Part I: The Tampon Incident
Oh my god. Where am I? Whose bed is this? My head is pounding. My shoulders are nude. I peak under the pale blue blanket that covers my body. I’m wearing absolutely no clothes.
Oh my god. There is a window on my right and a body on my left. Whose body? His back is turned. No shirt. No boxers. Just like Adam without the leaf. Should I wake him? I don’t even know his name. Should I leave? No. Logistically I can’t; to get out of bed, I have to crawl over him. Plus, if I just bounce, I’ll clearly end up feeling like shit. Maybe he’s nice. What if he asks me to leave? I’m so embarrassed.
I tap him on the back. Actually it’s more of a slap than a tap. He flips around, puffy face and crusty eyes. “Hey. Uh I’ve never done this before. Who are you?” I ask apologetically. He laughs, “Are you serious?” I don’t have to answer; by the look on my face he can tell I’m definitely not joking. We reintroduce ourselves and, according to him, I ask him the same questions I’d asked the night before when we’d met at my sorority’s Halloween Mixer Party. How would I know? As far as I’m concerned, last night never happened.
We hang out in his room for a few hours, talking about parents, politics, school, friends, and whatever else comes to mind. A normal “let’s meet” conversation between two strangers connected only by age and education. Except we’re laying in his bed, butt naked. I eventually forget about my headache and start to relax. Maybe this isn’t that bad. Maybe this is what college experiences are all about? Waking up, still a little inebriated, in some hot stranger’s room. Had to happen once, right?
After chatting for a few hours, I finally get up. My headache is back – full blast. I look at myself in his dorm room mirror. Before I get a chance to say anything he apologizes for the giant blackish purple hickies that plaster my neck. They are huge. And ugly. But I don’t even care. At this point, aspirin is all I can think about. Before I leave his room he asks for my number. I give it to him because why not? I rush back to my dorm room, a few blocks up from where he lives.
I get to my room, when suddenly my stomach turns. I turn around, and sprint down the hallway to the nearest bathroom just in time to projectile vomit all over the wall of my favorite stall – like the girl from The Exorcist minus the contorted backward bending torso. I feebly attempt to clean the vomit on the stall walls before clambering back to my room. My roommates are gone so I strip down and fall into bed.
I suddenly remember that I’d been wearing a tampon the previous night. There isn’t the usual string between my legs so I assume I must have taken it out at some point during the evening. At least I hope I did. Just to make sure, my fingers go exploring. The tampon is there, way up there. I wasn’t sure if we’d really had sex or just fooled around. Now, I’m pretty sure we did. No human fingers, for pleasure’s sake, could have reached – or should I say shoved – up that far.
I’m mortally ashamed. I assume I had sex not only while I was on my period, but while I was wearing a tampon. What if he tells his buddies? What if girls in my sorority find out? I finally manage to yank the tampon out. Yuck. I call a friend, explain that I’m experiencing the worst hangover I’ve ever had, and ask her if she has anything that can take this headache away. She comes running with a bottle of water, a handful of vitamins, and Tylenol. As I sit up to take the pills, she gasps “Your back! What happened?” My back is covered with deep scratches, some still bloody. “Rough sex?” Apparently. I can’t remember.
Part II: Budding Friendship?
Between Halloween and Christmas break, I run into D.L. once or twice. We seldom text back and forth. We are on friendly terms; there has been nothing sexual since the night we hooked up. And over the months, I assume he’s forgotten about the tampon incident. Still, I’m so embarrassed.
Sometime in late November, he invites me, along with some buddies, to a Justice concert. At the concert, the music is blasting, the people are dancing, and I’m having a great time. D.L.’s still as nice as that morning when I woke up in his bed – though he picks fights with anybody that comes near me. I’m a little annoyed by his over protectiveness but the music’s too good to really care. That night, D.L.’s body language increasingly indicates he wouldn’t mind hooking up with me but I make it very clear that we’re just friends. He seems okay with that and doesn’t make a move. I’m thrilled – I’ve finally made a guy friend at our university.
My friends and I frequently run into D.L. and his friends at bars around campus. Some of the people D.L. hangs out with tell me to watch out for him. Apparently, there’s a dark side to him. I don’t see it – or I choose to ignore it. Because after all, we’ve finally found some cool – and by cool I mean not completely socially inept – guy friends. This is how college is supposed to be.
