Of course by now you know this story, but I was eighteen years old when two men pinned me down on a bed at a party. I had wandered into one of the rooms with someone I’d met by the stained couches and stripper pole, characteristic centerpieces of many of the houses in the small college town where I lived. How there became two of them in the room I don’t recall, though I hear the sound of the door clicking shut. I am led to the bed, one on each side of me, steering me horizontally. When I resist, one of them responds by grabbing my crotch. The other presses down my shoulders and while I struggle I hear voices in the hallway and call, “In here!” as if I am inviting them to the afterparty instead of calling for help. Someone knocks—responding playfully, joyfully, like a flash of happiness in a horror film, What’s going on in there ha ha hawww —and I push my way off the bed, down the hall, and into the warm and beautifully anticlimactic night. The men are faceless now but one wears a backwards hat and his brown hair comes down past his earlobes. The room glows the mournful blue of a blank channel switched on in the dark. Even then the reality had a dreamlike quality, made more ethereal now by the years spent away.
I never told anyone what happened because the event, however rattling, was not a defining one in my life, and especially not in my first years of college where I was still trying to understand the socially acceptable boundaries of sexual excitement, let alone personal ones. The grab didn’t make an immediate impression because I had escaped the trauma that real danger produces, similar to the night when Rohypnol was slipped into my drink and a friend took me home before the person who put it there could. I felt I didn’t own the resulting anger entirely, and instead put it away, shoved down those deep pockets of near misses. I pushed the contents down with relief, actually, grateful that no worse had happened.
Because of course it could always be worse, and has been, continues to be, for far too many women. But as I sat in bed the other evening and watched the news with my husband, I felt the memory bank form a Möbius strip, as I went from the face of the man on TV to a featureless baseball cap, traveling in a figure eight out of the bed to a bathroom floor where my friend found me drugged, where I had locked myself in the moments before I lost consciousness, and cruising past the middle-aged boss who kissed me on his way home from work one evening, uninvited, unwanted, the white hot shame, he and the intern alone in the office, I’m sorry , the intern saying, then curving back to a man in a car, unzipping his pants for two girls passing the window, both of us eight years old.
I took another spin around. The path filled itself with more forgotten things, or misplaced, instances of mine, of friends, coworkers, acquaintances, family: The nights we were followed home, touched, groped, grabbed, slapped, demeaned— you stupid sluts , a pack of men say to us once in a hotel lobby when we won’t give them our names—when the worst had happened to us, police reports filed, no police reports filed, and around the third ride I realized I am angry. I am angry that words are never just words—not for any man—as they wind around and around and around and make the cycle of rape culture complete. Will our volume put a stop to it? Because it is not about men versus women, and if there is to be a wall we’ll build it between okay and not okay, and all of us on the right side of it will be louder than one small mind with a microphone. I tell myself in bed as the memory reel spins that I will be louder so that my daughters and sons and granddaughters and sons will hear and see and understand that kind of divide; so that they will be louder, too.