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.**

322 thoughts on “The Woman Who Used to Be Me

  1. Thanks for sharing. I admire your courage. I was sexually assaulted by 2 men 4 years ago and I still can’t talk about it, let alone put in a blog.

  2. Courage and bravery are qualities that set us apart from others who live in denial of their past. Well done to you for baring your soul with this piece. Beautifully written.

  3. I’m speechless. I want to say some kind beautiful words that can soothe you, but I just can’t. I can just feel…feel your story. You’re so brave to be able to share this. So no matter what happens, don’t ever think it’s your fault. You don’t have issues or serious problems…(well, we all have) but this time, it’s him who has it. Really. So stay strong. I wish you peace of mind.

  4. Your writing, it’s absolutely beautiful and so is your story. Your courage and your ability as a woman, I applaud you. Truly an inspiration, and for the other women on here that have gone through an experience, you also well given a kudos for making it through. It’s a shame that people like this have to go such great lengths to do selfish deeds, all because they can’t seem to go get some.

    • Thank you so much. I’m also moved by the women who’ve commented about their experiences. I did not expect that. It’s so important that people know how prevalent this is, so that we can try to stop it.

  5. Your words are so powerful. Your courage and bravery will help others find their voice in dark places. Appreciate you much!!!

  6. i wish i could pay a li’l more than a mere ‘like’,,nothing like this has ever happened to me so far fortunately,nothing this severe,but i don’t know how and why,but i could actually relate to it.
    its a little hard to accept such incidents,,,demands courage to harbor the strength to accept it all kicking away the denial and refusal of such happenings,,and you did conquer it 😉
    the feelings and the thoughts could not be displayed any better than this.
    surely an inspiration and strength to the readers.i am glad to have read it.
    “life is not about how many times you get knocked down,but how many times you make an uprise” ur blog says its all !
    take care invincible one.

  7. I am also among those who say “I “liked” this because of your courage, not because of what happened. You are a brave woman for exposing this scum, and telling your story. For every woman who speaks up, you are helping someone else. Congratulations on “Freshly Pressed.” I am glad you found your voice.

  8. It makes me so angry that people can get away without consequences for their degenerate actions. I feel your pain and hope that you find peace.

  9. Courageous account; sadly, it reads like a novel.Difficult to believe that a man can have such little respect for a woman to be driven to such a like- changing incident. I, too , found myself in an abusive relationship, but I wasn”t drugged. I failed to see the signs and was dragged down for years. I hope recording this account and the fact that you have received so may comments, encourages you firstly to keep writing and secondlyto find comfort in having shared your experience. Bon Courage.

      • Thank you. I did get away. But not until after he threw me down some steps, almost strangled me, hit two French gendarmes and kept 9 of us hostage in a house. The British Embassy were involved and it still took me 4 years to get a divorce! Integrity is a weird thing to teach children. men with ultra-controlling behaviour usually begin a relationship being wonderful and like to be close: you don’t realise that one day it could suffocate you and that your head is so full of compliance you wonder if you are him or yourself. You have to think like them to avoid disruption. Shameful that the authorities have their hands tied so much. Bon Courage.

  10. Thank you, thank you so much for sharing this. I don’t have much to say, really – liking this post seemed inappropriate – other than that I think it is beautifully written and, despite the distanced tone, really expressive. Again, thank you so much for sharing this awful thing with us: the more reminders we have that rape is real – not a fiction, but a real and everyday thing – the better off the collective understanding. Thank you.

  11. Thanks for sharing this frightening story — it’s very tough to write about rape/assault well and you’ve done it.

    Women are heavily socialized to be “nice”, to go along to get along — not to punch, kick, scream, call the cops, pursue arrest and prosecution. And to be ashamed of having made an unwise choice by hanging out with a man who is actually a psychopath. Like we knew?

    I was the victim of a con man, (not rape in a physical sense, but mentally abused and manipulated), in 1998. After the police and DA laughed at me (!) — he’d committed six felonies and had a prior prison record — I found a former NYC cop/turned PI to help me. Only those who have been assaulted, or those who have helped them, have a clue what it does to you.

    If this post prompts even one women to have the courage to speak up and out — or to scream at the top of her lungs if a man even tries this on her — good for you.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story. I believe there is an epidemic of psychopathy nowadays. The most important thing a person can do is learn how to recognize a psychopath and to understand that their brains are wired differently and that it’s impossible for them to have a conscience. People don’t realize that a person doesn’t have to be a serial killer to be a psychopath. I can usually spot one immediately. I get physically ill. As was the case with this guy. I was absolutely revolted by him, and that’s what made the situation worse. I hope the parasite that did such damage to you is behind bars.

