I never thought I would talk about this publicly – certainly not in a forum where my mom would read it – but the events of the past few weeks (hell, the last couple of years if we are being truly honest) have stirred things up in me that I can no longer effectively compartmentalize and push aside.
Traumatic events that we experience never really go away. They morph into different versions of themselves, at times taking up more headspace, at others reaching out into our current lives in different ways. And certain things, like living in a society that categorically will deny my experience, or if they don’t will blame me for it, have conditioned me to keep quiet. To live with the shame and embarrassment that would be a million times worse if people knew. Or god forbid, I had to publicly defend myself.
But I can’t get these events out of my head anymore.
I grew up in years that could be described exactly like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford articulated. I went to high school in a middle class, white, town where the kids drank too much, and often behaved badly as a result. Some died as a result. Many – most – of the boys I went to school with were outwardly sexist, made terrible jokes about women, were blatantly misogynistic, and would have written things in yearbooks like the current nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.
But the majority of these boys were not rapists.
I am not excusing their behavior or antics, but I am acknowledging that most of them understood our town was small enough that even they could not get away with rape. Or something else – like not being rapists – stopped them from crossing certain lines.
I do however, know a whole bunch of girls who participated in behaviors that they did not want to simply because they did not want to deal with resisting, or being publicly shamed or embarrassed in the moment, or called a tease. Many of them would be slut-shamed after the fact, but that was a lesson harder learned.
In the 80s, we did not have the language to describe behavior that wasn’t okay with us but wasn’t a violent assault. There was an implicit assumption that if you were with someone you knew you could not be violated because you knew them, so you were there of your own volition and so whatever happens you had somehow signed up for, simply by existing in the same space.
At the same time, in my town, a growing number of girls were embracing the idea that if the guys could do whatever they wanted with girls and face no consequences, social or otherwise, then they could too. It was like “I’m going to do it before they claim I did it” resistance to the unfair expectations put on girls. I suppose this contributed to the confusion around consent.
These realities are not mutually exclusive.
These realities were often fueled by rampant underage drinking – one of my best friends and I used to joke that we went to college to chill out from our high school years.
These realities are not fiction simply because I cannot recall all the details.
Reality is as it suggests: real, whether the impact is equitable to all involved or not.
I did not experience sexual violence or get forced to engage in unwanted sexual acts in high school. I was lucky.
I was not this lucky in college.
I attended the University of California at San Diego. I chose this school for a variety of reasons, but a very significant one was the lifestyle I imagined I would lead living in a beautiful place, among beautiful people, partying on the beach and other beautiful places. For a lot of my college career this was in fact accurate.
My sophomore year my roommates and I were living off campus in Del Mar. The four of us decided to go through sorority rush. There were varying degrees of success in this endeavor for us, but it was how we began to experience Greek life to the degree it existed (non-sanctioned, off campus) at UCSD. Two of us ended up in houses, two of us did not. I mention this because it changed how we socialized that year and who with.
This was not a good year for me for a host of reasons. I was depressed, heavy, and lost in many ways – I would end up taking a gap year the following year. I, along with my roommates, was drinking way too much and not taking care of myself in any real way. My entire household had eating disorders of varying degrees and were often in conflict over real and imagined issues between us – stories for an entirely different essay.
The night my luck ran out at UCSD was in the spring (I think – I really cannot remember when this happened, which is why I know that recalling the time something took place has little bearing on the reality that it happened.) I had been hanging out with my downstairs neighbors – completely NON-rapey guys who I am still friends with. I decided at some point to drive from Del Mar to campus with one of them to go the Pub for a party of some kind. We should not have been driving and we flew up Torrey Pines on a scooter. I was enjoying myself in a typically (for that time in my life) irresponsible way – I was not aware that I was living in a society where irresponsibility is only permissible for men. At the campus Pub we continued drinking. My neighbor ended up hooking up with someone and I was talking to a group of TKEs who lived three streets down from me in Del Mar. I asked them for a ride back to Del Mar. They told me I could drive them back in their van. There is no way I should have been driving, but I did. They put me at risk because I was a disposable entity to them. They would have little consequence if I got busted. I suppose they never considered the other possibilities that can arise from drunk driving – but they are allowed these indiscretions even if they kill someone, as long as they don’t die because patriarchy.
