In January 2012, during my junior year of college, I was raped. It wasn’t by some lunatic who jumped out of the bushes, or in some dark alleyway. It was by my best friend, in the warm safety of his off-campus apartment, after a long night of drinking. It was the same apartment we used to sit in for hours on rainy days, discussing Kant and Zizek, riffing on our professors, and listening to Derek and the Dominoes. It was the same place where we discussed our pie in the sky liberal arts school dreams and drank champagne for no good reason.
Jack* and I had a complicated friendship. I met him in my freshman year when he was a junior, and he was an intellectual mentor the likes of which I cannot describe. All friendships are complicated if they’re deep enough, but our relationship was a special kind. We were on the same wavelength, and before I could blink, I found myself falling in love with him. He treated me with enough tenderness that I didn’t immediately dismiss the idea of him returning those feelings, as I normally would have at that point in my life.
I loved Jack because he was smart, and he did beautiful rom-com things like come to my dorm room and play my favorite songs for me on his guitar when I was feeling low, or take me on midnight drives past rolling corn fields with no particular destination in mind. He was the first person to make college feel like home, like maybe it was possible to find genuine human connection so far away from anything familiar.
The summer of our friendship went on for two years or so before he began struggling with drugs and alcohol, which he oft turned to for solace. He started to change. He got meaner, not just to me, but to everyone. He bounced between uninspired relationships with girls who would listen to him pontificate about music and politics and eat it up because he looked like an Irish Don Draper and drove a nice car. They would last about six months before tapping out for any number of reasons he’d never tell me. And I watched the whole thing, letting the worry roil in my guts, unspoken for fear of offending him.
He started spending less time with me when he was sober, maybe because he was less sober in general. Then it happened. We spent a Friday night drinking with friends, and stumbled back into his apartment. I drunkenly flopped onto his bed, thinking nothing of it. I would just crash there until morning, no big deal.
But he wouldn’t let me sleep. He kept trying to kiss me and climb on top of me, despite my assurances that neither of us was sober enough to make “that kind of decision.” He did it until four in the morning when I finally gave up, too drunk to fight any longer. He raped me, and he told me he loved me while he did it.
The next day was the beginning of the end of our friendship. He made me walk home alone in the morning. When I tried to confront him about what had happened that night, he told me via Facebook chat that it, and I, meant nothing to him. He alienated me even further by turning our mutual friends against me. He did all these things, and it didn’t just break my heart, it leveled it.
After battling my own stint with alcohol abuse in the months after, I pledged myself to shutting down every part of me that loved Jack. I did my best to bury our friendship, our platonic-but-maybe-not-forever love. I did my best to mourn it. I tried to move on, found a loving boyfriend who spoke less and didn’t care for Kant or Clapton. I graduated, got my first reporting job, moved out of my parents’ house, and got engaged to said loving boyfriend. We moved in together. Two and a half years later, I was finally ready to live life without Jack, to believe in myself enough to know I didn’t need him or his guidance.
Then one day in mid-November, he called. Hearing his voice was a surreal experience. It made me want to throw up. He asked me how I was, I told him.
“I have to admit there’s a motive behind my call,” he said. “I’m currently in a 12-step program for drug and alcohol addiction, and one of the steps is making amends with those who you’ve hurt. You are one of those people.”
I knew people in 12- step programs. They had mentioned this part before. Jack explained that the past two years of his life had been marred by drug and alcohol addiction, that there were large periods of time he either didn’t remember or wasn’t in his right mind for. He said he knew he had hurt me, and that he was sorry.
I didn’t know what to say. I had genuinely never expected to hear from him again, much less that I would get an apology. So I did what I do best: I word-vomited my feelings in a half-coherent mess. I told him everything: how he was my best friend, how much I had loved him, how much he had influenced me as a person, how much it absolutely destroyed me when he threw me out like a piece of garbage. And he listened to the whole thing, with no interruptions, no arguments.
I asked him why he did it, as if any justification could possibly be good enough. He said he had feelings for me, that I understood him better than anyone else, but he couldn’t handle it then, so he pushed me away.
He said he knew what he did in January of 2012 was a bad thing. He never used the words “rape,” or “assault,” so I used them for him. He apologized again, said he didn’t expect me to forgive him or to be friends again, but if I could find it in my heart to do either of those things, he’d appreciate it.
I knew it wouldn’t be possible to fully let him back in my life, not just because we live 660 miles apart, but because wisdom has taught me that my self-preservation and personal recovery should mean so much more to me than anyone’s comfort or redemption story. In that moment, I decided that while there was no way we could ever be friends again, there was a way for me to forgive him. But in order for me to do so, it had to be totally for myself.
I could not forgive Jack because I wanted him back in my life, or because it would help him recover from his addiction. I had to forgive him for my own sense of closure. I had to forgive this man who, regardless of his mental state, raped and betrayed me, so he would not forever taint my self-worth. I had spent two years of my life, two years too many, blaming myself and mourning the intimate, brilliant conversations and adventures we had together.
I had spent too many years of my life mourning my dead soul mate, the likes of which never had been and never will be seen again. He took a piece of my soul then, and I knew forgiving him would never bring it back, but that it might allow my soul to grow around where it once was, like a great tree split in half by an unforgiving bolt of lightning.
So I did. I told Jack I forgave him. I’m not sure how I did it, because the whole thing is kind of a blur in my mind. But, I remember he thanked me. I remember we made more small talk until I muttered something about the time. I remember saying goodbye and hanging up the phone. And I’d like to think after all of that, I took a deep breath, and finally let go.