It was my sixteenth birthday and I remember feeling a taste for adventure. I was quite lonely, but I had discovered an early 2000’s online dating 4chan-esque community that revolved around rating people’s pictures based on their attractiveness. And for the first time in my life, I was one of the “hot girls” because I had gotten a really good haircut and lost my braces.
I was still fairly new in town and had ruined my reputation when the cool kids figured out that I was way smarter than them. So, I was pretty lonely. A small country town high school is no place for a girl like me. Alas, I was too confident for them to tear down. I was just a weirdo. I wrote my way to salvation, got straight A’s, graduated early, won the poetry slam competition, and attended college courses.
There was this boy who I had been on a few dates with before. He liked Interpol a lot, which we bonded over. He was studying Physics in the local community college and I thought he was very smart. We would stay up all night in the Denny’s diner by our houses, talking philosophy. He had a car and would pick me up from my house. I would sneak out of the house late at night to meet him by the street light in the culdesac. We’d ride in his car listening to PJ Harvey, Interpol, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Fight Club soundtrack. I felt like he “got” me.
This boy…let’s call him The Corrupter. The Corrupter was one of those punk boys with spiky hair and piercings who I idolized as the ultimate liberated cool. He guided me into adult life since he was a few years older than me. (I recall him being 19, but I could be wrong.) I thought he was so sophisticated and experienced. He gave me elaborate lessons on French kissing and told me to relax whenever I felt scared.
On the night before my sixteenth birthday, he offered to pick me up around midnight. I thought this was very exciting. I had no plans but wanted to indulge my recent “bad girl” empowerment. I recall an internet friend protesting against this whim and suggesting that it was a bad idea. Years later I finally told him what happened, and we both anguished that I did not listen to his good advice.
The Corrupter and I went to Denny’s, and sat at a booth close to the the entrance. We only ever ordered coffees with free refills. He was the first person I ever sang to. I was so scared of singing in front of someone. I sang him the song ‘So Happy Together’ by The Turtles. He cheered me on. I felt strong. We laughed together. We sand the chorus together loudly. Everyone looked at us, but not in a bad way. I felt happy, and cool.
Then we went into his car and he played the song ‘Obstacle 1’ by Interpol. We kissed, hard. I tried to exude my newly acquired French kissing skills.
He suggested that we go into his back seat. I kept kissing him, grabbing him, holding him. It felt very romantic and exciting. Then he stopped and announced, “We need some alcohol.” “I’ve never had any.” I confessed. I was a pretty innocent, straight-edged teenager. “Then I’ll make sure we get something good.” He tickled me and I giggled.
We stopped by a gas station, and he grabbed something. Then he said that we had to stop by his house. I remember parking in his driveway. He had an angry step-father who he did not want to upset. I could not come inside with him. I waited in the car. He had turned off the engine and the music. It was stone silent. The window was opened a crack and I could see my breath in the air from the cold. I finally heard some glass clanking, and he came out with a huge glass bottle of something, only half filled, and a big plastic bottle of Coca Cola. He was clumsy, nervous, and rushed. We drove off in a hurry, tires screeching as he backed up and drove down the street.
We stopped in the parking lot of a high school. He gave me some banana flavored liqueur which I found absolutely repugnant. (To this day, even the smell of liquors like this makes me sick to my stomach.) He insisted that I had to drink it to a certain invisible line he drew with his finger on the bottle. “Fine,” I mumbled. I wanted to impress him. He drank his own beer, and I drank the Coca Cola as a chaser.
Finally, he looked at me, grabbed the bottle and estimated its leftover contents, and announced, “Okay, that should be good.” He took ran out of the car, and I followed him. He grabbed my hands and we danced around like gypsies possessed by the moonlight and its reflections from the unlit high school football stadium lights and their shadows that cascaded into the parking lot. Eventually, we collapsed onto the trunk of his car.