When we got back to the house there were several other fraternity brothers there. I have absolutely no idea who was in the house in terms of names or numbers.
I went upstairs to use a bathroom, at which point I was pushed (or pulled – I do not know) into a bedroom. There were two boys in the room. I was disoriented and confused, and didn’t know what to do because I believed I alone had gotten myself into this situation. I remember worrying because one of my roommates was dating a TKE and I was afraid how this would look for her. That is so fucked up.
Suddenly, one of the boys in the room became very sexually aggressive with me. I had no idea what to do (and in not too distant future from that night I remember thinking, ‘why in the fuck would a guy want to be with a girl so intoxicated?’ I suppose I should ask Brock Turner.) I thought, if I just went along with it, it would end.
I remember thinking these things with absolute clarity and without and confusion 28 years later.
I bet some of you don’t believe me, right? Because I was drunk, right? Because I don’t remember the details of the evening?
Let me tell you what I remember- and trust that when I tell you what transpired years later you will really struggle to believe me.
When the boy made it clear that he was not going to stop I began to cry. He was attempting to have sex with me. He was laughing. Someone left the room, also laughing. I knew exactly who this boy on top of me was. I still know who he is. I even knew the girl, Amy, he was dating at the time. It was at this point that I became aware that there was another person in the room who had either just come in or had been there all along, I don’t know. He was one of the guys who was part of the group we referred to as the Persian Mafia. He told the boy on top of me to knock it off and grabbed my hand, not entirely gently. He said would take me out of the house. I remember telling him I was so embarrassed as I tried to gather myself (and my clothes) and I was afraid to leave because I didn’t want anyone to see me. He told me he would turn the lights off and walk me out the back. True to his word, he got me out of the house and walked me most of the way back to my street via the beach.
The next day my roommates were – well, I don’t know really what they were all feeling. I know there was shock, pity, anger. My roommate who was dating a TKE told me there was talk that the brothers were freaked out that I might bring assault charges against them. That seems to pretty clearly indicate that they knew what happened was NOT OKAY. I also am pretty sure there were a few who thought it was no big deal, that I was lying to cover up my embarrassment, or that I was lucky someone so “cool” would have tried it on with me.
Some of you might even think I deserved it because I was so drunk. Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at who gets a pass on their behavior for being drunk – and who does not.
I survived that night. I wasn’t violently raped a la Law & Order SVU, but I was traumatized, and completely ill-prepared to handle the subsequent feelings that would come up around this over the years. What comes up is not usually feelings around the actual assault, but the devaluation of my person simply because I am a woman. Then and now.
One year later I would watch a committee of white men slander, shame and degrade the amazing and brave Anita Hill on national television for speaking truth to power.
This confirmed for me – as sure as these men confirmed Clarence Thomas to the USSC – that coming forward with my story would only bring a shitstorm upon me, so I would never.
Imagine how many other women my age have made the same decision.
In 2009, while I was living in Hong Kong, my friend Camellia convinced me to sign up for the online dating site OKCupid. I did it. One night while sitting in a pub with Camellia and our friend Sue, we got into a discussion about the concept of online dating. Sue said there was just no way that the need to couple could ever be great enough to do it. Camellia was of the other extreme saying that it was really the only way to meet people anymore. I had mixed feelings, and took my phone out to show them the kind of messages that I was getting. Right as I did that, a new message popped up. It was from the boy who had assaulted me in Del Mar in 1990.
I knew his name and face immediately.
I stared at the phone and then showed my friends the message as I told them an abbreviated version of the story I have just recounted here. His message said, “Hey! I can’t believe I just came across your profile because we were at UCSD at the same time and in the same program! We must know some of the same people! I am in Asia regularly as I work for Mountain Hardware and do a lot of work in China. I would love to get together! You have a great smile!”
