The Woman Who Used to Be Me

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.

250 thoughts on “The Woman Who Used to Be Me

  1. It is just so sad that so many get away after thoughtlessly destroying lives. Kudos to your courage. As Yoko Ono said ‘Healing yourself is connected with healing others’ and you seem to have done that in some measure at the very least.

  2. Your insights are selflessly raw and real. I will share your post with my 18yr old daughter. Your decision to share your experience will be so very much vindicated. Thank you! Jerry

  3. thanks for sharing your story i know all to well how you feel only difference is in my situation i knew the person and even cared for him. it’s been 9 years but to this day i’ve only told two people and it still prevents me from forming a healthy relationship i hope one day i will be able to come to terms with what happened but at this time i don’t think i can

    • I’m sorry to hear this. I once thought that I would never be able to have a healthy relationship. It took a long time and a lot of work on myself, but I was finally able to open myself to a loving relationship. We all heal in our own time, but it is possible. I wish this for you.

  4. I had a rough freshman year at college, and I suffered a lot of humiliation. Reading this stunning piece of yours makes me realize how our wounds can turn us into something beautifully strong and expressive. I wish you all the happiness that life could offer, stay strong and keep writing!

    • I’m sorry to hear that you went through this humiliation. It’s such a huge problem for college girls. I hope that one day your wounds will be healed, and I wish you the peace and happiness that you deserve.

  5. I’m sorry this happened to you. thanks for sharing. Thanks for reminding me to have a candid talk with my daughter yet again. Thanks for reminding me that assholes exist in those that we think we know.

    • I’m glad that you’re being proactive and warning your daughter. I’ve heard so many people say, “Oh, that won’t happen to my daughter. She has nice friends.” It can happen to anyone’s daughter. And just because a friend is polite and smiley to parents doesn’t make them automatically trustworthy.

  6. “Like something extinguished” – but he wasn’t able to extinguish your spirit, was he? Your strength and courage shine. My blessings…

  7. With all compassion J, I am hurting and crying deep inside. 😦 I don’t know what to say but I just feel the hurt. I wish you well and we all know that karma works in many ways J so we just leave it to the universe to take care of the bartender.

    In another note, I am also kind of worried about my daughter ‘coz the world we live in now is more harsh than before.

    • I’ve lived long enough to see karma in action many times, so I know that he got what was coming to him eventually.

      I understand why you’re worried about your daughter. It’s sad, but when I look at the world and think about where it’s heading, I’m so glad that I never had children.

      • Oh, I see it! sorry for the previous comment I left today. Just ignore it. Thanks J. Yeah, true I’ve seen karma in action a lot of times too. To me, leaving things to the universe is best.

        Yeah, I am thinking of maybe sending her back to Philippines for college. There she’ll learn a lot of things in life that she can’t here in the US. 🙂

  8. It takes a lot of courage to share… I was ostracized in grad school for writing about and warning people about Sexual Abuse of women and children… In India talking about these things was considered a Taboo. Still is in conservative families and societies. It invited a lot of hate, criticism and social isolation. And because of brave people like you, we’ve managed to bring about sweeping social changes… Thank you for overcoming the odds. You never know whose life you are changing. Keep your inner light burning and if ever you need someone to lean on, I think you’ve got half the world 🙂

    • Thank you, Archie, for taking a stand in spite of the hostility it brought you. I’m sure you’ve made an incredible difference in the lives of women in your country.

  9. It is a terrible thing that someone would think to do this to another person. It is pure cowardice on the part of this man. Judging from the support and the comments I would say that by sharing you did a very good thing. I hope you emerge stronger from this support. Thank you for sharing. Be well.

  10. Somehow, what I think I would have felt had such a thing happened to be is so different from what I read here. So your post has helped me understand. I cant stress it enough, thank you so much for sharing this. You really didn’t have to but you did. How you have grown from the experience after having to face deception is truly inspiring. I loved the last lines. I am going to remember them for a while 🙂

  11. Rarely a post comes along that leaves such a profound impact on the mind. This one’s such.
    Bottled up anger let gone. Respect your courage to be free, at least try to rattle yourself out of it.
    I’ve been, well not under similar circumstances, but some else. Though I think I’ve moved on, there’s a part of me that will forever feel violated.
    Someday I too hope to have the courage to flush it all out.

    • Thank you very much for this comment. I hope that you can rid yourself of the toxic energy one day. Some things are lost forever, but your beautiful spirit will prevail.

  12. What a fine writer you are………… I cannot imagine, as a man, being “with” any woman who didn’t want to be with me, but there is a fine line between a friendly smile and a sexual come on. I have, maybe from my own naivete, made the mistake of confusing the two…………the difference is that my “not inflated” ego allowed me to verify before moving on. I like both the friendly smile and the sexual come on, but it;s pretty easy to differentiate between the two if you allow your mind and not your libido be in charge.
    Keep writing!

  13. Some life stories, experiences good or bad, will always need to be share, told, even if to help just one person or many, another voice will always help those of us listening around the world.

    To finding the best of days.

  14. I am so sorry. This happens so often and the person who was violated feels the shame, never the perpetrator. Speaking out shifts the shame to the person who owns it. It helps the large number of people this happens too. Bravo to you and double shame on him. I do believe what goes around comes around and he will suffer in the end, as he should, and you will be free and filled with light. Hugz, gratitude and admiration.

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