The rest of the night is a bit of a blur. I remember being uncomfortably pushed up against the car window in the back seat of his car. I kept losing consciousness, and he would slap my cheeks to bring me back. My eyes felt like they were endlessly spiraling into my head and back into the world, and I could not hold his gaze. I was very scared. I wanted to go home. I didn’t know what was happening. Clothes were removed. I felt so ashamed. I really did not want him to see my chest. I was so insecure about my chest at that age.
“Please…” Words tried to escape my mouth but it was hard to move, to speak, or to remember where I was or what I was doing. I wore a very padded bra. I was so ashamed. I felt so sick, and everything was black and dark.
Where was my coat? It was a black suede jacket with grey and white faux-feathers. Sarah called it my goddess coat. My mother had put in on layaway and slowly paid for it for me just so that I could have it. Everyone loved that coat. And a white button-down shirt that made me feel older and professional. Where was that? And my low-rise jeans with the seams down the middle of the thighs and the three buttons down. I liked how they showed off my hip bones. I had felt so good when I had put them on that night. Now they were being unbuttoned.
When I finally found the coat, the shirt, and my bra the next morning, they were all grotesquely covered in my own vomit. Though we had tried to wash it and cut away the vomit-colored fathers, I eventually had to throw out my magical dream coat.
The next thing I remember is feeling my head bouncing against the car window in the front seat. “Where am I?!” I yelped. The sun was out. We were close to my street. “I’m taking you home. We’re close now.” His eyes were on the road. He would not look at me.
When we got to my coldisac, the garage door was open. My family was awake. “They can’t see me.” He said. He opened the passenger door, and pushed me out of the car without fully stopping.
I walked up the driveway. My parents were decorating the dining room with my sister who was home from college. It was close to Thanksgiving. Later, I passed out in the shower and my sister came to get me. We re-arranged the furniture in my room. I told everyone what I thought might have happened, and they immediately rushed me to the hospital.
My doctor said I really needed to report to the police but I protested that I did not want to because I could not carry the burden of ruining his life. He was studying physics. He was smart. He had a future. I had really liked him. We had been dating. Some part of me really wanted to see him again. And I did not really remember what had happened, except that it had felt very wrong.
I did not know how sex worked. I thought I could be pregnant. I did not know that ejaculation was required to get a girl pregnant. No one ever explained any of this to me.
I got therapy twice a week for about 6 months. My therapist used this new technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. She gave me a book about it. It’s kind of like hypnosis, so I don’t remember most of it. It healed me, though. My therapist made me realize that I had been drugged. She told me that it is not normal to black out like I had that just from a small portion of liqueur. I was not sure I believed her at the time, so I did not have another drop of alcohol until I was 22. (I used to pretend to drink at college parties and then spit the cheap beer back into the cup.)
During my Freshman year of college, there was a campaign about sexual assault. Women could write their stories on a giant board that had been posted in the bathroom. So I started writing “It was my sixteenth birthday”, but then my professor came in! I dropped the marker in a rush because I did not want her to know of my trauma. The next day, someone wrote, “OMG! This is a girl’s bathroom! STOP!!!!” It hurt, a lot, and made me feel like for some reason my trauma was not appropriate to share in supportive sisterhood circles.
During my Sophomore year of college, my sweet boyfriend Trevor are wandering campus on a Friday night. I convince him to wander into one of the fraternity mansions to check out their party. He obliges, but says he does not want to stay long. I’m genuinely curious, as this is a whole new world to me. We dance for a bit. We go outside onto their balcony. We separate from each other briefly. I’m talking to some girl from my Neuroscience class, and I see this man across the room who looks very familiar. He comes right up to me. I think this is very strange. He looks at me. He stares at me.
“You look really familiar. Do I know you?”
He is still staring at me. “I think so.” He replies.
I laugh awkwardly. This is making me very uncomfortable.
“Remember the Denny’s in Naperville? I’m…[here he says his name, but let’s stick with The Corrupter].” His face turns devilish, and it scares me.
“I have to go.” I say, and I find Trevor across the room. I walk up to him, grab his arm, and order “We need to leave NOW.”
