The Woman Who Used to Be Me

**Warning: Heavy subject matter. I overcame my hesitation about posting this, because, in the 23 years since this incident, the situation for women has only gotten worse. I’ve decided to add my small voice to the crowd, because there’s always more strength in numbers.**

Somewhere in northern Baja California, Mexico – November 23, 1989

The bartender from work drives her car down the two lane highway that snakes alongside the beige, desiccated cliffs of northern Baja California. The woman who used to be me huddles in a blanket on the passenger side and stares out the window. Everything seems alien – the car, the man, herself, the landscape. It’s as if she’s viewing reality from behind fingerprint-smudged glass. The sea appears immobile – waves frozen into ripples. Sun rays pierce the clouds, illuminating two small islands.

“They’re uninhabited.” His voice penetrates the fog in her mind. “The Mexican government uses them for bomb testing.”

She flinches. She’s not yet ready to hear her voice again or to communicate with him. The drugs that she was forced to take are wearing off. A slow recession like an outgoing tide. Desolation awaits her in sobriety. She crumples in the seat and closes her eyes. She’s detached from the world. Unmoored and drifting away.

Shards of last night cut through her mind. The entire staff from the restaurant met for drinks at a local dive. It was the night before Thanksgiving, so no one had to work the next day. It was the first time that they were all able to party together. She’d recently celebrated her twenty-first birthday, and was thrilled that she could finally go out with them. She stiffened when the bartender sat next to her. No one liked him. He was a hostile presence behind the bar. Stalking back and forth like a caged predator, casting looks of contempt at the wait staff. You people can’t do anything right. Yet he often screwed up the easiest of cocktails.

“Jack Daniels is what you drink, right?” he said, setting a glass down next to her.

She nodded, feeling annoyed, and then a small pang of guilt at being annoyed. He was trying to be nice. Maybe she shouldn’t be so hard on him.

“Let’s try to get along, okay?”

She smiled. “Okay.” Maybe she just didn’t know him well enough. Maybe he had an interesting side. The others beckoned from the dance floor.

“Go ahead,” he said. “I need a couple of drinks before I can dance. I’ll keep an eye on yours.”

She must not have eaten enough. Or they must give generous shots. After two drinks the edges of reality began to darken. One by one the others disappeared.

Fade to black.

And then shadow and light. The bartender from work’s kitchen. She swayed and tried to speak. How did she get here? He grabbed her face and shoved a tiny piece of paper into her mouth. His large hands clamped over her jaw so she couldn’t spit it out. “C’mon, stop fighting me. It’s LSD. You’ll love it.”

Fade to black.

An EconoLodge next to a freeway. Morning. Someone moving rhythmically on top of her. She opened her eyes. Oh no. No.

“We’re here,” the bartender from work says, jarring her back to the present. He pulls into a parking place, throws the engine into park, and turns off the car. His movements are sharp, they cut through the air like potential blows. “The Rosarito Beach Hotel. This place is a landmark.”

She stands next to the car as he gathers their things out of the trunk. She could scream and run into the hotel. If she could only find her voice again. However, it would be his word against hers. How could she explain the fact that she had brought a backpack, had spent time packing it, no gun to her head? He had somehow convinced her to come here of her own free will, or the remnants of it.

While he checks in, she stares at the nature scenes painted on the walls in primary colors. Huge windows frame the Pacific Ocean. It’s a place for honeymoons. Their room has a small double bed and a television. He puts their bags on the floor next to the television.

“The beach at sunset is so beautiful,” he says. “C’mon, let’s take a walk.”

