I don’t know her. I know nothing about her. I know nothing about her life, her school, her friends, her enemies, her family, her faith, or her dreams. I don’t know her, but then again, I do.
Twenty-six years ago, I WAS her. I was 17, in and out of my first sexual relationship with a boy who was likely mentally ill and a sometime drug user. I was a severely abused kid with issues of my own. I was an under-acheiver with a B average. I wasn’t in the popular crowd, but I wasn’t an outcast. I got invited to parties, but I didn’t throw the parties. I had colleges offering me scholarships based on my entrance test scores, but I was having trouble with authority at school. I had two jobs, but I was partying with co-workers from both and sometimes skipping work to party. I was applying to colleges, and taking care of my three younger siblings because our mother was a drunk and a drug user and severely mentally ill. I was excited about my future, and felt guilty about leaving the little kids who depended on me. I was on the edge of gaining, or losing, it all.
On Senior Class Toga Day, I skipped school to go to a party. Most of my memories of that day are what people have told me, and some pictures that made it past the photo-booth tech (no digital pics or videos back then). I remember being anxious about missing school, excited to be at a party, nervous about my mom finding out, and happy to just let go of all the stress for a while.
I drank. I didn’t have any moderation in those days. I didn’t really understand that if you drink until you FEEL drunk, you are going to be VERY drunk. You are probably gonna pass out. And soon. I was dressed provocatively. I had on a tube top, shorts and boots, under my white-sheet toga. I liked to make out when I drank. I still do. I love the buzz of that first drink and it makes me happy and I like to kiss people when I feel that way. Many of my friends agree with me on this, still. There are pictures of me sitting in a chair, making out with some guy, and other guys lined up behind him. I have no way to know if this was my idea, or theirs. It might have been either.
I do have some memories, though:
I remember laying in a bed with several guys in the bed with me. Were they just playing around, jumping on the bed? Or was it more? I don’t know.
I remember waking up to one guy specifically having sex with me. When I started crying and told him it hurt, he started crying, too. He told me he was sorry. He thought I was a virgin and that’s why it hurt. I let him think that.
I remember this same guy throwing a wet wash rag at me, telling me to clean myself up.
I remember getting sick in the bathroom, with no idea how I got there.
I remember my one friend at the party, sitting next to me on the side of the bed later, telling me over and over how sorry he was. He had locked the door, but they had gotten the key.
I remember something about the cops. I don’t know if they were called by neighbors, my mom, or what… but there were cops, and it was dark.
That’s it. I wish that were the end of the story.
The next day, my mother made me clean up, get dressed up as nicely and as “innocently” (her word) as I could. I wore a white dress with a blue stripe. I used to love that dress. She drove me to the house where the party had been held. It turned out to be the guy I remember having sex with’s grandparent’s house. She made me apologize for having sex in their bed. She made me offer to do work around the place as punishment. I don’t remember all of it, I was still pretty hung-over from the day before. But the result was, I ended up doing office work for the kid’s dad. Afterward, the dad would come into the Pizza Hut where I worked, and flirt with me. It was gross, but I felt like I deserved it.
The boys from the party called me a slut at school. I didn’t say anything about it. I thought they were right. I started skipping school. I forged my mother’s signature on notes, and by the time it was discovered, I had 70 unexcused absences. I almost didn’t graduate. I ended up begging for them to allow me to graduate, and based on my previous record, I was allowed to do so.
I dumped the boyfriend for good. I just couldn’t continue that relationship. We had only had sex a few times, and after the party I just couldn’t do it any more. He kept pressuring me and I finally agreed to do it again, but in the middle I freaked out, threw him off me, and that was it. I just couldn’t see him after that. He killed himself a few months later. His parents blamed me.
I found out I was pregnant a few weeks after the party. I didn’t know if it was from the party, or if it was the ex-boyfriend. I didn’t care. As odd as it may sound, I wanted that baby. I felt like something good might come of all of it, after all. I made plans to go to my grandparents. I knew they loved me and would support me, no matter what. It may not have been a great plan, but it was the best I could come up with.
I miscarried on Thanksgiving Day.
I stopped my college search, I stopped doing homework, I stopped doing just about anything but drink and work and take care of my siblings.
I finally decided to kill myself. I secreted away, over a period of weeks, a decent stash of pain killers and sleeping meds from my mom’s prodigious stash. I had a bottle of vodka. I made a date with myself, and for the first time in months, I felt good.
That night, this guy at my other job asked me out. I told him I had plans, but he was cute, and insistent, and promised not to keep me out too late. I figured, what the heck. It was my first date with the guy who became my first husband. He turned out to not be a great guy, but he did save my life that night, so…
I married him a few weeks later, and after graduation followed him as he joined the military.
My life did not straighten out after that. I still drank, heavily. I still made huge, life-changing mistakes. But slowly, over decades, I managed to come to a place where I liked myself.
I hope it doesn’t take that long for the girl from Stuebenville. I hope that by reporting the rape, and seeing those boys go to jail, she feels in some measure empowered. I hope she doesn’t take to heart all the negative comments about how she deserved it. I hope she has a loving supportive family who shelters her from the worst of it, and makes her feel safe, if not from herself, at least from the outside.
I know there are two sides to every story. I can only imagine what the guys on the other side of mine would say, if they knew I was talking about this now. I don’t honestly care about the other side. I had to forgive them in order to move forward. But that doesn’t mean I forget that I didn’t give consent.
Regardless of how someone is dressed, regardless of how much they drink, if there is no consent, the result is rape.
I can imagine what the girl from Stuebenville is feeling these day. I wish I couldn’t.