“I Got Myself Raped.”
The words reverberate in my head like a nightmare that won’t end. Suddenly, they are all I think about even though they were spoken on New Year’s Day, 1978.
I’d moved to Florida the previous summer and two of my high school friends, Rose* and Kate*, came to visit me over the holidays. I’d found a job working for a liquor company, and at night we prowled the company’s bars because that was where I’d meet up with the people I worked with.
Kate and Rose met guys and had “dates” for New Year’s Eve. They’d agreed to meet them at the biggest bar with the splashiest party. I had no date, but I went with them because I was the one with the car and familiarity with the area.
I don’t recall much about that night except that my friends paired off with those guys and I was alone. Rose wore a long blue-flowered dress with puffy sleeves and a high color. Rose was petite with dark hair and dark eyes. I doubt she weighed a hundred pounds. Kate had on a slinkier black halter dress. She was not what you’d call hot, but she had a confidence about her that attracted men.
The place was packed. My friends, I suppose, danced with their dates. We all drank, I’m sure. Soon we were separated. There had to be a thousand people there, a constant moving swarm of human bodies, loud music, frenzied excitement.
So much of it is a blur to me. I know when I was ready to leave I couldn’t find my friends. I was tired and probably disappointed. They had dates and I didn’t. I can’t remember what I was thinking. That their dates would bring them back to my parents’ house on the other side of town? That they’d find their own way back?
I am ashamed to say, I left them there.
I don’t recall if we had a plan. If we’d agreed to meet up at a certain time to leave. We were 19. Does anyone plan anything at that age? I went home and crawled into bed.
At some point, my dad woke me up and said my friend was on the phone. But when I answered it, the line was dead. Early the next morning, when my mother discovered my friends weren’t back, she told me to go find them and not to come back without them.
Somehow, even though I’d only lived in the town for a short while, I had some idea of where Kate’s date lived. I found her and she came with me willingly enough. She’d seemed to enjoy the experience of spending the night with someone she barely knew and had no complaints.
How did I find Rose? Her date was the cousin of a guy with whom I worked. He was also visiting from out of town. How did I find the guy’s house? I honestly don’t remember. This was before the time of cell phones or GPS. I don’t recall ever being there before, but when I pulled into the driveway, Rose stalked out wearing that blue-flowered dress.
She got into the front seat and slammed the door. The first words she said, the only words I can recall were, “I just got myself raped.”
Silence descended on the car. I didn’t know what to say. Rose was angry and near tears. Maybe she cried all the way home. I don’t think any of us knew how to react or what to do. I’m not even sure I was cognizant of what being raped meant. Something horrible. Something men did to women. Something, at the time, hardly anyone ever talked about.
My mother was livid, lecturing my friends for staying out all night and me for leaving them.
She was oblivious to Rose’s pain. Maybe we all were.
As far as I recall, we never even thought to call the police. My friends returned home and, no surprise here, our friendship fell apart.
Years later I met up with Kate. She indicated that from what she knew or had heard about Rose, that she had not had great relationships with men after that. Her long-time, on again/off again boyfriend broke up with her after she told him about the rape.
I haven’t thought of this experience in a very long time. It’s one of those deeply buried memories that has surfaced in the wake of Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony. I begin now, to understand, how you can recall an incident, but not the details.
I know I was at fault. I shouldn’t have left my friends. I should have made sure they were safe. There’s no excuse for being young and dumb and naïve. The memory of what happened to Rose, of losing her friendship, doesn’t seem like punishment enough for what I did. Which is probably why I buried the memory as long as I did.
For all the women who experienced sexual assault who weren’t believed and never reported it, I completely understand. Because it happened to #hertoo.
I can’t go back and change the past. I can’t undo my actions or Rose’s experience. I can only pray for her. And hope it isn’t too little too late.
*Not their real names