The wind howls, blowing her hair in her face. The sand is dingy, defiled. Every once in a while the world comes back into focus. Why can’t she just shake it off like other women do? He didn’t hurt her, he only drugged her and then took advantage of her while she was unconscious. He put one part of his body into hers in a way that did not induce pain. When he saw that she was crying, he stopped. It could have been so much worse. Other women talk about their drunken one night encounters with nothing more dramatic than rolled eyes and resigned sighs. She thinks of all the boys of yesteryear who had tried the same thing, expecting her compliance, outraged at her defiance. They started rumors about her that she could not dispel. She had learned to take precautions: no revealing clothes; no drinking alone with men; no walking on the streets alone after dark. She’d heard about some new drug that rendered you compliant, but didn’t think that a person she saw nearly every day would be bold enough to use it. Maybe it’s also her fault for not being vigilant enough. Or maybe it was bound to happen no matter what.

He stops and takes a deep breath. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

She has seen bleak places before – the Mojave Desert, the flat expanse of Nebraska – and has always been able to find beauty. Through the numbness, she feels a muted pang of regret that this is all she knows of Mexico. She shakes her head. “No. Not really.”

He snaps, “Why do you always have to be so negative?”

Later, in the restaurant, he says, “Order what you want. All of this is my treat.” He spreads his arms wide in a gesture of benevolence. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

She stares at the menu in bewilderment. She hasn’t eaten in almost two days. She orders enchiladas and wolfs them down as soon as they arrive. The fog in her brain dissipates a little.

He downs a double tequila and orders another. “I think of myself as an optimistic fatalist,” he says in a first date voice tinged with condescension. He swills the ice in his glass. “I used to be a salesman. My hair was falling out and I had stomach ulcers. I’m forty years old and my life is so much better now than when I was your age.” He takes her hand.

She recoils and tears her hand away.

He looks down at his plate. “I know I shouldn’t have done what I did last night, but I’ve never felt so driven. You are so feisty. The way you talk back to me all the time at work. You don’t take any shit from anyone. You’re so different.”

Her stomach churns. He had mistaken her animosity for flirtation. “Please. I don’t want to talk about it.”

He downs his drink and slams the glass on the table. “Fine. I’m just trying to make up for it and do things the right way.”

She flinches and looks down at her plate. She searches for some sign of the feistiness that she used to have. It had, up until now, saved her from this kind of thing. Once, in high school, she had even fought off two football players. You think that little blondes are easy targets, eh? Think again, assholes! But now all she finds within her is silence. Not a calm silence, but the silence of absence, of something extinguished.

Overnight, the wind intensifies to tropical storm level. She curls up on her side of the bed and listens to the howl. He sleeps on his side, turned away, curled up in a dejected ball. The last of the LSD dissipates. The edges of reality harden until they are sharp enough to cut.

She opens her eyes. The wind has died down. He is still asleep, snoring softly. She gets up and walks into the bathroom. Her limbs and lower back ache and her mouth is dry. She turns on the faucet, but no water comes out. She lifts her eyes to the mirror. I look back at her. We look away.

When she walks into the room, the bartender from work is gone. She sits on the bed and runs a comb through her greasy hair.

The door opens. “The storm knocked out the water and electricity,” he says. “The front desk says it will be out all day.”

They pack their things and go down to the dining room. The other couples hunch over their food, disheveled and grouchy. The bartender from work speaks of neutral things like his love for Mexico. All of the things he knows about life that she doesn’t.

“You have serious problems,” he says. “I have a degree in psychology, so I know problems when I see them.”

Defiance reignites. “I’m taking a psych class right now at the junior college. I’m fascinated by Jung’s work on synchronicity and archetypes. The collective unconscious.” She flashes him an innocent smile. Yes, let’s talk about problems.

His face hardens. He empties his drink and pushes back from the table. “Let’s go.”

As they walk towards her car, she says. “Oh no. The passenger side window’s open.”

“We couldn’t get it to close, remember?” he barks. “This car is a piece of shit.”

Small drifts of sand have formed on the seats and floor. They brush off the seats and get in.
She lets him drive so that she can stare out the window and think. The scenery flickers. Yesterday’s film loop played backwards. Once again she’ll have to take refuge in flight. New job, new living arrangements. Just erase it all and disappear. Again. Like a loser. A wave of sorrow washes over her, and she sinks like a stone.

