It was a long but okay day.  I got quite a bit of work done at the office, went to Whole Foods on my lunch and picked up ingredients for dinner, and beat the traffic getting home.  Win all around.

When I got in the house, my daughter was asleep in her bed.  The trash had not been taken out and dishes were still in the sink.  I made a conscious decision not to argue with her.  She had been at her dad’s house since Friday and today was Tuesday.  Things had been left on a sour note and, although I was not going to budge on my insistence she show more respect, I wasn’t in the mood for another argument. My mother would say, “Pick your battles.”

I unpacked the groceries, sliced the veggies and got them on the stove before heading to my room to change.  As I pulled a gray Texans t-shirt over my head, my phone clinked the slot machine sound that indicates the arrival of a text message.  I grabbed it off the bed and pressed my thumb against the sensor.  My ex.

The teen was late to class today.  Again.  I sat wearily on the edge of the bed with a sigh.  “What are we going to do?” I texted.  Ten minutes later, despite trading several messages, and no closer to a solution than when I picked up the phone, I noticed a strange smell.

“Shit!”  I left the veggies on the stove.  In the kitchen, I grabbed the pan off the stove and stuck it under the faucet.  I was trying to sauté my onions and peppers the healthy way, using only water, no butter or oil.  Apparently, they burn a lot faster that way.  In disgust, I tried to pick out the salvageable pieces.  My compost pile grew quickly as only a few slices made it into my bowl.

The teenager came down the hallway, “What’s that smell?”

“I burned the onions and peppers I was cooking.”

“Oh. Glad I’m not hungry.”

“Huh? I thought you were starving?  You texted me when you got home about dinner.”

“Oh, yeah.  I’m not hungry anymore. I ate some corndogs.”

She took a drink out of the fridge and started back to her room.  I stared at her back as she walked away.  What the fuck do I even try for?

I leaned my head against the vent hood over the stove and picked out a charred piece of green pepper.  Then a piece of onion.  I could feel the prickling of tears at the back of my eyes but they wouldn’t come.  My hands started to shake.  I clenched my fist and the piece of green pepper turned to mush between my fingers.  I flung it on the stove and stared.

The liquor rack held only two bottles, both nearly empty.  I hardly ever drank any more.  I took a minute maid from the refrigerator and poured it into a cup simultaneously with the vodka.  Three gulps and the cup was drained.  Fuck dinner.

I sat on the end of the couch and put my feet up.  The remote was next to me so I turned the tv on.  Wheel of Fortune.  My grandmother used to watch it religiously.  She loved Pat and Vanna.  I usually called her when I got off work but I knew better than to call when “The Wheel” was on.  The clue was a crossword.  I watched some guy named Anthony lose all his money and a trip to Italy by landing on “bankrupt” before Carol solved it with only one letter left in the puzzle.

It was depressing.  I turned it off and looked around the living room.  I took in the out-of-season wreath on the wall that should have come down months ago, but for some reason I never bothered; the bookcase filled with history books, children’s books, books on religion and travel books; and the lamps on the end tables.  The shades were too small.  I needed to replace them but….. and then I saw it.  A hole.  Oddly shaped and not very big, but a hole nonetheless.  I don’t remember what made it exactly, some flying object or another.  But the feelings it brings are unmistakable.  My heart beat increases, my stomach tenses up.  I look away quickly.  It’s just a hole.  It can’t hurt me.  He can’t hurt me.  I am safe.  No one is going to wake me up screaming in the middle of the night.  I don’t have to argue any more.  I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

I feel something cold and jerk.  My dog has pressed her wet nose against my foot.  I look at her and sigh.  “Come on girl.  Let’s go for a walk.  I’ll think about this tomorrow.”

The Next Morning

I kicked the covers to free my leg and let my foot fall to the floor in an effort to stop the room from spinning.  My mouth tasted like cotton and my eyeballs felt too big for their sockets.  It wasn’t my first hangover, but it was certainly the worst.

The ringing was new.  I’d never had the incessant ringing in my ears before.  I moaned and stretched, pulling the pillow over my head.  Strangely, the pillow muffled the ringing in my ears.  That’s when I realized it wasn’t in my head, it was actually the phone.  I was too miserable to wonder why someone was calling so early.

I pulled the slimline phone off its hook and put it to my ear. “Hello?” I mumbled.

“Tracy?” asked a vaguely familiar male voice.


“Um, hey. It’s….” and he said his name.  At the time, it brought instant recognition.  It was the guy who offered me a ride from the frat party.  In the years since I have forgotten his name and those of his friends who came with us to the bean field.

I was confused.  Scenes from the night before played behind my closed eyes.  My nostrils flared with the remembered scent of his cologne mixed with piss.  I had gone straight to bed without showering and I could smell myself.

“Okay?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked, clearly wanting something from me.  Something I had failed to comprehend.

