Abstract and Mixed Media Artist Currently Based Sydney, Australia

8 Hours and 6 Years Later, #MeToo

        In 2012 I wrote an essay about a series of 8 hours I spent in Boulder, Colorado. Some were at a party, some were at a hospital, some were days I didn't want to get out of bed. I have kept this essay a secret, apart from being published in Journal 2020, a writing and rhetoric publication at University of Colorado Boulder. I was ashamed and rather afraid to let people in on these dark moments, except the classmates I called strangers, in my Creative Writing for Non-Fiction class at the university. Even to this day, I still bring this story up with anguish and shame, brushing it off lightly when people try to console me. I only ever bring it up in topics of deep debate to try to delve deeper into the subject of how our society has ended up the way it has. I don't have the answers, or solutions, just a story that depicts (in as much detail as I could remember) the story of a rape. There isn't a good guy or a bad guy in this story, it's complicated, the system is flawed and so are we as people. I don't write this as a way to gain attention or receive your words of support, but if you have them, or any comments or stories, please share. I am posting this to share a story that I wrote in 2012, that is relevant today, and I am sad because not much has changed, but I am happy because the conversations are now beginning to become more open, and an open dialog is the one of the most important things we can attempt to achieve. Why? So that we drive awareness and hopefully impact the generation below us, especially young men, to act with more responsibility and integrity than their elders. I am nervous posting this, but I feel that it is time to stand up and not be ashamed of my story. 

Please note, names and places in the story below have all been changed.


EIGHT HOURS

It doesn’t matter where the eight hours were spent. I was trapped in an in between, lost in vast blackness.  Because that’s all that night was, blackness.  And until not long ago, that’s all it remained.  The memories never come back to me, and they never will.   Parts of me still aren’t back.  Parts of myself lost forever. 

            When I woke up I didn’t know where I was. The room was bright.  It wasn’t John’s¹ room.  It wasn’t my room.

            Who the fuck is that on the couch? 

            What happened?

            Is that throw-up on the bed?

            Where are my pants?

            The stranger stirred.  He got up and poured a cup of water.  He asked if I knew the boys from San Clemente and I said they were my good friends.  I noticed my phone, shoes, and chapstick in a neat pile by the foot of the bed. 

            That’s strange.

            I found my acid wash jeans behind me, immediately got up and wiggled into them, put on my shoes, and the stranger walked me out. I knew I was in a Fraternity house, but I was so disoriented I couldn’t tell which one I was in. I was let out a side door and I walked across the street to my apartment. 

            I got into the shower and tried to wash the throw-up out of my hair.  Instead of cascading refreshment I felt a wave of panic wash over me. My stomach dropped as an image filled my head of me laying down looking at a dark figure above me, I couldn’t move. Then the image was gone, just like that.  Back into the blackness. 

            It was just a dream.

            I crawled into bed and I stayed there for hours. If I tried to eat it came right back up.  Tears streamed down my faced as I hugged the toilet bowl begging for it to stop.  This was the hangover from somewhere worse then hell. 

           

*  *  *

 

            Two days later my roommate was told by a friend in another Fraternity that I had had sex with his friend Mark. Apparently Mark had been bragging about it with his friends and mentioned he found a condom in the trash in the morning. I was on my period.  Sex didn’t seem plausible.  I remember my roommate telling me the news.  She seemed calm, her face concerned. She waited for a reaction.  I stuttered rape, and looked at her for reassurance.  I burst into tears.  I exploded. 

            I put my forehead against the wall, my face was contorted with anger, shame, confusion, and regret.  I was in shock – convulsing and sobbing. My roommate and I had no idea what to do.  I picked up my phone, hands shaking, and called Planned Parenthood.  It was the only place I could think of calling.  I told them what happened and naively asked if I could get tested for rape.  The woman told me if I had already showered it wasn’t possible but she wanted me to come in and get tested for STD’s.  I was stunned. 

            How could this have happened to me?