      I am little, but I was always taught to fight back. My Grandma used to say, “Any man who lays a hand on me better not close his eyes at night.” Those football players who jumped me in high school got a very nasty surprise. Hahaha. And I told everyone at school, though no one believed me. I always thought that I’d be able to defend myself, and when I failed, I blamed myself. But not anymore. 🙂 So, yes, women need to learn that it’s okay to raise hell.

  12. Stopping to leave a word of understanding for the young woman who is you. My hope is that your healing continues. Thank you for having the courage to tell your story.

  13. @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….>>I totally agree. Most people truly don’t realize how prevalent this is; even these days. Many women don’t speak on it out in the open ; for years & years. It takes years to even want to do so! There are stats on the number of women who have been sexually assaulted. The numbers are staggering..And thats including the high number of women who this happens to while in college..Usually from someone they know. YOU my dear are very brave to have written this. This was very , very well written and held me captured from word 1. I’m more than sure your words will touch many..including the many women who this(or something of the sort..) has happened to. Like moi..Years & years past /the pain dims and fades into black to a faint memory…Yet, that faint memory is never totally erased. Its just covered by a life time of beautiful memories since…Suffice to say your piece caused me to reflect deeply. I applaud YOU and congrat you for releasing…Be encouraged and stay blessed. Thank you for sharing. Sending you big virtual hugs!

  14. I’m glad you found your voice. You deserved to be safe, and I’m so sad you weren’t. All of us have our secrets. Our memories of when we should have been safe and weren’t.

  15. I hesitated from commenting at first because I don’t want to believe this happens to so many women. But more likely, I’m not close enough with many women to have heard their stories. Now that I think back to what happened with men and women and alcohol at college, and warnings from a few female colleagues who’ve worked on sexual assault issues, I think you’re right. This makes me revisit the times I’ve visited the homes of male colleagues. Each situation was after driving them home for one reason or another and they invited me in. They gave me “house tours” including showing the bedrooms. Wives were never around and I believed there could never be any sex because even if they invited it, I wasn’t interested. But goodness, I never even thought that rape could happen! Thankfully, it didn’t. Each time my husband got so upset that I went into these men’s homes. Obviously he knows more about how a guy might think.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, but I’m glad that you’ve found the strength to share it. This is very impactful writing. It has stuck with me since reading it. It snuck in my mind while gardening. You have the power with words to raise attention and make a difference for each person reading this.

    • “House tours”. That’s funny. Since when were men so interested in showing off their homes. 😉 Yes, you were lucky. Even reading the comments on this post, you’ll realize how common this is, and that’s what’s so important: realizing that someone you know could do this to you.

  16. One day I will add my voice too when I understand what message I have to bring. I appreciate you writing strong though and, as it never really goes away, may your experience bring you only power and love as its lasting consequences.

  17. How can a man share compassion for a woman who has been through this?

    I was grabbed by my neighbor when I was 15. And as creepy as it is, I was lucky. He asked me, “This isn’t right is it?”

    I prayed to God and said, “No.”

    He let go.

    For a couple of months, I struggled with, “It must have been my fault.” But, like I wrote above, I was lucky. Being a man, I quickly realized, I was not attracted to men, especially creepy men. I was attracted to women.

    Your blog was a great read! Keep up the great writing. I just hope you don’t have more real life experiences that bad to write about.

    🙂

    Wayne

    • Hi Wayne – Wow, I’m really happy to hear that, at the last minute, your attacker somehow got a conscience. The word “lucky” is relative, isn’t it? I, too, feel like I was lucky that my experience wasn’t worse. It easily could have been. Take care. 🙂

  18. Reblogged this on GoStepAway and commented:
    I believe every person has their own story and those stories are milestones to make them stronger much more than yesterday 🙂

  19. thank you.I know how hard writing a post as this can be,and the exhausting feelings after.But every stroke of your keyboard will help someone.So proud of you,blessings

  20. Thank you for finding the strength to share your story. It has made such an impression on me. May it inspire hope in and touch others who have experienced the same and also encourage them to share their own stories. Kind thoughts.

  21. So sorry about this. Thanks for sharing it though. Maybe it will help to lighten ur burden. Now I truly understand wht my mother means when she tells me tht never let a man touch u. Ur story is heart touching and I hope u recover. It’s not ur fault if someone misunderstood u.

