Trigger warning: This post contains descriptions of sexual assault.
July 10, 2014
“I’m going to test out my new futon,” is the last thing I remember saying before ripping off my jeans and bra and falling asleep under the covers on one side of the futon. A few minutes later, I felt a hand slide over my leg under the blanket and try to stroke me between my legs. I firmly took the hand and moved it away.
What I remember after that is less specific, but still unsettling. I remember the hand coming back and touching me again. I remember not knowing if I was awake or not. It was like I didn’t have control of my hands. To hell with it, I thought, it’s happening anyway, why fight it? I felt pleasure and I felt that I was wet and I felt like I was moaning, but at the same time I felt guilty. I didn’t want it to happen, but I couldn’t really stop it. I wasn’t really moving. It was like I was kind of frozen. I could move, only if he moved me, but I couldn’t do it willingly. I couldn’t touch him back and in fact, I wasn’t really sure where the hand was coming from. I didn’t feel the presence of his body—I didn’t know where his body was. At times I thought I saw his head next to mine, but not his torso. And this hand that kept invading my space felt like it was detached from anything else.
I remember not being able to use my arms, not being able to push the hand off. I remember seeing my body as if from camera angles. A close-up shot of my private area, and then a wide shot of the room from above. Then a close-up shot of my face, then a pan down to my belly button under the covers. And then darkness. And then camera angles again. Then I felt panic. God is going to be so mad at me, I remember thinking. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I need to stop this. But I didn’t know if I was awake. I thought I was dreaming. That made me relieved—yes, I’m only dreaming. But then I felt frustrated. Why couldn’t I wake up? I wish I could wake up. I wish I knew if this was really happening or if I was dreaming.
I knew my friend was asleep in the same room and didn’t want her to hear what was going on. So I said, “We need to stop this.” But I don’t know if I said that aloud or I was still dreaming. I think I said, “Stop!” and “No!” several times and then there was darkness.
The next thing I remember is something going inside me and I didn’t like that feeling at all, so I turned over onto my stomach to try and get away from it. It didn’t register then who was putting what into me. Rolling away wasn’t a good defense because in actuality, I rolled closer to his side of the futon, he wasn’t there; he was now behind me. And I don’t remember how we switched positions.
Then darkness. Then, I was on my back again and something was going inside me again. And this time I remember realizing that I was having sex—I knew I was having sex. I knew it wasn’t a dream. And all of a sudden I was awake. I was conscious; I wasn’t dreaming and I wasn’t drunk.
I don’t know why I didn’t fight him or yell, but I didn’t. I think it was because I didn’t want my friend to hear me. I just froze. I didn’t know what to do. And then I realized that he wasn’t wearing a condom. I felt disgusted. He told me once before that he’d slept with more than forty women: the other part of being a professional cowboy. That thought struck me right then—did he always not use protection? I was worried. But I can’t tell him to stop, I thought. If I don’t let him finish, he’s going to be angry.
All of a sudden I was eighteen again, and afraid to anger my older boyfriend. I don’t think I realized it was him on top of me, how could it be? He was my friend. He was the sweet boy who told me on our first date that girls broke up with him because he was too nice—and there was just something so folksy about him that I kind of believed him. He was my friend who had looked after Dee and me at the bar. He was someone I wasn’t afraid to share a futon with. I didn’t register that the man on top of me in that moment was anyone in particular. It was just a man, who was doing something to me I didn’t want him to do and I was afraid to tell him to stop because…because why? Because there could be worse consequences.
August 10, 2014
Rob offered me a third congratulatory cigarette. I hesitated. “Come on,” he coaxed. “You’re on vacation.” I didn’t need a lot of convincing—Germany had just won the World Cup. I was in South Africa for the first time. We were in Jeffery’s Bay at the start of an international surf festival. Plus, I love to smoke on vacation, ever since that trip to Paris.