Part III: Water?
On Monday, February 9th, around 12 pm, I slowly stroll into the dining hall, my stomach growling. “You look exhausted,” my friends remark. The previous night, a few days before Valentine’s day, around ten o’clock, I stopped by D.L.’s place to pick up a sweater I’d forgotten there during the weekend. I’d planned on saying hi, grabbing my sweater, and leaving. But that Sunday night did not go as planned.
Upon my arrival, D.L. gave me a glass of water. From that point on, I’d gradually grown weak until I literally could not get up from my seat. My body wasn’t responding. We talked for what seemed to be hours. As time went on, my eyes become heavy and my body heavy. Articulating became an effort. I felt stoned but hadn’t smoked. I felt drunk but hadn’t consumed any alcohol. I remember feeling more tired than I’d ever felt before – as if my body and mind were being smothered by some heavy fog of fatigue.
I blamed last night’s unusual attitude on a tiring weekend of sorority recruiting. A weekend full of superficial conversations and false smiles. After lunch, we all go on with our activities like any other day. I never bring up that evening again. Not until months later, when I start to reassemble the pieces.
Part IV: Bloody Valentine
Friday, February 13th. Friday the thirteenth. If I’d been just a little more superstitious perhaps I would have stayed home that night, avoiding the Valentine’s Day party my sorority held every year. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. My sorority sisters and I are tipsy by the time we get to the party. The bar is already packed with girls in cute red dresses and frat boys with popped collars. We walk in feeling good and beautiful, laughing at whatever we hear, pink lips stretching from ear to ear. Small talk with familiar faces, hugs here and there, more drinks, more fun.
Through the crowd I spot D.L. He is wearing a black and white checkered scarf. I walk towards him with a drink in my hand and pinch his waist. He turns around with a neat smirk. Until a few months later, that’s my last memory from that night. On the morning of February 14th, I wake up in D.L.’s bed. He’s sleeping next to me, wearing his boxers. I have no recollection of anything that happened after – or even during – our time at the Valentine’s Day Party.
I realize that I’m wearing nothing but a bra so I nudge D.L. in the back. He turns over, horizontally facing me. I look him in the eyes and say, “D.L., we didn’t have sex last night, right?”
“No, we didn’t,” he groggily responds.
“Good, because I didn’t want to.” My vagina is burning and my neck is, similarly to that morning in October, plastered with dark purple hickies. As I walk back to my dorm room in a haze, I desperately attempt to remember the events of the previous night. Though February in New York City is freezing, I’m wearing nothing but the little red dress I’d worn the previous night – I had to throw away the tights. When I found them on the floor next to D.L.’s bed this morning, they were in shreds.
But I’m not cold. In fact, I can’t feel anything besides a warm gooey liquid in my underwear. It can’t be my period – it’s not that time of month. When I sit on the toilet to empty my bladder, everything hurts. My inner thighs match my neck – purple black bruises painted onto pale skin. When I wipe, the toilet paper is covered with a mixture of blood and viscous translucent liquid. It burns. More blood in the toilet bowl, more white guck oozes out of my vagina as I painfully get up, and slip my underwear back on.
I take a long scalding shower and spend the rest of the day doing homework, just like any other normal Saturday. For reasons I can’t explain at the time, I begin dodging all events in which I could possibly run into D.L. I also start experiencing frequent panic attacks, episodes of paralyzing tunnel vision, and severe hypochondria. I’m going to die. Someone please figure out what it is and save me. I make several appointments with doctors and OBGYNs. I’m angsty and angry and I just can’t figure out why.
Weeks later, I see D.L. at a frat party. I decide to ask him about a few details from the Valentine’s Day Party that my mind can’t make sense of: “Those hickies after the party… I think you hooked up with me? I wish you hadn’t. I mean, I was black out drunk. And you knew it. Plus, we’re friends. Friends don’t hook up. You shouldn’t have.” – “We didn’t hook up.” – “Then why was I only wearing a bra when I woke up? And where did those hickies come from?” – “I don’t know. I carried you back to my place. You took off your clothes and went to sleep.” – “D.L., I had blood between my legs the next day – it wasn’t my period. And believe me, I felt it. Something happened.” – “You probably have an ovary infection.”