We were beside ourselves with this set of circumstances. What should I do? OBVIOUSLY I SHOULD BLOCK THE FUCKER AND MOVE ON.
But I was so curious. I recognized him immediately. How could he not recognize me? Did he? I really wanted to know.
I decided to take him up on his cheesy offer and within a week he was in Hong Kong and we met up at a bar next to my office after work. He was exactly the same. A bizarrely freckled, ginger, with more confidence than a man like him should ever have had. As we walked into the bar he stepped aside and then said, “Sorry I had to check out your ass, it’s nice!”
This is exactly the kind of thing that Senate republicans would say is evidence that I was not really assaulted – that if I had been I would never make this kind of subsequent decision. And this is exactly why I know their issue is never about believing women and survivors – it is that they really just do not give a shit.
I was going to see my friend Sue’s band at the Wanch that night and he said he wanted to come. When we got there I told Cam and Sue what was up. It became like a weird psychological experiment. He was more and more awkward out of his element around my friends and he was getting really drunk making him seem even more ridiculous – if that was possible.
When we left it was way past the last ferry and suddenly he was right there coming to get a sampan to the island with us. “You don’t want to come here,” at least three of us told him. He begged to just crash on someone’s couch, we would not even know he was there, he didn’t know how to get back to his hotel. SERIOUSLY? An empty beer bottle could hail a taxi cab in Hong Kong. But there he was. Was he joking? Did he realize yet who I was?
The next day he wanted to hang out again. I had to work. He was going Shenzhen, but would I be free when he got back? REALLY? This was starting to seem like something straight out of a (really bad) movie. “Sure, I am going to the races with Camellia on Wednesday.”
Do you think he showed up? He sure as shit did.
I would not see him again but the story does not end here.
When I returned from an extended stay in India the next year, Camellia began sending me strange and alarmed texts – the ginger had been texting her: “When I met Amanda I was really taken by you…” “I cannot stop thinking about you…” “You are so cute, I am coming to Hong Kong, let’s get together, we don’t have to tell Amanda…”.
This is where I now become the woman scorned right? Whatever.
With about 30 seconds of internet stalking we determined that he was now “engaged” according to his FB profile. I messaged him and asked if he would be okay with me forwarding the texts to his fiancé. He immediately denied that he ever contacted Cam. I read him the texts and told him if he ever contacted either one of us again I would send it all to his fiancé. At this point he began calling and leaving frantic and panicked messages. He had been drunk, he explained. He didn’t know what he was saying, he had a problem. He knew he had made a terrible mistake (so many ways to interpret that statement, no?)
After the 6th or 7th call I picked up and told him if he called anymore that I would do something drastic – to him. He said, “I just wanted to apologize, I am so happy with my fiancé and I don’t know what I was thinking…”
“What do you want to apologize for?” I asked.
He was confused by this question.
I hung up .
I have never spoken to him again, but I know from basic internet skills that he did get married, had a kid, got a new job with Lululemon (sounds right) and moved to Vancouver. And no, I don’t give two shits if this helps anyone discover who this TKE from UCSD who graduated in 1990 is. I also am quite sure that lots of people in his orbit think he is a perfectly nice guy. He probably is pretty nice if he doesn’t try to have nonconsensual sex with you, or cheat on his fiancé with you.
I remember his disgusting behavior in 1990 regardless of the other details I do not remember. I also totally believe that he legitimately does not comprehend that the woman he met in Hong Kong in 2009 was the sad, confused sophomore he assaulted that night in 1990, because I was nothing to him – then or now. I was a commodity, a convenience, a throw away person.
This was how it was.
That IS how it is.
This is why I know that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth , and how I can understand that Brett Kavanaugh might not remember assaulting her – she didn’t matter to him, he said as much though his angry spittle in his hearing… he did not associate with girls like her.
But that does not mean he did not do it.
In fact I think it lends a lot more validity to the reality that he did.
Reality is as it suggests: real, whether the impact is equitable to all involved or not.