It will also be really hard to write. In light of recent developments at Baylor University (which I mostly learned about by following Jessica Luther @scATX on Twitter – here’s her latest article, co-authored by Dan Solomon – http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/end-art-briles-era/ ), I’ve been thinking a lot about rape on college campuses. Whether it’s reported, who is to blame, what happens when it is reported.
So I went to Cosmo’s website to see what they have on the topic, since this is, after all, a (usually) funny blog about my random subscription to Cosmo. They have a lot. But I picked this one to talk about.
Read both of those, and come back. Or don’t if you suspect what’s coming and would rather not know. It’s your choice, and I understand completely if you don’t want to keep reading. I wasn’t sure I was even going to talk about this, but I’m tired of remaining silent. I wish I’d spoken up a bit over 21 years ago when I was 18 years old, but I didn’t. For many of the reasons you see in the Cosmo article. And because as you see in the article about Baylor, nothing lasting may come of it so why expose yourself, no pun intended. So I remained silent. A few friends know. Most have no idea. My parents didn’t even know until I called to tell them I was writing about this before I published it. I owed that to them, and I’m sorry I didn’t tell them sooner. I might be a different person today if I’d told someone who would have fought for me. But nobody should tell me they’re sorry. Remember that, fam. You didn’t do it. You have no reason to be sorry. Just like I have no reason to feel ashamed.
In 1994, I went to Michigan State University for college. I was a 17 year old freshman, and I didn’t know many people there. I had been accepted into the Color Guard for the Michigan State University Marching Band (they only march percussion and brass – flute wasn’t an option, though I would have rocked it if they marched woodwinds as well), so I kind of had an automatic group of “friends” who I felt comfortable with. Band nerds like me. There was actually another girl from my high school in the Color Guard, but we weren’t close friends. I regret that now. I got to school a week early to start practices (which were brutal and long – people talk about the freshman 15 meaning they gain weight, but I’m pretty sure I lost at least that much), and I quickly forgot that I didn’t really know anyone. I turned 18 at some point during those early days, and I kept making more friends.
There were occasional parties after practices, often with members of the drum line, and because the internet wasn’t really a thing back then, I didn’t know why there were always groups of guys at these parties that I never saw at practices. You’ve heard of groupies, but groupies for marching band? That were dudes?
If you google Michigan State University Marching Band hazing, you’ll understand why I’d never seen them before. They’d been kicked out of the band. I’ll wait if you want to google.
At one of these parties shortly after our first game (we probably lost, that team was terrible), I was offered a beer, and I declined because I didn’t like beer (oh young me, beer is good! But it was probably shitty cheap keg beer, so who knows). So one of the guys I didn’t recognize offered me a drink that what I now realize was probably a vodka with fruit punch. Pretty gross, but I was 18, what did I know? My friend Megan* (name changed) ran over and told me to stay away from him and dragged me away. “Stay away from Matt*. He’s bad news.”
I listened, and we went on our merry way, drinking wine coolers and dancing around the party. A couple of hours and a few wine coolers later, I was talking to this guy Brad*, and he asked me if I wanted to go talk somewhere a little more quiet. I knew him from the drum line and figured, sure why not, he’s cute, I know him, it’ll be totally fine. Megan actually gave me a thumbs up as we went back to his room.
Here’s your last chance to quit reading. I figure you’re all in at this point, but I’m giving you an out just in case.
We were making out, as the kids call it, and he asked if I was a virgin. I said it wasn’t his business, and he laughed and we kept kissing. I laughed a little, and I should have left then, but I knew him. He wasn’t a bad guy. He asked again if I was a virgin, and I thought about telling him I was, but I just said “I don’t want to do that.” I will never forget that moment. I will also never forget what happened next. I tried to run out of the room, but he grabbed me, pulled my short skirt up around my waist, and pinned me to the bed. I yelled at him to stop it more than a few times, but the music from the party was loud, and I was yelling through tears by this point.
