This post was supposed to be fun. It was supposed to be about a teenage dream finally fulfilled. It was supposed to be about reliving the days of my youth, about headbanging, about how music can be a reflection of a lived reality, and provide a voice where I had none.
Instead, this post is about sexual assault. This post is about #metoo. This post is about men who do bad things. Also, this post is late, because reliving the fear and trauma of my childhood and young adult years is paralyzing.
Last Monday night, I attended the concert of one of my favorite bands of my raucous teen and young adult years–the Foo Fighters. I’ve wanted to see them perform live since I was fourteen, but growing up in Montana meant that I couldn’t access the cities where they performed. I had one opportunity to see them during my senior year of high school. The Foo Fighters were performing at a big Canadian rock festival, and a bunch of my friends were going. I begged and pleaded to go, but my mother said no. My group of friends was going without a supervising adult and would be sharing a hotel room. My mother saw far too many opportunities for disaster, and while I hate to admit it, she was probably right in not letting me go.
I never had another opportunity to see the band until this year, nearly twenty years later. When it was announced that the Foo Fighters were coming to Spokane, I was thrilled. Even though I haven’t purchased an album of theirs in years and I rarely listen to their music these days, I still wanted to see them. I wanted to experience the frenetic energy of songs such as “Monkey Wrench” and “One by One,” and share in the righteous indignation of “Best of You.” I especially wanted to hear the slow build of “Everlong,” my favorite Foo Fighters song by far.
The Foo Fighters sounded pretty good on Monday night. They played for a long time and filled that time with hits, both new and old. Dave Grohl was characteristically energetic, and my favorite rock drummer of all time, Taylor Hawkins, lit up the night with a solo he performed on an elevated stage. But this exciting and long-awaited new thing isn’t what I will share on this blog today. That option was taken from me by a stranger who leaned over while I wasn’t looking and put a drug in my beer.
I’ve never been roofied before.
When I was fourteen, a boy put his fingers inside my vagina after I asked him not to. After I begged him not to. After I ran from him and into a room with another boy playing video games who I thought would provide cover or protection. He did not. My monster chased me each time I ran. When he found me hunched over my petite frame, clutching my ankles, he reached down and grabbed a wrist with each hand and spread my body open. Then he lay himself on top of me, humping me, his erection pressing against my thin pajama pants. I said nothing. Instead, I stared at the back of the other boy’s head and at the little man jumping on the television screen as it took down a different kind of monster.
When the other boy turned around and saw what was happening, I thought the look in my eyes would be enough. That this boy who I’d thought of as an older brother would see me as his younger sister, would know, inherently, that I didn’t want this. That I needed help. Instead, he rolled his eyes and told us to get a room.
And that’s what we did. My friend (yes, he was my friend) pulled me by the wrist towards the basement where the bedrooms were. The girl I was in love with was in the basement den with her boyfriend doing what I was supposed to be doing with this boy. They encouraged us, whooped and hollered, as he led us into the bedroom.
I knew how to be a victim. My stepfather taught me well. By the time that fateful New Year’s Eve rolled around, I had spent nearly ten years of my life being his victim. I learned how to lose myself in the plots of Bonanza and The Untouchables while his hands found their way into my body. I was silent, compliant, vacant. I can tell you what his voice sounded like as he whispered, how my hair tickled the inside of my ear with each word. I can’t tell you what he said. My body was there, but my mind flew away, lost in worlds I created, a future I envisioned far, far away from that bedroom.
I was a victim many more times. Boys at my daycare told me I had to wear dresses on Fridays so they could lay me down on the kitchen floor, flip up my skirt, pull my underwear down, and play “pretend.”
While sitting with my mother at a convention, an old man held my little girl hands in his, and stroked my skin over and over. He leered at me as he ran his palm across the top of my hand; he told me how beautiful I was, how soft my skin was. I refused to look down because I knew I would see his erection. My mother turned her head and did not watch.