She lifts her eyes to the rear view mirror. I hold her gaze. I won’t abandon you, even if you pull me under. We will go down together. An ember flares up, cauterizing our wounds.

 

**Update: I’d like to make it clear to life coaches, energy healers, whatevers, etc, that I’m not in need of your services, so don’t bother to contact me if it’s only for the purpose of marketing yourself. It’s obnoxious to browse blogs about abuse looking for clients. I’m healed and have moved on and posted this only to help others.**

321 thoughts on “The Woman Who Used to Be Me

  1. Men took advantage of me in that same state so I do know how you felt/feel. I am sorry, for you and me and every woman out there that suffers this humiliation. Fuckers. At 60 I am invisible to them, thank god. It has allowed me to travel alone comfortably. There’s enough downsides to 60 so I am grateful for the good things that it gives me. That you can write about it shows that you have healed somewhat. That you had to write it in the 3rd person tells me you still struggle with it. ❤

    • Oh, no. I’m so sorry to hear that you, too, had to deal with this. This has happened to almost every woman I know. Really. How is this possible? And these days young women even get bullied online afterwards. It makes me sick.

      I wrote in 3rd person to show my state of mind at the time. It took me years to heal. It didn’t help that I was already severely depressed at the time. I’ve managed to mostly move on, except for being pissed off at humans in general. I’m in my mid-40s now and it’s a little better, but I still get unwanted attention and have to watch my back when I travel alone.

  2. It is difficult to come up with an intelligent response to this (a ‘like’ seems inappropriate) – suffice to say, if there is such a thing as natural justice, the bartender will have come to a very unpleasant end.

  3. Only a beautiful heart can write this story with self-restraint and objectivity. The anger and pain is for the readers to experience and it hurts. This is the finest, most touching memoir I’ve read on WP. J.D.Riso, be well and keep writing!

  4. You write your story so well. I admire you and the courage it takes to share this. It scares me to hear that so many women you know have been treated like this. Thank you for sharing. I wish you all the good things in life.

    • Thank you. I think that most people don’t realize how prevalent this is, because women are too ashamed to talk about it, or they think that it’s somehow their fault. It was not easy to share this, but I did so in hopes of somehow helping others.

  5. One voice makes a difference. When one hurts, we all hurt. There are many who are joining your voice – it is a choir that draws from the past, as well as the present. We sing so that the future may have security, hope and most of all confidence that their existence is precious. We sing that the hurts and cares will be muted, but that the message continues to be heard – loudly, clearly, stridently – with the power of many who seek peaceful outcomes. Maya Angelou once said, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
    Your courage and selfless generosity changed the world today. One voice makes a difference…

    • Considering how brutal the world is for today’s young women, I now feel like I had it easy. Yes, I hope that doing this small thing will somehow help change things, if only by raising awareness. The problem is very complicated and getting worse, mostly because of the degradation of pop culture.

  6. I press the like button not because I like what happen to you, but like that you had the courage to tell your story, to write and let go in some way, even though the memories and pain will never go away, the sad part this happens to many women I know too, it makes me angry,sad and I feel helpless in what I can do or say, sorry to hear about this, but what makes me happy you are not there right now you are strong and in control of your life and your soul.

    About the writing…you are simply a great writer, I was there, I felt your pain, the sadness, the anger, shock and yes, I cried. I hope this helps others with the same problem.

    P.S. Julie you are my hero it is not easy what you did and I admired even more.

    • Thank you so much, Doris.

      What to do or say…the best thing to say is that no matter what you’re still their friend and they’re not a worse person for what happened. Also, they should warn everyone about the perpetrator, who’s very often someone they know. These guys can only get away with it if women trust them enough to let down their guard. If there’s physical evidence, they need to go to the hospital and the police, even though it will be his word against hers. They will need the support of a friend if they choose to do this, because the police usually make it out to be the woman’s fault.

  7. I have learned that rape is murder of the soul. Praises on your recovery. I hope that when you look in the mirror that your eyes are gentle and compassionate to you. Also beautiful writing.

