What cannot be talked about
cannot be put to rest.
And if it is not, the wounds will fester from generation to generation.
And if it is not, the wounds will fester from generation to generation.
Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990), Surviving & Other Essays
By chapter: A work in progress...please check back periodically for updates.
- Getting "Acquainted" with My Future Acquaintance RapistHere I chronicle getting to know my perpetrator in high school and then later becoming reacquainted with him in college. CLICK TO READ MORE...
- The Night My Assault OccurredHere I provide a description of the night leading up to my assault. CLICK TO READ MORE...
- The Immediate Aftermath of My AssaultHere I discuss the first few days following my assault and the difficulty I had remembering the night and my initial symptoms of trauma. CLICK TO READ MORE...
I started attending boarding school my sophomore year of high school. Among the students in my class whom had matriculated as freshmen the previous year, was A.T., a blond-haired preppy guy who was very popular during our high school years. He was handsome, intelligent, athletic, and above all, charming.
During orientation, A.T. walked over to my parents and introduced himself to us. I didn’t immediately become friends with him, but for whatever reason, he always made a point to come over and speak to my parents whenever they visited for school functions. Once he even commented to my parents that he had really enjoyed getting to know me since my arrival at our school. Though I was very flattered, I did think it was rather odd considering our interactions had been minimal at that point. My parents were completely won over by his handsome, clean-cut appearance and flawless, politician charm.
The following year during our winter trimester, I began dating A.T. after we hung out one night at a school dance. During the course of our very short relationship, A.T. suggested that we take walks on the golf course, a popular place of escape for couples due to our school’s strict stipulations on guy-girl visitation. During these walks, A.T. would constantly try to push my sexual boundaries, which at that point in my life excluded anything below the waist. Despite his nods of acknowledgment in response to my constant reminders that it wasn’t in the cards, A.T. would try again only moments later. It was annoying, but I was completely infatuated with him.
During our two-month relationship, I never wavered in my affirmation that nothing else was going to happen sexually between us. When I called A.T. following a weeklong break from school, A.T. claimed that we had “grown apart.” Because we had never really “grown together,” it was apparent that we were breaking up because I wasn’t putting out sexually. I didn’t think too much of it though; my thoughts were that high school guys were too hormonal and immature to take seriously anyway. My Southern parents had stressed to me growing up that “guys [were] only after one thing” so our breakup did not strike me as a heartbreaking shocker.
Although the breakup came as no surprise, I did find it strange that I had never learned anything about A.T. on a personal level. In fact, I knew him no better at the end of those two months than I had at the beginning of our relationship. I remember talking with one of my best friends about something being a little different about A.T., but that it was hard to pinpoint. On another occasion, I remember his best friend telling me, completely unsolicited, that although he considered A.T. his best friend, he did not feel like he really knew him. At this point in my life, I would recognize these observations as red flags, warning me of someone’s narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies; however, back then, if anything, it added to his allure.
Throughout the remainder of high school, A.T. and I remained friendly, but we never sought out each other’s company or developed a close friendship. He continued his niceties with my parents, causing my mom to adore him. After our graduation ceremony, A.T.’s parents approached me and asked if they could get a picture of me with him. His father motioned for us to stand close together and commented that we “make such a cute couple.” I remember finding the interaction kind, but rather bizarre. After all, we had been broken up for well over a year, and his parents were acting as though we were still an item, and A.T. was doing nothing to dispute their comments.
A few weeks following graduation, I received a congratulatory present in the mail from A.T. (obviously sent from his parents). This, too, struck me as a kind, but rather odd gesture. It would have never crossed my mind to send A.T. a graduation present had he not sent me one – after all, we had hung out for only a two-month period, and based on the impersonal nature of our relationship, I was surprised that my name was even mentioned during any conversations regarding the selection of recipients for graduation presents.
Summer came to an end, and I went off to college in the state of Virginia. I quickly realized that I wanted to attend an urban school with more diversity and a stronger emphasis on foreign language; however, I decided to remain the entire year in Virginia before transferring so that I would have more options.
After my freshman year of college, I transferred to a school in Washington, D.C. where over 40 students had attended the same boarding school I had for high school. A.T. happened to be among those students, and by that December, we would casually begin dating again. I never once thought we were in love, but I did really like him, and I was once again flattered to have caught his attention.