As I try to get answers regarding the morning of February 14th, D.L. diagnoses me with some sort of ovary infection. To this, I am left speechless. I slowly get up from where we are sitting and without another word, I walk away. I leave the frat party and join some friends at a bar a few blocks away.
I feel like I’m in a bad dream – as though this encounter, his denial, is all part of something I’ll wake up from. Pinch me, please pinch me.
Later that night, D.L. strolls into the bar. Alone. I ignore him. He spends the rest of the evening sitting nearby, chatting with my best friend Lea. After D.L. finally leaves the bar, Lea walks over to me and discretely asks me why I nonchalantly accused D.L. of rape during that evening’s earlier conversation. Rape.
Something in me broke when that word left Lea’s lips. Or something that was already broken, precipitously crumbled. “What the fuck Lea!? I never said that,” I shriek as the tears start pouring down my cheeks. “How dare you insinuate that I’ve accused someone of something so fucking serious?” I storm off, sobbing and livid. Lea follows me back to our dorms.
I’m standing in front of the mirror, my cheeks streaked with rivers of black mascara. I’m brushing my teeth, watching the frothy white toothpaste run out of my mouth as I gasp for air between two sobs. “He’s such a fucking liar, Lea. I never implied that, I swear,” I plead. “Rape!? Why would he even go there?”
To this, Lea simply replies “When he got to the bar tonight, he came to me and said, half snickering, ‘So what, now I’m D.L. the rapist?’” I lose it and start howling hysterically. Alarmed by the screeching, our floor’s Resident Assistant rushes into the bathroom.
“What the hell is going on here?” I’m crying so hard I can’t even answer. Lea tells the RA she’s got it under control. She helps me get back to my dorm room and sits on my bed as I sob myself to sleep.
The next morning, convinced I’m going crazy, I head over to Health Services and ask to see a psychiatrist. I need help. Immediately.
Part V: The Rape
Following that night and the countless therapy sessions that ensued, the memories from February the 13th slowly came out of hiding. Sometimes, for days on end, they would remain dormant. And then suddenly, when least expected, they’d lurk out at me from the shadows. I could be waiting for a pizza slice in the lunch line or getting drinks at a bar with friends when a gruesome element from that night would brutally punch me in the stomach.
At first, there was no chronological order in which they’d assault me. It wasn’t until a few months into therapy that I was capable of placing them all into one sequential panorama. After a first memory of D.L. tearing my tights off, the memories accumulated. I soon vividly recalled lying on my back, my body in a state of paralyzed lifelessness, my head flopped to the right side, blankly starring out his dorm room window at the gleam from the street lights outside.
Then came the flashback of his heavy breathing into my left ear as his body shoved itself inside of mine. To this day, breathing – or even whispering – into my ear makes my mind go numb and my body tense.
Later, I remembered the look of those empty sidewalks and of that street below while, to bare the pain, my teeth dug down into my bottom lip as he pounded against my limp body and ripped in and out of the dry cavity between my legs. That night, February 13th, D.L. drugged, fucked, ripped, and ejaculated into a lifeless doll. That lifeless doll happened to be me.
Part VI: The Aftermath
As I look back on such events today, I am amazed at how long it took me to realize – or acknowledge – what he’d been planning and what he finally succeeded in doing to me. I am also convinced that telling girls “Never walk home alone. Don’t talk to strangers. If you think you’re in danger, scream. Consent is sexy. No means no” or giving them a rape whistle when they begin college is useless. Actually, more than useless, it is counterproductive.
Giving girls rape whistles spreads the notion that rapists pop out of the shadows in dark alleyways and attack. What rape whistles don’t say is that approximately 66% of rape victims actually know their assailant. In fact, 48% of victims are raped by a friend or an acquaintance and 16% by an intimate. Finally, 2 out of 3 rape survivors remain silent. I’ve remained silent for nearly 7 years. Breaking the silence with this story, one that is all too common, is my way of attempting to blow the rape whistle for others. I hope that those who will read this will remember that rapists can be anywhere and anyone. I hope they realize that rapists don’t only roam in dark tunnels or live in sketchy neighborhoods. I hope they remember that many monsters are better disguised in plain light than in the shadows.