    • Thanks, Lizzy. This happened many years ago, and I’ve since been able to heal. Now it’s my turn to try and help others by putting the story out there.

  22. I cannot stop crying, It is truly aweful that demons exist among us. Please keep your strength and courage. I believe the person will be punished by the one who runs the entire world.
    Take care.

  23. You know, it pained me to have to press the “like” button on your post… because I didn’t “like” the content of the story in the sense that it was a horrific situation that happened to you – also speaking from experience. I’m so glad that I kept reading your responses to other’s comments and happy for you that you have found peace again. You and so MANY others are the very reason that God has called me into the ministry… so I can through my own experiences (there were a few) help others to find peace and hope once again. Thank you for sharing your experience publicly. Blessings ~ Rhonda

  24. In the the book The Color Purple, Celie says “This world is not safe for a girl child.” I am not cynical by nature but your story, my story, the story that so many women share and allude to in the comments here …either men in general do not know what their brothers are up to, or they just don’t care. I am 49, and I am tired of the tired outrage I feel when I read stories like this. There are far too many of them.

    It sounds odd to compliment your writing…an ugly story told so beautifully that we are left not contemplating the horror, but the loveliness of your spirit in surviving. That you gave him a voice, as well – it clarions your courage.

    • Thank you, Sandra. I’m not very optimistic that the type of men who engage in this behavior will change. Sadly, I think women need to be proactive and learn how to keep themselves out of such situations and if something like this happens, they need to not be afraid/ashamed to come forward and name their attacker. The world is indeed unsafe for girls. If it hasn’t changed since the dawn of time, it’s never going to change. But that doesn’t mean that we have to sit there and take it.

      • I AM optimistic that if it becomes very difficult to assault a woman and get away with it, then it will become less common. It will never go away – there are always going to be animals masquerading as men. But it can be much much better than it is.

  25. Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable in what happened to you. I can’t imagine. I hope your courage encourages others with their situations and battles as well. It’s amazing how much this happens and how people use the excuse of alcohol or drugs to use people however they please. I hope when sex education is taught they began to describe what good consent looks like.

    • Thank you. That would be some invaluable education indeed – understanding consent. This is something the parents should be teaching their children.

  26. Reblogged this on Faith That Frees and commented:
    It is with a heavy heart that I reblog this post, however, I am grateful that God has called me into the ministry to be transparent and help others get free from horrific situations like this one. I know how God can and does heal, restore and make whole again. Blessings ~Rhonda

  27. This is beautifully written, and I love how you recreates yourself as a character in a story, showing the separation between then and now. It reminds me of a song and a lyric that goes, “I was only a baby, now I am what you made me.”

    I think what is really critical about your story is the way that you detail your own victim-blaming and your guilt, which is so common of survivors. It will help as lot of people and a lot of victims understand the psychology of the victim and the trauma inflicted on them.

    Well done for your bravery for posting this and congratulations for being Freshly Pressed.

    • Thank you, Sarah. I think that’s what most people don’t realize when they hear about high profile cases, such as the recent one in Ohio. People seem to think that, because she went to the police and the case went to trial, she automatically doesn’t assume the blame. I’d be willing to bet that she felt like it was her fault and maybe still does.

  28. You must have heard this a hundred times – that you are – courageous – that;s because you are. You have gone through a lot, have overcome and do the world proud by sharing this boldly. Please follow the story of the awakening of a spent nation written in verse at http://www.nirbhayasindia.com ‘Nirbhaya’ was the name given by the Indian press to the Delhi gangrape victim. He rape and death led to the educated class engaging in violent protests.

    Look at the good side. You are alive and now must know the value of life even more. You will do well and will be very happy. We are with you.

    • It was partly because of that heartbreaking story that I decided to publicly post my own experience. It’s heartening to hear that the educated class in India are taking a stand. Please don’t give up.

      • You are a brave girl and it is admirable, the way you have faced it. I admire your courage and spirit and feel privileged to know you

      • I won’t give up and especially if people like you give me strength like you already do and support me

  29. And your whole story was so real, that I forgot to mention that you write very very very very very well indeed.

  30. Something similar as recently happened to me. I want to thank you for sharing this. It makes me feel not alone in this whole mess. I hope one day I can have the courage to post what happened to me, so others will feel they are not alone.

    • No, we are far from being alone. Reading through the comments on this are proof of that. I wish you the strength to be able to come forward one day.

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