Law and Order
by Michelle Massanet
Content warning: sexual assault.
Olivia Benson was in the middle of consoling a young woman, repeating the phrase often heard on SVU.
I was binging after a work-intense few weeks; this time it was the latest season of Law & Order SVU. Somewhere between my pad Thai lunch and the haze of back-to-back episode consumption, it happened.
I stared at Olivia Benson.
“Whatever, happened it’s not your fault.
“You didn’t ask for this.
“It’s. Not. Your. Fault.”
I began having a very visceral reaction to what she was saying. I almost choked.
What was happening?
It felt as if a wall I had built many years ago was crumbling, and fragments of what was on the other side were becoming visible.
We’re driving. There’re no cell phones, no internet; it’s the mid ’90s. It feels like freedom when the windows are down and the music’s on.
He said, “Anywhere you want to go! What do you feel like? I am at your beck and call.”
Steven was tall, handsome, and charming. Full of this positive energy I couldn’t get enough of. He used big words, and drove a nice car. It was only our second date, but it felt so easy to be with him.
“Dancing! Let’s go dancing.”
He was so nice, not like the others with their macho facades. I felt a trust, an easy laughter.
Out dancing, he spun me round. I love the spins. La Salsera they would call me.
Other men would ask him, “Can I have a dance with her?” and he’d wave me on; he liked watching me dance. He wasn’t jealous. What a wonderful thing, I thought.
“Oh my god! Is it really you?” I spun round to see the parents of a friend of mine; they were beaming at me and Stephen. “I didn’t know you were in town? How’s college? Who is this handsome young man?” The questions were harmless, sweet and doting. We laughed along, sharing funny stories.
The evening grew late, and the parents drifted away. He turned to me. “We’re pretty far from your house; do you want to crash at mine for a little while? Perfect gentleman. I swear I am.” Giving him my best side eye elicited more pleas for trust. I believed him.
It was a beige block in a sea of apartments; newly built, non-descript, and advertised from the highway with signs saying, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now!”
“Go ahead, get some rest …”
Maybe if I hadn’t drunk so much …
“… I’m gonna go grab something …”
What was he going to grab? But my eyes closed. I was happy and too tired to notice anything more than the softness of the pillow as my head went down.
When I woke up, it was too late. I was pinned down.
I was so confused.
I apologized. “What’s happening?” I asked, panicked. I said no; no, no.
I thought I was stronger.
I thought I was smarter.
I could hear my father’s voice in my head. “Don’t get stupid.”
I shouldn’t have been here, this was all my fault. I knew better.
I knew better.
I knew better.
I knew better.
I begged. He got violently stronger. How am I so weak?
And just like that, it was done, he kissed my hair and walked out of the room.
Suddenly all the details I’d missed came sharply into focus; the smell of CK One, the blue of the sheets, the lack of any personal items. My crying was silent as I ran to the bathroom, but rose in volume when I saw that the clear shower curtain. There was nowhere to hide.
No amount of scrubbing would take it away.
I decided to erase it. I was good at erasing things.
The Incident was over.
Olivia Benson was still on my television screen, comforting and assuring.
“You’ll get through this …” she says with her arm wrapped around the girl. I was reeling from the nineteen-year-old memory I had totally erased. This episode wasn’t even about date rape. I sat there, silently crying for that girl who never spoke up. I cried for that girl who decided that she wasn’t going to acknowledge what happened to her. Crying because everything was coming into focus.
It’s five years after the Incident.
“You have a problem, you know that? You tricked me into loving you and now you’ve turned on me. It’s like you’re asexual.” Cesar was everything I ever wanted. At least I thought so. Was I sabotaging?
“I don’t have a problem Cesar! But if it was up to you, I’d wake up every morning with your dick in my mouth.”
I felt guilty resenting him as his possessiveness increased. The angrier he became, the more I withdrew. I knew he loved me, but how could he understand when I denied it myself?
However, I never denied the fallout. I rationalized it. My fault. My fault. My mind is back on campus again and it’s…
One month after the Incident.
I was drinking too much water. I needed to cut back; getting up to pee at 4am was killing me.
Something was wrong with me; I couldn’t function on campus past 3pm. I didn’t even like carrots, why was I eating carrots? I had to see someone, stat.
The doctor’s office was traditional; photos of his family, large mahogany desk. It felt warm, with a big picture window facing campus. I would be okay.
He walked in and I thought of a sweet, suburban dad. He had on a bow tie – it was polka dot. It was all I could look at as he started to talk to me, not with concern or compassion, but with disdain and disappointment.
“This is a real shame; you are a young girl, with your whole life ahead of you. Did you even use protection?”
I could only blink.
“Do you hear me? This is something that could have been avoided, now your whole life …” I stared at the bow tie.
In the distance somewhere I heard him talking, but my mind had shut him down. I needed to find the nearest planned parenthood and camp there. I would not become a statistic. I would not be like the others. I KNEW BETTER.
I couldn’t tell a soul. Especially my mom, I knew she’d try to convince me to have it.
I knew what I had to do.
Back then they made you wait, eight weeks they said, and when it came time for my appointment, I was lucky, there were no protestors outside.
I was completely detached. Afterwards, my friend and her mother picked me up and took me to Ihop.
It was Feb 11. I slept for the following three days.
Those closest to me would ask what happened?
I made a mistake, I would say.
Nine years after the Incident.
I got a phone call from my mom. She was in shock.
“Do you remember Steven?” she asked. My silence gave her leave to continue. “They found him dead in his car. Can you believe it? They say it was drugs, pobrecito. I feel horrible, I never liked him and I had no reason to not like him and now he’s gone.” How could I tell her? I stayed silent.
She felt guilty about not liking him.
There would be more relationships where I would Stop. Play. And Repeat the cycle I started with Cesar. Two years was always my limit.
Not even knowing why I was the way I was. That’s the problem with erasing; you can’t connect the dots.
Two weeks after Olivia Benson.
I take my mom out for Mexican food. She’s always telling me about Jesus. I love her so much I would listen to her tell me about aliens in the garden if it made her happy. She never stops asking about my relationship potential or if I have anything on the horizon … she remains so hopeful. I had to tell her the truth.
Afterwards, through her tears, she musters, “Goddamnit; I felt so guilty about not liking him that I bought his headstone. I knew there was something wrong with him.”
Nowadays I wonder, when is the right time to tell that special person in your life about this type of incident? I haven’t figured that out, but I do know that a weight has been lifted. I know myself better now. And the last guy I dated?
I told him, and for the first time, I was ready to face the issue with honesty instead of avoidance. He was kind and caring. We didn’t work out in the end, but for the short time we were a part of each other’s lives, we were honest.