  8. There are no words that I can express. I am moved and saddened by this story, but optimistic and elated to know that you are healing and able to share. Know that there are others like you out there and this will help someone else in a similar situation. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: The Woman Who Used to Be Me | Success and the mind

  10. I’m about to start work on a novel where the main character is a victim of sexual assault. As I sit here reading your post and crying a little, I’m reminded that there’s no logic to rape, no way to understand it or how to react it. It’s a chaos-inducing act of brutality, and its effects, it’s terrible, bewildering effects, can last for years. It’s even wrose when it’s someone the victim knows, someone they trust.
    Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for reminding me of these horrifying facts. I wish the best for you in the future.

  11. There seems to be in the collective male consciousness a drive to ensue that men can believe the unwanted sex was not his fault. Women in the middle east are covered because their men aren’t capable of self-discipline. There are men in the world capable of self-discipline, men who have respect for women. I hope you were able to find such a person to give you comfort in life. Your response to your abductor is not unusual, to be sassy one day and subdued the next. It sounds like you’ve found your voice and the woman who used to be you has returned. As you wrote, I remembered my own experience and marveled at how well you expressed the emotions behind it.

    • Some male brains do seem to have that kind of wiring, and it doesn’t help when the culture doesn’t condemn them, either. I’ve been rewarded with a fantastic husband and I’m grateful every day for this. I hope you’ve been able to heal from your experience.

      • Once a woman knows she’s not alone, the love and support of others provides healing. 🙂

  12. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to share this with my daughter, who went through it also. I adopted the child that came from it. She couldn’t move forward with her decision to complete the pregnancy. Through sadness, I have been given a baby to protect.

    • One would hope that the type of man who would do this could be persuaded to stop this behavior after reading this, but I’m not very optimistic. However, if more women speak out and name the perpetrators and the men are punished for it, they’ll think twice.

  13. ciao! i admire your courage to share such a personal experience. you write with much sensitivity that reflects your kind nature. you are fortunate in that you can free your self in your writing and offer light to a subject that is crucial to women.
    thebestdressup

  14. Some might unrightfully dare to come and tell me now:”Why are you crying because of this story, it ain;t that bad” and I would gladly slap them in the face with how ignorant they are.
    Thank you, for having courage to share your story.

  15. It takes so much courage to write something like this. I, too, have similar experiences. The story may be different but the feelings are always the same. Thank you for being brave enough to write this and share it with the world. You have made me feel just a little bit less alone.

    • Dear Britni – There are so many of us. We have to speak out so that parents learn that they need to warn their daughters and teach them how to (hopefully) avoid this situation. Thank you so much for your solidarity.

  16. That pain is forever I am afraid. You can have peace, joy, laughter, and fulfillment again. But then you hear someone else was hurt , and a complex wave of emotion must be addressed. Bless you, and KEEP writing. It is not just the story, it is how you wrote it. It is good.

      • what I mean LaVagabonde ; Do NOT mistake my statement for acceptance. An exceptionally written piece of fluid and graphic verbiage; there is NOTHING to forgive in yourself; it is generally the inherent dichotomy of men and women. ..for which women suffer. I fear a future of a “nanny state” government; men (all people really) will become MORE emasculated for which they will inevitably aggress….especially with so many means to that end…electronics, drugs, and opportunity. IS anyone is safe…is this pain inevitable? BUT do NOT mistake the statement for acceptance.

  17. Thank you for sharing. In my job, I work with victims of sexual assault. It is brave of you to share your story and I could easily see your courageous act helping someone else to come to terms with their own abuse, or maybe make them think about coming forward to share their own story. I believe that the only thing that will ever lead to a decrease in this crime is more open dialogue about it. Thank you for being part of that process! And kudos for the writing itself – you have a gift for storytelling, even for this difficult subject matter. Keep writing please!

    • It is my hope that this helps even one woman heal, even a little. More of us need to speak out and turn the tables on the perpetrators. Shine the light on their cowardly actions. The shame belongs to THEM, not us.

