Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Very Special Christmas Post

Ed. Note: I wrote this immediately after last night's post, but held off on hitting the publish button because of the personal nature. I suspect that one day this blog will be nuked out of orbit, but you cannot erase the internets entirely. Thing is, I felt pretty cleansed after writing it out, so here goes

The Charlie Brown Christmas, together with this article in the Sunday NYT, brought up a memory that I once tried desperately to suppress, and only now and again brings me pause and consideration.

I graduated from high school a year early and was so very ready to be a normal American college student. Although I now realize that I had one of the better upbringings possible, at the time I went to college, all I wanted was to go to football games, cheer for teams other than soccer, go to frat parties and live the life I had read about in terrible teen books and magazines. Overseas, I had a shared experience with an incredible group of people, but when I came home from the summers, my US friends found my life both exciting and exotic. Conversely, I envied their lives of having the same friends for years, who didn't move and disappear forever, and the traditions of a US school year. Yes, I now realize how dumb that was.

I went to the University of Texas in some bizarre attempt to assuage my dad, who is from Texas, plus UT was a big school. I wanted to go to the biggest school possible and be the smallest fish in the biggest pond. I have a loud personality and I was then ready to observe the US culture from a comfortable vantage point. I knew absolutely nobody at UT - not a single soul, which can be daunting at a school of over 50,000. I had arranged to live in the right dorm (rich bitch, white girls' dorm, though I didn't know any of that at the time) and I entered UT with a blank slate. And no social network to speak of.

(I have many stories of that time. I learned a lot and made some lifelong friends. This isn't one of the better tales.)

I was one of those girls who didn't sleep with their boyfriends in high school. It was both an intellectual and emotional decision - every chick I knew who gave it up was a complete wreck when troubles arose in their relationships and I didn't want the drama. I also knew I wasn't ready for it and all of the shit that comes with it, so yes, I was often called a tease, frigid, prudish, whatever. I knew I wasn't, but the words still stung at the time. I developed intellectually more so than sexually, and while I greatly enjoyed a quality make out session, I was not ready for intercourse or oral sex. Heavy petting? Hell, yes. Potential pregnancy, STDs and that level of intimacy? Hell, no.

So first year of college, I had a boyfriend in WA, albeit a very shaky relationship and not one I felt particularly faithful to, unless I was being hit on by the wrong guy. My rich bitch roommate and I both pledged sororities (another long story) and I miraculously got in a good one (again, another story). Loved the girls, for the most part, and loved the sense of an instant community. One night in December, I was set up by my house president, who prided herself on just knowing who was a match.

She was right. I went to Russ' dorm formal, which was held in San Antonio, and had a goddamn blast. He was sharp, clever, funny, sexy and I spent the better part of the evening on his lap or in his arms. We had great chemistry and I liked him a lot. I drank too much that night and was too.....too. Too affectionate, too gregarious, too much of an exaggeration of my personality as a rule. When we got back to Austin and he walked me back to my dorm, we kissed passionately and hungrily. He finally told me that he had a date for his fraternity formal the following night, but that he was going to cancel and he wanted me to be his date. I think I floated up the stairs that night, I was so flattered and into him. He liked me.

The next night, I was a tad more reserved. My dress wasn't as revealing, I didn't drink as much, and I was much more "me." I remember us dancing a cloying slow dance and he whispered in my ear "I am so glad I chose you tonight." As I am wont to do when someone gets mushy, I changed the subject and whispered back "well, I did give up a the Charlie Brown Christmas to be here." I hadn't seen it since I was a kid, since we were never in the States during the holidays. He pulled back, his face excited, and said "I am recording it! Both that and Frosty the Snowman! Want to go back to my dorm and watch it?" I was bored and wanted to be alone with him, so I said yes. I liked him a lot.

We got to his dorm room and the first thing I can recall was his answering machine message - he had the Jeopardy theme and nothing else as his greeting. Loved it. We settled down on the bed and he turned on the cartoons he had recorded. We cuddled, kissed, and watched it. It was all good, until it wasn't. At some point, my usual buzzkill signals were discarded and his horniness gave way to determinedness. As far as sexual assaults go, this was fairly benign, as I merely had a pillow awkwardly but purposefully launched over my face and no other violent physical violence, aside from a penis thrusted repeatedly in me. Still, very few women imagine their first time to be punctuated with periods of trying to breathe with a pillow on their face, and all told, I have to score the whole experience on the negative scale.

To this day, the strangest and scariest part of it was him removing the pillow after he came, kissing me and telling me how good I felt. Then he asked if I wanted to take a shower. I was so out of it and freaked that I just said "no" (AGAIN) and he got up to take a shower. I grabbed my belongings and ran out of the room, convinced he was going to follow me. I actually left a shoe in his room. Cinderella!

I fled outside and got in the first cab I could, even though my dorm was only blocks away. I knew enough to go to the hospital, and thereafter, I had the most unpleasant experience of a rape kit. As it was my first time and had just lost my virginity, there was plenty of blood work, and a little bruising, but no skin underneath my fingernails or any telltale signs of rape. A city attorney had been summoned (I now know just how low such a person is on the legal food chain) and he strongly discouraged me from filing any charges. I had been drinking (albeit not much), I knew my 'alleged' attacker, no obvious signs of forced intercourse, and I willingly went to his dorm room. He (city attorney) said he was confident that if he interviewed my Russ' frat brothers, they would say I was all over him, we had been dating, I was drunk, etc.

