I have tried to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain the anonymity of the people involved in what you are about to read, I have changed their names.
My name is Audrey, and I thought this type of thing only happens to others. Yet I woke up one day and found that I had become the main character in a horror story I’d only heard about in movies or newspapers. Suddenly, I was what all parents dread for their children… but, I didn’t fit the part.
In fact, I’m what most people would call a good girl — high school valedictorian, straight A college student, ballet dancer, and in many ways an over-achiever. But no one ever told me about the Dan Laws (referred to as D.L. from this point forward) I could encounter in my life. Those attractive and brilliant Ivy league jocks I’d dreamed of introducing to my mother.
Screw Your Sister
I’m not really what you’d call a sorority girl. I’m not blonde and I don’t curl my hair. I don’t get manicures. I don’t go shopping with my girlfriends or spend countless hours covering my face with makeup. And I’m really not into body built beer drinking frat boys or fat necked football players. Though I never fully get involved in the sorority microcosm, being a KAT sister has led me to socialize with people I would never have met otherwise. That’s how I first encountered D.L.
When I first laid my eyes on him I was already tipsy. I was at the annual KAT Halloween Party — otherwise known as Screw Your Sister or SYS. On Screw Your Sister night everyone wears a costume and all the girls are randomly paired up with a surprise date (usually a frat boy). The trio — the sorority girl, the boy, and the fake ID — then join the group of other drunk students for a night of bar hopping.
So on SYS night, I shuffled through my closet and found an old hippy costume that was eligible for a little recycling. With a little makeup and some peace and love accessories — also recycled — this outfit would do. Bright colors intertwined into fun patterns. Sexy but not slutty. I slipped it on, painted my face with obnoxiously colorful makeup, checked myself out in the mirror, asked my roommates how I looked, and off I went, ready to have a good night.
“He’s not here yet,” Rachel, one of my closest sorority sisters, tells me as I walk into the KAT house. Great. I’m dateless. I decide to tag along with Rachel and her date until mine shows up. Apparently, my mystery man had a late exam and wasn’t going to be out for a while.
At our first bar stop, I get a Long Island Ice Tea. Long Island Ice Teas are boozy — very boozy. I decide that one drink will suffice for the night. But at the next few bars we go to, my sisters convince me to have just one more drink. And another. Until I’m positively happy and definitely tipsy.
At our last bar stop, D.L. shows up. My late date. He’s cute, seems friendly, and, most importantly, he’s clearly not scared of girls. At our university, such boys are a rare find.
The Tampon Incident
My head is pounding. My stomach is twisting into knots. My shoulders are nude. I peak under the pale blue blanket that is weighing over my body. I’m wearing absolutely no clothes. Oh my god. There is a window on my right and a body on my left. Who’s 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. Sneaking out is not a viable option. 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.
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. The conversation flows.
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 — who turns out to be a pretty decent guy. Had to happen once, right?
His father died last year, unexpectedly. Soon thereafter, he broke up with his girlfriend of three years. Jen. They aren’t allowed around each other because he helped her cheat on an exam. I ask him who “they” are. “University faculty,” he answers. Hum, I didn’t know professors could impede on your personal life like that. This guy must be a big shot.
Yes, a big shot, no doubt. Not only was D.L. a TA at a prestigious university during his senior year of high school, but he’s also a TA in two of his classes at our university. Plus, D.L. is a DJ and plays the guitar in a band.
Have I found Mr. Perfect? Oh, and I forgot to mention that he is from my home town and that he’s filthy rich.
After chatting for a few hours, I finally get up. My headache is back — full blast. I look at myself in the mirror. Before I get a chance to say anything he apologizes for the giant blackish purple hickeys 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. I’d be happy to see this guy again.
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. Wow, this is without a doubt the worst hangover I’ve ever had. I’ve never been sick in the morning before. And I don’t recall ever having such a painful headache.
There isn’t the usual string between my legs so I assume I must have taken it out at some point during the night. At least I hope I did.
Just to make sure, my fingers go exploring. Nothing. They go a little further. Just in case. 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 up that far.
While I try getting it out, my mind is racing. What if I can’t get it out? What if people find out I had sex with a tampon? I didn’t even know that was physically possible. I’m so embarrassed. He must think I’m a total freak. Ewwwwww. I’m disgusted by myself. And totally ashamed. After much struggling, I finally manage to yank it out. Yuck.
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? But first things first. My head is about to burst — I need medicine or something, anything, to numb the pain.
I call my friend, Emily, who comes running with a handful of vitamins and Tylenol. I get out of bed to take the pills. Emily has seen my naked body a trillion times, but this time she gasps “Your back! What happened?”
“Rough sex?” Apparently. I can’t remember.
It’s Not Like We’re Dating or Anything
Now, let’s review for a moment. We have Audrey, that’s me. We have D.L., the picture perfect frat boy that I woke up with. We have Emily, the girl who nursed me when I thought my head might pop open, splattering the white walls of my dorm room with burgundy particles of brain. Now, let me introduce Adam.