We sat on top of a picnic table outside of Island Vibe, a popular hostel bar that overlooked the Indian Ocean. I stared out in awe as he handed me his lighter. I had just met Rob that night, but already he’d offered to show me around and teach me to surf. As one of the locals, he assured me he was just being friendly to a tourist. But as I finished my smoke, he presumptuously put his arm around me and pulled me into him. “I want to kiss you,” he said.
“Oh sorry,” I replied. “I… I’m only here for three weeks. I’m not looking to get involved with anyone. I hope I didn’t lead you on or anything.”
“No, no,” he replied and let go of me. “I actually kind of respect that.”
He smiled and pulled me in again for a side hug.
“Come, I’ll buy you a drink,” I offered and playfully added, “I don’t owe you anything if I’m the one who pays, right?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said in his soothing South African accent. “Of course you don’t owe me anything. And please do come surfing tomorrow. Just friends. No expectations.”
I didn’t take him up on the surfing lesson, but the next night I did run into Rob again at one of the festival after-parties. He grabbed me in what I learned later was a South African greeting: he lifted me into the air and spun me around, before pulling me onto the dance floor.
The greeting might have been different, but the grinding was the same. His hands started on my waist, but slowly and methodically moved lower. I placed them assertively back on my hips—and again, they sunk lower, eventually hovering dangerously close to my private parts.
I could feel myself disengaging. I was Zombie Raquel: I wasn’t into it, but I wasn’t protesting either.
“Are you okay?” Alyssa asked, concerned about the sudden PDA. “I just want to make sure you’re okay with this—you know, after what you told me.”
“Yes, I’m okay,” I lied.
After years of being routinely felt up, groped and otherwise touched at bars, this had become my automatic response, I realized only retrospectively. Along the way, fighting off unwanted advances became too much work—and there were consequences, like being called a prude, a cock tease, or a rude bitch, and humiliated in front of a crowd. It was easier to ignore it—pretend I was comfortable, even if it was apparent to almost anyone that I wasn’t.
Whereas he had said he respected me only the night before, Rob was now persistent in asking me to kiss him. “I think you’re making too much of it. It doesn’t have to go further than that,” he said, trying to convince me he was respecting my boundaries even though his hands on my bum convinced me he really wasn’t.
At the end of the night, he offered to drive me back to my hostel, which I accepted knowing he would also be driving another girl. I was the last one he dropped off and I was a little nervous to be alone with him. He got out of the car and gave me a hug and asked for another kiss.
I kissed him on the cheek, “Thanks for being a nice guy,” I said. I’m not sure, but I think he rolled his eyes. I never saw him again.
September 21, 2014
I’m going over to the divorcé’s apartment for an afternoon bike ride. I feel a little nauseous still from the Celexa, but I think we really need to talk after how we left things the last time we went out.
The divorcé is prepared when I get there.
“I’m just going to grab a few more things,” he says.
“What do you have in that bag?” I ask.
“Uh, some water bottles. I brought a sweater in case you get cold. A deck of cards.” I think it’s a bit overkill, but a sweet gesture.
We head off in the direction of the golf course, on the Kiwanis bike path. This is my favourite section of the path and I didn’t hesitate at all to tell him this is where I wanted to ride. When we turn back around from the golf course, the divorcé suggests we stop at the waterfall park, a pretty green space (with a waterfall) where a lot of people get their wedding pictures taken. He pulls out a blanket and sets it on the grass, hands me his sweater because, in fact, I am a little chilly now, and then reaches inside the bag and grabs a bottle of champagne. “Want some?” he asks.
“Is that a Mary Poppins bag?” I ask. “What else are you going to pull out of there? A coat rack?” He just snickers. That’s how the divorcé laughs; it’s a snicker, kind of a cross between a sneer and a chuckle. It’s kind of cute. We start in on the champagne—it’s real champagne from France. He’s pulling out all the stops to impress me, remembering our lengthy discussion on French wine during our first date. He pours the champagne into a plastic wine glass and hands it to me.
