Friday, October 20, 2017

Here's why I never told anyone when I got raped #metoo

Me, age 24
Mirriam-Webster.com

Rape: Unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will of the usually female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness or deception.

Under threat of injury…?

Incapable of valid consent…?

Can’t it just be because I didn’t say YES?

I mean, true his hands were forceful, but there was no threat of injury. Yes, there was trickery going on, but I didn’t know at the time that deception was one of the things that might have qualified what happened to me as rape.  And other than the fact that I was really hung-over, I was fully capable of giving valid consent.

 But the thing is, I didn’t give it.  

I might never have written about this if it weren’t for the flurry of rape and sexual assault conversations that started when Harvey Weinstein’s first accuser came forward.  But it was really when Donna Karan was interviewed on the red carpet 13-days ago and posed the question, “Are we asking for it?" that I felt compelled to head for my computer keyboard.  I knew it was time for me to pull this story out of wherever it’s been hiding inside of me and release it into the universe.


*  *  *

I would like to blame the fact that I never told anyone about my rape on my stepfather.  While growing up, it was he who angrily challenged my resistance to his religion, my fierce desire for privacy and all of my grand longings to shed our hippie lifestyle and become rich enough to pay someone else to clean our toilet (which he used to make me scrub with my bare hands).  Growing up in his home, I didn’t learn that it was possible to disagree with a man and have him still like or respect me.  So eventually, I became someone who agreed with men easily.  Whenever a man caused me to feel slighted, afraid, angry, hurt or embarrassed, I would wordlessly exit said situation and thusly escape one of the things that I had grown to fear the most: male disapproval. 

But I can’t (and don’t) blame my "not telling anyone" entirely on him.  There is also the fact that I never really felt like I appealed to men sexually — not the ones that I wanted, anyway.  And when I did occasionally catch the eye of someone who made my stomach flutter, I was so scared of messing it up that I would often contort my personality to fit with his.  I knew that by doing this I was selling myself out, but I didn’t think that I could find love otherwise.  So once I was old enough to date, instead of disappearing when I was hurt, embarrassed or angry like I did with my stepfather, I learned to smile brightly whenever I felt compromised and pretend like everything was all right.

*  *  *

“Why are you driving all the way over to West Hollywood to see this tender?! You said you was sleepy!”

My roommate, Kelly is sitting on the sofa eating Top Ramen from our only ceramic bowl.   My head pounds and my stomach turns as I pick up my empty Pepsi liter and our capless bottle of Tylenol from the coffee table and walk toward the kitchen.

“He says working out will cure my hangover,” I yell back at her.

“That’s why you’re going over there in those booty shorts? Does he even have his own place?"

“I think so.  Anyway, I’m about to find out”.

“You know he’s going to try and Fu@#.  You ready for that?"

“I really just want to work out, snuggle and watch TV.”

“Hmmm.  And you think that young, ni@@a is going to go for that?  Call me if he acts up.  Somethin’ about him I don’t like…”

“I’ll be fine!” I laugh, kissing her furrowed brow.

“I’ll wait up for you,” she says stubbornly.  “Remember, call me if you need me.”


*  *  *


I show up at Brandon’s apartment around 4:00pm in my new, pink, aerobics outfit. 

“Yo! You look good in that get up,” he says smiling and licking his lips.

He likes it…

Brandon is tall and light skinned with close-cropped brown hair.  His eyes are big and round and so are his lips.  His long, muscular frame is hidden beneath a navy blue, over-sized, Polo shirt and baggy Levis. All at once, I hear male voices coming from inside.

“The fellas came by to watch the game for a minute, hope that’s okay.”

You have company?

“Of course!” I say (quickly) with a smile.  “That’s no problem, maybe I’ll just go down and work out by myself while you guys watch the game?”

“Aright,” he runs his finger up and down my flat, bare stomach.  “But come say hello first, okay?  I want to show you off.”

