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Thursday, November 28, 2013

It Happened One Holiday Season (Caution: May contain trauma triggers)

I've been wrestling with whether to share this. I realize for some readers, it may hold triggers for painful memories. It does for me.

It's not how I want you or anyone to think of me, when you think of me. It's not how I want to think of me. I'd rather not remember what I can't remember. I'd rather it never happened. I'd rather have those hours back, and while I'm sure there is mercy in the blanks, I'd rather know where I was during the missing time.

So I thought about not sharing this. I almost didn't. And yet. . . what if I don't, and it happens to someone else? Or what if there is good in being, yes, even this transparent?

A friend and mentor once told me, during a difficult time, that nothing that ever happens to one of us happens to just that one of us. Somehow, it is meant for more than just the one.

Perhaps there is someone among you who needs to know that an event that happened TO you doesn't define you. That something that occurred to damage you really doesn't make YOU damaged goods. Perhaps someone carries guilt, and by my sharing, I can help that one see: It wasn't your fault. It happened, and it shouldn't have, but it wasn't, and isn't, your fault. You are not dirty. You are not worth less. The shame belongs on the perpetrator, not you. You can be free from it.

And perhaps there are many others who simply need awareness--so that it doesn't happen to them; so that they can assist or help prevent for another's safety.

It is the holiday season. For many of us that means unusual social situations. In some cases, that in itself can mean danger. So I'm sharing my story, from some years ago.

This is what brought this back to mind for me again this year, as the holidays approach and I begin to think again of what occurred:

A friend sent me this article [Drugged by a Stranger] to read. She sent it because she knows what happened to me. I told her and three other friends while we were away at the lake one long weekend earlier this year. I told another friend, years ago, when he was going off to college. "Be the big brother for the girls," I asked him. "We need our guy friends to look after us."

It was a long time ago. I had just turned 21 three weeks earlier. I was at college over the winter holiday because I had missed a large amount of school the previous semester--emergency surgery and recovery had left me with a couple of "incomplete" grades in key classes. I had gone home for Christmas day, but returned to my apartment in the college town to work independently through the break so that I could still graduate on time.

The town lived and moved and had its being because of the university, so it was practically a ghost town over extended breaks. Only the two adult graduate-school women in the apartment above mine were around. I worked daytimes in the studio on campus, checked in and out with my professor and advisor, and then rented movies at Death Valley Video pretty much every day. I watched them at home alone in the evenings. I was very busy but a little lonely too.

For New Year's Eve, the apartment complex clubhouse announced that there would be a party. As a just-turned-21-year-old, I was excited to go to my first New Year's celebration when I would be allowed to partake of the celebratory champagne at midnight. But I was alone. As a general rule, I didn't go out alone. Usually, there was often another girl and at least two of our guy friends when we went out into social situations like this one.

It's a good rule and I still stand by it: Always have a buddy.

On this particular evening, I would have stayed in, but the women upstairs invited me to go along with them to the party at the clubhouse. We got dressed up--hats, heels, makeup--the whole thing. I think we looked pretty cute too. And we must have--at least enough to draw some unwanted attention.

The clubhouse was walking distance from our apartment--not more than two and half city blocks' distance. It seemed safe. It seemed wise. We would walk--no driving to worry about if anyone did have a drink or two. We would go together. I assumed that also meant we would come back together. But I assumed too much.

When we got to the clubhouse, the place was hardly hopping. We three ladies could pick any seat in the house. The bartender was there. The television over the bar showed scenes from Times Square. Two individuals sat together at the bar, and at a round table at the back, another pair of guys was hanging out. One was probably in his mid-thirties, with a pencil-thin mustache and an annoyingly high-pitched voice. He wore a skinny tie and a jacket. The other did not match him at all. Long, smooth, light brown hair, parted in the middle, hanging almost to mid-back. A heavy, western-style mustache. He wore jeans, a white t-shirt, and a jean jacket. He stared.

My creep-meter pegged. Both guys set it off, but jean-jacket creepy guy buried the needle in the dash.

Pencil-thin mustache approached us, bursting with chattiness directed at one of the grad-school women. She told me he was OK. She had met him before. But Creepy Guy just sat and stared.

I decided I would not drink. I wasn't comfortable. I would just wait until the ball dropped in Times Square, and then the other women would surely be ready to leave. This was not a very happening party. The bartender turned on some music. He handed out those silly party favors you blow into and they produce an awful screechy horn sound and unroll to smack your nearest neighbor in the face, retracting when you stop blowing. It was corny and we laughed some. We danced. We three women sat at our own table, but Mustache kept hanging around. He wanted to dance with each of us. I refused. Creepy Guy just sat and stared.

