Please be gentle on yourself while reading. This entry isn't light or fluffy or funny.
Nine years ago today at lunch time I sat with a group of girls from my college class talking about the craziness we'd gotten up to just after high school. The risque trips to Cuba. The frat parties. The strangers. The drinking. How we were all so damn lucky nothing terrible happened. How it was all so much fun. I remember that I didn't have any stories to share. I remember vividly feeling goody-goody, a wall flower, socially awkward. But I felt too old, at the tender age of 23, to go wild, to create my own stories. It wasn't then - and isn't now - in my personality.
Nine years ago tonight I had finished my shift earlier than expected at the German restaurant where I waitressed and was excitedly waiting for my friend from the city to come pick me up so we could go drinking. I was back in my hometown. Hubby and I had been dating for 10 months and he was still up in the city while I'd returned home to go back to school.
Nine years ago in a few hours from now, we met up with a friend of a friend at her house, had a few drinks and called a cab to take us to one of the hottest new bars in town. It was attached to the main hotel. It was swanky, small town style. Really, the only other option for a bar scene was a creepy little dive where your feet stuck to the floor and you'd always end up dancing next to someone's mother. The cab took us to the gas station first so I could buy some cigarettes. Du Maurier's Aventi Light. I haven't smoked since.
Nine years and a bit longer from now, a group of girls descended on the bar, dancing and drinking and having a good time. Shakira's "Whenever Wherever" struck a chord with us and we took the dance floor hostage. Cortez, in town for a basketball tournament, introduced himself to us and inserted himself into the middle of our group, but focused on me. Drunk Rainy was completely and totally entranced by his name. We danced to Enrique Iglesias' Hero, dramatically swinging ourselves around the room.
Nine years and 5 hours from now, in trying to retrieve another friend of a friend who'd gone off in a van full of strange guys - Cortez included - a police officer drove several giggling, intoxicated girls to another hotel where we smuggled ourselves up to a room full of more basketball players. We actually beat the van-load back, as they stopped for pizza. Before they made it back, the hotel came knocking on the door with a reprimand to drop the noise level. We moved across the hall.
Nine years and almost 6 hours ago, I stood in the doorway of a crowded room with two other girls I had just met and a roomful of guys. Wanting to leave, but running through my options, I figured I'd better bluff my way through. I got myself in, I'd figure out how to get out. I'm reminded of a line in a Margaret Atwood novel, about how when you find yourself in a situation you don't know how or want to handle, you best pretend you planned to be there so no one catches on.
Nine years and 6 hours ago more drinks were mixed. Several of us passed out. And none of us woke up alone.
Nine years ago, my life fell down. Nine years ago, I couldn't call it rape. Because rape - that harsh, stinging word, like a knife being unsheathed - meant a stranger leaping out and dragging a helpless victim into a dark alley. Because rape left horrible, visible markings on the body. It took years of therapy and the support of my hubby, friends and family and so many other survivors I stumbled upon to name what had happened. I didn't ask for it. I didn't go looking for it. I didn't consent. It wasn't the stuff of dark alleys, but it was real. It was sneaky and somehow felt worse. Even still, I often have a hard time sharing the story without adding the qualifier that it wasn't violent.
I will forever love my sister, who came with me to the police station after I went to the doctor and before I was sent to the hospital. The officer we spoke with was on the verge of retiring. He had a daughter who ran with a good crowd. And who stayed out of trouble. He told me, condescendingly, "When you’ve been drinking, you become uninhibited and do things you wouldn’t normally do.” My little sister looked him dead in the eye and told him I was a very conservative person and asked if we could speak to someone else who had more experience in this area. It went nowhere, but I felt empowered for trying.
I have been drastically shaped and altered by my experiences 9 years ago. It's true that tragedy can make you stronger. If it doesn't kill you first. And it could have easily gone either way there for a while. But this is the second year in a row this date hasn't totally twigged me. It's never going to be forgotten - I can't imagine a time when the date will slide past, forgotten. But I can stare it in the eye now. I don't have to carry it anymore.
I look at my boys and know I've got a daunting task ahead of me. Making sure they know to respect and cherish women. Figuring out how to best shape their little lives so that they're the good guys. The ones offering and providing support, encouragement, trust. Watching them help each other warms my heart.
It's a rocky road, this recovery thing. But I've got the worst of it behind me. I know I do.