            I wasn’t convinced that I just had to live with this. So, I looked up sexual abuse hotlines and called the first one, Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA). A representative told me that evidence could be collected up to 72 hours after the fact and she would meet me at the closest hospital to walk me through the process.

The next four hours were torture.  The first forty-five minutes of that, even worse. The women from MESA made me feel awkward, the so called soothing tones and comforting words drove me more insane than the thoughts running through my mind.  I didn’t want to be comforted.  My way of coping involved immediate sarcasm and distancing myself from the emotions I was feeling.  I wanted to pretend none of this was happening.

            What will everyone say?

            What will I do?

            Will any of the guys still be my friend?

            Should I tell my parents?

            How do I even begin to explain that I got too drunk and woke up in a stranger’s bed?

            I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. After we waited four hours in a secluded waiting room, a nurse popped her head in and called another young woman.  In Colorado, 1 in 5 women will experience a completed or attempted sexual assault during her lifetime² and 2 out of 3 assaults will go unreported³.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when the nurse didn’t call my name first.

           

Finally, at one in the morning, there was a knock on the door.  The second late night SANE nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) had arrived.  It was time for my exam.  Together, the strangers and I headed down the florescent-lit hall.  I was raw, cut open and completely drained.  They kept saying this exam would be the hardest part.

            I was sent to the bathroom to pee in a cup and remove my tampon.  When I returned the SANE nurse examined my skin for any marks, bruises, or tenderness and photographed any of these injuries she found.  She then collected samples.  She swabbed my mouth, made me cut my nails off and place them in a folded piece of paper, pulled strands of hair from my scalp, and did a pelvic exam. She also collected all of my clothes from that night.  I was then given two treatments for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.  One of which was pills and the other was a painful shot that was injected into my right arm.  They kept telling me I was being so strong.  I was at the point where I didn’t feel a damned thing. 

            I was told the police officer had shown up.  If I filed a report the tests and treatments were free and I didn’t have health insurance. After I put fresh clothes on, I followed the officer back to the private family waiting room.  The MESA rep kept telling me I didn’t have to give them any information I didn’t want to, but I wanted the truth, I was frightened, and I didn’t know what else to do.

            I told him what I knew and it wasn’t much.  I explained that I went to a party at a good friend’s house and by 11:30pm, I blacked out.  Not one glimpse could be recalled.  I then woke up in a bed covered in my own vomit and was told two days later a frat guy “fucked” me.  I told the cop that we found out who he was and what fraternity he was in.    But when I called the boys prior to going to the hospital they didn’t know a kid who matched the description I gave them.  I also told the cop that the fraternity was located across the street from my apartment building and I had no idea why I hadn’t gone home or stayed at John’s house.

            That night, I was driven home for the first time by a police officer.  

            When I finally crawled into my bed eight hours later, the sockets of my eyes were aching to the point where I felt like my eyeballs were going to fall out, right into the hands I was crying into. 

            I always said that would never be me, I read the articles, I heard the stories.  I was always safe at that house, why was this time different?  Where were my friends?  Why didn’t anyone notice that I disappeared?  Why didn’t anyone call looking for me?  I never meant for this to happen.

 

* * *

 

            September 11th, 2012 3:09 am

             My hospital band rests on my wrist as a label symbolizing today, my trauma, my gut feelings, my truth. Yet what is the truth?  Everything I should know, blackness.  Everything I want to know, nothing.  Everything that I wished would have happened, impossible.

             I am told its okay to feel sad, or angry, or fine.  I am told it is all right to feel anything.  I don’t really know how I feel.  I am also told that it is not my fault.  But maybe it is?  I really don’t know and I feel as if no one will help me.  I am so afraid.  So afraid. Eight hours of shame, eight hours of fear, eight hours of numbness, eight hours of emptiness, eight hours in foreign halls, eight hours of excruciating torture.  Now, as I lay in the safety of my own bed, even a slight shadow causes my heart to drop, I can’t sleep when that’s all anyone said I needed. 

            I will never feel whole, ever again.  I am afraid I lost someone who I thought I was.  I don’t understand what happened.  I can’t bear to show my face.  I can’t runaway. All I want is to escape. 