Before this story began, I had a friend with benefits — a fuck buddy, named Adam. We’d been sleeping together for four months but were not in a formal relationship. I met Adam when I was still a freshman at my favorite coffee shop. He’d already obtained his English BA from our university and was working at a reputable publishing house.
Adam was ridiculously good looking and even more ridiculously smart. He was a brilliant writer. But, as most genius authors go, Adam was also totally lost. He had black hair, dark eyes, and when he’d let himself relax, he had a child’s laugh. Adam was perfect for me — except that Adam didn’t actually like me.
Sometimes we’d have good conversations but mostly we had great sex. I was too intimidated by him to be myself around him. I wanted to impress him, show him that I was just as smart as he was, but when we were together, all I could successfully do was talk fast, blush, and giggle nervously.
It didn’t help that he was too full of himself to see anything beyond, well, himself. Though our relationship did not make me happy, I still stuck with him because I hoped he’d eventually like me back.
A few days after I met and slept with D.L. at SYS night, Adam invites me over for a home cooked dinner — pasta for supper, sex for desert. While I walk over to his apartment, I look forward to him discovering the scarlet hickeys D.L.’s mouth had imprinted on my neck. I hope he’ll be upset that I spent the night with someone else. I imagine him declaring his love for me and asking me to never be with another boy ever again. We’d kiss, make love, and I’d forget about SYS night’s mishap.
Unfortunately, Adam doesn’t drop to his knees out of jealousy. He does not beg me to be his, only his. Instead, he brings a cigarette to his pursed lips, lights it, slowly draws in the smoke, and blows out that sweet smelling first puff. Then, he asks me how hooking up with someone else was.
I watch the round fuzzy red light consume the tip of his cigarette. I nonchalantly reply it was okay and ask if he minds.
“You can do whatever you want. It’s not like we’re dating or anything.”
I stared at the tower of ash on the tip of his cigarette. My heart crumbled, but I kept smiling like that was the answer I’d expected all along. And while we continued sleeping together, I continued to long for his affection, but we never discussed it again.
Between Halloween and Christmas break, I run into D.L. once or twice. We seldomly 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. I more than willingly agree to go. Who would refuse a Justice concert? And who knows, maybe he’ll sweep me off my feet and help me let go of Adam?
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, I realize that D.L. won’t be the one to help me forget Adam. Unfortunately, I’m just not attracted to D.L. and while his body language increasingly indicates he wouldn’t mind hooking up with me, 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.
Don’t Look Back
Over Christmas break, I go back to my, and D.L.’s, hometown. There, D.L. and I grab some Thai food for lunch. We talk about our families, our friends, our past love lives.
After lunch, I write about him in my journal; I don’t understand why I don’t have a crush on him. After all, D.L. treats me well and seems to genuinely care. The same cannot be said about Adam.
Adam didn’t bother to wish me a happy 20th birthday in November. D.L. did. After my tonsillectomy, Adam didn’t ask how I was recovering. D.L. did. When I’m around D.L., I feel important. When I’m around Adam, I feel like a disposable piece of meat.
As soon as I get back to New York after Christmas break, I ask Adam if things will ever change between us. And by change, I really mean evolve. His silence expresses all he’s never willing to say to me. I decide not to see him anymore, secretly hoping he’ll beg me to stay. He doesn’t. I walk away and try not to look back. I want to cry but I won’t. Not for him.
I haven’t told you about my two best friends, Lea and Sophie, yet have I?
The three of us lived together our first semester of sophomore year, in the campus dorms. One room, three beds. During that time, we are together from the break of dawn until bedtime, all day, every day.
Lea is the beautifully mysterious wolf dancer — she literally dances like a wolf would dance if wolves could dance. She has chin-length dark brown hair and angular bangs. Her eyes are the color of grass and when she cries, they glow and become a hypnotic indiscernible color between light green and turquoise blue. We met on our first day of freshman year during orientation. A common passion for good cheese and fine wine propelled what was to become a deep friendship that I treasure until this day.
Sophie is the voluptuous splendor — she gets a lot more attention from boys than Lea or myself. I’ve known her since sophomore year in high school. Back then, we always respected each other but never spent much time together. Different social circles don’t mix well in pubescent minds. But in college, we quickly became inseparable.
And I’m the small brunette Frenchy — though born and raised in the United States, my mother’s french genes transpire. Some might say I’m cute in a baguette and cigarettes kind of way.
The semester goes by quickly. We enjoy living together but we also have very different schedules. Sophie studies late into the night, Lea is not a morning person, and I’m usually in bed by 9pm during the week. We soon decide that for the sake of our friendship, we really need individual bedrooms. The university housing services take our request seriously.
By January 2008, just in time for second semester to start, Sophie, Alex, and I each get individual rooms on the same floor. That’s also when we start hanging out with D.L. and his buddies frequently. Looking back, I realize that what D.L. took from me sophomore year gave SAL’s friendship natural growth a boost. That boost has been in effect ever since.