Once we get back to my room, I tell Trevor the whole story. I look up the name The Corrupter had given me. It did sound familiar. He did look familiar. But no — it couldn’t be! I had put that all behind me. Now I was studying Neuroscience in college, and I loved my boyfriends and our friends.
But there he was. I knew that face. Dark, blurry pictures that were almost anonymous. Almost. Yes, it was him.
“He’s a student here?!!!” I scream. I throw my Macbook off my lap, and Trevor catches it before it falls off the bed. “How?! How did he find me?!”
Trevor informs me that he had just transferred there. And that was the last I heard of him, for some time. Trevor alerted the other boys on campus to walk with me if they saw me walking alone on campus. I don’t think the other boys really got it. It probably really freaked them out.
The Gizmo patio was the place for all of our most illustrious and exciting philosophical discourses. And I remember so vividly one time we were all hanging out, immersed in conversation, and The Corrupter was in proximity. I could sense it. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck prickled. A shock like electricity went up my spine. It suddenly became very cold. I shuddered, and then froze stiff as he walked by.
“Lynda, are you OK?” I heard one of my friends say. It was like I had been in a trance.
The next vivid memory I have is a year later. One of the smart, very attractive boys on campus had invited me over to watch Clerks. We kissed and I felt very flattered, but I set my boundaries. He laughed, and was not mean to me about it. We sat up and talked.
“Do you know The Corrupter?” He asked, casually.
I suddenly got goosebumps and felt that shudder again. “Uh, yeah, sure, I think so.” I mumble.
“Well, he’s looking for you. He keeps asking about you. He really wants to talk to you.” Ben explains. “It’s weird. What the hell happened between you two?”
At this point, I freaked out. I ran. And I ran. And I ran. I get to the train crossroads, and as the train crosses by I scream and sob in a way that makes me feel like my veins are bursting.
I recalled suddenly a time when I ran into The Corrupter at the same Denny’s Diner a couple years earlier, after the rape. I was sitting at a table studying one of my college courses that I had started taking before I graduated high school. He grabbed a chair and sat next to me. “We need to talk.”
Oh, shit. I recognize him. “Please leave, or I’ll make a scene.” I say, grinding my teeth.
“I need you to forgive me for what happened that night.” He begs. Someone in proximity sees what is happening. It must have been a friend of his. The friend grabs him, and says, “C’mon, man, leave the poor girl alone. She’s just studying.”
As he is escorted, The Corrupter yells to me, “I need you to forgive me!” I shake my head and tear up. I look at my text book and I can’t focus anymore. But I’m too scared to move. I hold my face in my hands. I must have stayed that way for hours. Eventually I get up and go to my car and drive home.
Had he followed me to my undergraduate university just to beg my forgiveness? I’ll never know. I reported it to the authorities on campus. I got counseling. I alienated my friends, and estranged a man who I really fucking felt something for. He was friends with The Corrupter, and I didn’t have the strength to tell him.
Instead of being scared of men, I was more open. I wanted to re-affirm my faith in the goodness of people. Instead of letting out my anger, I became porous. I let people direct their anger towards me. I did not have boundaries, for years. I just wanted to feel close to someone who wouldn’t try to hurt me or use me for sex. It’s something that I still struggle with.
This hit most viscerally with one of my very loving partners, and in one of the healthiest romantic relationships I’ve ever been in. We were intimate, and I suddenly asked him, “Are you using me for sex?” He teared up. He got really frustrated.
“Lynda, how could you even think that?!”
“Because my first experience with sex was rape.” I said. “Here, I’ll tell you the story.”
He held me while I cried. He stayed with me through the darkness. We put light on it, together. And we brought back the ashes. I still have them. I scatter them any time I have to say “No” to a man crossing my boundaries. I tell anyone who expresses physical interest in me that we have to talk about consent, and you should too.
I’ve lived in 7 different countries: Denmark, Germany, Australia, Estonia, Norway, France, and Switzerland. And the journey is not going to end anytime soon. Thankfully, I have not been followed.
And I can finally fucking sing in front of people again.