**TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE, ASSAULT, VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN**
Seventeen is different for everyone. In a perfect world, it is a successful last year of high school, fun with friends, planning a future.
I am quite sure no one ever envisions having a part of their soul stolen. Lost, never to be found.
My mother had accepted a job in Birmingham, Alabama. I was seventeen years old and all of our belongings from the home I had lived in since I was four years old were packed into a truck, I said tearful goodbyes to all of my friends from the town I had lived in my entire life, I reluctantly and tearfully tore myself away from the boyfriend who I had no idea how I would live without, and we moved.
Having skipped the first grade, something to do with a 148 IQ, I was already out of high school. If I had been more than a party girl and had done what I was supposed to, I would have been in college working on that law degree I had dreamed of as a child and not drinking Jim Beam out of a bottle at parties off of dirt roads and snorting cocaine at hot tub parties.
I would never have set foot in Alabama.
I’m sure part of the reason my mother accepted the job was in hopes of changing the trajectory of my life. It wasn’t too late for me yet. I was only an alcoholic and addict in training. I was still having fun. Mostly.
My heart didn’t stop beating once we crossed the state line. We moved into a lovely suburban house and life continued. I got a job, thought about college in Alabama for a moment, and even made a few friends. But my heart never left Florida and I knew it was only a matter of time before I went back.
I would call my boyfriend and get his sister. He was never home. He had moved on with his life. He still had all of our friends and I knew he was seeing other girls. He was hopeless but you couldn’t tell me that. I was seventeen. I loved him.
One afternoon while my mom was at work, my brother and I had a huge argument. Truth be told, it wasn’t an argument, it was a physical fight. I was afraid of my brother and his darker side so I left the house. I didn’t have a car so I walked to a convenience store just outside our neighborhood and used a payphone to call my mother. After I spoke to her, I sat down on a bench and at that moment decided it was time for me to leave. I wasn’t going to give Alabama a chance. I wanted to go home. What I considered my real life was leaving me further behind every moment.
Desperation will lead you to make very bad choices.
As I sat on the bench, eyes wet from crying, mascara no doubt trailing my cheeks, a car drove up to the gas pumps. It was a souped up Camaro I think, the details aren’t very clear anymore. I just know it was a cool car…for the 80s. I took notice. The driver took notice of me. He pumped his gas, walked in and paid for it and upon exiting the store, made his way over to me. He sweetly asked if I was all right and only God knows the reason I broke down and told this stranger how I just had to get back to Florida. The words just poured out in a flood and I couldn’t stop them. My state of mind shut down all my warning lights.
The stranger, in his late twenties to early thirties and who gave me a name I just can’t remember, told me that he and a couple of his friends had a job in Florida and were leaving the next day. They would be driving down and if I wanted to hitch a ride, I could.
I never gave it a second thought.
I got in his car.
Please forgive me, the last bit of this tale will be a little hazy on the details for reasons you will soon understand.
He drove me to his house down a long dirt road. There was an actual house down the road. I could see it. There were also more cars and I could see a few people outside.
The stranger pulled up introduced me to a few of the others. It was a party, just like I was used to at home. A small crowd of friendly folks, having a few beers, laughing, talking. It felt almost like home.
Someone handed me a beer. And then another. I was pleasantly buzzed but not drunk by the time evening rolled around and the crowd started to thin. As the last few stragglers were headed out, an older man came up to me and whispered to me that since everyone else was leaving, it would be a good idea if I did too.
I didn’t see it as the warning he meant it to be. I stayed.
The stranger had explained to me that his girlfriend would be coming home later so somehow I felt better knowing there would be another woman around. It never, ever occurred to me that he was lying.
A 148 IQ does not provide for common sense.
It got darker outside. He made me something to eat and for some reason I remember bologna. When it got late, he offered me his room to sleep in, he and his girlfriend would sleep in the living room. We would leave in the morning. I will admit to feeling a little uncomfortable since the ‘girlfriend’ hadn’t shown up yet but I was buzzed and tired and still wanted to get back to Florida more than I wanted to take my next breath so I squashed the tiny voice in my head. It was already too late anyway. I just didn’t realize it yet.
Aside from that, the plans for the trip to Florida were explained in such detail, among them the job he was driving down for, the fact that I was seventeen and the only thing he would ask was that I get out of the car and walk across the state line so he couldn’t be arrested for kidnapping should the plan go to hell. His girlfriend would be coming too. So many details that convinced me none of it was a lie. I felt like I was halfway home.
Perhaps you’re wondering about my parents at this point. Where were they? Were they worried about me? Wonder where I was? My dad was in Florida. He was tying up a few things, dealing with the renting of the house we left behind and by this time my mother had stopped worrying about my absences and late night hours. This was the days before cell phones so there was no way for her to reach me. Or for me to reach her.
I sensed him before I saw him. I felt his weight on the edge of the bed. Without a word or a sound he simply turned me over and I saw that he wasn’t wearing any clothes. I remember that it didn’t register right away. I was so confused. These things don’t really happen. Do they?
I begged. I said no. I cried. As he pulled the clothes from the bottom half of my body and positioned his body over mine my panicked mind reached for anything. I told him I was pregnant. That was why I had to go back to Florida. I begged him not to hurt the baby.
I begged. I said no. Again and again. I cried.
He never said a word. He held both hands over my head with one of his hands. And he raped me.
It was too late. There was no more begging, only shocked and silent tears. My mission now: stay alive.
I was alone with this person (I refuse to call him a man) at his house, in the woods. No one was there to hear me if I screamed for help.
When he was done he quietly left the room. When he came back in he told me there was no trip to Florida. There never was. He told me to get up and he would take me home.
Is it appropriate to consider myself ‘lucky’ that he had no interest in killing me?
He drove me back to the store where it all began. It was late and the place was closed down. As he drove he told me that it wouldn’t do me any good to tell anyone. I got in his car. I went to his house. I was drinking and I got in his bed. It was my fault.
I believed him.
I got out of the car and I walked home.
Before I eventually got on a Greyhound bus and came home to Florida, I would see him again. I was riding in a car with some friends when another car, a Mustang, pulled up beside us. I looked over and it was him. He was in the passenger seat and a woman I suppose was his girlfriend was driving. He saw me, gave me a half smile and a wink, and when the light changed, they drove away.
Until today, I have never told this story. I spent a decade of my life believing it was my fault. His words were always in my head. I got in his car. I went to his house. I was drinking. I got in his bed. It was my fault.
It was my fault.
It was my fault.
IT WAS NOT MY FAULT.