His living room is brightly lit and smells like weed, beer and ranch dressing.  There are several opened Coronas and a bottle of Hennessy on a coffee table in front of a big-screen TV.  Seven or eight men, all around our age (early twenties), are lying around on a large, brown sectional sofa.  My stomach lurches at the smell of booze.  Kelly and I had been drinking tequila until almost 5:00 that morning.

“You smoke?” One of the men asks me.  He has the front of his white t-shirt pulled up around the back of his neck like a shrug, exposing velvety, six-pack abs.  His gaze is fire and threatens to ignite me, so I decide to focus on the object in his hands instead.

Is that a cigar?

“No thanks,” I say waving my hand at him.  “I don’t smoke.  Thank you though.”

“Hey, hey…” says one of them. They are all looking at me now.  My insides flutter as I looked from one pair of sleepy, red eyes to another.  My fingers are trembling slightly.  I dig my nails into the palms of my hands to keep them from shaking.

Stop freaking out.  Nothing’s wrong.

“Fellas, this is Laura. Laura, the fellas.”

“Hi,” I smile, backing up against Brandon to show that I am with him.  “I’m going down to work out, I’ll see you guys in a minute.”

*  *  *

My memory picks up later on in the evening.  By now its dark outside and they've started watching a second game. I‘m sitting next to Brandon, leaning on his shoulder, but find that I’m so sleepy (and bored) that I can’t keep my eyes open.  I am also hurt by Brandon’s lack of attention, so I excuse myself and go into his bedroom to lie down. 

You really need to kick all of those boys out and follow me in here.

A cozy looking comforter covers his neatly made bed.  I take off my shoes and socks and snuggle under it quickly,  instantly sinking into a lovely dream as soon as my head touches his pillow.

His pillow smells like him…

Sometime later (moments, minutes, hours?) I feel lips on the back of my neck. 

 He’s here!

I try to wake up and make an “mmmmm” sound to show that I am pleased, but I feel myself getting sucked back into my deep, sleepy abyss.

Time slides by and later (moments, minutes?) I feel nuzzling again.  As I'm trying to make myself wake up, I can hear the drone of the game in the living room and the occasional cheer and grunt of outrage from the boys.

They’re still here? 

Without notice, I feel a smooth, bare chest sliding under the covers behind me and pressing flush against my back.  The harsh smell of cognac fills the air around my face as his mouth hovers next to my lips.  I struggle to open my eyes, but they feel like they are filled with grit and plus the room is thickly, pitch black. 

Eyes open, eyes closed it doesn’t matter.  I am so sleepy.

Suddenly, a burglar alarm sounds in my head as I feel rough, calloused hands expertly moving my workout shorts to one side.

Brandon?!

The act is over in moments.  As it starts, I try to turn over and look at him, but I am pinned back down and forced to face my pillow.

Brandon!!

I think I say Brandon’s name a couple of times and get no response.  Seconds later, he leaps off of the bed, throwing the sheet up over my head as he does so.  I sit up and frantically tear the covers away with a loud cry.

“Hey!!!!”

I catch a glimpse of a man’s silhouette exiting quickly.  The cheering from living room TV blasts into the bedroom when the door opens, causing me to flinch.

“Hey! I say again softly as the door closes.  Suddenly the bedroom is unbearably hot.  A film of sweat has formed along my hairline.

Was that Brandon?!

I’m scared to turn on the lights as I don’t want to draw any attention to myself.  I tremble as I slip down off of the bed and begin to pat the gnarled carpet by the baseboard feeling for my socks. My heart is a bass drum rattling my rib cage.

Maybe he’ll come back in and apologize for not letting me turn around.  For doing it without asking me if it was okay…

By the time I find my socks, my hands are shaking too bad to slip them on.  I sit on the floor in the dark and wait until the waves of panic that are starting to engulf me subside a bit.  Then I slip on my socks, grab my sneakers and press my ear against the bedroom door to listen.

