Our Culture of Blame

It’s been a weird couple months for me, and as emotional times are wont to produce, a wellspring of emotions I thought were long ago come and gone have bubbled to the surface.

I’ve recently been ill for several months, and during my down time, spent much time in contemplation.  This is not entirely unwelcome, as I have had the opportunity to be still and feel the Universe move all around me, to cautiously explore a little hole in my heart and try to let go of expectations I still hold.  I am coming to peace again, like I do every few years, as the roiling tide recedes. I am achieving another level of understanding in my sorrows and joys, and how they weave together to make me.

In the midst of this time, a painful memory has clawed its way to the surface.  I push it back.  “I am past this,” I say to myself, “I am healed.”  Yet, discussions on social media bring it back.  News stories, blogs, a breath of phrase caught in a passing on the street.  It is all around me, this discussion in our collective consciousness.

And it’s now, I suppose, it’s time to tell a tiny piece of that story – my story.  It has been six years, almost to the week. I am only just now strong enough to tell it, or maybe realizing I’m just broken enough that I need to tell it so I can let it go.  It’s an insignificant drop in the bucket of this greater discussion, really, but perhaps it will speak to one person, and that’s all I can hope to achieve by opening this raw part of myself to the public.

Seven years ago, I came back to California from NY and tour.  The band broke up.  Best friend slash bandmate and I weren’t talking much then, when our schism was still fresh. My relationship with a good man and lover of four-plus years ended when he stayed east and I moved back west.  My dad’s tragic death was still recent. I was drinking, and deep in self-punishment mode.  It felt like everything I loved had fallen apart.

My best girlfriend took me in when I came home.  We planned her wedding. It felt good to focus on something while I tried to get my feet on the ground again.

The wedding day arrived, and I worked hard to put together the venue while the other bridesmaids and bride were being prepped nearby.  I hung twinkle lights and sparkly stars, supervised the table and chair setup, dressed the tables and ordered people around.  I rushed to the hotel afterward and got suited up for the Big Show.  I’d done my part, and the reception was a release.  All my friends were in attendance.  I was safe and happy and felt I’d sent my lady off to married life in a most satisfying manner.  I had one glass of whiskey during the whole business, so I could remain as present and able for post-reception cleanup and whatever else might come.

After the lights had been packed away and the glitter drifting around the corners of the room had been swept into neat piles, a good friend, a best friend, even – someone with whom I’d had a solid, top-tier relationship for almost a decade, asked if I wanted to “after party” and hit up a bar in Santa Monica. Finally, I relaxed. The bride had long since left and my duties were done. I looked good in my dress, and he was dressed to the nines.  It was just before Halloween, and I was excited to go out.

I remember getting to the bar and ordering a Makers on the rocks.  I remember the bartender saying, “Hey, these shots of Jager have been sitting out for a while, you guys want them?”

The next thing I knew, it was morning.  I was in my friend’s bed, in a t-shirt.

A moment of insight:

(a)    In hindsight, by the light of day, the path of mistakes is easier to follow than it was in the moment. Have any of us ever thought differently?  Drinking a shot that had been left on the bar for hours was a big one.  If I’d been alone, I never would have taken that shot.  But I did.  I did because a bartender…

(b)   Who I mistakenly assumed would have protected her patrons (hint: mistake number two was giving responsibility for my safety to another, someone I didn’t even know), gave it to me and I just assumed it was OK.

(c)    And I did that shot because I never had an inkling that I was at risk, being in the company of someone whom I considered a best friend, who actually turned out to be a fucking rapist. This implies my third mistake was in trusting a friend.

I crawled out of bed, rubbing my eyes.  There was a good few minutes of “What the hell…” as I struggled to remember the night and came up blank.  I don’t black out.  I drink like a fucking champ, and I DO NOT BLACK OUT. This is new.

In the bathroom, I sat down to pee, my mind reeling.  The smell of latex hits me.  The rash from the latex I am allergic to hits me.  What. The. Fuck. Alarm bells are clanging in my head.

