by Freya Vardo

When I was 21, I was a mess of a person. I was naive and selfish and overcome with ideas about the world and myself that simply weren’t true. I was intense, dramatic, emotionally overwhelming to myself and others.

I hurt people carelessly. And I was a person hurting, though I probably wouldn’t have admitted it. I was terrified of mediocrity, even as it stared me in the face. So I clung to feelings that matched my intensity. I found them in a boyfriend I won’t name here.

I was toxic for him. I think he was toxic for me, too. At our inevitable end (the first one, that is), I went off the deep end. I’m a girl with abandonment issues, and our breakup brought memories and feelings – long buried – to the crumbling surface. I cried for weeks. I tried to remain friends with him, at his insistence. I lost myself in alcohol, and not eating was already a habit of mine. It was the perfect storm; I was a messy person made a disaster.

Indulging my whimsical side, I would, when sober, jump into my car for a random weekend road trip or I would treat myself to expensive new clothes hoping that maybe the widened void in me would fill. More often, though, I would drink myself stupid. I knew plenty of people, mostly men, who loved to keep me company during this particular indulgence. I never noticed then that it was the only time I wasn’t alone.

One of these men I had known since junior high. He was a senior while I was in 8th grade. He was an older brother of a few friends I had in Christian school. We reconnected on Facebook during the summer of 2007, in the midst of my awful breakup and his terrible divorce. We bonded over our losses and our booze and our abandonment of Christianity. We agreed at the beginning of this new friendship that it was simply that: friendship, completely platonic. Both of us needed support and understanding and a safe person in whom we could confide and with whom we could drink.

Two months of this went by without issue. I loved having someone who knew me but was wholly detached from the friend group I still shared with my ex-boyfriend. I felt perfectly safe with him.

Until August 25. Nothing seemed weird at the start of the night. We met at my apartment, which wasn’t the usual, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. We went to my favorite pub first, but didn’t stay long as I’d received a text from a guy I had a vague, rebounding interest in, inviting me to another pub closer to my apartment. I’ve never liked that place, as it’s a greasy hole in the wall, but I went anyway, and my friend came too. I remember having a lot of fun, but something changed at the second pub.

You see, I’ve always had a rule about people buying me drinks: I don’t allow it, unless I’m in a relationship with that person. I never wanted any man to feel like I owed him something because he shelled out $7 for a red bull vodka. This rule included my friend as well as the guy who invited me to the pub.

I don’t know what made me break my rule that night. I’ve felt guilty about it for years. I remember my friend handing me a drink. I remember hesitating. I remember him saying, “Don’t worry! Just get the next round!”

I don’t remember getting the next round or the round after that. He kept beating me to it. And I eventually became so inebriated I stopped caring.

I don’t remember driving home. I know he was in the car with me. I know I said goodbye to him in the parking lot. I don’t remember climbing the stairs or entering my place. I don’t remember locking the door before I made immediately for the bathroom. Knowing me, I might’ve left the keys in the lock. I might not have locked it at all. All I remember is walking out of the bathroom, now wearing nothing but a t-shirt and boy-shorts underwear, and seeing him in my bed.

I asked him what he was doing, barely able to keep my eyes open. He said something about being too drunk to drive. Of course I didn’t want him to die on the road. He was my friend.

I shrugged it off and got in bed and immediately fell asleep. Minutes – I’m assuming – later, I woke up to hands moving me into what I imagine was an easier position for him to rape me.

I remember saying no.

I remember pushing his hands away weakly as I fell out of consciousness again.

I remember waking again as my tampon was ripped from me and tossed aside.

I remember saying no. I remember crying. I remember it didn’t stop him.

I was in and out of consciousness. I tried convincing myself it was a nightmare. It wasn’t until I started screaming at the top of my lungs that he stopped and literally ran from my apartment.

I don’t know how long I laid there, sobbing and dazed and in pain. But I remember eventually dragging myself up to close and lock the front door. I remember checking all my windows and every corner of the tiny, one-bedroom place I could no longer call home, just to be sure he wasn’t still there, hiding, waiting.

I remember grabbing a drink from my fridge and going back to the bathroom. I sat in the tub, alternately shaking with sobs and shaking with silence beneath the hot shower water.

I remember calling my ex-boyfriend at about 3 or 4 in the morning, whenever I had finally got out of the shower. He didn’t answer. I remember carefully avoiding looking at my bed as I dressed in my ugliest, comfiest pajamas and retreated to my living room to try desperately for sleep.

I don’t remember sleeping. I just remember the isolation. I remember feeling like the only person in a cruel world. I wondered if I should call the police. But I knew what would happen, being a drunk girl too irresponsible to know if she’d even locked her own door. And I already told you what I’d been wearing.

Loneliness like that can swallow you whole. I felt like a shell of a person. I felt dirty and empty and everything and nothing.

My ex-boyfriend saw me the next day and knew immediately something was wrong. Because I didn’t tell him at first, he asked me to join him for drinks when he was done with work. I accepted, if only for the distraction. I also just wanted to be with someone I loved, desperate for kindness. Of course, he pressed me to tell him what happened and I eventually relented. I told him everything. And I felt a tiny flare of relief to get it all out of me so I wouldn’t be the only one to know.

I’m pretty sure he’s the only one of my friends who believed me. Our group of friends comprised people I loved fiercely, but the victim-blaming was unreal coming from people who had never even met my rapist. I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation, they said. And as I heard from others to whom they had told my story, they doubted it altogether. Since they had never met him, clearly I concocted the entire thing as a ploy for attention in the hopes of winning my ex-boyfriend back.

My best friends believed I was either asking for it or lying. So how the hell could I have gone to the police anyway?

Guilt has plagued me for eleven years. For not pressing charges, for drinking, for letting him buy, for not remembering to secure my door, for telling my ex boyfriend, for letting them shame me, for shaming myself, for everything.

But I’m done. I’m done feeling guilty. I did one illegal thing that night: driving while intoxicated. I feel guilty for that. But nothing else. I didn’t do anything wrong when I drank. I didn’t do anything wrong when I trusted someone I had known for years, who was a brother-like figure to me, who lured me under false pretenses into a friendship that was entirely a lie.

I coped how I coped. It wasn’t pretty. It was ugly. It was hard. It was painful. I did the best I could with what I had. That’s all any of us can do.

So when you make comments about rape victims not coming forward, or when you accuse them of lying, or when you blame them for the abuses that were done TO them, just know that you’re talking about me.

And if my rapist were to enter any position of public office, you’re goddamn right I’ll be shouting his name from the rooftops, no matter how much time has passed.