January 12, 2018

me too - a story in three parts [part III]

Over a decade later, I finally have more anger than shame about what happened to me that summer. But even now, the shame is still there. It lurks in corners and sometimes pops out to surprise me when I least expect it. Like when I was trying to write these blog posts. It enveloped me all over again and I began to doubt myself.

But when I'm thinking rationally I know -- the fact that I was drunk does not justify what he did to me. The fact that we were friends does not justify what he did to me. The fact that I do not remember the act itself does not justify what he did to me. And most importantly, the fact that I did not report it to campus police or other authorities (or even tell my friends) does not mean it did not happen. It happened. It hurt. It still hurts.

It changed my life. I became a different person. I pushed away people. I pulled away from friends. I thought of myself differently. I valued myself less. I made bad decisions. I did stupid things. At the time, I did not even realize why I was doing those things but in retrospect, it is clear to me now. It took time -- a long time -- before I realized that while what happened to me that night changed me, it did not define me. Now, I can usually reject the shame and embrace my anger.
Several years ago when I worked in downtown Little Rock, I saw Brian* in a crosswalk as I was driving to my office building. I immediately began to sweat. The hairs on my neck stood up and I got dizzy -- woozy even. I ducked my head down low as he passed in front of my car. I silently prayed he wouldn't turn my way. That he wouldn't catch my eye. And that if he did, he wouldn't recognize me. As soon as he cleared the front of my car, I felt myself exhale lingering shame as I sped away. It had been years since that night in the yard and I was now a successful, happily married lawyer. And yet, once I got to my office, I shut the door behind me and sobbed.

Shame does crazy things to people. 

I decided to tell my #metoo story, in part, because just the other day, his face popped up on a friend's Facebook post. The post asked people to share two photos of them with their significant other -- one in the year they met and one current photo. I scrolled through the comments happily looking for some familiar faces and suddenly, there he was again. As with the day in the crosswalk, it literally took my breath away. I nearly dropped my phone. Tears immediately stung my eyes and I found myself pushing down a ball of dread in my stomach as I forced myself to examine his second photo; a photo in which he stood proudly beside a smiling blond while clutching a toddler in his arms-- he now has a son.

My monster -- the one who changed my life and led me on a downward spiral of shame, humiliation, and self-doubt and destruction - the one who to the rest of the world has always appeared to be a nice guy -- that monster now has a son. There really are no words for what I felt in that moment but perhaps panic is close. I had to quickly click away from the photo -- it was too much.

As I attempt, once again, to balance my anger and my shame, I wondered what he will tell his son about consent. About me? Or the others? Over the years, I've become convinced there were others. He was too blasé about what happened to me for there not to have been others. Will he talk about us at all? I wonder if one day he will secretly confess his crimes to his son. They were and are crimes. I wonder if he will beg his son to not repeat his mistakes. A less hopeful side of me wonders instead, if one day he'll teach his son his ways. When his son comes of age, will he tell him to always be the "nice guy" who takes drunk girls home? Because perhaps, even after all this time, it was not rape in his eyes.

Is my monster raising another one?

I do not know what what he'll tell his son, but I do know what I will tell my daughter about him and about that night. I'll tell her the truth. I'll tell her that affirmative consent matters. Every time. I'll tell her that she should be smarter than I was but in no way, shape, or form does that excuse rape or sexual assault. I'll tell her to always have a sober, female friend to get her home. I'll tell her that she can always call me. I'll tell her that not all men are monsters but that some monsters parade around as good men. I'll tell her that you never get over the anger you have when sexual assault or rape happens to you. Or the shame. Or the pain. I'll tell her that it sticks with you -- that you have to come back to it continually whether it is with your future partner or your OBGYN. It never truly leaves you.

And then I'll tell her that as a society, we are working on it. And now, I'll be able to tell her that I spoke out and told my story too. I'll tell her that I voted for politicians who do not blame women and who refuse to sweep things like this under the rug. I'll tell her that no one deserves to be a victim -- and I'll tell her that though it has taken me years to even admit it to myself -- I know that I did not deserve what happened to me.

I am raising a force to be reckoned with...