“What? What did you say?” In my preoccupation with smells I had missed what he said.

He repeated his request.  One of the other guys had a girlfriend.  The girlfriend’s friend was at the party and had seen him get in the truck with me.  She told the girlfriend he had left the party with me.  The girlfriend was furious.  If the girlfriend asked, could I please say I was with him and not the other guy?

My head was spinning.  Was he really on the phone acting like we were friends?  Like what happened was normal?  I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  I needed to throw up.  I wanted to scream, to cry, to say something that would sting him.  Instead, I heard a meek voice that sounded a lot like mine say, “Okay.”

The relief in his voice was palpable.  “Cool.  Thanks.  Oh, by the way.  Um, you know we were all just having fun last night, right?  I mean, you were cool with it.  It’s not like it was rape or anything.  You wouldn’t say that, would you?  We’re cool, right?”

I heard that voice again.  The one that sounded like mine.  It said yeah.  It told him we were cool.  And then my hand hung up the phone.

I pulled myself upright and stumbled to the bathroom.  In the stall I braced myself, one hand on the back of the toilet, the other against the cold tile wall.  I retched.  It came violently, spewing out my mouth and nose at the same time.   I could feel bits of something coming through my nose.  I gagged.

Again and again it came.  I couldn’t breathe.  I had to blow my nose.  The insides of my nostrils burned.  My throat was starting to hurt.  Chunks of watermelon floated in the brown water in the toilet.  The smell was foul.  I leaned against the tile and slowly slid to sit on the floor.  The cold tile felt good on my skin.  I didn’t want to move.  Gently, I laid over, putting my head on my arm.

I don’t know how long I stayed like that.  I couldn’t think and yet all I could do was think.  The phone call played over and over in my head.  It wasn’t rape.  We were just having fun.  You liked it. 

He must be right.  I got in the truck.  I didn’t struggle.  I didn’t fight back.  I just laid there.  How could that be rape?  I needed to face the truth.  I was just a nasty girl.  A slut, really.  I probably even liked it.  He didn’t say it, but I knew.

Putting both hands on the porcelain for leverage, I pulled myself up.  I flushed the toilet and turned on the shower. Afterwards, wrapped in a towel, I was brushing my teeth, trying to get the sour taste out of my mouth, when I heard Julia come in.   I had last seen her in the frat house, leaning against the wall of the upstairs hallway, talking to a cute boy, beer in one hand, cigarette in the other.

I assumed she had stayed with him and would want to talk about her night.  I was in no mood.  I came out of the bathroom and crawled back into my bed without speaking.  She said something and I moaned, pulling the pillow over my head.  I just wanted sleep.  I knew I would have to talk to her eventually but once again I thought of Scarlett, “Tomorrow.  I will think about this tomorrow.”

1989 – The Rape

It was the fall of 1989.  I was a freshman at the University of Tennessee at Martin.  I had led a very sheltered life up until that point.  While my high school classmates went on dates and attended dances, I waited tables in an all-night cafe.  When Mary Johnson* was getting pregnant and having multiple abortions, I milked cows.  Or drove the truck in the hay field.  Or helped my mother with the house work.

When I had time to myself I usually spent it with my head in a book. I preferred fiction.  It fueled my day dreams.  I fantasized about the fabulous career I was going to have, the split level house with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, the incredibly handsome, considerate man I would call my husband.

After graduation, I spent the summer eagerly anticipating college life. I had several scholarships and a little grant money. After paying for tuition and books, there was going to be a couple thousand dollars left. My parents gave me two options: use my refund to buy a used car or live in the dorm and buy the requisite meal plan. I didn’t hesitate. I wanted off the farm.

My mother and grandmother moved me into the dorm. They helped me make the twin bed and hang my one poster on the wall. Clothes were neatly stacked into drawers and my toiletries organized in the plastic tote. The mini fridge from my grandparents’ garage went at the foot of the bed with the 13 inch black and white on top. I was ready for them to leave; they stalled.

My roommate, a red-head named Julia, showed up a couple days later. We found we had a few things in common, chief among them skipping class, shooting pool and drinking copious amounts of wine coolers. Neither of us had much experience with alcohol and, while beer tasted disgusting, wine coolers were sweet and yummy. We met a couple girls from down the hall and quickly became a foursome.

While we were regulars at Cadillacs, we rarely ventured into the world of frat parties.  None of us felt like we particularly belonged in that crowd.  If anyone asked about our Greek association, we proudly said G.D.I. (God Damned Independent).

One night about halfway through the fall semseter we gave in and attended a party at the Phi Sig house.  It was a large, two-story brick house on the edge of campus.  It had bedrooms and several of the brothers lived there.  This night the house was overflowing with people.  There were kegs of beer inside.  On a picnic table outside were watermelons that had been soaked in vodka.