An Another Friendship is Born — Or So We Hoped
We — and by “we” I mean SAL— frequently run into D.L. and his friends at the hipster college bar nearby where we spend most weekend nights. Every time we venture to that bar, I not so secretly hope I’ll run into Adam. But I run into D.L. instead. And when he’s around, I don’t think about Adam anymore — or not as much.
D.L. takes my mind off of things. He makes me laugh. He makes me feel comfortable and above all, important. It’s like I never have to pretend. After breaking things off with Adam, I thirsted anything — and anyone — that would help boost my confidence. D.L. did just that. Not to mention that girls gave him a lot of attention. When I am around, he ignores their looks and seems completely consumed by my presence.
Sophie and Lea like him and his buddies too. We feel like we’ve finally met a group of boys we can call friends. In fact, Sophie starts dating one of them— until he tells her she’ll never have to work a day in her life if she sticks with him. Lea knows another one of D.L.’s best friends from back home. It feels like it’s meant to be.
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 chose 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.
There’s Something Sad About Her
I end up sleeping at D.L.’s place a few times — fully clothed. Since high school, I’ve always had sleepovers with my male friends. This is nothing new. But, when I sleep at D.L.’s I usually wake up with a huge headache and have to ask him what happened the night before.
My memory loss every time I’m with him becomes a joke between us. I blame it on my recently diagnosed sleep apnea — what else could be causing it?
We hook up once — very PG-13 — but I’m uncomfortable and know for certain that’s not what I want. I figure he understands when he doesn’t make any other moves. So we continue hanging out, kind of flirting but mostly just having a good time.
“She has something really sad about her.” I looked at D.L. in awe. A college boy who sees beyond the smile? If you pay attention, even when Lea blinds us with her glorious full-teethed smile, an intangible hint of sadness always emanates from her. A look that D.L. noticed right away. Most people, especially the college boys I’d met thus far, didn’t take the time to notice those types of details — or they just weren’t sharp enough to pin point what those details could reveal.
I think that’s the type of detail I loved most about Adam. There was always that something I couldn’t quite grasp about him. Mystery. Or sadness? Maybe a mix of the two.
Anyhow, during that time, I longed to also find that one person who would want to see beyond my smile. Though Sophie’s exotic beauty was every college boy’s fantasy, D.L. took more interest in Lea and myself. D.L. saw something in Lea that I didn’t think most people had ever taken the time to notice. I adored him for it.
So not only was this guy perfect in most ways, he also saw beyond what most boys look for in a girl: boobs, butt, and a kissable face.
The silent question still lingered: why oh why didn’t I want to be with him? Why didn’t I kiss him right then and there? Why was I still hoping to run into Adam at every street corner?
Looking back, I think an unconscious part of me knew that underneath D.L.’s perfection lay a dangerous person. I wish I’d listened to that little voice that told me something wasn’t right. I wish I’d also taken his friends’ warnings about him seriously. Every day I wish I’d listened.
On Monday February 9th, around 12pm, I slowly stroll into the dining hall, my stomach growling. The thought of our usual flat crust pizza for lunch makes me salivate. I haven’t eaten anything since 7pm last night. Lea and Sophie are already sitting at our customary lunch table in the far corner of the dining hall.
“You look exhausted,” Sophie remarks as I put my bag down by the yellow plastic table. I’m not surprised; the dark circles under my eyes make me look like a heroine fiend when I don’t get my usual eight hours of sleep. And last night, I definitely did not.
“Why didn’t you come to class this morning? Professor Mendel gave an awesome lecture on Yates — some of the stuff will probably be on the final. I’ll give you my notes,” adds Lea.
“I didn’t go to bed until 3am last night,” I explain. “And it was impossible for me to get up for class this morning. Literally impossible to get out of bed. My body couldn’t.”
The night before, 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. It was a Sunday night and I had a 9am class the next morning — a class I loved and one I absolutely never skipped.
Upon my arrival, D.L. gave me some water in a personalized plastic cup, a goodie from his frat. From then on, I’d gradually grown weak until the point where I was literally incapable of getting up from the black chair set in the corner of his room.
We talked for what seemed to be hours. As time went on, my eyes become heavy and my body weak. 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, pushing me ever deeper into my seat.
“I hope I didn’t make a fool out of myself last night,” I tell the girls after explaining how exhausted I’d been the previous night. “I just couldn’t leave. Physically couldn’t. My body weighed tons and my vision was blurry. I’m sure I must have sounded like a dumbass. I couldn’t even talk right — all my words came out as confused mumbles! D.L. must think I was on something.”
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.
Friday, February the 13th. The day before Valentine’s day. Friday the thirteenth. If I’d been just a little more superstitious perhaps I wouldn’t have gone to KAT’s Crush Party — the Valentine’s day party my sorority held every year.
That night, Lea and I went to one of my sorority sister’s apartment to pregame: wine and cheese. Now that’s a classy pregame if you ask me. And how appropriate for the day before lovers around the world would exchange Valentine’s chocolate hearts and fresh rosebuds.
