Let’s Talk About Rape
10/27/2012 § 6 Comments
A few years ago, I threw away the one picture of my rapist that I have ever possessed. I decided that I didn’t need that picture, that running across it now and then was no longer something I needed to do. The picture was taken the night before he raped me, in the hotel room my friends and I had rented for after senior prom. My rapist was my best friend’s prom date.
I have to say, it’s really hard to write about my rape. Not because it brings up traumatic memories, because those don’t actually go away ever, so I’m not “bringing them up” for myself so much as looking at them directly, which I do all the time because if I let them get fuzzy then they rear back and surprise me when I am least able to deal with it. It’s hard to write about because what if my father reads this post? Will he think I’m a slut? Will he think less of me? What if one of my freelance clients stumbles across this? Will I be fired for revealing something so personal online, even though I’m not the one who broke the law? If he reads this, will my brother-in-law, the man who told me, after Lara Logan was raped in Egypt, that if a woman is going to work in dangerous international circumstances, she can’t really be upset about being raped because she ‘knew the risks” going in, reconsider his position? I doubt it. When he dug his heels in on this position on my Facebook page a couple of years ago, I told him the story of my rape quite publicly. He never even acknowledged it. It’s very difficult for me to look at him when I see him now. Because in him, I see the face of my rapist–and that is no one’s fault but his own.
My rapist’s name was Dave. I say “was” because there is a 50/50 chance that Dave is dead. A few weeks after prom he was shot in the stomach during a drive-by. I know he was either confined to a wheelchair after that, or he died. I cannot remember which, which is weird, perhaps, but pretty textbook when it comes to rape trauma. When my best friend called me to tell me that Dave had been shot, I pretty much shut that whole thing down and couldn’t listen. I remember that she got annoyed with me for being so uncaring, but I’d never told her about the rape, so how could she know what I was thinking or feeling? When I finally told her, 19 years after the fact, she didn’t much care. Nor could she remember if he was alive or dead.
Senior year. I was in love with a junior named Scott who did not love me back. He didn’t even like me much, but he agreed to go to prom with me. The only problem? I asked him far too early. By the time prom rolled around, I didn’t even have a crush on him anymore.
I don’t know why prom was so important to me. Maybe because I’d spent my teenage years being raised by two mentally ill lesbian separatists, and prom was “normal.” Maybe because I’d been molested as a kid and going to prom was proof I wasn’t the disgusting piece of shit I thought I was. Maybe because two months before prom, I was savagely sexually assaulted by a female gyno at Planned Parenthood, during a teen clinic, and going to prom meant that I hadn’t deserved that. Maybe because one month before prom, I was mugged, for $10 and a silver ring, by a little girl on a deserted street in Chicago, and a couple of my friends laughed at me for not just beating her up and running away. Maybe it was because it was clear to me that my friends were sick of looking at me or caring about me and going to prom would prove to them I wasn’t the disgusting piece of shit they thought I was.
Dave wasn’t even supposed to be there. My BFF — the only one in my social group I didn’t think hated me — originally had another date, but he backed out about a week before and she got set up with her grandmother’s best friend’s son, whom she hadn’t seen since she was five years old. He was a couple of years older than us, maybe in his early 20s. The day before prom, BFF told me that if I wanted to “fool around” with her prom date, she wouldn’t be mad; I should feel welcome to do that. In exchange, she would fool around with Scott. I don’t think I agreed to this explicitly, as I didn’t want her to fool around with Scott. I knew that would make me feel like the biggest reject on earth. BFF was very pretty. All the boys said so. All the boys told me, repeatedly, for four years how pretty she was. Strangers approached us on the street to tell her. I did not want her to fool around with my prom date. On the other hand, I knew there wasn’t anything I could do to prevent it if that was something they both wanted.
Prom night. Scott showed up in a plaid blazer, khakis, and sneakers, with no corsage, despite the fact that he’d called the night before to ask what color dress I was wearing because his mom said he had to get me a corsage. I pinned his white boutonniere to my shoulder and we left. My mom wasn’t there to take pictures, because she didn’t give a crap about my prom.