To my former naïve self, A.T. appeared more mature now that we were in college. I, too, was different; I had started drinking alcohol, and I was less inhibited in my sexuality. However, with that being said, I was still very much a virgin and committed to waiting until marriage. This commitment was no secret. I was not embarrassed that I was waiting until marriage (in fact, I was quite proud), and I didn’t “beat around the bush” in verbally stating to guys that sex was not in the picture.
At least to me, A.T. seemed to be pursuing me this time around because he was genuinely interested in a relationship with me; however, he did once again test my sexual boundaries. As I had done before in high school, I put up the big red stop sign, stating very clearly that this aspect of myself had not changed. Yes, I liked to party, and yes, he was in my room alone with me, but no, sex was not in the cards – nor would it be. Because. I. Was. Still. Waiting. Until. Marriage.
Don’t get me wrong, it was not that I didn’t want to have sex or that I was asexual, or anything of that nature; in all honestly, it was an effort to wait. But it was an effort I felt worth it. I had consistently dated from seventh grade onward. More specifically, I had been in two long-term relationships, both of which had lasted well over a year, and I had never had sex with either of those boyfriends. Waiting was really important to me. I considered it the ultimate giving of oneself to another (not taking of oneself from another). It was something to be valued and cherished, and of course, given – deliberately and consensually.
Despite my reaffirmation of my sexual boundaries following his initial attempts to go further, A.T. continued to press for more. Was he deaf? Dumb? What? I responded by going through everything yet again, including that sex was not in the picture, but I was growing increasingly annoyed. A.T. apologized and commented that it was just because he didn’t really understand why I wanted to wait until marriage.
If I had only known that the very next weekend, in that very bed that we were laying in, he was going to rape me, I would’ve ended things right then. But instead, I bluntly restated everything yet again, this time adding that he didn’t have to understand or agree with my decision to wait until marriage – he only had to respect it. He said “okay” and we remained in my bed talking until approximately 10 am the next day. It was nice.
At one point during the conversation that night, I even felt compelled and comfortable enough to ask why people commented that it was hard to get to know him (during the first few weeks of college at my new school, another mutual friend had referenced this observation in my presence). A.T. did not seem phased by my question; in fact, quite the opposite. He responded that he didn’t know why it was a problem, but that it was something of which he was aware because others had brought it to his attention. His response took me by surprise; I guess I had anticipated that he would deny it was problem. I felt honored that A.T. was opening up to me, like I was one of the few people who had witnessed his seemingly personable side. I even stuck up for him when another friend commented later that week that he was kind of weird. You could even say that a part of me felt sorry for him.
By the time A.T. left the next morning, I felt good about my relationship with him; honestly, I felt better than I had ever felt about it. I acknowledged to myself that there was a chance that he had lost interest in dating me since he knew that I was not budging on the whole no-sex-before-marriage thing, but I truly thought that he respected me, even if that meant just remaining friends because he couldn't handle my no-sex policy. We had had a moment, right?
At the time, I thought that I had gotten a unique, genuine glimpse into his mind; however, now I view his behavior that night as a portrayal of sensitivity achieved through calculated responses to my questions, in order to create a false sense of caring and intimacy. Perhaps I’m reading too much into our exchange that night, but when I view it within the broader context of what transpired the next weekend, I cannot help but think that I was already being manipulated to some degree. It’s difficult to analyze his behavior because even during the times when A.T. was being rude or disrespectful (e.g., when trying physical stuff despite my verbal and physical proclamation of my boundaries), he still managed to pull off “charming.”
The following week A.T. called to invite me to join he and his friends at the movies. I was excited because I took it as an indication that he was still interested in me. I was a little perturbed when he put me next to the smelly guy no one wanted to sit next to, but I brushed it aside. For the most part, I had a nice time at the movie (although now I cringe anytime I see anything about “Analyze That”); he came across as very attentive, and then following the movie, he took me to get ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s.
I was taken off guard when he didn’t walk me home at the end of the night. It was well known that it was unsafe to walk around our urban campus at night, especially as late as midnight. People frequently got held up at gunpoint for muggings. He really should have walked me home.