During the pregame, we drink a lot. We eat a lot. We laugh a lot. And then we go to Camp’s, the restaurant/bar on Broadway where all the under aged and underdressed freshmen go for a night of debauchery on weekends. That’s where KAT is having our Crush Party.
I am drunk by the time we get there. The bar is already packed with girls in cute red dresses and frat boys with popped collars. It is hard to picture that just a few hours before, this swarming bar seated families with children for a candle lit Italian dinner of gnocchi and minestrone.
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. A good old night in a typical college bar.
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.
Good, Because I Didn’t Want To
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 Campos the previous night.
As I realize that I’m wearing nothing but a bra, 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, once again, plastered with dark purple hikkies.
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.
The previous week, D.L. and I had decided we’d hang out and get a bite to eat on the 14th. We were both single and it would be fun. I thought we’d grab a slice of pizza and watch a movie. Nothing special, just two platonic friends hanging out on Valentine’s day while our non-single friends were out on romantic dates.
That night, I meet him a little after 8pm on the corner of my dorm building. I’m late. I’ve been chatting with Lea and dreading the idea of having to leave my dorm room. But the plans are made and I feel compelled to meet him.
When I see his black suit I realize that my jeans and sweatshirt are obviously much more casual than he’d planned on. He hails a taxi and we jump in, apparently in a hurry.
We eat dinner in the back room of a fancy Italian restaurant where every entrée is over 25 dollars. I did not expect this at all.
During the dinner, I feel particularly uncomfortable. D.L. isn’t being his usual self. Something — though I can’t pinpoint what it is — has changed. The whole time he apologizes to me. I don’t understand why.
“I’ve never been that drunk. I don’t even remember last night,” he keeps repeating. But D.L. drinks all the time and according to Lea, who was with us for most of the previous night, he wasn’t more drunk than usual. Which is also why she’d left me with him when, as he carried my semi-unconscious body up the street towards our dorms, he’d said, “I’ll take care of her,” and taken me to his room.
That evening was the first time things were awkward between us. I don’t remember what we ordered; I don’t remember what we talked about. All I remember is wanting to get back to the safety of my dorm room, as quickly as possible.
During the cab ride back to campus, D.L. and I talk about Lea again and why he finds her so intriguing. “You and Lea are intriguing,” he corrects. I ask him why me, to which he raises his eyebrows, smirks, and answers, “that would be long. We’ll talk about it next time.”
The rest of the cab ride goes by in a blur. That’s the last time I see D.L. for many weeks. That night he texts me several times. The next day he apologizes for texting me at all.
Attending that dinner might seem strange to anyone reading this — it still seems strange to me. After all, I’d woken up bloody and bruised that very morning in his bed. But I think I so badly wanted to believe nothing had actually happened that not showing up for our dinner plans would have made things… suspicious. Especially to me.
The Clarity of Dying
On February 16th, a few days after the KAT Crush Party and that bizarre dinner with D.L., while my history Professor lectures us on greek coins, I experience the first of many panic attacks to come.
It is suddenly crystal clear to me: I am going to die.
During that class, as my mind starts to race, as my chest implodes, and as the professor’s voice becomes a distant echo, I take out my journal. Writing tends to calm me. With a quivering hand, I write:
“I just got hit with an intense fear of dying. I feel like I am dying. My body, not my mind. I don’t want to die. From now on I’m going to take care of my body and self. Am I a hypochondriac or am I actually dying? I sound like a crazy depressed person but I’m actually worried.
I’ve been feeling really nauseous recently and getting this feeling of disconnectedness with my body. It’s like I’m dizzy or extremely light-headed and just not right. It worries me. […] Life holds on to a string and I haven’t been taking care of that string. I’m afraid… definitely being hit by a case of the mean reds.”
As soon as class ends, I schedule an appointment with Health Services — can they diagnose me with death? Also, can they help explain why I’m getting these dizzy spells where I feel I’m not in my own body? I share this with my mother. She tells me to see a doctor — its probably due to an inner ear infection. Maybe that’s all it is.
A few weeks later, I’m standing in line at one of the many campus coffee shops when my phone vibrates. It’s Health Services. “We’ll only call you if results come in abnormal,” the campus gynecologist had explained after my pap smear a few days prior. “No news is good news.”
I don’t understand. I haven’t had sex since Adam… and Adam and I always used protection.
Suddenly, I’m angry. Angry at D.L. But I can’t explain why. After all, according to me, to us, we haven’t had any sexual encounters since October of last year — the tampon incident. And I’d been tested since, with negative results.
Just a Spoonful
One evening in March, Sophie and I walk to the grocery store to buy a late night snack. We run into D.L. and his Beta friends on our way. For reasons I couldn’t explain at the time, I’d avoided him entirely since Valentine’s day. As we stand there face to face on the windy sidewalk, I am unable to look him in the eye. I stand there, frozen, unable to speak or look away from the tips of my shoes. I hardly say hi. My heart is racing.
As an outgoing person who stops at nothing — including incessant blabbering about absolutely nothing at all to sharing personal and usually embarrassing information about myself — to avoid uncomfortable situations, this attitude is completely out of character for me.
