Content warning: sexual assault
The night I was date raped, a little voice whispered as I dressed for the outing, Take your new glasses, in case you see Tim. I tucked the bronze wire frames in my denim jacket, then bounced. It was October 1998. I didn’t have a cellphone.
East from my apartment on 87th street, turning south down Amsterdam. I barely walked half a block past 85th when I froze. I recognized the back of Tim’s head in my peripheral vision. He stood, the lone customer in Henrietta’s Takeaway Kitchen. He wore the shark-grey suit I tried to chide him out of buying two weeks earlier. The color complimented his auburn red hair. The suit cloth appeared very fine from my place in the path, but bunched heavily around his ankles. I looked down the road. A single block remained to meet my date. The street glistened with remnants of rain. I clenched my fists to my sides. For a moment, I worried alternately about being late, whether Tim would want to see me right now. But, then, resolute, I slipped into the shop. He now sat on a wooden bench, awaiting his order.
“Hey,” I said, bopping the back of the New York Times he just opened.
“Heyyy.” Tim’s voice vibrated, both pleased and annoyed. He snapped the paper into a neat fold.
I slid beside him.
“Look.” I put on my new glasses, smiling playfully with my eyes.
Tim looked at me flat. His focus gently traced the curves of my face until I shifted, uneasy.
“I like ‘em,” he said finally, lilting his voice. His face warmed slightly.
I blushed harder than was warranted for the moment. This embarrassed me.
Tim lifted his tweed briefcase from between his feet and shifted the folded Times into its side pocket with ultra-focus.
“I saw you out of the corner of my eye… passing by.” My voice quivered. I felt a sudden need to justify my presence.
Tim set down his briefcase.
“Where are you going?” he asked tightly, twisting his jaw.
His tone tripped me and spurred the hope languishing in my heart.
“I’m meeting a friend,” I lied. A flinching impulse to protect any love he might still have for me.
“Who?” he snarled.
“You don’t know him. I just met him.” I shrugged my shoulders, pinching my hands between my knees.
“Huh…” I saw a hint of loss reflected in his eyes as he totted inwardly.
“Sir, your order.” The man in white apron held the large brown bag high over the counter.
Tim and I stepped into semi-embrace outside. We stood silently for several minutes, the sidewalk empty without us. Our right cheeks barely pressed together, as though we both disbelieved the other’s feelings, yet desired to divine the truth of them through careful osmosis.
I’m hanging on this moment. Hanging for twenty years on the delicate feel of his time-softened cheeks. On his short puffs of breath through a prominent nose. On his free hand, gripping my elbow gingerly. On the warmth of his body. On the curve of his head in my palm. If I can just stay here, eternally, I can be myself again. I can feel the strength of my being. My very -ness knit tightly and unbreakable. I can hold onto my dreams. I can realize my plans. I close my eyes. The world is still mine. My body is still mine. My mind is still mine.
The little voice said very clearly, Go home with Tim.
I wanted to. I wanted Tim every night. Forever. But I knew he’d been seeing someone else. Someone who made the tectonic plates of our relationship shift. I felt pride, defiance, spite at the thought of asking him. I expected rejection. I’ll go if he asks me, I thought to the voice. But Tim didn’t ask.
Why did I doubt that voice? That inner guide knows things that can’t be inferred. The regret doubles me over.
“Motheeeeerrrr, make it better!” The pain is so deep, I am reduced to a primal scream.
“GOD, how could you let me do this myself?” I am lost.
“Why? Why? Whywhywhywhywhy?!” I pound my head against my hands.
“BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!” I rage. Then sob.
Powdered cookies muffle me, give me a fix, quiet my tears. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered not to go home with him.
Go home, my inner guide said, as I waited in my date’s car outside the first bodega we passed.
I took one sip from the Corona my date brought me from inside. I felt a whoosh to my head immediately. Not normal. I set the bottle down and ignored it.
Throw yourself out of the car, my guide whispered as we travelled up the West Side Highway.
THROW YOURSELF OUT OF THE CAR, as we passed 110th street.
My date stopped to enter another bodega once we reached the Bronx. I could have gotten out.
Ask this guy for help home, in reference to the white, male teen dressed like a rapper, with sideways cap and puffy sports team coat over white sweatshirt, leaning against the street-level subway gate right in front of the car. I had no money; he’d have to spot me. He seemed nice. I felt floaty.