In the living room, the explanation I got was, “Modesty was preserved.  I had to change you out of your dress because you were so drunk you couldn’t stand up.”  Really?  Shit. That’s…unusual.  “Yeah, I had to carry you out of the bar over my shoulder.”  How long were we there? “We just had the one drink, we did those shots, you went to the bathroom, then I carried you out.  You don’t remember falling into the bushes?”  Nope.  “Must have been because you drank so much at the wedding.”

Another alarm bell joins the cacophony. I had one drink at the wedding. How long was I in the bathroom at the bar?  “Only a minute, why?”

Because it would have taken a long ass time to get me out of that girdle, dress, and spanx, yo.  Just getting the facts.

Then the killing blow, the revelation that, so many years later, tells me even if I’d “consented”, I couldn’t have possibly consented.

“I couldn’t make out a word you said.  You couldn’t even open your eyes.”

I went home in a daze.  I knew someone had sex with me using a latex condom.  It seemed impossible, but I tried like hell to figure out who could have accessed me during what I now had accepted was a blackout induced by a drugged Jager shot.  Literally, this is the only explanation.

I called Friend and asked a few more questions. The timeline baffled me.  There was no possible way it could have been anyone but him. I went to the doctor and asked for a swab immediately. There was spermicidal lubricant residue inside me. Sex had happened.

I called Friend multiple times to try to ascertain what had happened. More alarm bells when his story began to vary over the course of the next two days.

The next week was a terrible series of missed calls from Friend, who left message after panicked message asking where I was and did I want to go get a drink and WHERE ARE YOU and why aren’t you answering my calls and I’ll just keep calling until I hear back from you I hope you’re ok WHERE ARE YOU HIDING lets go to dinner hello hello hello please pick up, and oh, FUCK, I was so scared.

Here’s the thing. I’d refused his advances and had frankly confronted them with many sincere, heartfelt, and seemingly rational discussions for many years. I loved him deeply – as a friend. But I still thought I’d managed to fuck this up somehow, because it seemed incomprehensible that he could have taken advantage of me like that.  I would have trusted him with…anything. Up ’til then.

I breathlessly called a mutual friend who, in no uncertain terms, told me to call the police and report the guy.  I did not.  Instead, I holed up in my girlfriend’s apartment, waiting for her and her husband to come back from their honeymoon, frantically trying to figure out the chain of events that had led to this and knowing in my heart it was my fault, somehow.

And then his story changed, morphing into his victimization. We were both drugged.  He doesn’t even remember leaving the bar, much less getting home. He woke up on the couch, and I in the bed. No memory of what happened, and OH GOD, if we had consensual sex while we were both blacked out, he was so sorry. He simply didn’t remember. And what a terrible life – It makes him so sad to think of it! –  I must have had in the past for me to believe that he, a good friend, could have done this to me.

But I consented, or at least I must have, because he’s a Good Guy and a Good Friend, and I’m the one who flits off across the country and has no money, no stability, the ne’er-do-well musician. Look at that poor stand-up guy getting victimized by a loose cannon who doesn’t want to acknowledge she’s simply made a mistake.

Because that’s what we’re taught, as women in this day and age.

If I stepped up with a rape accusation, past drug use and post-show parties, and nights of playing with girls and playing with boys and body-painted-raver photos, keg stands, and maybe even my past IRS-related woes (basically the entire joyous train-wreck of my life from ages 19-27) would have tumbled out of the closet to speak to a character that well, frankly, may have simply had it coming. In stark contrast, of course, to guy who has had one or two long-term relationships, a real career, and a savings account.

If you look good and you’re out drinking, you could get raped, and you were asking for it by not being hyper-alert and aware of all things at any and all moments in time.

God forbid those pants hug your delectable, asking-to-be-taken ass. Why would you wear that? Everyone knows if you’d been wearing a burlap sack, you wouldn’t have gotten what you were asking for. God forbid you act with the audacity of a man and expect to enjoy socializing like a man – with impunity.  Silly woman, there are consequences.  And you should know better than to be such a tawdry little cock tease, the ilk of which would tell a friend they’d never be interested in dating, yet still chooses to hang out with that person. What were you thinking, having male friends you weren’t willing to fuck in order to appease his (their) biological impulses?

