These are all the details I remember about about being sexually assaulted when I was 18. The details, we are all made to understand, are important. The details are here to be checked.
I was driving around town with a friend, and we stopped at a few houses, because driving around town and stopping at friend’s houses is what you did in the ’90s in Chico, California. Our last cruising destination was my assaulter’s house. He wasn’t my assaulter, yet, when we decided to go there; we considered him a friend of ours. We’d known him for years. His parents weren’t home, so people were stopping by.
It wasn’t very late when we got there. How do I know it wasn’t very late? I know it wasn’t very late because my curfew was 11, I was terrified of my parents, and they had one of those alarms installed so the whole house beeped when you opened the front door. A beep at 11:01 was not an option.
So if curfew was 11, and we were on the other side of town, I know the time we stopped there must have been some point between 8 and 10. How do I know it was after 8? Well I know it was dark outside, I remember that, and if it was warm outside—which it was—the daylight was long and it wouldn’t get dark until late. Definitely between 8 and 10 then.
It was a Saturday. How do I know it was probably a Saturday, or possibly a Friday? I don’t have it written down in any calendar, but it had to have been a Saturday because I never went out on weekdays. I still don’t, so we can cross off all the other days of the week. And the Saturday must have been in July or August. I definitely know it was July or August because I was wearing a halter top, and if I was wearing a halter top between 8 and 10 at night, it had to have been warm outside. My tolerance of temperatures below 70 degrees is nonexistent and always has been.
The halter top was blue. It could have been a faint turquoise. Maybe light purple. But probably blue. How do I know? I remember wearing the top again in college, and I remember a picture of me wearing it on a dorm room bed, lying down next to a cute boy, and I know I’ve seen that picture somewhere in the last ten years. Another certainty: The halter top was definitely from the Gap. There’s a small chance it was from the little cheap store that was next to the Mrs. Fields Cookie store in the mall, but I’m pretty sure it was Gap. It was cotton and we all remember why I know it was cotton. Because everything was cotton then. Delicate cycles and air drying didn’t ruin lives until the early ’00s.
What other details might be relevant, might need to be checked? I was dead sober that night. How do I know I was dead sober? I was almost invariably dead sober when I was young. It’s true that you could find someone to testify that I did drink, that by their experience I was a drunk in high school. If they were there in that almond orchard when I was stumbling around that one hot August night, they would say I was a drunk, or if they were at that New Year’s party where I was in a white eyelet blouse and a black bra underneath. I remember those because they were the only times.
But I am certain I was sober that night. Do you want more proof I was dead sober? Go back to the beginning: I was driving the car. I precisely remember the very first time I drove a car after having a drink—even one drink, which is all it was. That was September 2002, years after the assault. My parents believe nothing is worse than drinking and driving. We even had alcohol-free mouthwash at home.
I was no longer living with my parents by that first time I had a single drink and drove; it was after a date in graduate school in Texas with a man I really liked. I remember it because I’d had the one drink, but I didn’t want to have sex on the first date with this man I was certain I would marry, so I broke the rule about driving. I spent the entire drive terrified I was violating the law and would end up dead, or, worse, disappointing my parents. More certainties: I didn’t crash, I didn’t die, I didn’t marry him.
Back to Chico: The man who assaulted me was drunk. How do I know he was drunk? I remember him slurring his words when my friend and I walked in. It’s true I wasn’t in a position to have personally witnessed whatever drinking he had done before I arrived at his house. Perhaps he was excited, or speaking quickly, or speaking slowly, but there was a lack of clarity on his part or mine. He was also holding a green beer bottle. Sure, it could have been a brown beer bottle, but I also remember the lighting in the room was red. Was it a red light bulb making a green bottle look brown? Or a brown bottle look green? Was it a red lampshade and not a bulb? The simple details are that there was beer and a bottle and reddish light and me and him and my friend.