It was horrifying and humiliating, but I told that city attorney that I would press forward and file charges. Fuck that motherfucking noise. I believed in the criminal justice system at the time and, as a future lawyer, would not be daunted by frat boy witnesses. I distinctly remember the city attorney rolling his eyes, saying he (my date, Russ) would be released on his own recognizance, and that I would regret the decision as the 'mistake of my life.'

He was partly right. The next morning, I got a call from the house president who had set me up with the fucker. She was almost hedging her bets, expressing horror and sympathy alongside subtle seeds of doubt. She begged me to recant my claims, as it would "bring disrepute" upon the house as a whole. Mind you, I knew NO ONE at UT and the bulk of my social life revolved around the house. She told me I would forever be branded at UT as a 'narc' and 'problem girl' and that I wouldn't get many offers for dates, and seeing that I was a freshman, that might be social suicide. My roommate told me the same thing and implored me to recant and drop the charges. I confess that I strongly considered it and felt like a drama queen. After all, I had been drinking (although I was far, far from drunk at the time, as I remember every second of it), I had been on the guy's lap the night before, and I had really liked the guy and hadn't been shy about expressing that.

I should add one more layer here. I have really regular menstrual cycles and was completely freaked that he fucked me while I was fertile and ovulating. I scoured the library (no internets back then -- Stone Age) and realized that he had come inside me during the proverbial three to five days a month a woman could get pregnant. I was terrified of being pregnant. Terrified. I think that terror led me to decline to drop the charges, as if I had to get an abortion, at least I had a really good excuse.

I refused to recant, and my sorority sisters were PISSED. I remember one of the sorority officers telling me "all of us have had sex we regret, but it isn't rape." I had to think about that for a long time, or at least, the two weeks between that event and Christmas Day, when I got my period (still the best Christmas gift ever). Was it regretful sex or rape? I screamed "No, stop. Please" until the pillow action, to no avail, but did I do enough? Was I clear enough? Did my actions the night before inform him the next night? Yeah, I have lived with these questions for years. I own my responsibility for what happened that night, but no, he had no right or invitation to do what he did.

Way too long of a story and someday, I will post the PS to all of this. Suffice to say, like the author of the NYT article, I was kind of thrown under the bus at my sorority. They hated the attention the month long investigation inflicted, and nearly every girl in the house implored me to recant and withdraw the claim and to "let it go." The bad guy eventually pled guilty to a lesser offense and eventually apologized, after being threatened by one of my best friends and her posse of ten guys with bats (something I knew nothing about and was horrified to learn, although in hindsight, a pretty fucking kickass move by my friend). He left UT shortly after that, but I saw him a year later and he broke down in tears when he saw me. I forgave him a long time ago.

I had a harder time with the women who wanted me to go quietly into that good night and just accept it as a fact of college life. I didn't come to resent women, as did the author of the article, but it taught me a lesson that I still refuse to fully accept: women are often the biggest enemies to other women.

One day, perhaps, women will learn that we aren't competing with each other, at least in the big picture. My harshest betrayals have been from women, and it never ceases to amaze me how positively cruel it can be, to say nothing of the irreparable nature of such acts. It also never fails to stun me that women see other women as their biggest rivals - so very short sighted. Yet there is probably a reason that most of the female friends who have hurt or betrayed me have a very small social circle and no close female friends. It occurred to me tonight that of the small group of women that have truly hurt me, none of them had meaningful friendships with other women, aside from me.

The sorority girls aren't included in this, and, unlike the author, I wasn't forced out. After all of the bullshit settled, almost everyone privately told me they admired my willingness to publicly right a wrong. I keep in touch with many of them and they aren't of the female-hating persuasion. Despite routinely becoming friends with females who hate their own gender, I still have a great network of female friends, and although I love my male friends, I count on the girls when push comes to shove.


Norm said...

Oh shit.

I just cried.

I suppose it's a different sort of stereotype of my gender that I want to see rapists summarily executed. Which of course isn't going to heal anybody.

Talix said...

I've written out my drunken college date rape story somewhere...I'll see if I can find it.

cornutt said...

Thanks, you two. I had some misgivings about posting it, and just writing it out was kind of therapeutic. I have told the story many times verbally, but writing it out (and editing, which, believe it or not, I did) was somehow different.

The sad, truly fucked up thing is that I am hardly a unique snowflake where this is concerned. Tal, I would love to read your story, even though I have come to realize that they all share the same fundamental elements. I know far, far fewer women who haven't had this happen than those who have.

Andrea said...

women are often the biggest enemies to other women.

You've summed up thoughts I've had for some time on this subject. I got my first inkling of this after a sexual assault (I, too, have a college rape story, but that's for another time).

I'm not sure why women do this to each other; and it's probably why I've tended to keep my women friends at arms length since that time. I envy that you have been able to work past it.

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