“Yo, Magic ain’t SH#$ tonight, yo!”

“Aw, he’s still making more baskets then any of these fools. He’s a fuc##n’ workhorse!”

"Pass that, Ni@@a!"

“Naw, Rodman the workhorse, Man!  21 boards tonight?! Whaaaatttt…?!”

Don’t they even know what’s just happened!?

I stand there motionless for what seems like forever.  I can still smell him — the cognac, the mustiness of his sweat, the faint cologne.  I cover my mouth with my hand and dry heave silently for (moments, minutes?) before I can muster up enough courage to turn the door knob.

I freeze for a second when I open the door, as I can’t make out anything against the sudden brightness of the living room lights.  And even though I can’t see them well, I can feel all of their eyes on me. 

“Hey Babe,” Brandon gives me a toothy smile as he gets up from the sofa.  “You’re awake!”

He walks over to me and puts his mouth next to my earlobe and whispers, “Man, you were out.  I tried to wake you up.”  He winks at me and puts his arm around me, pulling me closer.

Don't. You. Touch. Me.

“Oh,” I say, stiffening my crossed arms so that he can’t get too close.  I feel another wave of panic rising. I look down at my feet.

“Um, sorry, yeah.  I think I’m going to go home now.  I don’t feel that great.”

“Are you sure?  The game is almost over.”

“I just need to go to sleep in my own bed.”

“Okay, that’s too bad tho,'" he says moving his face closer to mine.  "I was hoping to get some time witchu.  Sorry about the second game going so long.  But this double overtime is crazy."

"Its fine," I say stepping backwards.

Fine? Really, Laura?

"I’ll call you tomorrow for sure, okay, beautiful?”

I see his mouth moving, but his words are trailing by my ears.

Was that you in there?

“Yeah,” I say finally.  “Sure.”



*  *  *



I shouldn’t have worn these booty shorts…

I'm heading down La Brea toward the 10 Freeway. The line at Pink's Hot Dogs is blocks-long as usual.  A local news crew is setting up to interview the people toward the back near the corner.

I should have left as soon as I saw those boys…

I look down at my bare thighs while sitting at a stoplight. 

They'll say I was asking for it.

I reach over and grab my sweatshirt from the passenger seat and place it over my legs. Disgust and shame take turns pounding on my chest with invisible fists.

I don't even know if it was Brandon...

I bite my lower lip to stop the tears from coming.  There's an accident on the 10 freeway onramp. Two cars are pulled over to the side.  A man and a woman are outside, inspecting their cars.   I slow down and swerve slightly to left to avoid them.  

What if they were all in on it?

I watch my speedometer needle waver around 90MPH.  I ease my foot off of the accelerator and turn on my right turn signal as I move out of the fast lane.

Kelly told me not to go.  She'll say it was my fault.  It was my fault.  What was I thinking going over there like that?  Dressed like that?  I got into his bed!!  

I find a rare parking spot right in front of The Castaneda, our apartment building on Rose Avenue in Venice.   I crack the window slightly and a lazy stream of marine air snakes its way into the car.  I can't see the water from where I'm sitting but I can smell the brine of the ocean.  I lean back against the headrest and turn off the motor.

What could I even say?  

Oh yes, officer.  This imbroglio began when I went over to see this one guy and he may or may not have had sex with me while I was sleeping, but it also might have been one of his friends?   Yes, sir, I was wearing a slutty outfit.  Yes, sir, I did willingly get into his bed.  And YES all those drunk and high ni@@ah's were right there in the other room.  But no, your honor, I did not consent to sex.

Who would believe me?  Who would even care?

I close my eyes and try and imagine what Kelly will say.   I feel the crushing weight of defeat descending upon me.

I can't tell her...

The fist closing on my heart suddenly relaxes as an idea pops into my head.

Then don't tell her.  

In fact, don't tell anybody.  

No one can blame you if they don't know.

