I remember vividly sitting on each others' beds on Saturday and Sunday mornings, recounting the previous night's escapades with my college roommates. The story I remember most clearly was a Halloween night when two of my roommates, disguised as evil Raggedy Anne and Andy (thanks to some weak, runny mascara), "hooked up" and both couples began making out on top of a hill. Evil Raggedy Anne and Andy and suitors lost their balance mid-smooch and began rolling down the hill. Evil Raggedy Anne lost her family heirloom Claddagh ring and chipped a large part of her front tooth that night. Explaining that to mom would be a phone conversation we all wanted to hear.
In all the talk of nighttime face sucking sessions gone right and wrong, which guy stripped at which bar, what songs were sung on the bus ride back to campus, there was never once a mention of rape. But it happened then. And it happens to one in four women in college now, usually underclassmen who've been drinking or whose perpetrators have been drinking. It happened to me when I was 19, and I've not mentioned it in the 29 years since. Not to anyone. Too embarrassing. Too painful. Still.
Lying on that bed, semi-conscious with the bedroom door wide open while some guy I barely knew rammed his penis into my completely unlubricated vagina, like a rolling pin thrusting back and forth against sand paper, I glimpsed another guy walk past the open door. He put his head down and kept walking. Even in my almost complete drunken haze, I could see the judgment in his face -- not for me but for the idiot on top of me. He had done this before.
He drove me home and talked about his girlfriend and how he really didn't have to drive me home, but he was being extra nice. As I got out of the car and stood up, I felt every ounce of my humanity drain out through my toes. I was nothing. He'd made me nothing.
I went to the health center a couple of days later because I was still in pain. The usually caring physician's assistant advised me to "stay off it for a while." How had I fallen from goody goody to slut so quickly? Who was I?
When I saw him on campus as I was giving a tour to prospective parents and their kids a few days later, he smirked as he passed up the stairs. To me, the smirk yelled "Who do you think you are? You're no tour guide. You're a fraud."
I felt the nothingness creep inside of me, stuffed it down and continued talking. "This is Textor Hall where the larger, lecture classes are held. There can be over 100 students in a class but the classes also have smaller sessions during the week." On and on I went like a robot moving through the motions of life.
By finally giving thought to this and opening up about it, I can begin to see how this experience has effected who I've become. That night shook to my core my ability to trust myself, to appreciate the beauty around me, and to be fully intimate. He was the right person at the right time, so to speak. I'd just started dating someone from another school that I really liked but wasn't sure of their feelings toward me, and someone whose strength and kindness I didn't feel worthy of. By drinking too much and leaving the bar with my rapist that night, I made sure I was right.
When the guy from another school eventually broke up with me one Saturday that Spring, I was crushed. My roommate, Anna, urged me to go to a party that night, insisting it would make me feel better. I went out and was in the middle of an incredibly supportive, post-break up talk with a red-haired football player with no neck, when into the house party walked my rapist.
"If it isn't the shit stain on the underpants of the world," my new friend called to him. Gross? Yes, but points for accuracy.
The pep talk faltered. I could no longer listen to anything positive about myself or relationships with him in the room.
It struck me that the football player looked like what I thought a rapist would look like -- all muscle, wide, legs slightly bowed. My rapist was tall and thin with dark hair and a bit of a mullet. He went on to a prestigious law school after college graduation.
I don't think of this as my one life-altering moment, but it is likely my most painful and unexamined. So, why revisit something that happened 29 years ago? Because I believe everyone has a story they've never told, a truth about themselves they think would irrevocably damage others opinions of them. These secrets become the masks we wear and walls we build that keep us from connecting with each other. Because one in four women are raped in college -- your daughters, granddaughters, sisters, and possibly you.
And because when you stuff a hurt like this down so far for so long, a fog surrounds you. The fog becomes denser as time passes. Many of us are walking the earth enveloped in a fog of pain that we don't even know is there. As my football friend was trying to tell me: Stand up to the pain and feel it, but never let it become you. You're a light. We all are. Follow that. It's brighter than you know.