If I am honest, my being perturbed was not entirely due to safety issues. I’m from the South, and things like holding the door open, getting walked home, etc. really stand out to me as a big deal – especially given that A.T. “knew better,” being that he was from the South himself. I decided to not go out of my way to interact with him and to just see how our relationship panned out.
Lesson learned too late, but now I wouldn’t give him the time of day. His B.S. would seem more obvious to me now, but back then, I trusted easily and forgave even more easily.
I never anticipated that my parents’ lesson that “guys are only after one thing” would take on a completely new meaning the next weekend. A new meaning that would rattle the very core of my sense of self, safety, and trust, infiltrating my mind for years to come.
The next time I hung out with A.T. was at a mutual friend’s Christmas party the following weekend. They were serving spiced-rum cider. By the time A.T. arrived at the party, I had already consumed several of these drinks and was a little tipsy. At that time in my life, I really enjoyed the “college life” – I’ll be the first to admit that I was a “party girl.”
A.T. was extremely nice and attentive during the party. It only took a few minutes of his charm and attention to win me back over and make me forget about him not insisting to walk me home earlier that week. I’m not proud of the fact, but I really liked the attention and would have loved to call him my boyfriend – ugh.
I remember sitting on A.T.’s lap that night, and as soon as my drink got low, he would jump up and refill it. What a gentleman, I thought. Stupid naivety. When he whispered into my ear that same night, I want to wait until after we get back from Christmas to do anything [physical]. I'd even wait to kiss you.” I beamed – BEAMED (ugh) - dying to hear what I wanted so badly to believe, I asked him to elaborate. “Because you are worth waiting for.” Stupid, STUPID naivety.
In my 19-year-old drunken mind, I viewed A.T.’s behavior as evidence of his good manners and genuine interest in me. I had been taught to “stay firm in your boundaries, and the guys will come around; they’ll end up respecting you more in the end.” To me, he had come around and was being a gentleman (I know, I know…). So there I sat – tipsy, drunken, idiotic, googly-eyed me, soaking up whatever non-sense he threw my way.
I was excited when A.T. offered to walk me home that night. I was drunk, stumbling, but I still remember feeling happy and reassured that he was walking me back to my dorm since he hadn’t done it earlier in the week following the movie. I wish I had seen through his gentleman facade. The new me would have seen what was coming. The new me would have found another way home.
Hindsight aside, that night it never crossed my mind that I had reason to worry. After all, we had discussed my boundaries on several occasions (and very in depth just the week prior). Not to mention, we had talked that very night about how he wanted to prove to me that I was “worth waiting for.” He had spent the night in my dorm room on several occasions so him coming back with me was no big red flag.
By the time we made it up to my room, I could barely keep my balance. I later found out that upon our arrival he had given my roommate a nod and look indicating that she was to leave the room. There were papers all over my bed because I was preparing for exams. He stacked all the papers together while I was a bumbling idiot around my room, and then he put them on my desk. I wish that's where the night had ended.
It didn’t matter that I had known him for years. That we had graduation pictures of the two of us together. That somewhere in my room stuffed in a drawer was a stupid Swiss Army knife he had given me as a graduation present. It didn’t matter that on the surface, he was the kind of guy “you bring home to your parents.” None of this mattered. That night he became the person who took my virginity – without my consent. My rapist.
I awoke fairly early the next morning. I felt light and carefree. Maybe I was still a little drunk from the night before.
I had no immediate recollection of what had transpired the previous night following my walk home. But I wasn’t really trying to remember either. No reason to, really. As far as I knew, I had had an okay night. Uneventful.
I do remember walking to the restroom and taking note on my way that it was rather strange I had no hangover and instead felt wound up and energetic. Once I was in the restroom, I noticed spots of blood. Immediately my attention zeroed in on an uncomfortable chaffing sensation that was present between my legs, and parts of the night started to flash in my mind.
A.T. ejaculating all over my stomach.
Me asking, “Were you just INSIDE me?”
A.T.’s unemotional response of “no.” He wasn’t even looking at me.
He grabbed his shirt, quickly wiping his semen from my stomach
and putting on his clothes. Abruptly, he left my dorm room,
never speaking another word.