I remember that as the ball began to drop, we were all on our feet. There might have been 15 people present by this time. Not a crowd at all. The bartender set out a tray. He poured champagne for the house. And then Creepy Guy moved. He came to the bar. He lifted the tray. Creepy Guy let each of us take our glass from him to toast the new year.

I remember raising the glass. I remember a chorus of "Happy New Year"s. I remember the ball touching down.

I woke up almost five hours later in the front seat of a car I'd never been in before. Creepy Guy was driving. He was agitated and angry. Mustache was in the back seat. He was saying, "We have GOT to get rid of her! Now!"

I had to roll a bit to lift my head, and then I felt panicked. I started to demand, "Where am I?! I don't know you! Take me home! Let me out! Where are we!"

We weren't far from the clubhouse and the apartment complex--maybe two miles. "Shut up!" Creepy Guy yelled to both of us. "I've got to figure it out!"

And then, oh merciful heavens, there were blue lights in the back windshield. We were pulled over. I tried to get out of the car. I was wobbly and woozy. I told the police officer, "I don't know them. I want to go home."

"Well, miss," the officer said, "Mr. [I can't remember his name--but he was referring to Creepy Guy] is going to jail. He's driving with a suspended license. I'll call another car to come for you."

He did. I don't know what happened to Mustache. But the other officer arrived and helped me into the front seat. I told him my address. I felt like hell. My head was so cloudy. I didn't feel strong. A block of my life had just completely vanished. I had no idea what had happened--no memory at all. My hat was gone. The other two women--where were they? Who were those people?

I talked most of the way to my apartment: "I don't know them. I wanted to stay close to home. I wasn't even drinking. I don't know what happened." The police officer drove in silence. He never said a word. He didn't ask me a question.

I'm sure he just thought that I had underestimated how much I had had to drink, but that was not the case. I had consciously decided not to drink at all until the champagne came around, and then I remember only one sip.

He shone the cruiser's lights on my front door while I let myself in. I'm sure he saw the full length of my back, head to heels, as I entered my apartment.

I went to the bathroom and took off my clothes. I pulled on an extra large t-shirt and got into bed. Hours later, I woke. I went back to the bathroom and saw my clothes on the floor. The entire back of them was covered in red clay mud.

I took the clothes to the kitchen trash can and threw them away. I got into the shower and washed. I took the trash to the dumpster. I never cried. I never told anyone. I went to the studio. I did my work. I came home. That evening, one of the graduate students stopped by. She had my hat. It had been found in the hedge near the clubhouse parking lot. "Why did you leave me?" I asked, amazed and bewildered.

"You seemed like you wanted to stay," was her only answer. I can't imagine what she saw that looked like "wanting to stay" with Creepy Guy. I can't remember. It's just black. And terrifying.

I never saw Creepy Guy or Mustache again. I pretended for a very long time that none of it happened. It shouldn't have happened. But it did.

I know it did. Because ten months later, I had to go to my doctor for a checkup--a standard year's followup from the surgery I had had the previous year, the one that caused me to have to stay at school to make up work over break. A routine test showed something I refused to think about. I had HPV. Caught early, HPV is 100% treatable, curable. Undiscovered, it can take a woman's life. My doctor asked questions. I answered as honestly as the life I had lived supported, except that I never mentioned the incident with Creepy Guy. I could tell my doctor was bewildered, but I couldn't go there. My brain would not cross the threshold to access that possibility. I think my doctor had other ideas about me, but even letting him think what he would was better, at that time, than facing the truth.

Perhaps there's a mercy in not remembering. But it doesn't mean it didn't happen. A few years ago, another person I know let knowledge of something similar in her own history be known. And suddenly, very suddenly, I couldn't suppress any longer that something had happened to me. My mind had to deal with it, even though it is still unknown. I sometimes have deja vu. It's happened in movie and TV scenes when a woman is being forced into a car. Once I had to leave a viewing.

I still don't know exactly what happened. I know some. Not enough. And too much at the same time. It's an onion I'm not sure I will ever be able to peel completely. I've run through so many emotions. I've struggled to be a whole, real, three-dimensional person, because for a time, I was only someone else's object. And I don't remember. Even God ordained that for a time, I was only an object and not a sentient being.

But this much I know: It can happen so easily. It can look like something else entirely. It can be hard to believe. And it wouldn't have happened to me if I had been with my real friends. Had Matt or Dave been with me that night, I wouldn't have this story to tell. There is no way either of them would have left me.

The holidays are coming. There will be times for outings, social situations. Alcohol does not even have to be involved in order for a stranger to spike a drink. There are many substances that will work to bring about such an effect, as the article linked describes. You don't need to know the chemical names. But you do need to have a plan. Here is what I recommend:

--Never go alone. Always have at least one other person with you, and make a commitment beforehand that you will not leave one another. Never leave a man or woman behind! Not even to go get the car!

