I gathered my confidence in a basket.
Alone in the city. The hotel smelled of mold, a building with history with a mock-vintage Smeg fridge buzzing in the corner. I could hear the blare of the horns outside – New York City.
The city noise is contagious and pulls you in. Ever since I was young, I would take a train in for the day from Philadelphia and always imagined that one day I would live there. Many years later, though still enticing, my energy has changed. To enjoy the city is one thing. To be there permanently is another. But, after this last trip, my once nostalgic view has changed. Hard to verbalize. Hard to remember. Hard to fathom that anyone would believe me. Again, another situation where I fell silent. My silence. My waiting too long to speak up (in multiple circumstances) is something that deeply frustrates me about myself.
Feeling confident and upbeat about being on a work trip, staying in a nice hotel, going to meetings at galleries, architecture firms, and design firms…everything implied my career trajectory was going well. It was a busy trip, but a fun one. The main reason we were there was to host a party, at a well-known furniture design space. As one of the event coordinators, I arrived early in order to set up. The staff were young, fashionable and incredibly friendly. Getting along with the two main staff helping out, they made the night seem easy and fun and were at my disposal for anything that I needed to make the event run smoothly. We would banter back and forth and they seemed like nice enough guys who were easy going and upbeat. After work they asked to go for a drink, and thinking they were nice enough, I said yes, but only one and at the hotel bar because I have a meeting tomorrow morning early. One drink turned into two, they all just kept handing them to me one after the next. Smiles and laughing and telling stories.
My eyes open and I’m flat on my back in my hotel room bed. Naked. One of them on top of me. I open my eyes again. Two of them on top of me. Touching me. Laughing. Saying something I can’t understand. I open my eyes the last time and it’s morning. There is someone there next to me. I quickly pull a robe over my body and jump out of the bed. What did I do? A panic rose in my throat. I felt nauseous. What happened? This person in my bed laughed and said Well…you wanted it. I looked around quickly. Drink glasses on the table. My clothes all over the floor nowhere near the bed. Tears filled my eyes, and I sat down. He sat in front of me…the other one wasn’t there. Were there two of you? What did I do? What did I do? His reply was something to the effect of What happens in the city stays in the city. How witty.
He scanned me up and down — You have an amazing body. Unable to answer, I pulled my robe tighter to myself. I was running late. I needed to get dressed, pack and meet my boss and coworker in the lobby of the hotel in thirty minutes in order to make the meeting on time. I asked him to leave, then stuffed my things in my suitcase as quickly as possible. The nausea still there. Looking in the mirror, I was pale. My hair was a mess — there was nothing I could do. I quickly showered and threw on some clothes. Dragging my suitcase down to the lobby, my boss was already there waiting and I could see her reaction to my appearance. I just had to get through this meeting and then I could lie down. Processing. Not processing. The meeting was a blur. I tried to be as calm and normal as possible. My hands were shaking and I downed my breakfast in large, greasy forkfuls.
Finally, alone in a friend’s apartment, I could sleep. Hours and hours of sleep. Trying to forget. Trying to remember if it really happened. Feeling very, very alone. It’s interesting how your brain is able to compartmentalize things, fold memories neatly and place them into an organized drawer. If the memory popped up throughout the evening, I was able to push it back down and close the drawer until it needed to be dealt with — later. My last night in the city was spent with friends eating a lovely meal. It felt almost as if the previous evening never happened.
The next morning, I said my goodbyes and took the subway to Grand Central to catch the Metro North to Connecticut to visit one of my closest friends, Jess. The ride takes about an hour and I tried focusing on a book and enjoying my coffee. Once with Jess, the sickly feeling and the memories would start to seep in during moments of catching up or playing with her little girl as if the drawer to that memory had become loose and the contents were spilling out, but not quite all the way. I was terrified to tell her what happened, not even sure myself if what I was feeling was accurate. If I was a bad person or if it really was something I had wanted? Would she believe me?
Eventually the feelings of anxiety and fear and sickness overwhelmed me. I was in the shower when the realization came. I was raped. I think I was raped by two men. I broke down on my knees as the water ran over my back and began to sob and hyperventilate. Walking out of the bathroom, Jess looked at me with wide eyes, what’s wrong???
After telling her the story she gave me a big hug and reassured me that it wasn’t my fault. If anyone was going to be straightforward with me, it would be Jess. I was terrified of telling anyone. Especially my, then, fiancé, but I knew I would have to be honest. If we don’t have anything in this world, we have at least our honesty, and I pride myself on being transparent and honest with those I love.
Many, many tears were shed. Many questions were asked. I’ve never felt so helpless as to try and explain the situation over and over again, without knowing more. Without being able to give more detail. Without being able to provide peace. I would always ask myself if he really believed me. And he did sometimes imply that he did not. Pulling the memory out of the drawer whenever he felt anger or betrayal and threw it back in my face.
Feeling angry at my perceived weakness and the constant questioning of what I know is true…Feeling regret for being too scared to go to the police, and in retrospect allowing these two men to move on without a thought or a care. Did they know what they did? Would they do it again? I remember looking down at the ring on my finger. The ring that was there the entire night, knowing that it was not something that I wanted, and yet I still question everything.
It took a bit to move forward. It took literally having the boat tipped over in lieu of just rocking it. My fear is to always be perceived as a victim, but really, I am just one of many whose story goes silent. My silence was a product of fear, both of not being believed, but also of causing any trouble in my workplace. I did not feel safe, and my anxiety grew into all aspects of my life. Coming up on almost a year later, it finally feels like I can share this story.
Everything is different now. My trajectory has completely changed. Sitting in a study hall, writing, somewhere at the ends of the earth…I feel more clarity than I have had in a long time. I feel calm, tranquil and with more of an understanding of who I am. Writing has been a cathartic release and learning exercise that helps me deal with the different things I’ve gone through thus far. Not in any way more scarred than the next person, I hope to share these stories in an effort to encourage others to share their own. Our honesty and ability to be vulnerable is what inspires others to do the same.