Unless there was someone else there. How do I know for sure there wasn’t someone else there? There were other rooms in the house, it was a Saturday night, so I guess I do not know one way or the other who else was there, if there were any others there. His parents were out, and were known to be out, so it’s plausible either way, with or without other people.
But if they were there, they would have been somewhere in the dark with a reddish light surrounding them. There was also a chair. My friend was in the chair, or on the couch, or sitting on the floor, but when I think real hard, it was probably the chair.
My assaulter asked me to go into the kitchen, where it was still very dark. It was an open kitchen, but the light from the red light bulb or through the red lampshade didn’t really reach there. He then pinned my left shoulder to the fucking wall with his right hand as hard as he could. He forcefully shoved his tongue in my throat. He took his left hand and put it up my skirt and harder than I can describe with words, he grabbed my pussy and began angrily kneading it like a ball of dough. I did not shove him off because I was in shock. At some point, he mercifully pulled his hand off of my crotch but then moved it up to the cotton halter top and yanked the tie off. All this was done in the open kitchen. The whole time, he never once stopped pinning me against the wall. And the whole time, I never once screamed, punched him, kicked, or cried.
How do I know this all happened? Because it did.
The violent groping, hard squeezing, deep breathing (his), and not breathing (mine), lasted at least several long minutes. How do I know how long it lasted? Well, I know it was definitely less than two hours, because my between-8-and-10 timeline is for sure accurate. So the assault lasted somewhere between probably two minutes and two hours, for sure. Related, I am also sure his mouth smelled and tasted like orange juice. I still can’t stomach the smell of orange juice. Fuck, was it even a beer he’d been drinking, just before?
Mid-assault, my friend came into the kitchen and maybe thought at first we were making out and maybe didn’t. How do I know there was a witness? Well, because the assaulter stopped when my friend walked in. Or mostly stopped: I remember his hand stayed on my shoulder, and I definitely said “I have to go,” or “We have to go,” or “Gotta go,” or maybe I said nothing, but I know I left with my friend and I can promise you I said goodbye and politely exited because that is a thing I would do then, because that is a habit I still cannot kick now.
My friend knew something had happened. I know my friend knew this because when we sat my parents’ dining-room table later that night (still before 11—curfew meant friends had to leave by 11, too), out of nowhere, my friend told me a giant secret, the type you only reveal when you know someone else also has something to hide. For a long time, that secret—and not the assault—was the most jarring occurrence of the night for me.
I never told anyone what happened in that dark kitchen that summer night because there was nothing to tell. Why? Well, for starters, who would I have told? My parents? The doors and windows already beeped. The FBI? The cops? And risk getting arrested, or, worse, disappointing my parents, before college? I was too busy processing my friend’s secret to even think about such things.
And so I handled the subsequent confusion and trauma to the best of my ability. And how did that go? I quickly developed maladaptive behaviors that luckily had relatively low impacts on my overall life: I avoided the assaulter forever and never talked to him again, I stopped drinking orange juice, and I began double knotting any shirts with ties. I still don’t Google him, I still don’t drink calories in citrus juice form, and I still carefully knot my shirts. And every once in awhile, most usually when I’m alone with a man I do not know, and especially when it’s dark, I remind myself to make sure to beat the shit out of him if he gets anywhere near me.
I am certain the same self-protective instincts would flare up if I saw my assaulter was nominated for a position on the Supreme Court. Because that’s what anyone who wasn’t in the dark kitchen that night couldn’t possibly understand; it wouldn’t matter how my assaulter voted on abortion, or immigration, or healthcare, or families, or if he donned a pink hat and marched in some downtown march somewhere with a Handmaid’s Tale sign. It wouldn’t matter what story he had to tell about himself. What would matter is the story I was stopped and silenced from telling one probable summer night long ago, which no one could stop me or silence me from telling now. Don’t I know the entire world would question every one of those details? Minute by minute, grope by grope, beer bottle by beer bottle, goodbye smile by goodbye smile?
I do know it. Because, you see, in the matter of truth, the details are all that matter. And these are definitely mine.