I wasn’t used to beer or vodka and before long I found myself wandering around the house, my head swimming.  I saw Julia in the upstairs hallway.  She was leaning against a wall, a plastic cup of beer in one hand, laughing at something the cute guy in front of her was saying.  We made eye contact as I passed by.

I went out the door and found myself on the metal staircase leading down to the back yard.  Melissa, another girl from my dorm, was sitting on the steps about halfway down.  I grabbed the railing to steady myself and started down.  Just as my foot touched the top step a guy I knew by sight but not name came out the door behind me.

“Whoa! You ok?” he asked.  Clearly he could see I was struggling.

I shook my head.  “No.  I don’t feel so good.  I’m going home.”  Just a few weeks before we had received some kind of flyer in our dorm mailboxes about personal safety.  I knew I was past my limit and I just wanted to go to my room and lie down.

“Home?  Where is home? The party’s just getting started.”

“McCord.  I live in McCord.”  My gaze remained fixed on the back of Melissa’s head; my hand had never left the metal bannister.  I took a tentative step; he reached out and grabbed my upper arm to steady me.

“How are you getting there? How are you getting to McCord?” he asked, his voice full of concern.

“I’m going to walk.”  I didn’t have a car.  It was just across campus.  No more than five minutes.  Well, no more than five sober minutes.  In my condition it would probably take fifteen.

“You don’t need to walk by yourself.  Something could happen to you.  Come on, I’ll take you home.”  I was touched.  I had been feeling vulnerable, out of control.  This guy that I barely knew was looking out for me.  I wasn’t particularly used to men treating me well. I let him lead me down the stairs and across the yard to his truck.

It was a dark colored little truck, maybe an S-10 or something similar.  When we got to the parking lot he opened the passenger door for me.  I got in but before he shut the door he told me to hold on a minute.  He had brought some friends with him and didn’t want to just leave without telling them he was going.  He would be right back.

True to his word, he was back in less than five minutes.  But he wasn’t alone.  His friends were ready to leave, too so they were going to ride with us.  I scooted over to the middle as one guy opened the passenger door and the other jumped over into the bed of the truck.  My prince charming got behind the wheel and we were off.

I would be in my bed in less than ten minutes and was already regretting the hangover I was going to have in the morning when I realized we were turning the wrong way.  “Hey,” I said.  “I live in McCord.  You’re going the wrong way.”

“I know,” the driver replied.  “But I need gas.  I’m going to run by 3J’s so I don’t have to stop on the way to class in the morning.”

Okay, I thought.  That made sense.  I was getting a ride, after all.  I shouldn’t complain.  I leaned my head back and rested it against the seat.  We turned on Parrish St. and then made our way over to 45.  I was starting to feel a little nauseous and thought maybe I should go to the restroom while he pumped the gas in case I had to puke.  I didn’t want the guys to see me retching.

Just as I decided I should definitely go in the gas station bathroom, the truck began to pick up speed.  We were almost to the driveway; there was no way we could safely make the turn at this speed.  “Hey, slow down.  You’re gonna miss the turn.”

“I’ll get the gas in a minute.  Just relax. Let’s go for a ride.”

He drove towards Sharon.  I don’t know exactly how far we went before he turned right and took us out into the country.   We ended up on a rutted dirt path in some farmer’s bean field.

I wanted to go home.  Badly.  I didn’t know what to do.  There were three of them and one of me.  One really drunk me.  They started getting out of the truck.  I was stalling, trying to think of something.  I finally slid over and got out.  “I have to pee,” I announced and started walking down the rows of beans.  I don’t know what I thought would happen.  Maybe I hoped they would just leave me there and I could walk home when the sun came up.

I edged out into the darkness, hiked up my skirt and squatted.  Taking a deep breath, I released, careful not to pee on my shoes.  I could hear them behind me, unintelligible whispers floating through the darkness.  I finished but couldn’t gain my balance well enough to stand.  I rocked slightly on my heels, hoping to propel myself upright.  Instead I fell backwards, landing in the puddle of my own urine.

As the warm wetness seeped through my skirt I became aware of him above me.  He unbuttoned his jeans and got on top of me.  The next twenty minutes was a blur.  The driver finished and first one friend then the other came over for their turn.  I never made a sound.

When they were done, they helped me stand and straighten my skirt.  The owner of the pick up was worried I might hurl on his seats so they put me in the back for the ride to the dorm.  The driver cut across the field on his way out and I remember thinking the farmer would be pissed that we drove over his beans.

We drove straight back to campus and pulled up on the basketball court behind my dorm.  Gentlemen always, they helped me out of the truck and asked if I was okay.  I didn’t answer.  I just walked straight to the lobby, stuck my key in the hall door and went to my room.

Julia was not there.  I stripped off all my clothes and crawled in the bed.  I thought of Scarlett O’Hara as I drifted off to sleep, “I can’t think about this now.  I’ll go crazy if I do.  I’ll think about it tomorrow.”