(this is the only picture following…take something symbolic out of this.)
Please no sympathies just respect.
Back in 2016 I mastered the Tinder meet-up. Within the span of nine months I went on forty first dates. It ended up being just as exhausting as it sounds, squeezing into skin tight jeans putting on a face full of makeup and sitting down to engage in small talk for the third time that week. But there was also something exciting about it. Meeting a total stranger and finding one thing you can connect over reassured me (just slightly) about the dating world.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of those dates ended terribly. Some so bad I thought I had been set up for season one of a ridiculous prank dating show.
But all in all most of them just turned out to be unimpressive, ones I have completely forgotten two years later.
And one I can’t.
It was a Thursday night a week and a half after my 25th birthday when I was going about my usual routine. A quick check in on my dating apps while I watched Netflix and tried to write.
A blank Microsoft word page looked back at me with judgment. Every new show seemed unappealing. This regular night I was bored out of my mind.
The only slightly exciting thing about it was a guy who had been messaging me throughout the day. He was visiting from Europe and wanted an American to show him Austin for the night. Now as the night rolled on he and his friend had just arrive on 6th street and wanted company.
I looked at my watch while he tried his best persuasion technique to get me to come out. It was 11 pm and I didn’t have to be at work until 10 the next morning.
Step outside your comfort zone I told myself. You wanted to do more spontaneous things.
After downing a sprite and vodka I called an uber.
It’s not as though I never met a man downtown. I had my occasional first outing at a bar. But this, whatever I was embarking on, felt different. For one thing I hadn’t been talking to this man for the minimum few days, there was not the fake reassurance that the person I was meeting was not going to murder me. For another, I wasn’t going to meet him at one of my go-to restaurants, the places where I could easily walk to my car and get away from the situation in under a minute.
The accountability of 6th street seemed vague at best. Who would remember I was there with him? Who would talk about the girl they saw with the guy that was creeping them out?
I told myself not to worry. To stop living in such a pessimistic world of thoughts.
After all I was being responsible enough.
I was not going to drink and drive. I would stay for only a bit. Besides, as ridiculous as it sounds now typing it, when would I ever be able to party with a group of Brits? If for some reason this guy ended up being a complete asshole or weirdo then I was out downtown alone for a night of people watching. Nothing I hadn’t done before.
At the top of a surprisingly crowded Maggie Mae’s I met Jack. Tall, lean, with glasses that covered half his face he reminded me of an off brand Harry Potter. His accent was heavy and his voice was low, but even with the drink he paid for at the bar and pushed my way I wasn’t especially into him. Yet.
Once his lingering friend left to talk to a group of girls by the dance floor I could finally settle into the wobbly bar stools and really get to know him.
The conversation flowed easily enough. I found out within the first few minutes that he was on a month long vacation of the US. He was halfway through the country and his trip that night.
He spoke in compliments. He loved the food of the south. He loved the weather and the “craziness” of the city, the fact that on a Thursday in Austin tons of twenty something year olds were singing along to throwbacks at a dive var.
What really sealed the deal in our chat was when we both landed on Friday Night Lights as one our favorite shows. Even with a man who lived halfway across the world I could still end up talking about Texas high school football! As far as first conversations go, with a guy you don’t need to be your soulmate, I would say it was going surprisingly well,
We ordered a few more drinks and a funnier more confident Jack began to show. Same with myself. Something happened that had not happened in months despite the slew of dating. I felt attractive, wanted, and intellectually pursued. I’ll say what you’re not supposed to say: it felt good to have genuine attention from a cute foreigner.
In hindsight were there some warnings? Sure. I found him throughout the night to be a little too touchy feely for my taste. (Hand along my backside while we walked, scooting closer because he “couldn’t hear”) but I ultimately dismissed it as a combination of my own conservatism and an acknowledgment that I did not know what was socially acceptable in his culture or upbringing.
Before realizing it 2 o’clock came suddenly. The bars were shouting last call while Jack swept in and gave me a kiss he had been flirting with.
He asked me before he did it. Normally I hate that type of contrived shit but in this instance it comforted me. His lips were soft and his beard itchy.
Ultimately I decided to call it a night as the possibility of a hangover loomed over me at work the next day. When we reached our goodbyes I asked him where he was staying. He mentioned a hostel in west campus he was sharing with three other people. “ Not exactly a five star hotel,” he teased while I laughed.
The discussion that came after that was messy. As in I am not quite sure who decided to initiate we go back to my place, but it does not take a genius to realize it was probably the guy who wanted to get laid while on vacation in America.
He paid for the uber back to my apartment.
Now I know this is where I lose some people. There are those who are screaming at the way these words have formed a story that could have ultimately been prevented if I had just been smarter.
Many will say something like: “I would never go out alone but I don’t think it’s crazy that you did, it was stupid to go home with someone you just met though.”
I know people will say these types of things because they have said these types of things.
I was that person to myself, wondering how the very cautious me had managed to find myself alone with a person I had just introduced myself to that night.
I reassured myself with a few facts. I had watched my drinks all night. I had gotten a good feel from him and his friends, and I had told him flat out I was not going to have sex with him if he came back to my place. We could fool around if I wanted to but it was not going beyond that.