 

*  *  *

 

            I slept through my alarm the next morning.  I wanted to sleep forever.  I didn’t want to write my papers, study for my tests, or even attend class.   I dreaded walking out of my apartment or anywhere near the fraternity. Even in class, I wasn’t there, my body was sitting in those desks, but my mind was somewhere else, lost into yet another sea of blackness. 

            I told my brother what happened, or at least what I knew. He hugged me. For the first time, I felt someone actually cared about me. He told me he wanted to hurt the kid, he wanted to make it look like he was mugged, he wanted to protect me like he would have that night if he had stayed another hour – he could barely stand being in the room he was so angry about the whole situation.  He said there was no way a blacked out guy would have remembered to put on a condom. So we found Mark’s phone number and decided to ask some questions.

            I couldn’t manage to speak to him. 

            I asked one of my roommates to do the talking.

            She began the conversation as follows, “Hey *Mark, this is Bryn’s roommate and we have some questions about what happened the other night.”

            He nervously told us the same story we had already heard.  But added, “Well *Sean introduced us on the stairs and we were all dancing, I barely remember the walk home.”

            I gasped, trying to refrain from making any noise, tears silently fell down my cheeks.  I didn’t remember meeting him on the stairs, let alone any part of walking home.  He knew more than me and I wanted to know all of it.

            My roommate continued, “We just want to know what happened because in the state of Colorado, when a girl is not mentally or physically able to consent it is considered rape.”

            “Are you going to the cops?  Please, this isn’t like me, I don’t even do this sort of thing, please don’t go to the cops,” Mark pleaded on the phone. 

            I heard the stammer in his words. My empathy is often my worst enemy. 

            Why did I have to drink that much?

            Why did I let this happen to myself?

            My roommate ended the conversation saying, “Please answer any other phone calls from this number, we might have more questions.”

            I wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear. 

            I had already told the cops this boy’s name and what fraternity he was in, there was no way my brother could settle my score.  But all I wanted was for *Mark’s ribs to break and for his nose to bleed. 

            Going to the cops was the right thing to do, right?

 

*  *  *

 

 September 11th 2012 10:17 pm

            For the first time in my entire life I wish I was invisible. And for a few moments here and there I feel like I’m not truly here.  I am finally that kid that has to avoid a certain path to school, afraid that I might see something I do not want to be confronted by.  Him.  I am afraid to interact with my friends because I fear they will mention it. I take responsibility, I made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean this should have happened.  This doesn’t mean I have to feel guilty, and sad, and angry, and bad. I barely even have had a moment to grieve. 

            And him. He is a ghost of my regret, my shame, my terror, but he says he did not mean to harm me. Yet, in every sense he did.  He harmed everything.  I ruined everything.  I’ve been told kick turns are good – touch the rock bottom and kick back up to the surface, to the light. I never wanted to reach this point.

 

*  *  *

 

            On Wednesday, September 12th, 2012, I met with a detective from Boulder, Police Department.  He asked me to tell him what happened.  I repeated the story and I still cried.  He went over my options.  He told me that I had complete control.  I could close the case or I could keep digging.  I was afraid I might lose friends if I pressed charges.  He asked if these friends would still be there for me ten years from now.  He was right, but a part of me didn’t want to follow through with pressing charges.

            I just wanted this to be over.  

            He gave me a tape recorder and told me to call anyone who might have more information than me about the night.  I wanted answers and for some reason I thought the police would help me get them. 

            I made the calls later that evening.  I just wanted this kid to admit that he remembered something.  I wanted him to come to the realization that fucking a drunk incapacitated girl was disgusting.  I couldn’t fathom that he didn’t remember anything, there had to be bits and pieces – he had put on a condom for Christ's sake. 

            Mark had tried calling me multiple times.  I ignored the calls, and listened to his voicemails begging me to meet with him in person.  I had refused to respond, but until now I finally had to call, I had to hear his voice.