A giant flock of geese fly overhead. I stop to look up at them—summer’s almost over. “So about the other night…” I begin. “I just wanted to say that, well, I would have appreciated if you had asked first.” That was it. As soon as it comes out, I realize that’s all I really want to say.
“Okay?” the divorcé implores me to continue.
“No, that’s it,” I say. “I wish that you would have asked to touch me before you slid your hand up my dress. It wouldn’t have created so much pressure and wouldn’t have put me in this awkward position of having to tell you to stop if you had just given me the choice first.”
We aren’t going to date any further than this, but I thought the advice might be useful in his next relationship.
“Okay, I understand,” he says. We finish off the bottle of champagne and ride back to his apartment.
December 11, 2014
She asks for his last name, his number, and his date of birth. Then asks for the same information for my friend and also her address where the incident took place.
“When did this happen?” I tell her it happened over six months ago.
“Why are you coming forward with it now?” I was anticipating this question, but it’s a difficult one to answer. “I keep having nightmares,” I say. “And I keep seeing the face of the girl he’s with now. And I don’t want him to do it to someone else. If he does it to someone else, I will be responsible. I want him to know what he did was wrong.”
“Ok, well we have two options. You can make a formal complaint, which means we will do an investigation. We’ll talk to both these individuals and see if there is enough evidence to press charges. Or you can just report it and it will go into our system as information. What are you wanting to do?”
I look at Sam. This was not a question I was anticipating. What did I want to do? I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want this to have happened to me.
“We also have a third option, I suppose, where we could just talk to him and give him a warning.”
“I like the third option,” I say after reflection.
“You’ll need to know, though, that if we go that route, he can’t be charged in the future.”
“I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I don’t want him to go to jail. I just want him to know what he did was wrong. He dismissed me. When I confronted him, he didn’t listen. He thinks it’s all okay.”
I feel conflicted about making yet another decision. First the decision to report it, now the decision to press charges or not. And all from an incident where I didn’t have a choice at all. “I think we need to go all the way or nothing,” the officer says after a moment. “But I like to give people the choice—to know their options.”
It takes me a long time to decide and she’s patient.
“If you decide to go ahead, I’ll need to get a video statement.”
“OK,” I say.
She brings me into another room I have only ever seen in movies. I sit down at the table and she sits down across from me. She asks me to give my statement and then she goes over each piece of it for clarification and more details. She makes me say words of body parts I don’t like to say. She questions whether I knew what was happening when I was drunk. She asks me why I didn’t tell him to stop earlier. She asks me if I’d flirted with him. She asks me if he could have thought he had consent. And then she asks me again why I waited to come forward.
I repeat the fact about the nightmares and feeling a sense of responsibility for other girls. He knew I didn’t want to have sex, I told her, and he took advantage of the situation. And then in the morning, he tried to joke it off. He hurt me. It was physically painful. Now it’s emotionally painful. And I didn’t say no right away, but I didn’t say yes. And he didn’t ask me. He should have asked me. I was drunk and I couldn’t move my arms. I couldn’t get away from him. If he had asked me if I wanted what he was doing to me I wouldn’t have said yes. And that is assault.
The whole process takes over two hours. When it’s over, I walk back out to Sam’s car where she and Flayla are eating Cheerios, waiting for me. “Thanks for coming with me,” I say.
December 14, 2014
I keep seeing that woman in Mountain Pose. She lifts her arms up and she’s holding a child. She smiles. There’s no anxiety in her smile, just warmth.
She looks like my mother.
I love that child—whoever it is and whose ever it is. I have oodles of love to give it.
I wonder if Mother Mary ever had anxiety.
I wonder if I can overcome this.
I wonder if I can concentrate on that image of a mother and her infant to the point it drowns everything else out. I wonder if I can start to knock off all those things on my list.
I wonder if I can be brave without being tired.
This post is excerpted from The Year I Turned 25: A Memoir About Sex, Anxiety and a Dog Named She-Devil.