My first “Me, too” experience was in high-school. Straight from central casting, enter the jock boyfriend who used manipulation to try to get what he wanted. When I resisted and said no, I was called a prude, laughed at, made to feel ever so less than. He caused me to question the way I was raised, the things I believed, to doubt what I wanted. And because I had the self-esteem of a gnat, it almost worked. I said nothing. We all know how this one ends. The girl gets dumped when the guy doesn’t get what he wants – and yet he tells everyone what he thinks they want to hear. And it doesn’t matter if you did or you didn’t. Welcome to your first lesson in loss of control.
I was fortunate after that experience to date a boy in college who showed me there was a better way, a loving way, a consensual way. And for a time, I felt strong, in control and madly in love. We danced to “Purple Rain” on Friday nights, spent weekends intertwined in a twin, dorm bed. Unfortunately, we had other issues that led us to go our separate ways. But, I left that relationship trusting that everyone would handle me with the tender care and affection that he did. I was about to learn some tough lessons.
When it came time to date again, I was working as a hostess at a local restaurant. I shared a class with a popular wrestler who would make my heart flutter when he strutted into visit me at work. He built me up and made me feel more than. When Valentine’s Day evening came, he acted surprised when he saw that I was working. He told me that a pretty girl like me should have a date on such a special night. He asked if he could meet me when I was finished.
“Yes, please,” I said.
I was living a Lifetime movie before Lifetime movies were invented. What a lucky girl I was.
When he showed up at the end of my shift it was snowing. We had a drink at the bar as the restaurant closed and ran to my car, holding hands and giggling like kids. I drove him to his dorm parking lot and we sat in the car watching the winter fall. We talked about our friends and our family; he cried when he spoke about his dad and their fractured relationship. Two hours of sharing and he never once tried to touch me. I remember thinking to myself that this could go somewhere, really go somewhere. What a gentleman.
He asked me up to his room. He’d missed a few classes and I’d told him my backpack was in the back seat and I would gladly share my notes. When we walked into his room, his roommate quickly made himself scarce, mumbling something about getting a bite to eat. And with that, a switch flipped and the oxygen was sucked out of the room. I could feel it before it even happened just by looking at his eyes, listening to his breath. He pushed me on the bed, squeezed my wrists above my head with one hand. Being a wrestler, he knew how to pin 200lb. men. He got trophies for it. Overpowering a 110 lb girl was easy. I was the trophy.
I said, “No, please no. Please, please, please no. Stop. Please stop.”
My words meant nothing. I meant nothing. He got frustrated. And angrier. He held me down tighter. I started sobbing.
“No. No. No. Please, please, no.”
I looked to the side and saw his roommate had returned to the room, unsure of what to do. Wavering. I begged him with my words, my eyes, my tears, to help me. The wrestler yelled, “Get the hell out of here, man. I’m not done with her yet.”
And with that, any hope I had grabbed a jacket, didn’t give it a second thought and closed the door. He made a choice.
When the wrestler was finished, he dumped my backpack, looking for the class notes he needed – like nothing had happened. I handed him the notebook he was looking for with shaking hands and desperately gathered everything else. I grabbed my clothes and as I fumbled with the door, hope sauntered back into the room, a can of Coke in his hand. The two roommates exchanged a knowing glance and began laughing at me as I ran past them into the hall of their suite. They slammed the door shut. I could still hear them laughing as I struggled to put my pants on, ashamed that someone might find me in the hall like this.
That’s an important sentence. I’m going to say it again. I was ashamed that someone might find me like this. I had been raped, yet I already felt like I had done something wrong.
Nothing that happened afterward lessened that shame in any way. The desk attendant at the dorm looked at me and asked me if I was sure about what had happened. Had I gone up to the room willingly?
Every question planted doubt. Suspicion. Blame.
Did I know what time it was?
Why was I missing a shoe?
Had I been drinking?
I’d like to say that someone came to my rescue. That someone convinced me that I should take a stand. That a hero convinced me everything about that night was wrong. Sadly, in 1986 it was just something that happened. When I told friends, they invariably said,
“Oh yeah. That happened to me last month.”
It was like oversleeping for a class. All of us went through it at one time or another. We were all part of some sick club.
We were encouraged to not make a fuss, not ruin someone’s college experience, their sport’s career, not to burden our parents, to move on.
No one can accuse me of ignoring encouragement. I dropped the class he and I shared and drew an immediate Incomplete. I tried to attend my other classes, but when I passed him on campus he would glare at me and avert his eyes with a look of disgust. I realized quickly there would be no apologies, no justice. There was just a girl who was afraid to leave her room.
All I could hear when I went to sleep at night was, “I’m not done with her yet.”
I dropped out of school that semester. I never told my parents what really happened. I led them to believe I was depressed, overwhelmed, failing. I justified it because my dad had serious heart issues, that being Catholics they would never understand. I was convinced the truth would kill them. Most of the time, I wished the truth would kill me. There were no words.
What happened to me that February 14th set the tone for my relationships going forward. A few months later a man put something in my drink. Fortunately, a friend noticed and took me home. I had two separate dates expect sex because they had bought me a dinner on the first date – and get livid when it didn’t happen. I had a date I met in a personal ad (the 1986’s Match.com) attempt to rape me on his parent’s sofa while they were at the beach. It wasn’t pretty.
Here’s the messed up thing. You’d think all of that would have made me angry. Instead, I began to think that this was how the world worked, this is how men were and that I was the one with the problem. I questioned my value, my worth. And the pattern continued with men who had a warped version of sex and how men and women related. Funny how a seed is planted at a young age and takes root. It was what I knew, and the one relationship I’d had that was real and true felt very, very far away.
In recent years, I’ve had a man follow and slurp at me in Target. Yes, slurp. I’ve been jeered at, felt up at a bar, and propositioned by married men. I know better now and shake those things off. I’m almost used to it. How sad that being treated like trash is so commonplace that we get used to it.
I don’t know that I will ever be past what happened in college. But, I don’t let it define me anymore. I’m fortunate to have a man in my life who is in tune with every breath, every tear, and every memory. Most of the time I’m okay, but there are moments where I’m triggered, and it all comes hastily to the surface. And, it ain’t pretty.
I’ve watched Facebook the last two days and have read story, after story. The “Me, too’s” are too much to bear. Experiences like this should be an aberration, not a commonality. I’ve also seen people, even some of my family, try to politicize this and make it a Democratic or a Republican thing. Let me assure you – sexual harassment and assault don’t take sides. This is about people, not politics. And, for those of you making this a feminist thing? I’ve had many male friends relay similar, heart-wrenching and life-altering experiences. There may not be as many of them, but they are just as important and must not be ignored. You want stigma? Try being a male that’s been sexually assaulted. They’ll show you stigma.
To the people that question what the good is in sharing. To the people that ask, why say something when we do nothing about it and there is no answer? I say, there is power in numbers. We are more than.
Sexual assault happens because victims are isolated, manipulated and made to feel powerless. And once that prevails, we all run into the darkness thinking we are the only ones, that this is the norm. But, when something happens like Harvey Weinstein and the sick sexual culture is hurled out into the open as dinner conversation and Saturday Night Live fodder, it makes people brave. The stigma is erased. When we see people telling their stories, we have the courage to say, “Me, too.” It brings empowerment. The culture changes. It becomes conversation we can have with our children and the next generation doesn’t feel that this is the norm. We can fight back. We’ve read the book and learned the lesson.
And maybe, maybe, when we say, “Me, too…” then things can change.