Sophie tries to cover up the apparent awkwardness with small talk. After the boys finally walk away, I am mortified by my own attitude. I apologize to Sophie and text D.L. a simple “um awkward?” to which he later responds “Just a spoonful.”
The Mean Reds
Micky has blue eyes and blond hair. I’ve been babysitting him since beginning of sophomore year. While Micky naps I enjoy the apartment’s quiet to get through homework.
I just want to go home, to the haven of undeniable love my parents have always given me. I don’t feel safe anymore. I am sad and afraid.
In Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the main character Holly Golightly explains that feeling just right: “The blues are when you’re getting fat and old. You’re sad that’s all. The mean reds are awful. Suddenly, you’re afraid and you don’t know why.” I cry. And when I realize that I don’t know why I’m feeling so angry and so profoundly terrified, I cry even more. The mean reds. I write it all down in my journal.
On one of those occasions, while I fill my paper companion with black inky words, another panic attack strikes. They’ve recently increased in both frequency and intensity.
My heart races, thudding against my chest. I can’t catch my breath. My lungs want more air than I can possibly inhale. My vision goes blurry. My body goes tense. Thousands of thoughts are racing in my head:
“I haven’t blacked out in over a month. I haven’t seen D.L. since, well, over a month. Actually the last time I blacked out was on February 13th, the KAT Crush Party. Come to think of it, while I was seeing D.L. practically every weekend, I blacked out all the time. But I wasn’t drinking more than I am now,” I write.
“Wait, every time I was with D.L. I blacked out. Including that one evening at the hipster college bar when I’d only had two glasses of white wine and water for the rest of the night. I woke up, fully clothed, at his place the next morning, but couldn’t remember the previous evening.”
I tell her I’m pretty sure we didn’t even kiss. It was all so hazy. But as she continued to describe that particular evening, memories came back. D.L. holding on to me. Me holding on to the bar, drinking the glasses of water he kept ordering for me when I said I didn’t want more wine.
I press my pen down hard onto the pages of my journal and print:
“Could he have been roofying me that whole time?”
Though my heart continues to race, my rational mind tells me I’m being crazy. No way. That doesn’t happen to real people — to me. And D.L. would never do that… would he?
“Cheeewwwssss!” Micky’s call for apple juice takes me out of my panicky wide-eyed state. I wipe my tears and make sure I look happy. Bringing him a full baby bottle of apple juice, I scoop him out of his bed and kiss him on the forehead. My heart is still pounding and my breathing hasn’t completely returned to its normal rhythm but I smile just the same.
“Let’s take a walk,” I put Micky down and grab his tiny tennis shoes. I talk to him about whatever I can think of — the books we will read, the places we will walk to, the Starbucks cookie I will get him for his snack. The usual.
As I lean down to put his left shoe on, he reaches out his cherubic chubby hand and gently strokes my head.
I’ll never know if this small two-year old boy who couldn’t yet correctly pronounce the word “juice” somehow sensed that his twenty year old babysitter was crumbling or if he just thought my hair looked particularly soft that day.
The Ovary Infection — Or Lack Thereof
Weeks after the KAT Crush Party, I elect to confront D.L. about this angst — which has intensified since the STD diagnosis — that’s been growing in me ever since Valentine’s Day. I do not comprehend this anger and I don’t actually associate D.L. himself with it. But somehow I feel like talking to him about why I’ve been avoiding him since February 14th might relieve at least a fraction of these uncontrollable feelings.
Though I’ve been dodging all events in which I could possibly run into him, Lea and I decide to attend a frat party where he’ll undoubtedly be at so that I can talk to him:
“Those hickies after the KAT Valentine’s 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 hickeys 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.”
To this, I am left speechless.
I slowly get up from where we are sitting and without another word, I walk away. Lea and I leave the frat party and join our friends at the hipster bar. 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 at a nearby booth chatting with 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 that evening. 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 poring 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. My eyes puffy and red. 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 1020 tonight, he came to me and said, half snickering, ‘So what, now I’m D.L. the rapist?’”
I lose it. I throw my wet toothbrush at Lea, hitting her chest, 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 her she’s got it under control. She helps me get back to my dorm room and into bed.
The next morning, I head over to Health Services and ask to see a psychiatrist. I need help. Immediately.
Pleading for Insanity
I sit there, my heart pounding, feeling like the beige walls are closing in on me. “She will see you in five minutes,” a soft voice says from behind the yellow counter top. Her light skin glows green as she stares into her computer screen. I take a seat and stare at the floor, my throat quickly closing up and my breathing quickening. Those few minutes of waiting feel like years.
Why am I so nervous? I know what she will say. This is obviously a serious call for attention. This is nothing more than a fabrication of my own imagination. I’m a spoiled brat who needs attention. That’s all.
She — the campus psychiatrist who is about to see me three times a week for the next few months — walks down the hallway and nods at me to follow her. I get up, feeling sicker by the minute, almost dizzy.
Her name is Chris. She has dark brown shoulder length hair and a yielding smile. She’s going to think I’m insane. I am insane. I probably just need attention but Oh my God I really need help. The very second her office door closes behind us I start to bawl uncontrollably.