The door opened, and I thought I was going to be okay. That someone was coming to save me. They weren’t. It was the guy I didn’t recognize, but I remembered his name. “Matt, help me please,” I screamed. I won’t go into details, other than to say that he did not save me as I lay there sobbing and trying to get away.
I had been drinking. I was flirting. I went into Brad’s room willingly. I kissed him. I was wearing a short skirt and a halter top. I still own the halter top. Every time I clean out my dresser, I think about throwing it away, but I keep it. As a reminder that what I was wearing wasn’t the problem. I said no, many times, but by the time Matt came into the room, it was a moot point. My life was forever changed.
I went into the bathroom and washed my face, doing my best to fix my makeup and my hair, trying to stop crying, adjusting my skirt, trying to pull my shirt to cover more of me. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. But I couldn’t admit what happened to anyone. I didn’t want to be that girl.
I went back into the party, and Matt gave Brad a high five as I walked into the room. I went and found Megan and told her I needed to go home. She asked me what happened – had I been crying? I just want to go home, okay?
Life went on, classes and practices, and a few days later, Sarah* asked me what happened at the party because Megan told her that something had happened but she wasn’t sure what. So I told her and said I didn’t know who to tell.
“Nobody. You’re not telling anyone. You were drinking. You were dressed like that? What did you expect?”
I was shocked. Someone I trusted and considered to be a friend didn’t believe me. She believed that I’d gotten drunk and laid back and let two men have sex with me when I didn’t want to have sex. I was 18 years old and suddenly I didn’t know who to trust. If I choose to willingly have sex with two men in one night, I’ll own up to it. I might not tell you about it, but if you find out and ask? I’ll own up to it, but I’m now 39 years old and pretty much have no shame. When I was 18? Having sex with anyone I’d just met at a party wasn’t going to happen and rape was something that happened to other people. I didn’t even call what happened to me “rape.” I’m not sure I called it anything, but I knew it didn’t feel right.
I told her I was scared of Brad and seeing him again at practice, and she said she’d take care of it. “I mean, really, dressed like that and you were drunk? What did you expect?” I sure as shit didn’t expect what happened, or I would have stayed home. I came from a high school relationship of respect and taking care of each other as best a couple of high school kids can. I came from having sex with someone who was respectful of me and who was so gentle and kind, although our relationship fizzled out because long distance phone calls were expensive and he didn’t live in East Lansing. But my sexual history didn’t matter in that situation. I didn’t tell her any of this and asked what I should do. She said she’d take care of it.
I didn’t believe her and went to an assistant band director.
“You know what’s happened here the last couple of years, right? We don’t need this publicity. Were you drunk?”
Does that matter?
Were. You. Drinking. Answer me. I told him that I had been, and he asked if I’d told anyone. I was horrified and embarrassed and ashamed. I was a whore. A slut. Someone who deserved exactly what I’d gotten and who was terrified of being kicked out of the band because I reported something. Because I admitted I was drinking. “If you were drinking, you’re subject to expulsion from the band and even the school.”
So I let it go. I couldn’t get kicked out of school for underage drinking. I stayed in the band and finished the season. I didn’t go to any more band parties. I wasn’t popular anymore. Maybe because I was used. Maybe because they were warned by a guy on the drum line who I told what happened and who told them to leave me alone.
Shortly thereafter, I met a guy who became my boyfriend. He turned out to be a terrible person in the long run, and one night at a party at his house, who walks in but Matt. Yeah, that guy. I left and went home to my dorm and cried. I didn’t join the band again and instead joined a sorority my sophomore year of college. I met some great people. I’m not friends with any of them because for a long time I just wanted to forget that time in my life, and well, because I push people away. I don’t trust people. I’m sure you’re all lovely. But I don’t trust you as far as I could throw you, and I don’t even have a bad knee.
And now I’m 39 going on 40 in a few months. I still don’t trust people, but I’m trying. I’m coming out with this because I have friends who have daughters and sons who are getting close to college age. If she says no? She means it. If he says no? He means it. I’m not sure how you talk to your kid about this because it’s awkward. But most importantly for everyone? If it isn’t yours and someone says no? Just fucking stop.