Wednesday, just five days ago, I saw my rapist in town in the middle of the construction on Pine Street. I hadn’t seen him since he raped me. He did not see me, or at least I don’t think he saw me. But the rape happened so long ago, he might not recognize me or even remember that it happened.
I was a freshman in high school on a double date with my sister. We went with older guys so that we could get into the dance club. My sister is older than me, her date was David Wildblood or Steven Wildwood or something like that. He was a high school senior, stocky and short, athletic, clean shaven, brown hair conservatively cut and combed to the side. My date was his older friend, David Williams*. He wasn’t a student. He was older. He looked like Lionel Richie: tall, slender and strong like a dancer, mustachioed, a neat afro.
I had that Stevie Nicks permed hairstyle that was the fashion of straight-haired teen-aged girls in the late 70s and early 80s. On the night in question, I was wearing platform shoes and a dress I’d borrowed from my mom’s friend, Patti. I was trying to look older, so we could get drinks. We did. I drank a Sea Breeze (vodka with cranberry juice and grapefruit juice) in an elegant glass, a slice of lime on the rim. I probably drank more than one Sea Breeze.
We drank and danced. My sister, our dates, and me.
After the dancing under the strobing lights — Le Freak, Take a Chance on Me, We Are Family, The Things We Do for Love — Ann and David (or Steven) disappeared. I was left alone with him. I remember climbing with him up steep stairs in a narrow white hallway. It didn’t feel like a good idea or a good place for me to be, but I didn’t see a way out. As the youngest, I felt pressured not to ruin the flow of the evening. And maybe Ann and her date were up there? David and I entered what turned out to be a bedroom with a bed, a dresser, and no windows. Not knowing what to do, I timidly sat on the edge of the bed.
As soon as I did, he came at me with the force of a huge wave, pressing me down onto the bed. His mustache scratched the side of my neck as he yanked up my dress and ripped off my cotton panties. Shocked, I tried to fight against him kicking my legs and striking at him with flailing hands, elbows, knees. He was older and stronger. Determined.
His penis was a Billy club, huge and rigid. Went it entered me, all the lights went out. Instantly enveloped in waves of pain, I tried hard not to vomit as my body was split in two. In the darkness I heard growly, heavy breathing. Forever. I clenched my muscles and tried to get away, to push him out of me. He would not stop. It occurred to me that if I pretended to go along with it, it might end. Maybe my acquiescence would make him stop hurting me. The rubbing and chafing burned my insides. Private, tender layers of me were ripped away as I started to disintegrate from the inside.
I don’t remember finding my sister afterward, I don’t remember how I got home, but that attack eventually did stop. And yet it continues — even today, 40 years later. Every time I give in, every time I am forced to endure something, I’m right back at the rape. Every time a male friend assumes a certain uninvited closeness — a kiss on the cheek or a touch at the small of my back, a slap on the ass — I’m right back at the rape. And Wednesday, just five days ago, I saw his face. My pummeled soul was ripped from my body again.
The news of the day keeps that ripping going and going, adding injury to injury. Kavanaugh. Trump. Harvey Weinstein. Brock Turner. Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. Picasso. Balzac. Lord Byron. Casanova. Benjamin Franklin. It goes back even further. And it keeps going.
Why now? Why me? Even those I love most have asked me why did I not do anything about the rape 40 years ago? Why did I keep quiet? I can only answer with a question: Who would believe a tipsy girl in a borrowed dress? The truth is, few would. Another truth: There is nothing special about my experience. The names and faces and details change: Sometimes the rapist is a rock star, sometimes a comedian, sometimes a man standing before Congress for his lifetime appointment. Sometimes it’s just some guy you see 40 years later on Pine Street.
Here at 54, hovering on the brink of menopause at the apogee of my fragile libido, I am outraged. Whenever my husband initiates sex, whenever I masturbate or become aroused listening to Rameau or looking at Shunga, my delight is colored and tempered by a guy who so casually took my birthright.
My therapist calls it agency. Like all the women in my position today whose decades-old wounds are reopened with each daily news cycle, I have to work hard to regain mine. How can I rise above this huge cultural wave of male entitlement? The truth is, I cannot. I have to ride it; I have to surf. But as these waves of indignity crest and break, I struggle to swim free of the inexorable force of their undertow.
*not his real name