A few months ago, I often complained that I couldn’t cry — even when I really felt like I should. It was nearly impossible for me. This sudden crying in front of a total stranger is definitely out of character.
Just tell me I’m crazy, that you’ll help me, that I’ll be my old self again soon. Just tell me what’s wrong with me. And if need be, give me drugs or anything else that will make whatever this is go away.
Chris’ office is tiny but it feels safe. During that first meeting, she sits across from me and lets me talk. She never interrupts the flow of hiccuped words that run at her from my mouth.
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know. I can’t remember anything at all. It’s all black. Nothing,” I explain. “I think he hooked up with me — I mean those hickeys, the bruises, and the blood. Something did all that, right? But he says nothing happened. He says I must have an ovary infection.”
Every now and then I pause and look at her face wondering if she’s diagnosed me with insanity yet? “I’m also angry all the time. And scared. And I have nightmares. I think I’m going crazy.”
The more I told her, the more worried she looked. I assumed she’d finally made up her mind about me: this girl is breaking down. She needs attention so she’s invented some awful story about possible sexual abuse. She’s seriously twisted and possibly completely crazy. But I continued nonetheless. I had so many unanswered questions, so much to say. And hell, might as well get it all out before being locked away in some insane asylum far away.
“I wish he hadn’t said that nothing happened… I wish he’d just told me that on February 13th I wanted sex. I know I can get horny when I’m drunk. The first time I met him back in October, we had sex and that time I know I wanted it. I don’t know how I know, but I know. I was horny and wanted to piss Adam off. So I had sex with him. But this time… I don’t know, it’s different and I can’t let it go.
Why did he say nothing happened when something clearly did? I didn’t get undressed on my own — heck, I couldn’t even stand up on my own!
I didn’t bruise my left arm, thighs, and pelvis on my own. I didn’t give myself hickies. And I definitely didn’t rip my own vagina. And what about the weird discharge you usually get after unprotected sex? Can vaginas who haven’t had sex suddenly decide to create strange translucent discharge over night?
But I don’t think he had sex with me. He wouldn’t because he knew I didn’t want to — plus I was unconscious. And the next morning when I explicitly asked him if we had, he said we didn’t. He wouldn’t lie about that. No one would lie about that. And if he did, that means he… No. He didn’t. That didn’t happen.”
In my banter, I tell Chris about my first encounter with D.L. in October — including the tampon detail. Her eyebrows don’t even flinch. She isn’t judging, she is just listening, and I love her for it.
I’d rather be losing my mind, fabricating what is making me crazy, rather than have to handle a “something happened.” After all, insanity is a disease that can be numbed if not cured. Rape, a word I didn’t pronounce until months after I began therapy, was not something I could cure.
If rape had indeed become a part of who I was, it would be there forever — no matter the drugs I could take, no matter how far I could run, no matter how hard I could try to ignore it, rape would be a part of me.
Chris immediately scheduled a second appointment the next day with another woman — some sort of sexual trauma counselor. After that second appointment, I felt dirtier than I’d ever felt before. No, not dirty. Filthy.
That post appointment shower marks the moment when my first memory from the night of Friday the 13th came back. I bang my head against the white tile so the images leave me alone. I turn the water’s temperature as low as it can get just to feel something on my skin.
But the memory is stronger than the banging, stronger than the cold. He didn’t. But he did. He couldn’t have. But he did. And now, I can’t ignore it because I’m seeing it. And feeling it. And every time those images come back to break my body, it’s like I’m feeling them for the first time.
“Sophie, I can’t! Sophie,” barely standing up, a white towel rapped around my naked body, wet hair sticking to my forehead, tears streaming down my cheeks, I bang at her door. When she lets me into her little bedroom, number 527, her brown computer bag hanging from her shoulder, her concerned eyes become my only remaining link to sanity.
“I remember. I saw him, sitting there, between my legs. He was pulling them off. After that I can’t remember, Sophie. I can’t remember.”
That afternoon, Sophie skips her class and sits with me on her bedroom floor and listens to me sob. I spend that afternoon wearing nothing but a damp towel, literally pulling hair from my scalp, going back in forth between memory and present reality.
The memories thunder upon me, out of my control. They strike me, blinding me with spurt seconds of flash, whipping my mind and body with violent lashes of excruciating images. It feels like I’m in a game of hide and seek, one in which loosing my mind is the price to pay.
If it weren’t for my diary, I couldn’t say how long that dreadful period lasted in which the pendulum swung between denial, depression, and fear. The period is hazy, as if all those endless days, minutes, and seconds had melted into one blurry fuzz.
My weeks began revolving around my appointments with Chris.
There would be days when I felt the nightmare was over. I was going to be okay. And then others, dreadful days, when I felt my mind sink, my world literally fall apart.
On those days, I was afraid when I woke up and afraid when I went to sleep. I was afraid to be around people and even more afraid to be alone. Nothing and no one could reassure me when that fear tapped on my shoulder and didn’t leave my side.
