Pushing me up hard against the wall of the freight elevator, he leaned into me, his breath warm on my neck. Heat pulsed through me as I felt his hand move up my thigh under my skirt. “Um, I don’t think…” I started to say but he covered my mouth with his hand. So far this almost reads like a trashy romance novel, doesn’t it? And I will admit I was initially attracted to N. He, a 25-year-old rakishly handsome college student and I, a 15-year-old nerdy high schooler, worked together at a the University catering company where I got my first real job. For some reason, he immediately became attached to me. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, telling me how to get the cooks to make a special order that wasn’t on the menu or which of our many bosses I should ask first when I needed time off or how to make the house-special drink (never mind that high-schoolers should not be mixing drinks). And then one night he stopped the elevator. It was an ancient contraption known for its persnicketiness, horror movie wrought iron doors and pervasive smell of rotting food, a legend in its own right. But tonight it would be burned into my memory for an entirely different reason.
Sliding me down onto the dirty metal floor until the raised chevrons cut into my back, he slipped his hand inside my shirt, undoing a few buttons for good measure. It was then he said it: “I could rape you right now and there isn’t a thing you could do about it.”
The fifteen-year-old I wish I was looked him square in the eye, and snarled “Like hell you will.” And then pushed him into the racks of glassware stacked four deep behind him.
The fifteen-year-old I was simply went mute with the horror of it as all the color drained from my face.
There was a tense moment where we stared at each other in the near darkness. At last I nodded my understanding and he took his hand off my throat. And then, strangest of all, he picked me up, cradling me like a baby in his arms, and said, “But I won’t. And I never will. Do you trust me?” Not knowing what else to do, I nodded again. He cried into my hair for an eternity and at last set me down. That was the first time I was Not Raped.
When I told my friend later on her first response was, “Wow, you’re really lucky nothing worse happened.” Which has been pretty much been the reaction of every girl that I have told about that night – not that there were many. I did feel lucky. And also terror stricken. But was it right to be upset about something that only could have happened but didn’t? All the people around me said no and so I tried to count my blessings and not think about it anymore.
True to his word, N never did rape me. It seemed to be enough for him that he knew that I knew that he could. In fact, N became fiercely protective of me, slamming his hand down on the table, rattling glasses and telling a customer who left me a lewd note instead of a tip that I “was not that kind of girl” before threatening to follow him to his car and slam his head in the door. I worked with N for another year before, predictably, he ran afoul of the law, getting arrested for the statutory rape of another girl we worked with. When the police pulled me out of class to question me about him, all I could do was wonder what the other girl had said in the elevator and how I had stumbled upon the right answer. I was lucky.
The second time I was Not Raped was, as I have alluded to before, in a self-defense class in college. The man was the teacher’s assistant. As Sensei Don can attest, I am not a natural when it comes to martial arts. I’m all about the flight, not so much with the fight. Maybe that’s why I’m such a fast runner. At any rate, the TA – who also worked as a night guard for the building in which I worked – could see I was really struggling in class despite trying very hard. He asked me one night, when I was particularly jittery about closing up alone, if I’d like some extra help. He invited me to the dojo where they taught the class and since I didn’t have a car, he picked me up. On our way he told me he’d forgotten his keys but we could just go to his place. When we got there everything was dark and honestly I didn’t feel good about going in but he reassured me his roommate was home so I did anyhow and really at that point he’d never been anything but perfectly nice to me.
For the first half hour, we practiced and practiced. The same drills over and over again. And then he suggested we try some attacks, meaning he would attack and I would defend. It got heated pretty quickly and his attacks came fast and hard. Finally there came a move I had not the skills to counter and I found myself flat on my back with the wind knocked out of me and the TA on top of me, his sweat running down the insides of arms and dripping on my shoulders. And then in a move I never saw coming, he pulled a gun out, pointed it at me, right between my eyes. “What do you do now?”
I didn’t know. We hadn’t been taught what to do when a gun is aimed at your head. I didn’t even know if it was a real gun or if it was loaded, although it looked real enough to me. I started to cry. Later a friend would ask me how big the hole in the barrel was and what color it was and if I could see burn marks on the nose but none of that registered at the time. All I knew was the old elevator fear pulsing through me. “Please don’t do this to me,” I whispered. “Please.”
And then he said it. “I could do anything to you right now and you can’t stop me.” He forced my legs apart for emphasis. “Tell me why I shouldn’t rape you right now.”
“Your roommate is in the next room.”
He smiled for the first time, “No he’s not. I lied to you.” I looked at the doorway to the next room. It was dark underneath. he ran his hand across my stomach where my shirt had come up, pausing on the button of my jeans. “You just failed. You should never have gone with me when I changed the location. You shouldn’t have agreed to come in here alone. You shouldn’t have let me throw you around. You should have left when you saw the gun out.” (Although I hadn’t noticed it when we came in.) I think I said some other stuff. I cried. He smelled like sweat and food. The blue carpet scratched my back. After what felt like years but was probably minutes, he got up and that was it.
I walked home to my roommates who were all appropriately stricken on my behalf. “You’re so lucky he let you go!” they gasped. But it was what my roommate’s boyfriend said that has stayed with me, “Whatever, it wouldn’t have been rape. You’re so stupid. Obviously it wasn’t a real gun, they don’t let people just carry those. Besides, if he reached to pick up a gun
then that meant he had to take a hand off of you. Why didn’t you punch him or something?”
I don’t know why I didn’t. I didn’t return to class that next week, or ever. Nor did I reply when the TA e-mailed me to ask me out. To this day I don’t know if that was just his heavy-handed way of teaching me a lesson or if he was serious.
The Not Rape Epidemic
Does two incidents from the history of a hysterical teenaged girl make for an epidemic? To be honest, while those incident were frightening at the time, I had chalked them up to bad choices on my part + a bad situation + sketchy men = nothing good can happen. And then I read this. Latoya Peterson, who blogs at Racialicious, detailed a similar experience that happened to her as a young girl. Except she gave it a name. Not Rape. And she told her girlfriends’ stories. And her commenters told even more stories. And then Jezebel picked it up and added their own take, ending with one of their contributors, TatianaTheAnonymousModel, sharing her own chilling story. And each story, despite being written by seasoned bloggers used to sharing their most personal feelings, was raw – still imbued with a lingering sense of terror.
It made me realize for the first time that I’m allowed, both now and when it happened, to be afraid of Not Rape. It made me realize that this has happened to lots of women and girls. You all know that I have written extensively about the more traumatic and life-altering sexual assault by my ex-boyfriend. I am grateful for all of the support I have recieved and your patience in letting me work it all out. And yet it feels good to throw open the windows on Not Rape because not only (I assume) is it more prevalent than rape or sexual assault but because we are often told that it’s not worth feeling bad over. That we’re just lucky.
I do feel a little bit guilty writing about this knowing that the crimes against women world-wide are often much more horrendous than what I’ve just described. And yet I have to ask – have any of you been Not Raped? Your answers are important to me because the question that has long haunted me when I have bothered to remember these incidents is “What is it about me that made them do this to me?” But if it has happened to others, as I’m discovering all these years later, then perhaps it never was about me. My other question – and perhaps the men here can help answer it (if they’re still reading – sorry, fellows) – did those two men know what they were doing? Was the TA genuinely trying to help me and I just took it wrong? Was the waiter’s point really to teach me to trust him? Help me to understand. I hate feeling 15 again.
Note: This post is not intended to say that Not Rape is a male trait in general or that I hate men. I love men and have been priveleged to know many good, kind, beautiful examples of the gender. However, they don’t give me nightmares so they get written about less.