            He repeated that what happened was unusual for him.  He told me that wasn’t like him, “If you got to know me you would know this isn’t me.”

            “Can I take you to coffee?”

            “Can we talk in person?”

            “No”, I said. I couldn’t bear to see his face.

            I told him I was in the middle of my period, there was no way I would have willingly had sex with him.  I told him my tampon was missing.  I asked if he remembered me going to the bathroom.  He said he doesn’t remember a thing – now not even the walk home.  He asked if I was going to the cops.  I told him I already have and I had to do it, it’s protocol when you go to the hospital and go through the medical examination I went through. 

            “I don’t want to press charges, I just want the truth.” I hang up.

            I muster up the strength to call Sean, my friend who allegedly introduced us. He explained that we were on the stairs dancing with his friend.  He introduced me to Mark and then I fell into the middle of the dance floor, off the stairs, straight onto my face.  He picked me up and brought me upstairs to make sure I was okay.  Apparently I wanted to keep partying.  He said he was going to leave and asked Mark if he would make sure I was okay. Then, when he walked outside he saw me walking with Mark and he asked if I was good and where I was going.  Sean said I then told him, “I’m fine.  I’m going home.”

            Sean tells me his friend seemed really blacked out too, and he tried to make sure that I was okay before we parted ways. He ended the conversation with, “Whatever happened shouldn’t be turned into a big deal.”

            I said, “Thanks,” and hung up.

* * *

September 15th, 2012 2:17am

            I was told that I fell flat on my face that night and it feels like I haven’t gotten up since.  Dead weight.  Heavy with regret.   

            All I want is the truth.

* * *

 

            Over the next few weeks, I continued trying to live a normal life – go to class, go to work, meet with a counselor, listen to the same bullshit.

            Sean called me a few times and asked questions on Mark’s behalf about the investigation and told me I should drop it.  I told him that I wish I hadn’t and I swore I wasn’t pressing charges. 

            I told Sean, “I wish my brother could have just beat him up and this would have been over.”

            Sean agreed, “Mark deserves to learn a lesson and getting his ribs kicked in probably would have been better then going to the cops.”

            I am crushed because I agree.  For my situation the cops only made things worse – they drove John away from me.

            “You took it too far, fuck frat stars but you shouldn’t have gone to the fucking cops,” John drunkenly screamed at me, “The kid’s frat is getting shut down, all of his brothers hate him, and he’s moving back home.”

            “You took it too fucking far.”

            I never meant for this to happen.

            But I just stared, mouth gaped open.  My world was in pieces.

 

*  *  *

 

            Eventually it was all over.  The days slowly passed and I started walking in front of the fraternity house again.  I told the detective that I didn’t want to take it any further.  I never found the answers I was looking for, and I never received the apology I wanted.  But as time went on I grew.  I realized my true friends were the ones that pulled me aside and said they were so sorry that this had to happen to me.  I took a drastic step back from drinking and I learned my limits. 

            In the end I was not happy with my choice to go to the cops, but I am happy I did something.  I live on a college campus that sees what happened to me as a normal incident.  Blacking out and hooking up is casual to them.  These boys live in fraternity houses where girls are slipping out every morning of the weekend.  These boys don’t see it as disgusting, they high five and encourage the other guys to do the same. They are so determined to keep up, the line is sometimes crossed.  And the girls stay quiet, because if they speak up, “They took it too far.”

            This subject is atrociously taboo, and it pains me to see girls live in a culture where they are made to feel dumb for drinking too much and getting taken advantage of.  I am shocked that as a society we don’t prepare young girls with people to call to seek advice from if something like this happens to them.  I am appalled that men live in a world where they are not taught the manners to bring an incapacitated girl home to her roommates.  I am not encouraging girls to not contact the authorities.  I am encouraging girls to stand up for themselves.  I am encouraging girls to find the strength to do something about their situation.  I am encouraging girls to walk away from the shame and find the courage in their hearts to stand up.

 

[1] Names of people and places have been changed in this essay.

[2] https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/sexual-violence-prevention-statistics

[3] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system

 

bryn newman