Friends and family couldn’t help because the fear came from within. I wasn’t scared of someone harming me. No, I wasn’t scared of that because in that state of denial, no one ever had. I felt that everything I was feeling was a fabrication of my own imagination. And what scared me most was that I might be harming myself. I was terrified of having invented such an awful scenario, of inflicting this pain upon myself. And worst of all, being unaware of fabricating it.
If Chris hadn’t reminded me that feeling like I’d made it all up was only part of coping, I am positive I would have actually lost my mind.
During those long months, the memories from that dreadful night 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 my flat crust pizza 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 that first memory of D.L. pulling 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.
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.
“The other night as I was looking for an outfit in my closet, I found myself simultaneously sobbing and frantically grasping for air,” I told Chris during one of our sessions. Two days prior, Sophie and I had planned to get dressed up and have a girls’ night out on the town.
As I rummaged through my closet for an outfit, I fell upon the red dress I had been wearing on February 13th. Suddenly, my heart raced, my vision blurred, and I collapsed. A few minutes later, Sophie came to my room, all dressed up and ready to head out. She found me curled up on the cold tile of my bedroom floor, wearing nothing but my underwear, digging my fingernails into my bare legs as if to rip off my skin, snot and tears coating my face.
“Audrey, that red dress is what we call a trigger,” Chris gently explained. “Like many survivors, you have what is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. Triggers can come in many forms — smells, sights, sounds, or even feelings.” Listening to her talk, I began to live the situation as if I wasn’t there — as if I was watching this scene from very far away. I was there and not there all at once.
“Triggers can cause very intense — and often frightening — physical and emotional responses,” she continued. “In fact, these are reactions you might encounter in future sexual situations.”
A few days before we’d all be leaving campus for the summer, Adam, whom I hadn’t seen in months, invited me over for lunch. In the fall, he would be heading off to begin a doctoral program at Harvard and I would temporarily be moving — or fleeing — to Paris for two semesters abroad. We hadn’t seen each other in months but it felt only natural to catch up — and why not fool around one last time — before we went our separate ways.
After a home cooked lunch in the apartment I’d come to know during our “dinner and sex” weekly reunions months prior, Adam sunk into his snug beige couch: “Sit with me.” The budding warmth in my lower stomach indicated that a part of me wanted him. But something much stronger, much deeper, also despised him for wanting me back.
Adam put his arm around me. Almost immediately tears blurred my vision. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t afraid. In fact, I remember not feeling anything besides the lukewarm streams that rolled down my cheeks — that and the humiliation of crying without a clue in the world as to why. I tried stopping but I couldn’t. I tried explaining but I couldn’t either. My mind no longer seemed to control my body or my actions.
In an attempt to sooth me, Adam took his free hand and placed it on my stomach. “Adam, don’t touch me!” I shrieked. Startled and puzzled, Adam nervously got up, walked over to his piano, and began playing — something I’d seen him do many times in the past when he was upset, stressed, or simply in a bad mood.
Whether it was the melodic tunes emanating from his fingers or the fact that he now sat across the room from me on the wooden piano bench, my body soon began to relax.
As Adam continued to play, my breathing stabilized and my moist cheeks dried off. Shortly thereafter, I left his apartment feeling embarrassed, sick, and overwhelmingly irritated by my senseless reaction.
Fuck you, Audrey
The first time, as I stood with a cocktail in hand at a bar near campus, I felt a sharp elbow impale my back. My drink spilled. As I turned around, my eyes fell upon D.L.’s checkered scarf and angry glare as he hastily faded into the crowd.
A few weeks later, this time at that hipster bar we always went to, Lea, Sophie, Charles (Sophie’s older brother), and I were sitting at a booth when D.L. walked into the bar. Our looks crossed. My limbs tensed and my body went cold.
The conversation I was actively involved in seconds beforehand instantly became nothing more than muddled background noise. He strode to the bar, ordered a drink, and situated himself so that he was directly in my line of sight, and me in his. He spent the rest of the evening staring me down, clearly more focused on slaying me with his eyes than on conversing with his friends.
About an hour later, as I timidly got up to use the bathroom, D.L. followed. Lea noticed, dashed ahead of him, and came with me to the restroom. As we walked back to take our seats, D.L. gridlocked the entrance to our booth. I was terrified. Abruptly, he shoved me hard with both hands. I fell to the ground.
Lea grabbed my shaky body, lifted me up, propelled me into the booth, and prevented him from touching me any further.
In May 2009, as I emptied my drawers, throwing out the junk I’d accumulated over the year, and more than ready to turn in my keys and never have to see my dorm room again, my phone rings. I immediately recognize the 10 digits I’d erased months ago. It’s D.L.
The previous week, I’d written him a letter — a letter that Sophie slipped under his door for me. Black ink on white pages begging him to tell me I was crazy, that everything I’d remembered in the past few months were fragments of my own imagination. Even after months of therapy, all I wanted was for him to blame me for making it all up — I wanted to hear him say that it had never happened. Any of it.