--Don't take a drink from a stranger, not even off a passing tray.

--Don't leave your drink unattended and return to it. If you leave it, leave it for good. Even if you have it in your hand, keep it protected.

--Trust the creep-meter. Almost all women have it, built in. Sometimes it's just a flutter, sometimes it's a red alert. It's a gift. Believe it. NEVER, no matter how polite you've been taught to be, act against the creep-meter. If it tells you Creepy Guy is dangerous, find another place to celebrate. Don't hang around.

--Tell your guy friends about the creep-meter. Some of them likewise have such intuition and a protective nature too. Ask them (and be sure they agree) to honor your creep-meter readings without question and negotiation.

--Keep your eyes open for your friends' sakes too. If in doubt, throw the drink out. Watch each other's consumption. If your friend who can normally hold two or three or even four drinks seems unusually affected too quickly, assume that something unusual happened.

--Seek medical help. I was being watched over, I know. But sometimes, the dosing can be harmful or fatal. Seek medical help. Don't worry about what other people may think.

And again, above all else--never, never leave a friend behind. Never. If you go out together, you come back in together. Period. You ARE your brothers' and sisters' keepers. Don't ever forget it.

But if even all of that somehow leaves you exposed and injured, I beg you to know you're not alone. It feels so alone, so foreign, so wrong. It is wrong, but it's not your fault. And come find me. Because I know.


Anonymous said...

Rebecca, Fellow Survivor, AKA David here. I have a 17 year old daughter that will be in college in 18 months. I will insist she read your story. You have done a good thing by sharing. I don't know what else to say. You are not alone.

--Rebecca said...

David. Thank you. For your sweet girl's safety, I am thankful now that I let myself be vulnerable and bold enough to share. My prayers go with her.

glenwied said...

God comforts us in our broken spirits so we can comfort others in their brokeness. I love you for sharing this even though it is horrific and the pain is always lurking somewhere in the background but we are more than conquerors, especially in this; that you glorify God by seeking to keep others from it or comforting them by sharing that they are not alone.

Carolynn Markey said...

I can hardly comment on this because of what I feel but I hope and pray that God heals you and that you know that you were not alone either. And I want you to know that your story touched me, and that I'm sure it will touch others.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Your story is sad and shocking and I'm so sorry. For years when I was a preteen and a teenager I was molested by my step brother. When I was older I found out he also molested my sister when she was a little girl and a preteen also, years and years longer then me. He told her if she told he would hurt me to. She never told and she never knew I was hurt. In the end I didn't tell her because I didn't want her silence to mean nothing. I remember the look of relief on her face when I said nothing had happened to me. I only want her to be happy. I wish she had told someone through. I love my husband and my children very much, but even today it is very hard for me to be touched unless I know it is coming. I know it hurts my husband when he reaches for me and I flinch away, when I don't know what he is doing. I don't know how to beat that feeling of revolt when he touches me sometimes.

I'm sorry you were hurt. I feel awful and I wish there was something I could do. Instead I try to trust in God and try to keep others safe.

--Rebecca said...

It happens in so many ways, and often, as in your case, goes on when it should have been stopped.

I don't have solutions. I can only say that I too am sorry you and others have been hurt this way. And we can help carry each other, and remind each other of our human dignity, which--no matter HOW IT FEELS--is NOT something any other person can take away.

Thank you for sharing here. You are welcome to talk here if it helps you to break the silence in a safe place.

Brian Cope said...

Rebecca! Sometimes writing is painful, sometimes therapeutic, but no writer ever knows just how many people their writing will touch. I trust this will make a difference in more than one person's life in a positive way.

I do not like knowing this happened to a friend of mine, but I admire your courage for writing about it in such a public way, and I love you for doing it for all the right reasons.

I especially like how this piece encourages the guys to watch out for their female friends.
-Brian Cope

--Rebecca said...

Thank you for your encouragement, Brian. It is enCOURAGEment, which we need, to be able to talk about these things, and maybe help prevent more of them, or help deal with the aftermath.

And yes, guys too need to read and consider. Thank YOU for always being one of the Good Guys. We need each other. We need our whole community.

Robin Way Miles said...

Thank you for sharing. If sharing your story saves one other person, it will have been worthwhile. I also pray that this will help in your personal healing also. As a parent of a 16 year old daughter and 14 year old son, I am often fearful and overprotective. The tragedies our family has gone through are totally different from your experience, but it is very real. I will share this with my children in hopes that it will help them be more aware of their surroundings and hopefully prevent them or their friends from becoming victims.
We all live with the 'That could never happen to me' attitude. As you and I both know real people become victims every day.
May God bless you and your family this Holiday Season!

--Rebecca said...

And you too, Robin.
Thanks for reading, sharing. I think of your family often, and still pray for truth revealed and closure for all of you.