At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the language to name what had transpired. I had been indoctrinated with certain cultural ideas about how and why sexual assault occurred and what it looked like.
Even now, it is difficult for me to say out loud that I was “raped” because in the recesses of my brain, the definition of what constitutes an act as violent as “rape” is distorted.
It would be many years before the term “date rape” emerged, and even longer before the discussions about “consent,” even within consensual relationships, became part of the dialogue.
Of course my body knew what had been done to me—as I shook uncontrollably until I quietly vomited in the shower, where I remained for hours trying to wash away the stain. But this was after I was at home, in one piece, at least.
Over the years, I have shared bits and pieces of this story to my nearest and dearest and have written about it in subterfuge for what seems like an eternity.
At the time, I didn’t report it because I had willingly accepted a dinner invitation by people I barely knew: people whose names, for the record, I no longer remember. It was 32 years ago and I only met them once.
I was afraid others would judge me as careless.
I had willingly gone to the scene of the crime where I found myself surprised to be alone with the young man in question.
I didn’t even bother to say no after my first feeble attempt because there was no one to hear me.
I was afraid others would judge me as whorish.
I didn’t scream. I didn’t fight. There were no physical bruises. And he came from a prominent family.
Who would believe me?
He even drew me a bath afterwards.
I think this particular fact is what confounded me the most. My teenage brain could not make sense of this specificity. But now, after much consideration over the last few days, it is this detail that continues to cause alarm.
It is this detail I am reliving.
In a flash of recognition, I realized he drew me the bath because he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.
It occurs to me now that this man has probably not once in his life since that moment given me a second thought. He barely considered my existence when he was close enough to inhale my gasps.
This lack of culpability unnerves me because, while this assault was by far one of the most traumatic events of my young life, it was not even close to being my only experience with male impropriety and entitlement.
There was the time I fell asleep on a cross-country Greyhound bus trip, only to be awakened by a strange man’s hand attempting to slide down the front of my pants. This man was 18. We had shared a congenial chat before I fell asleep lulled by the passing landscape. I didn’t make a fuss. I didn’t yell or accuse. I felt dirty. By now I had already started to internalize this feeling as being inherent to me, not something that had been foisted upon myself by certain men’s expectations.
There was the time my childhood friend cornered me in a bathroom at a high school party. He was furious because while I had been intimate with others, I refused to have sex with him. Somehow, my selective promiscuity meant I was available for whomever. He scared me, but I felt dirty. By now I had already internalized this feeling as being inherent to me, not something that had been foisted.
There was the time another young man forced me to the roof of the apartment building where we both lived, and I was afraid he was going to shove me over the edge because I would not engage in oral sex.
There was the time my friend’s fiancé showed up drunk at my home and aggressively implied “there had always been something between us.”
There was the time my second cousin’s boyfriend fondled me against my will while she slept in the same bed.
There was the time he grabbed me too hard and there was the time he spit and there was the time he called me a whore and the time he said I must be a lesbian and another time and another and another. Too many times to recount.
I am struck dumb by the epiphany that what these men have in common, most profoundly is that they have, most likely, never given these incidents, so indelible to my experience, a second thought.
When I listen to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I hear a man who quite possibly doesn’t remember the event in question—not because it didn’t happen but because the incident is insignificant.
He doesn’t care now and he didn’t care then. It is not that he has never given that moment, which transformed this young girl’s life, a second thought—it’s that she was so irrelevant that the event doesn’t even merit the slightest fragment of recollection.
She was like a hang nail that caused a bit of irritation and then was quickly forgotten, certainly not calendar worthy.
This is terrifying.
When I listen to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I hear a woman apologizing for her very existence because she has internalized this feeling as being inherent to her, not something that had been foisted upon herself by certain men’s expectations.
She doesn’t want to make a fuss, but she has spent a lifetime trying to wash away the stain from all of us.
Author: Ginger Teppner