So many chances to listen to my inner guide, as I always had. Or had I always?
My trusty inner guide boomed like some ancient, bearded white God issuing decrees from a cloud the first time I saw Tim. He will love you and want to marry you, but won’t because of the age difference. I was 19. No marriage, No obstacle. “Smart women don’t get married” – the 90s’ mantra, a holy scripture for me. I checked reality momentarily, thinking maybe I was crazy, ergo the thunderous voice about my professor, but then, I learned early on to trust this chaperon, which warned me frequently in a quieter tone about my sex predator father and encouraged me to take plenty of extraordinary chances that instilled courage. If it did work out with Tim, I could, at least, do my laundry with his, instead of in icky dormitory basements. The promise of love lured me deeply. I never felt loved, not even as a baby. I wanted to go all in, swim in a pool of love with him for as long as the love would last.
Tim looked young. I thought maybe 29, however, the crepe skin under his blue eyes changed my calculation accurately to 42. The way he carried himself, confident, without an ounce of suburban sleaze, he, obviously, had never married – which proved true. His biceps barely bulged under rolled up sleeves on a medium frame. His tight black jeans spoke of past lives lived dangerously.
As he circled the room for introductions, I promised inwardly to just be myself. No flirtation. No tricks. No influence over the moment. My natural effusive, joie de vivre, and Texas swagger drew him back to me for further comment five students later. That’s when I felt certain of him. Nothing he later told me came as a surprise. We both lived hard in our teens with abusive parents at home driving us to leave at 16. We were kindred spirits. By October ’97, he spilled over dinner, taking my hand: “I’m getting very attached to you.”
I replied, “I noticed earlier your hands were dry, so I bought you this,” revealing a travel-sized tube of Jergens. The feelings of the moment were bigger than I could speak.
“I’ll take that as a yes, you feel the same.” He relaxed, letting out a breath.
“You should.” I was filled with so much knowing. I just drank in the moment. I rubbed the cream into his skin.
Emboldened by confirmation, I spread the news to my confidantes. Simone, my roommate and high-school-goth-group comrade. Though she wasn’t there for the sex parties, or the drugs, I assumed she was cool. She, however, said, “You’re an idiot.”
I scoffed, “I don’t see what the big deal is if I don’t even want to get married. Besides, he loves me. I feel it.”
My close goth-sister Shawn, chimed in by telephone, “He’s going to use you.”
All of Manhattan agreed. Co-workers at bars and restaurants, even line cooks, over the next year. Customers. Newly met strangers at dinner parties. Bums after cigarettes. Everyone had to know if I had a boyfriend. Then impertinently asked, “How old is he?” Then compulsively cursed, “He will use you.”
“It’s not like we’re going to get married,” I’d say. “I don’t see why it matters to you.” “I know what it feels like to be used, this doesn’t feel that way.” “I understand why you’d think that, but he loves me. I know it.”
“There’s no way,” they’d retort. “There must be something wrong with him. What do you even have in common with twenty-three years between you?”
If only I had shame enough to lie! I couldn’t deny their practical reasoning, however. The cliché of the teacher preying on his student warned of the very real possibility of Tim’s taking advantage of me, a person who doggedly followed the advice of an invisible voice, no one else heard, with unprovable credentials outside of my own testimony. Fear crept in this crack of doubt, scrambled all my certainty of Tim’s love. I veered from offering my heart on a platter. I used the platter as a shield instead, assuming the stupidity of my generation in its warped and jaded wisdom. Maybe, I could still love him, but treat the relationship like a hookup. I rationalized.
I knew within 24 hours of the decision that I chose the wrong path: Tim was so bold to ask, “Where is this relationship going?”
I flippantly replied, “It’s just a fling.”
His face crashed. He put his hand to his forehead. We never again found the footing we held before my fateful words. My mind resisted the certainty of my heart, taking stock in the question above all else, leading me to the night of the date rape, when a wrong path became a death trap.
Four nights after the rape, Tim led me by hand through the winding hall of his apartment to his living room where he’d turned off the main lamps in favor of multi-color and chili-pepper string lights.
We sat side-by-side on his futon sofa.
“Here’s something I think you’ll like.” He tapped a remote to play ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ by Steve Reich.
“Yeah. I like it,” I said faintly.
He laid back and pulled me atop of him, fully clothed. He gripped me tightly to his sweatered chest. “I should have asked you home with me.”
I hadn’t told him anything.