Though I’d written him two or three such letters over the semester, he’d never acknowledged them. But that day, one day before I’d turn in my dorm room keys and leave campus for the summer, he called.
Those 10 digits make my blood run cold. My mind shuts off. I can’t think. I can’t breath. Leaving my vibrating phone behind and the door to my room wide open, I leap down the hallway, fly down the stairs, race out through the courtyard, and barge into Chris’ office. “He just called,” I cry.
The rest of our conversation is a blur. All I remember is fleeing campus that afternoon and leaving a lot of my things behind. That night — the last I’d spend in NYC until September of the following year — I sleep restlessly on a good friend’s couch downtown. To this day, I have no idea why D.L. called and what he would have said had I picked up.
Taming the Beast
“Today marks exactly 3 years and 6 months since it happened, and exactly 3 years since the last time I wrote about it. Since then, I’ve been in love, I’ve been heart broken, I’ve laughed, and I’ve cried. I’ve written a thesis, graduated from university, and moved to Paris.
All in all, I’m a happy 23-year-old living in the city of lights and studying communications at a prestigious French graduate school. In appearance, life couldn’t be any better. So why have I reopened the pages of this story? Simply because I don’t have a choice.
I need to finish what I couldn’t help but start at the end of my sophomore year of college. It’s as though I’d started a painful sentence, taken a break in parentheses, but hadn’t managed to place the period.
So here I am, sitting at le Bucci, a little French coffee shop near the Odeon metro stop, choosing to close a parenthesis; choosing to finish a sentence that continues to stall my story.
I am aware that closing this parenthesis is a risk — I could sink, go down as low as the winter and summer of 2009, relive what I’ve tried so hard to forget, rewind to a place I managed to survive but not erase.
But I’ve come to a realization I can’t ignore. One option is to continue to live as though it hadn’t happened. I can continue to deal with the minor inconveniences that color my days. Those nightmares that leave me wide eyed and out of breath, the uncontrollable disgust I develop for those men who treat me like anything more than a piece of fuckable meat, the embarrassing panic attacks that come uninvited when I least expect, the fear that has increasingly tightened its grasp as time goes by.
I can deal with them. I can continue to punish boys who dare to treat me well. I can deal with the fear that makes sleeping alone an all too frightening reality. I can keep smiling, even when shit’s gone wrong.
But one day, when I’m too exhausted to ignore it any longer, I’ll crack and loose it for good.
The other option, the one I’m choosing today, is to deal with my reality. To dig it up before it’s buried, aged, stiff, and impossible to mold. Dig it up and look at it straight ahead, without flinching, until it shrivels up and bows down. I’m going to train it. Show it who’s boss. I’m going to control it before it takes up too much power, too much room, and becomes bigger and stronger than I’ll ever be.
3 years ago I had a dream. Today, it makes more sense than ever.
I dreamt about a dog. A terrifying dog. The beast stood in the familiar living room of my childhood. It was huge and kept jumping out at me. My father stood by without flinching as he saw the dog’s giant body leap out on top of mine. Terrified, I stood helpless, expecting my dad to help.
Though my eyes screamed for his help, my father wouldn’t move. “Tell him you’re the boss, Audrey. Don’t give him the choice,” he said, watching the scene a few feet away from where I stood frozen in fear.
Unexpectedly, and because I didn’t have any other way out, I stood up straight, eyes wide open, and calmly growled at the dog to leave me alone. I can’t remember my exact words but I recall the calm force that came over me. The strength I felt grow, starting in my stomach and reaching out to my shoulders and neck, hips and thighs, and from there out to my toes, fingers, and to the tip top of my head.
The dog immediately backed down. And suddenly, as I continued to stare straight into its now terrified eyes, it shrunk and its body became that of a puppy’s. Before curling up on the floor and hiding its puppy face under its chubby paws, it timidly stared up at me with eyeballs overflowing with guilt and silent apologies.
Alone, I’d managed to take control over the lurking beast.”
As I look back on such events today, I still don’t fully comprehend my actions… and even less so my reactions. I don’t know why I had dinner with D.L. on February 14th, just hours after he looked into my eyes and promised he hadn’t touched me as my ripped vagina and bruised thighs clearly indicated otherwise. I don’t know why I begged him in writing to tell me I was crazy and then felt absolutely helpless when it came to picking up his call.
I also know 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. It’s like saying “as long as you avoid walking home alone at night and as long as you have that whistle by your side, you’ll be safe.” 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.
That voice that tells us something is off. That voice to which most of us silently respond: “oh shut up. You’re being silly. You’re being paranoid.” Because deep down, we often know.
Had I listened to that voice, had I taken the time to notice the little red flags, had I let myself recognize the predator in D.L., I would not have woken up a victim of rape on February 14, 2009.
Finally, 2 out of 3 rape survivors remain silent. I’ve remained silent for nearly 7 years.
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 dark tunnels or live in sketchy neighborhoods. I hope they will be more attentive to that feeling in the pit of their stomach — that feeling that says something isn’t right. More often than not, our bodies speak louder than our minds.