I'm starting to pull my sweatshirt over my head when a breeze coasts by me and gives me goosebumps on my arms and legs.  I tilt my face up toward the hazy sky.  The cool air is so fresh and it feels like maybe it's cleansing all his stinky, sweaty smell off of my body.  I stay looking up at the sky for a while (moments, minutes?) before going up the front stairs.

Only the kitchen light is on inside our apartment.  I tiptoe in and quietly reach forward to close the door to the bedroom where Kelly is sleeping.

Thank God. I don't have to deal with her tonight.

"Is that you, Laurda?" she calls out sleepily.

I fuc@#in hate her bionic hearing!

I clear my throat, "Yeah."

"How was it?"

I open my mouth and am surprised to find that the tears I've been suppressing have broken free of my emotional dam and are now streaming down my face.

"It was okay," I croak, grateful for the door between us.  "He had people over to watch the game, then there was another game."

"Ewwwww," she hisses from the darkness.  "See?  You wasted your good, booty shorts for nothing.  Does he have his own place or not?  Did he at least take you out to get some food?"

"Yes," I manage.  "He has his own place.  But no, we didn't go eat or anything.  I mean, he had some snacks for the..."

"Snacks!?"  Kelly's voice rings with outrage. " You drove your hungover ass all the way over to Hollywood for some snacks and the game!?!  UNH-UHH! I'm telling you, there's something about him I don't like..."

I sit down on our sofa and wipe my face with my sweatshirt.  I can still smell him on me.

"Yeah, Kell. You were right.  I'm going to take a shower."











3 comments:

  1. As women,our insecurities and self-doubt can be crippling; but add shame to that mix and it is down right paralyzing. Most women,including me, have a story like yours neatly filed away in a folder marked "things no one ever needs to know." But if we don't open those folders and begin to start talking honestly about the when, where, how, and who, we'll never be able to address the why! Thanks, as always for your bravery and selflessness, I am always in awe of your willingness to shine a light on the struggles you have faced in order for others to know they are not alone in the darkness. My experience did not break me, but it certainly changed me forever. Like me, many women find a way around it and seemingly carry on, but the truth is we carry it with us into every relationship thereafter. The only way to release its hold is to go through it. It's not an easy thing to do but on the other side of it you find that piece of yourself that was stolen in that moment. When we tell our stories we take ownership of ourselves, it's not victimizing, it's empowering. It is truly heroic of you to share this moment; thank you!

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  2. Laura... That was a tough one to read. While I have never experienced this identical scenario myself - I do know that there are times when I wanted to say no but did not. It was a feeling of being forced to say yes - and feeling like I had to because I was there and I wanted the attention of that boy. And it was over in an instant and afterwards, I felt like trash, and was treated as such. But I didn't come over to have sex from them.
    This was a very courageous piece and speaks for many women who have felt shamed for just wanting to be special to that one guy they held in high esteem. It also tells me we have much work to do so that our young women can feel their worth from themselves. But being raped is an entirely different issue. It is violence. It is taking control over someone - and their body - when it doesn't belong to them to control. It is a man getting what they wish just because they are physically stronger. It is about us second guessing our true feelings in the moment we feel that pressure and not acting on our truth. I do believe that because full equality in the US has not been achieved (wages, work, rights, etc.) that this gives some sort of unspoken permission for men to take what they wish. All I hope for is that mothers teach their sons the preciousness of the bond between a man and a woman. And as I say that, there is also rape between same sex partners and men also have been raped.
    Such a complex but serious issue. Sad to say that most women have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment. I have left a job because of it. And it established prejudices inside of me that I only learned to release through therapy.
    Thank you for this exceptional piece. As always, excellent. xox

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    1. Wendy,

      I thought about my sons when I wrote this too. In fact, I almost didn't write it because I wanted to protect them from the hurt that was inflicted upon me. But then I thought, it is better that them and others learn what it feels like to be in that position. Maybe it will also teach them (and others) about the danger of being complicit. Thank you for your words, my friend.

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