BFF and I had rented two adjoining rooms at Days Inn downtown because we knew prom itself would be lame. The after-party was where it was at. Four other couples would be joining us, all our friends except I & J, who had gotten a fancy suite in another hotel because J was 22, so they were the mature couple, and they didn’t want to party with us in a crappy Days Inn room. Who could blame them?
At prom, which was held in a hotel ballroom, most everyone’s date kept leaving the table to go to the bathroom. To this day we don’t know what those boys were doing in there. Coke? Furtive gay sex? Seriously, we had no idea why they just kept leaving, and it was pissing us off. Some of them missed dinner, and none of them danced with us. Scott stayed at the table a little more than Dave, and Elias, who was Ellen’s date. Scott and I took the formal posed prom pictures together, and my mom ordered a copy, I think, but when I moved out I didn’t take any with me, because I was quite over prom by then.
We left well before the party really got started, if only to make the guys pay attention to us in the confines of the Days Inn.
Dave was tall, with shoulder-length blond hair. He wasn’t exactly cute, but he wasn’t ugly. Just not my type. But he paid a lot of attention to me, especially after Scott announced that he was going to sleep and promptly passed out in a corner. One of the other couples had locked themselves in the adjoining room to be alone, so five couples were packed into the room I was in. Rebecca and Joel took up residence in one bed, BFF lied down next to Scott on the floor, and the other two couples were tripping on acid, I think, so they were everywhere all at once. That left me on the other bed, and then there was Dave, who stuck to my side like glue. Eventually, I was bored enough to mess around with him. Just a little kissing under the covers, though he tried to take things further.
Early in the morning, the couple that had locked themselves in the other room left, so I went in there to get some sleep. I can’t sleep in front of other people, and I was exhausted. Dave followed me. I told him I was going to sleep, but he got in bed with me and tried to have sex with me. I told him no, told him I was going to sleep. He got angry and whiny, saying I was leading him on and please. I said no a hundred more times, so he held my hand in place and forced me to jerk him off. All I wanted to do was sleep.
It was like a nightmare, where I couldn’t tell if I was awake or asleep. I did fall asleep, and when I woke up, I go the hell out of there and went home.
That night, I was supposed to meet everyone at I&J’s hotel suite, which they had for another night. Most of them had spent the day at Blues Fest in Grant Park while I slept off my minor sexual assault. When I arrived, I was shocked to see Dave was still with them. He was at my side again in no time. Everyone but the two of us was drinking. His mother was a recovering alcoholic and a devotee of Christian Science. Our hotel overlooked the city’s main center for Christian Science, and I remember sitting in the window with him, while everyone else got smashed on wine and Gin Rickeys, while he told me about himself. I wasn’t interested, but it was slightly more interesting than whatever else was going on. At some point, my mother called the hotel room to tell us that BFF’s parents were looking for her and were under the impression she was sleeping at my house. Even though my friends outright hated me, they used my house as an excuse for their parents without compunction and usually without bothering to tell me. We tried to wake up BFF to tell her to call her parents, but she was passed out face-first on the floor. We woke her briefly, but all she did was get up, puke in the sink, and pass back out again.
I knew I needed to sleep, so I called the spot I always called at parties if there was one available: the walk-in closet. It was actually inside I&J’s bedroom, but either they didn’t mind or I didn’t care that they minded. I need sleep and dark and privacy. Dave insisted he was sleeping in there with me. I said no several times, but he wasn’t going to take that. I told him loudly, in front of everyone, that I was not going to have sex with him, no matter what. He could sleep in there with me if he wanted, but all we were going to do was sleep.
God. Remember that? “No means no”? I thought that meant something. I thought that if I said “no,” anything he did after that would be conscious rape on his part. NO MEANS NO. LOL. What a joke.