When I was a teen, an adult man pinned me to a washing machine, spread my legs apart with his, and pressed his crotch against mine. His mouth was on my neck. A friend found us and told me I was a whore for cheating on my boyfriend.
In my freshman year of college, a graduate student invited me to his house to play an old Atari. When I wouldn’t drink the liquor he offered me or touch him, he made me go home, and told me I was a bitch for not putting out and leading him on.
Once, in a club, an acquaintance propositioned me, repeatedly, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He grabbed me and thrust my body into his, then locked his arms around my waist. I had just started to come out to friends, and in a last ditch effort to get him to leave me alone, I told him I was gay. He said that was cool with him and that I should bring a friend. When I said I wanted just women, he called me a dyke bitch and tried to punch me in the face.
When I was in a hometown bar a few years ago, one of the men I partied with in high school told me I wouldn’t be gay after he licked my pussy. He reached between my legs and I caught his hand before he made contact.
A co-worker once convinced me to perform oral sex on him in the bathroom while at work.
In my twenties, strangers in clubs touched me, groped me, grabbed me. Men in cars yelled lewd insults when I ran on sidewalks.
I smelled like a victim. I looked like a victim. My pheromones were laced with victimhood, and every predator walking this earth knew I could be taken. I was marked.
I have no science to back this up. But I’ve talked to other people who were victims as children who report similar experiences–that they were invisibly marked, somehow, and they would go through life encountering this over and over.
But I thought things had changed, that I had changed. In my thirties, I’ve felt confident and safe in my body. Sure, men still yelled things out of passing car windows and the occasional lewd comment was thrown my way, but for the most part, I thought my mark was gone. I erased it by being confident, strong, loud, argumentative, intimidating, combative, angry, and unapologetically queer.
Then, on Monday, a man put a drug in my drink. I stumbled out of the Spokane Arena and blindly made my way towards The Viking. My wife, too, felt funny, but was able to keep her composure more than I could. Perhaps this is because she is larger than me or has a different metabolism or was given a smaller dose. We will never know. What I do know is we stopped in The Viking to wait for traffic to thin out. I know I got us each a cup of water. I know I dropped my phone on the floor. These images come in brief, hazy glimpses when I think back on that night.
I don’t remember the ride home. I don’t remember being home. I don’t remember using my district’s online system to request a substitute teacher for the next day. I don’t remember writing detailed and surprisingly coherent sub plans. I don’t remember going to bed fully clothed. I don’t even remember most of the day after–in fact, I wrote my previous post that day. When I read it later in the week, it seemed as though it was written by a ghost. Or as if the real me inhabited a body a lot like mine and was reaching out from a very dark and distant hole to write it.
Then I fell into a familiar pattern–denial, downplaying, and, finally, recognition.
Surely I’d just had too much to drink.
No, four beers over the course of six hours isn’t enough to cause a blackout, particularly for someone who regularly drinks four beers.
It was the headbanging–it made me dizzy or fuzzy.
No, a few minutes of dancing to music doesn’t cause entire chunks of time to disappear.
It had to be in my head.
No, it wasn’t.
I’m still reeling from what this means, that I’m no longer (still not?) safe in my body, in the spaces I inhabit. That being thirty-four and visibly queer doesn’t stop people from seeking to harm me.
I wonder what I look like to them, what all of us marked women (and men) look like. Do I glow a little? Do I smell different? Is there something about the way I carry my body? Can they see the traces of my stepfather’s hands? Is there a trail of fingerprints tattooed on my soul? Is it in my DNA?
I’m thankful I was with my wife that night, that she was more clear-headed than I was, that she got us home safely, that the violation of my body stopped at the drug I ingested.
But how do I put myself back together? How do I get back the tenuous and fragile security I worked so hard to build? How can I feel safe when this happens and this happens and this happens and this happens?
I don’t know. But I take solace in knowing I’m not alone. I hope you don’t feel alone either. I see you. I believe you.