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.”