      • Well put. The shame does belong to the perpetrators, but too often it seems the survivors mistakenly carry that burden even though they should not be blamed. Even though often no one else blames them but themselves. I’m glad you’ve recognized where the blame should lie, and, again, that you’ve been able to talk about it publicly like this. I think your openness will help many, and I suspect it has already helped one: you. The way you’ve expressed yourself leads me to believe that you have come a long way in coming to terms yourself, and that’s a separate accomplishment to be proud of! I hope you’ll consider writing about your healing process as well, if you’re comfortable doing so, because not as many people talk about that part. Thanks again.

  18. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. It’s so well-written. Hopefully many people will see it and realize just how many of us there are out there who have been through similar things–I am one of them. It’s far too common. Stay strong 🙂

    • Thank you, Aimee. So many women have gone through this, but the general public isn’t aware because we’re too ashamed to speak about it. Thank you so much for your solidarity.

  19. I just wanted to say your writing is powerful, and thank you so much for sharing. Best wishes.

  20. I hope you have been able to forgive yourself for what happened. I can see how easy it would be to blame yourself for what you did or didn’t do. I have never been there, luckily, but I now feel that I have because of your superb writing. You have turned a horrible situation into a teaching moment and I have no doubt that this post will make a difference in many lives. The woman who used to be you has transformed into the powerful writer. Not only have you brought attention to this unbridled behavior, you have also shown and inspired others how to turn a horrible situation into a very positive and healing gift for yourself and others. I honor and respect you for that Thank you..

    • It took a few years, but I was finally able to forgive myself. That was the key to complete healing. Now it’s my turn to try and help others. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  21. I love the quote that says, “Where courage is not, no other virtue can survive except by accident.” Well, you’ve definitely got courage, and I have a feeling the “woman who used to be you” is still in there. That kind of courage takes a great deal of fortitude to surface, and just maybe it’s an opening to help the overcomer of the post incident and the 21 year old woman that was you before the incident collide….and move forward,. Thanks for sharing.
    .

  22. I am the same age that you were when this happened, and I cannot even imagine what you went through. This is so, so horrible. I pray that you can find peace one day. Thank you for sharing.

  23. A most affecting piece of writing. Men are created physically stronger than women, and I believe that rape is always a twisted display of power. True strength is when a man resists his animal urge to dominate, control and degrade a woman. I agree with what you said about the ‘degradation of pop culture’. MTV, movie-makers, advertisers and the media in general have a lot to answer for when it comes to depicting male/female relationships and woman as desirable/sexual object. How can we protect our daughters?

    • We can protect our daughters by warning them and teaching them how to avoid these situations, if possible. The silence is what keeps this problem from being solved. It can happen to anyone, no matter her race, religion, or class.

  24. Twice, at two different bars, two different bosses tried to do this to me. Both times, out of sheer luck friends saw what was happening and hauled me to safety. I am sad to hear that you went through the entire nasty experience, all by yourself. You are a courageous woman to share it. This is such an ugly situation, yet you write about it so beautifully. That alone shows your strength.

    • Those are some great friends. Did you work in these bars? I’ve worked in many restaurants/bars and it seems like they attract these kinds of men as employees. A boss at another restaurant I worked in tried to get me drunk, but I immediately recognized his intentions and got out of there. And many of my female coworkers fell prey to this while drinking with other employees after work.

      • I’m just grateful that they had great timing! ♥
        Yes, both incidents were at work. A certain type of sleazebag will own or run a bar just so he can be around intoxicated women, who would never touch them otherwise. After work is the worst!!!

  25. You are correct, it is getting much worse.

    Men are now abused more often then women were ….

    When will we realize the ‘social experiment’ failed, and try to fix things instead of letting them fall apart more?

    Back to your story, at one level, I hope and pray your memoir is more memoir than reality, but on another level, I can only feel pain for you.

    Disgusting people use drugs, because they have no courage or integrity.