Unacceptable. Men and women are not equal and you know it.

If you allow someone to be your friend who has previously expressed his undying love for you, you are asking for whatever comes your way, because you should have known that “I love you” means, “I’m entitled to you.”  If someone spends money on you, he is also entitled to you. If you have told him straight out, concisely, and with absolutely no sense of ambiguity on multiple occasions leading up to this that you love him as a brother and you will never, ever date him, you should have known he’d be forced resort to this to get what he needed from you. You were the one who was a completely blind idiot as he expressed thinly veiled fury when you denied his advances, and you thought it was just him being frustrated and sad because he actually loved you so much. You even felt bad for that motherfucker.

But you were wrong, and you should have known better.

Only Bride, Girlfriend-I-Called-After-The-Fact, and Girlfriend’s husband really knew what happened back then. With few exceptions, I never had the courage to come out and tell my friend group what happened, because Good Time Guy was such a respected core member.  Everyone loved him.  I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t risk it – for HIS well-being – unless I was absolutely sure.  And the truth is, I remembered nothing, and didn’t feel comfortable voicing what could have been a baseless accusation, despite the all the evidence stacked to the contrary.

I even apologized to him.  I was desperate to regain a sense of normalcy, and scared of what would happen if I went up against someone with more social cache, a “better” family, an endless well of money, and deeper roots in our friend group. When I first called him, he cried on the phone.  He apologized that I was hurting and told me he didn’t know what happened. Then he started treating me like shit. It didn’t take long for all communications between us to cease completely.

More of our friends know these days, now that our group has somewhat disbanded. Some were much less surprised than I expected. Some won’t speak to me. Some are still friends with both of us. Some still are –understandably– as conflicted as I was about the whole business. No one wants to think they’re friends with a rapist.  I should have told them then.  But these situations are rarely black and white.

I wish I had now.

He has a good life these days; a wife, a kid, a great job.

I have a great life, too, but there will always be a part of me now that is suspicious and broken.

He did that.

Not me.

I’m tired of hearing theoretical discussions about how women should have reacted in any given situation, and how they should have been smarter, and about how they should have spoken up in the moment.  Perhaps the people raping/assaulting them just shouldn’t have been raping. Perhaps when one is in the midst of being violated in the most intimate way possible, one isn’t able to see what is so obvious to those who are outside the situation, the same who see fit to sit behind the safety of a keyboard and judge others’ actions.

Please, tell me again how you would have done things differently. Go ahead, tell me it was my fault. I fucking dare you.

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7 thoughts on “Our Culture of Blame

  1. Erica says:

    Same thing happened to me after going to a dance club with a group of friends i’d known since Junior high. Its so freaky how similar our events and feelings regarding it are. I have barely told anyone about what happened to me either. My “friend” and I have never spoken again, and he as well made many “creepy” attempts shortly following the incident to justify it as just another night. Even told me that he loved me. I wouldn’t respond to him, his calls, his letters. He drugged me. I don’t know why I never did anything about it either. It seemed like the battle against it was too much. I think the most terrifying part is not remembering anything. I have blamed myself… shouldn’t have gone out, shouldn’t have drank what he brought with him, should not have let me girlfriends leave without me. You are right, it’s still his fault. I am glad you shared this! Thank you Pooks.

    • Jesus. Thank you for sharing, I know how hard it is. I’ve been shocked by the number of emails and notes I’ve received today of women telling me the same thing. I love you, and I’m so sorry this happened to you.

  2. Rage. Guilt. Confusion. Despair. Blinding Anger. Just remembering what I’ve been through in a similar situation. You are so amazing to have gotten through this with peace and kindness. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope you continue to heal and where the cracks in your reserves are patched over, may you become stronger and better than you were before. Love you.

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