And one day, should I be lucky enough to have a son, I know what I will tell him. I'll tell him that affirmative consent matters. Every time. I'll tell him that he has a duty to speak out -- to call out his male peers on the slightest type of predatory behavior. He'll know that women aren't delicate flowers, but I'll tell him that it isn't fair that young females aren't allowed to go out, to be young and stupid and to make mistakes like their male counterparts. I'll tell him that a heavy weight rests on his shoulders but that the weight is really a blessing. That weight means that his generation can end the culture that perpetuates such acts against women.

It has to end. For me. For my daughter. For yours. For his son. For our sons. For us all.

It has to end.

*Brian is not this individual's real name.

January 11, 2018

me too - a story in three parts [part II]

I soon got my chance to confront Brian*. In college, there is always another house party just around the corner. I was no longer in a mood to drink or even to be mad at my friend and the guy I had been interested in before this all went down. My primary motivation was to find Brian and get him to admit that he was lying to people -- to have him clear the record. We did not sleep together. And I wanted some explanation as to what happened the night when he took me home. Where did the blood come from? Why was I so sore the next few days? Did I fall? Who had taken off my clothes?  
I found him at the party quickly and asked that he come outside to talk. He agreed and if he had any hesitation at all, it didn't show. We walked out to the front lawn to a quiet patch away from the house and road.  He just stared at me. I decided not to beat around the bush so I simply asked, "What's up with you telling people we slept together?" He shrugged his shoulders and replied, "I mean, we did."

My heart dropped into my stomach. I think in that moment, all the denial I had been experiencing crashed down around me. Of course I hadn't fallen on anything. Of course he had been the one to take my clothes off. Of course. It all made sense but still -- I could not truly comprehend it. Or maybe, I was not prepared to really admit it.

"What?" I stammered, "What do you mean? We didn't have sex."
"Yes, we did," he insisted. If he felt at all mournful or regretful for his actions, his face did not betray him. Rather he simply tossed out: "You were just too drunk to know it."

The night was starting to swirl around me. I couldn't be hearing what I was hearing. "What do you mean?" I asked again, trying to find my voice again. "If I was too drunk to know I was having sex, then I was too drunk to have sex."

He laughed. He fucking laughed. "Practically," he said with a grin. "I mean, it wasn't like you did much more than lay there."

I felt anger and shame boil inside of me. It mixed and mingled and I didn't know which one there was more of in that moment.

"Did I say I wanted to have sex with you?" I demanded probably less forceful than I wanted to sound. His smiled started to disappear but he didn't break my glaze when he said, "You didn't say anything. You were drunk. Really drunk. Passed out drunk." Then, as if fighting off a laughed he added, "But I mean, you didn't say no."

"If I didn't say yes...If I didn't say I wanted to have sex with you, it wasn't consensual!" I was trying very hard not to scream at him. Did he not understand what he was admitting to? Did he not understand that having sex with someone who is passed out is rape?

He shrugged. "Yeah, so..."

Yeah, so. Yeah, so. Yeah, so. Those two words would haunt me for a long time.

"You hurt me," I blurted out. "Like, I was bleeding."
He shrugged again. "That happens sometimes when someone isn't used to anal. It will be better for you the next time you try it."

I was stunned. But I was also ashamed. Ashamed it happened. Ashamed I didn't remember it happening. Ashamed I had been drunk. Ashamed that I had been drinking at all. Ashamed that I hadn't been able to admit to myself what had happened to me before this very moment. Ashamed that this guy -- this person I thought was my friend --  thought so little of me that he could do that to me without my permission. Ashamed that I was apparently so worthless that he'd feel no remorse for his actions.

It was now clear that I had more shame than anger. The shame in fact, was overwhelming. It smothered me. I could no longer make eye-contact with him. I broke his gaze and stared intently at the ground trying to conceal my tears.

He shifted front foot to foot -- clearly uncomfortable for the first time since our conversation began.
My tears flowed freely as I continued to peer towards the ground. After a while, he spoke: "Look, I'm going back inside if you don't have anything else you want to talk about."

My tears and shame enveloped me and I was silent. I never responded.

Until now. 

*Brian is not this individual's real name.