I pushed him off a dozen times and finally fell asleep. And then I woke up with him raping me. Before I could scream — which I couldn’t have done anyway, since I woke up without that ability — he put his hand over my mouth. He writhed and wriggled and thrusted all over me while I lied there frozen and terrified. When he removed his hand I whispered “Please, no.” Realizing I’d regained my power of speech, I thought I should scream. I wanted to scream. And then I thought “My friends will blame me for causing drama. If I scream, I turn it into rape, and they will be mad at me for waking them up.”
I said “No, please no,” one more time. He sat up and looked at me for a moment. “I’ll wear a condom,” he whispered. “She promised.”
I lost consciousness and yet my body was screaming. I can’t explain that, but there was some internal part of me that was screaming. I fell in and out of consciousness. I cried and I pushed whenever I was awake, and he was always still there, moving around on top of me and inside of me. I don’t know how long it lasted. Eventually it was morning.
I could not shake this guy. I went down to the continental breakfast with Ellen and Em and their dates, and Dave. Dave and the other guys left to buy cigarettes at some point and Ellen and Em confronted me, laughing hysterically, over the condom they’d found floating in the toilet. I’d been about to tell them what happened, but before I could they laughed at me, said “You fucked that ugly Frankenstein. You’re so fucking desperate.”
I took the train home. When I got there, my mom informed me that some guy named David had called twice already. I told her to throw away his phone number. She said he was very forward, even revealing to her that we’d “spent the night in a hotel together.”
“If you’re old enough to spend the night in a hotel with a man who then tells your mother, you’re old enough to return his call,” she said.
I didn’t even get the chance to call him before he called again. To ask me out.
I said no. He insisted he was falling in love with me. I said no, and to please never call me again. I told him I was having surgery in a few days, and I would not have time to see him, ever again.
The surgery thing was true. One week after graduation, I had breast reduction surgery to lob off a part of my body that I hated, that earned me undue attention from strangers, that made it impossible to run away from danger. (I was 5’2″ and wore a 32-DDD.) Right after surgery, I got my period. I had to tell my mom so she could get me pads, and my palpable relief at getting my period tipped her off that I must have recently had sex. She must have forgotten about the guy who told her he’d spent the night in the hotel room, but she put the timing together with prom night. Knowing my prom date hadn’t been an option, she began to laugh at me.
“Who did you fuck? You just had to get laid on prom night, didn’t you?”
During the ensuing 15 years, I sometimes referred to the event in my head as “semi-consensual sex.” It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t screamed, I believed. It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t told anyone, ever.
And then I started reading a blog called Fugitivus, written by an anonymous rape and abuse victim. I started to learn more about rape, about how “No means no” only works if the guy isn’t actually a rapist. I thought about Dave, about how I’d cried and pushed and hissed no, about how I told him no a hundred times before he actually raped me. There was nothing consensual about what had happened. Silence, I learned, does not equal consent. A guy thrusting all over you while you cry is rape, full stop.
Luckily, I was in therapy at the time and could deal with it immediately. And now, the main trauma surrounding it is when I hear people say that girls and women in those situations might have wanted it. After all, what was I doing in the closet with him in the first place? I had known “the risks” going in. I had already fooled around with him, and I hadn’t screamed. Obviously, I had wanted it, because the prevailing belief among too many men (and women) is that women are in a constant state of yes unless they beat off their attacker to the bloody death. That if they say “no” they better say it loud enough for law enforcement to hear them while the act is still happening. And on and on and on.
Last year, after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I decided it was time to tell BFF what had happened and find out whether Dave was dead or alive.
She didn’t know the answer to that. And her entire response to the revelation that her prom date had raped me was to say “Oh, well, sorry for bringing him into your life. I met up with him at the lake before prom so that we could reconnect, and he tried to touch me then. I told him I wasn’t interested, but that he could sleep with you. I didn’t know he was a rapist. Why didn’t you scream?”
And that is the story of my rape, at least the one I’m going to talk about today. Here is a video of my official prom song.