What the hell? That can’t be right. First of all, he is always so polite, overly polite almost, described as a politician by some. He seemed so cold. He wouldn’t have responded like that. I wasn't even touching him down there. Why did he climax?
I felt a pit in my stomach. Had A.T. seen an opportunity and just taken it? Despite the fact that I had been explicit in stating that sex wasn't in the cards just weeks prior....sober.
No, no, that couldn’t have been the case. A.T. knows that I don’t want to have sex. He really likes me and wants to postpone physical stuff, ALL physical stuff, until we return from break.
My mind was racing. I started concocting different scenarios in my mind in an effort to make it one big misunderstanding.
I had already stated that I didn't want to have sex with him, so maybe he had anal sex with me? NOT that I would have wanted that either, but I just couldn't believe that he would have knowingly gone against my will. I mean, we had JUST talked about it. At length.
Besides, I had been so drunk, and he had known that it would be my first time, so wouldn't he have realized that I would have wanted it to be special? That I would have wanted to talk about it with him beforehand? That I would have wanted to take part in it?! You don’t just postpone something you consider really special, and then decide on a fluke to throw it away one night. Had I done something that indicated I wanted this?
Worse than the feelings of trying to convince myself a misunderstanding had occurred were the feelings that I deserved it to happen. Maybe because I was willing to do other things, he got confused and thought I wanted to have sex? Maybe because I was doing other things, I deserved this? Maybe I am worthless. Oh, that negative downward spiral of self-blame and criticism would soon become ingrained in my thought process, long after I had blocked out that night.
"Guys will be guys, but it's up to a girl to be a lady." I had put down my guard and thus allowed a "guy to just be a guy." Sounded so harmless, right? Yet I felt like shit. Violated. Dirty.
The more I thought about that night, the more disconnected I felt from it. From the images that would play over and over in my mind. Disconnected from myself.
The me I had once known was gone. A strange version of her was floating above, almost completely dissociated from her tainted body. I held onto to her by a thin string. I began to feel nothing. Well, maybe nothing is an understatement. I was hyper as anything.
Exams were a few days away, and it was time to get focused. And I needed to vacuum.
I kept it together, at least superficially, in the days immediately following that night. I was going through the motions of my life, but I wasn't connected to my life. I could have essentially described my life to someone objectively, but it wouldn't have felt like it belonged to me. It was almost like my life was a dream. Like that night was a dream – a disturbing dream I could not shake from my mind, but a dream, nevertheless.
The only thing preventing me from completely succumbing to denial was the chaffing sensation that permeated both my vaginal and anal area. I had paid little attention to the sensation until my first trip to the restroom. Now it was the only thing grounding my disturbing memory of that night in reality.
The disjointed memories I had from that night made little sense to me. In addition to the memory of what transpired immediately following my assault, I remembered springing out of my bed once A.T. left, tripping a little as I rapidly put on all of my clothes. I do not know how much time passed, but I was staring at the door when my roommate entered the room.
In response to her question, “How was your night,” I asked if she wanted to go back out. She looked at me, trying to determine if I was serious or joking, and then awkwardly laughed and replied, “You know it’s like 4 am, right? There’s no where to go.”
So maybe he hadn’t done anything I would object to because why would I have put my clothes back on, ready to go back out?
I can now identify this strange behavior as denial of what I wasn’t ready to accept as truth. I was still trying to piece together the night through the lens of my old self. My naïve self. The self I would need to learn to let go of. But for the time being, I needed to settle on suspecting the truth, but hoping it was false. I needed to turn my attention to finishing the semester.
Although my grades up until that point in the semester were very strong, preparing for exams was a joke. I remember trying to write my final art history paper and only producing three incoherent paragraphs. The words were present on my computer, but they were completely void of meaning. I soon realized I was in danger of failing my exams.
What the heck is wrong with me?!
I knew that normally I would have been upset by the circumstances, but I didn’t really feel upset. At least not in a sad, distraught way. No, that would come later.
I just felt so weird and out of place. Sleeping was almost impossible. When I think back to those first few days, the image of me vacuuming frantically is what immediately comes to mind. I almost felt like if I were to stop moving, something bad was sure to happen. I was a wound-up mess. Looking back, I was likely running from the truth.
What the heck happened that night?!