    I blog about this topic and get ridiculed. So, I know it is not easy for you to live, survive, through.

    Always,

    Ghost.

  26. Reblogged this on thewordpressghost and commented:
    Friends,

    You know I blog on the social ills in America today.

    Here is a blog written (memoir) by a lady who experienced, lived through, survived a horrid experience of our failing culture.

    Other women commented about their experiences as well.

    Remember, 1 in 3 women are sexually attacked (often that is read, ‘raped’) and 1 in 7 men are sexually assaulted (they do not break the numbers down as raped or not for men).

    I tell you about this, because it is real. It is present. And it is DANGER! Clear and present, it is a danger.

    How can we better protect our women, our men, and yes, especially, our children?

    Ghost.

  27. Thank you for having the courage to share this. A similar thing happened to me in college (without the LSD) but it was someone who was trying to pick me up 1st week of school, I was skeptical and wasn’t falling for it but he was in one of my classes, and in our new circle of friends and I thought out of my league. So then I’d gone out with my friends, but he and a buddy came over for a few more, same sort of things with the world growing darker. I still remember coming out of my hallway towards the living room and he was there laughing, steering me back from my friends towards the hallway and I was trying to get their attention from the inside, but nobody heard/saw. Then I came to and he had the nerve to say something like “I thought you were wild, you didn’t move very much.” He left, I went to my roommates ashamed that they were displaced during this “booty call” not even mentioning what happened because at that point I was still very confused. I had to see this dude daily, several times a day, and I just couldn’t fathom how it went that route and felt like it was something wrong with me. I didn’t know how else to process it but I did go on to be a health advocate and give talks on Date Rape, but not by sharing my story as I didn’t find any strength in my story yet. This is the first time I’ve put it in writing so thank you for sharing your courage with me.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is important. It must have been horrible to have to see this loser every day. That was something I couldn’t handle, so I just disappeared without saying goodbye to my other coworkers. It’s amazing how some “friends” can be so blind to what’s going on around them. That’s another frightening problem I’ve noticed lately: people are losing the ability to observe the world around them. I wish you much peace and strength.

      • Thank you LaVagabonde! I realize that I did bury a lot because I had to seeing him every day. Plus he didn’t understand why we couldn’t be friends. This I think has opened up the conversation in my head to deal with it and move on. It felt safer because you get it. Everybody else has those questions in their mind about what I might have done to provoke it. Again, thank you!

        • He couldn’t understand why you couldn’t be friends?! Good grief. I’m not surprised, though. They are completely oblivious to the hurt they cause. Total lack of empathy. I’m so glad you are able to start to work it out now.

      • I agree with you about people losing their ability to observe the world around them! I have a guess that it might have to do with social networking, where lives are not really what they appear to be on Instagram.

  28. You are a true inspiration and, although it must have been so difficult for you to do, your story is guaranteed to raise awareness and help those who have been through the same – or a similar – ordeal. Well done 🙂 x

  29. i want to kill that bastard! thanks for sharing your experience, i clicked “like” not because i like that it happened to you, but because i applaud your courage. i also want to write about my experience, publicly, but “he” (the bastard in my case) is still alive and he can still come after me, and it is very possible that he will read my blog. so yes, i still fear him, i still have the fear of something that happened years ago, i still fear that the world is relaxed, ignorant, and let this nastiness takes place. knowing how difficult it is to make this experience visible, i once again want to say how important it is to hear your voice. thanks, this really means a lot!

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you still feel threatened. Do you think he’d come after you if people knew what he did? I mean, if something happens to you afterwards, people will know it’s him, so it would not be very intelligent on his part. Unless he’s a total psychopath (which could very well be the case) and doesn’t care about the consequences. What a horrible situation to be in. It shouldn’t stop you from writing about it privately – you’ll be surprised how much it helps – and maybe one day, when you feel “safe”, you can go public with it. Take care.

  30. I am too scared to press the like button. I have the greatest respect four your courage telling this. You have been the victim of an evil bastard! I hope the wounds have healed over the years…

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