He said that was fine with him. He said this because I assumed he thought what would happen is what happens sometimes when girls say that…they decide to have sex.
Some girls say it because they didn’t want to come across as a slut. Some say it because they weren’t as turned on yet.
I said it that night because I didn’t want to have sex. Plain and simple. I had technically only had sex three times in my life at this point and the last time had been a rape of its own.
So by all that alone the special guy I had envisioned I would finally have great sex with was not going to be the one night buzzed tourist I stumbled into my room with.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to do other things though. As we pulled off each other’s clothes I felt vulnerable, but still excited and turned on. Then instantly I felt a power dynamic change in the room I’ve become good at identifying. It’s the changing air in a space when a man becomes aggressive without the permission of a woman.
Where only minutes before he held me down intensely and consensually, he now positioned himself behind me, touching my breast and then without my permission entering me.
It took a second or two before I realized what I was feeling was his actual self and not a hand. Almost comically I asked him what he was doing before attempting to get him out of me. He held me down for a little more than four seconds in his lust while I struggled.
Thinking of how paralyzed I felt and how turned on he did, it’s weird to think that two people can have such completely different experiences in the same bed.
The next few minutes blurred together like a film montage. If you told me today it was an hour I would have to believe you. I managed to jump onto the floor, told him to get his things and leave. I yelled about rape. He looked shocked then guilty then shocked again as if he was hearing for the first time what he himself had just done. He tried to plea with me to stay in my apartment. He mentioned not having a car to drive back. I bit back with a “if you hadn’t put your penis in me without permission you wouldn’t have to worry about that.”
When I threatened to call the cops he took me seriously and walked out.
As he tried to talk to me through the door I cried like someone had cut me open. Alcohol most likely contributed to this. Rape too.
After finally no longer seeing him through my peep hole I gathered enough strength to text him asking him why he did what he did. Aside from the electronic evidence I really did want to know why, I was already wanting answers. Why had he done this?
He replied by saying that he asked permission from me. It wasn’t assault because he had inquired about whether he could put “just the tip” in. I said yes, no, nodded yes. At least that’s what he told me.
To this day I actually laugh thinking about that statement. When would I ever agree to this?
Our messages flew back and forth as I reassured myself my door was locked and the sheets were stripped off my bed. Finally I cornered him into the SVU admittance.
“You know you raped me” I wrote.
“I genuinely honestly did not mean to,” he responded.
“You did it though,” I wrote with more anger.
“And I feel awful about it.”
After a string of other texts he finished by saying he did not need this and was done all together. What happened in my bed was a miscommunication. Maybe it was?
I closed my eyes, focusing on those four seconds he would not let go trying to find validation for an assault all while I had admittance to said assault in my hand.
We didn’t talk again.
The aftermath was predictable although still frightening. Having gone through this once before I scheduled an STD test immediately. I told a few people early that morning, sometime when I like to believe that Jack was walking the full four miles back to his hostel.
Of those bothered with the tale one said what I needed to hear. “You said you didn’t want to have sex with him nothing else matters.” While another close friend remarked after I recounted the whole story “Oh thank God I was so worried I thought it was a real rape.”
Years later and this hurts more than the rape itself. Yes I’m glad I wasn’t held at knife point either in a dark alley but if this was what I had to be grateful for we, as a society, had a long way to go.
I never made it into work that morning. I watched Gilmore Girls for days straight as I sat curled up on the couch skipping Halloween parties. I told everyone I was sick that year and that’s why they didn’t get a look at my “bad hombre” costume. I wasn’t sick.
And I lived with those messages as a weapon I never realized I would not be able to use.
Of course a legal case from the beginning was always going to be impossible. There was liquor and consent up until the exact moment there wasn’t. But I held onto the texts because they gave me power over my assault I wasn’t able to feel with my previous one, where the person would never have admitted to doing anything wrong.
I thought this violation would mean something. That it would be more than a warning. That something good or profound would come out of it. Nothing did. I don’t anticipate anything will.
Every story of assault serves as reassurance that some men will always still see themselves as the nice guy, some women will always pick at the ways they were at fault, and time after time it will all become muddled.
I didn’t start volunteering for helping sexual assault victims like I had before. I didn’t get some revenge on my assaulter. And while I hope, I know in my heart I didn’t help someone from not raping again. I didn’t help someone with their own experience. And the love of my life didn’t run over to comfort me.
I did eventually find amazing safe sex with a wonderful boyfriend but that’s just a nice detail at the end of this story not a result from it.
Sometimes rapes just are. They have no reason because they come from a cluster of bad intentions and ignorance.
The only thing I have learned is that the only good men are the ones who make you feel safe. Not the ones who make you laugh or charm you. This is the mantra I carry close to me, but that doesn’t mean everyone will agree with it.
In a couple of months I will get a new phone, and the pictures at the beginning of my photo library won’t be screenshots of a dating app conversation about forcible penetration. This situation will float further behind me until one day I will look around and it won’t be there at all.
Jack, whose last name I never learned, will continue wandering the streets of London with his Warby Parker sunglasses and a sweet smile like he has done the past couple of years. One day soon he will meet a nice girl who will be impressed by how nice he is too. Over a beer he will talk about his month long trip across the United States in the fall of 2016. He will mention beaches, cities, Broadway plays, and bars.
I will not come up.