its contents scattered. Along with the loss of my sense of security came a fear of dating in college. Was this the period when I was supposed to “find myself” and explore my options? Or should I look for another steady relationship immediately because I’m secretly terrified of fleeting hookups? All I knew was that I suddenly felt less attractive, less desirable, and ultimately less secure. I needed to refill the newly vacant box as soon as possible.

A hookup or two came and went with the classic feelings of momentary validation and then immediate emptiness. I decided the letdown wasn’t so bad because hookups meant I was doing something right, right? I was someone other people found appealing, even if just for one night in a sweaty mod, and when that feeling was gone, I felt dejected and craved reassurance.

One night in November of my sophomore year, a friend who lived close to BC threw a small party at her home and invited our roommates and a group of guys we had become close with in the first few months of the semester. It was a comfortable environment. There was no pressure to make small talk with strangers and we could drink freely without worrying about having to catch a bus back to campus before 2 a.m. I could let my hair, my shield, and my guard down. When one of the guys started flirting with me, my roommates and I laughed it off. I assured them I was not into him at all, but I still let his arm linger on my shoulder just a little too long. Even if I wasn’t interested, it made me feel more confident to know that he was.

My friends giggled as he made moves towards me that were a little too overt and definitely not smooth. I laid down on the layer of sleeping bags and blankets we had prepared on the living room floor. Feeling silly, intoxicated, and sleepy, I reached for my roommates to cuddle, but instead was gently pulled back into a different embrace. I quickly evaluated my options: sure I wasn’t particularly interested in him, but here were a pair of arms around me and a mouth I could kiss if I felt like it. Good enough, I thought, and we messily began making out.

When things began to progress, he asked me a question. My answer was no. He asked again. I replied that it made me feel funny that he didn’t have a condom. There was an excuse or an answer that I can’t remember. There was a sharp movement that I can remember. There was one more mumbled protest. There was uncertainty. Then blackness.

I woke up at 4 a.m. with the panicked feeling that something felt physically off within my body. My legs trembled as I stood up in the pitch dark and felt my way up the stairs in search of a bathroom. It was both an emotional and physical sensation that something was there a few hours earlier that did not belong. I sat in the bathroom for what felt like an eternity, placing my feet on and off the sensors on the scale and picking at my chipping nail polish. When I finally looked at myself in the mirror, I instantly began to cry. I cried angry tears at the girl staring back at me. Chastising her for letting it happen. Embarrassed that she couldn’t remember what she had said. If she had said anything definitive at all.

The next few days were impossibly tense. He begged mutual friends for my phone number and kept requesting a talk I refused to grant him. I had no desire to listen to his words, his ignorance, or his inability to understand what had been taken from me. I was angry. I was terrified. After a few days, I allowed him one chance to speak to me after he heard how upset I was from our other friends. I acknowledged and appreciated the apology for making me uncomfortable. I did not appreciate the comment that followed: “But you initiated at first, so I figured that was what you wanted.”

Suddenly, it became my burden. I had too many new questions and no idea how to process my shame and guilt. How could I help but blame myself? Blame my lowered standards and desperate need for validation. Blame my fear of confrontation or the way confusion and hesitance choked my words on their way from my brain to my throat. Had I really been the one to initiate intimacy? And if so, he must be right. There’s no way to explain this to my friends or family because it was my own fault. I know now that this was wrong, but in that moment, it was the only truth that made sense. If I wasn’t so concerned with filling my mental box, I could have closed the lid and locked it tight to protect it for just a night.

My healing came in the form of direct confrontation. I never really had time to sit and process my feelings on my own, but instead was drawn to a flyer in the O’Neill stairwell featuring a confident female silhouette and a giant red letter V only a few days later. I auditioned for The Vagina Monologues that very same afternoon with no preparation, no information, and no idea what I was getting myself into.  

The play itself was a shocking exploration of my boundaries and an exciting tug on the corners of my comfort zone. I felt exhilarated screaming BC-related nicknames for our “down-theres” and hearing the audience howl with laughter. But the performance aspect was a mere cherry on top of the whole experience compared to the way I felt in rehearsals. No one needed to know each other’s story, yet there was an unspoken, unbreakable knowledge that we each had our own personal reason for being there, be it sad, happy, deep, or simply adventurous. We shared our highs and our lows (or rather our “orgasmics” and “f***ed ups”) and we cared more intensely and intimately for this new group of strangers than we may ever have had the chance to do with our closest friends.

By no means was this an immediate flip of a switch. For three years, I still could not put a name on what happened to me. Every label felt too harsh, too scary, or potentially not accurate. When my Bystander Education training taught me the true definition of consent, more pieces began to click into place. The first time I let the big “R” leave my mouth was in a room full of new faces on my Kairos retreat just two months ago. I was frightened the second I heard it reverberate off the walls, but I also felt a sudden, unfamiliar wave of alleviation.

There’s no single event, play, or hug that can return the feeling of something lost within you. But eventually I realized I had been looking at my experiences through the wrong lens. At first, I was just another story, another body, another sad college statistic at which to shake a disappointed head and wish could have somehow been prevented. I did not know who I really was. The Vagina Monologues taught me I was a feminist—something I had never even thought to explore. I learned that I was a good listener and a comforting presence to others even in times when I didn’t know if I could comfort myself. Most surprisingly, yet by far most importantly, I learned that I was strong.

In our pre-show circle, the cast dedicates the opening show to someone they love. I was first to speak in the circle that night two years ago and quickly blurted out a dedication to my best friend, yet I knew deep down that was not my true choice. After everyone finished their speeches, I interrupted and requested an addendum to my dedication in order to include the person who I knew deserved it most: myself. My next two opening nights as assistant director and eventually director of the show, and every single night of my life since that night, I have dedicated to myself. I’ll call her my new self. This self forgives, perseveres, and grows exponentially with every experience she encounters, especially the difficult ones.

There are nights when I still feel like no one will ever know the thoughts that have built and continue to build and cycle in my mind since that night. There are days when I am eternally grateful for the support and unconditional love of my friends, family, and eternally bonded “Vagina sisters.” I am terrified there’s a chance he could be reading this piece right now, stunned to learn that I feel this way about an experience he has likely forgotten. However, I know it doesn’t matter because this story is not about him, nor has it ever been. This is my story, and I am the damsel, the sidekick, and the hero. The boxes in my mind are still there, begging to be filled, but now I know that the only person who fits perfectly into each is, and always has been, me.