My boyfriend and I were going through a rough patch. It was eight months into the relationship and our ideological differences and general incompatibility were coming to the forefront. We argued about nothing. We threw low blows in front of friends. At the height of one fight he shouted, "I wish you weren't so articulate!"
It's embarrassing to admit. The writing was on the wall, and I should have known then--or even much earlier--that he was not the one for me. However, like the series of relationships that preceded it, this one felt like something that I could build up, save, and mold into the long term, secure pairing that I craved. I committed to not failing again.
It was during this time that I helped organize a Halloween party at a friend's apartment. I didn't invite my boyfriend. We had decided to take a break. The party was just a handful of us who had gotten close during college and remained dear to each other, coming together to get drunk and carve silly pumpkins.
One of the friends in attendance was a guy, Dan*, whom I had maintained an on and off friends-with-benefits relationship with for a few years. It was bizarre, really, that we managed to hook up so often, when we were both single, without the inevitable meltdown that happens when one or both people develop intense feelings. We told each other everything, supported each other, went to movies and dinners alone. But the relationship spark wasn't there -- we were just good friends who occasionally had sex.
Since I had been in a relationship for months at this point, we were there as just friends and the party went on without a hint of flirtation or desire. It was exactly what I needed to just put the boyfriend drama out of my mind for a moment.
Around 3AM we were all pretty drunk, the pumpkins were carved and it was time to sleep. All of us were used to crashing together at this particular friend's apartment, a tradition that had started back in college. Dan and I had hooked up during a couple of these group sleepovers. Even though my relationship was in a gray zone, I didn't expect or want anything to happen with Dan that night.
Everyone took their usual sleeping arrangements, which left Dan and I with the futon. No big deal -- we had shared a bed or couch together without either of us making a move. And if one of us did make a move, but the other wasn't up for it, a simple, "no," meant we would just pass out and carry on as usual in the morning.
This night was different. While everyone else settled into sleep, Dan swayed through the apartment singing Doo-Wop songs at the top his lungs. The IPAs had really done their work. He leaned heavily along the wall in the hallway as he finally made his way toward the futon. I was already drifting off to sleep when he crashed down next to me.
"Hey," he said. And just like that his hands were on me.
I laughed at first and said, "No, not tonight." He laughed with me, but his hands still forcefully roamed my body, making their way to my jeans, which I had kept on.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Not tonight! I have a boyfriend!" He ignored me and kept going; while one hand undid my fly, the other pressed heavily against my chest. I was breathless and speechless. It was the dramatic scene I had read and heard about so many times, when "no" wasn't enough to make it stop. But the situation felt so blurry, my aggressor not only being a friend whom I trusted, but someone I had been intimate with before.
I was in a daze, but finally snapped out of it when I felt him attempt to push himself inside of me without removing my underwear. The pain was unique and searing. My shouts finally cut through and he rolled off of me. I hurriedly pulled up and buttoned my jeans. He didn't say anything just stretched out next to me, his head on the pillow. His eyes closed almost immediately. I felt frenzied and panicked. I didn't know what to do or where to go. While he breathed heavily in deep sleep I lay there next to him, crying silently, until the sun came up.
When he finally stirred I turned to look at him nervously. Would he acknowledge the night before? Would he be angry? Would he be sorry? He looked at me, threw an arm over my stomach, and drifted again.
I remained wide awake, while he reflexively clutched my side in his sleep. He woke up an hour later and called over our friend's dog. She jumped onto the futon and curled up between us. "Good morning," he said to me sweetly. He seemed totally unaware of what had happened the night before.
"Did you have fun last night?" I said.
He replied, "From what I can remember."
When our other friends woke up I asked them if they had heard anything strange the night before. They heard Dan's singing and later me shouting, but in their drunken, sleepy haze they didn't think anything of it. They thought we were "just fooling around." Before he left that morning, Dan gave me a big hug and planted a kiss on my cheek and told me to text him later. It was a perfectly normal moment for the two of us, but not for whoever he had been the night before. The person he didn't seem to remember being.
The trauma from the incident set in slowly. My boyfriend and I decided to end our break, but the relationship was as tumultuous as ever. Still, he noticed a change in me. He said I seemed fragile. I was showering alone at his apartment when all of the pain of that night flooded into me. I recalled the physicality of it and it was as if I could feel that large hand pressing down on my chest again, ignoring my pleas. When my boyfriend came to check on me I was sitting on the floor of the shower, sobbing intensely under the steaming water.
I told him everything about that night and my boyfriend morphed into the protector I'd always wanted. He was angry. He expressed his hate toward Dan. He asked me what he could do for me. He doted on me. He was affectionate and caring. Over the next few weeks he stepped up in a way I had begun to think he never would. Having the support helped me to confront the reality of what had happened. I decided I needed to speak to Dan about his actions that night, whether or not he remembered them.
We met at our usual bar about a couple of months after the pumpkin carving party. He chatted with me in his usual excited way, a smile lighting up his face every time he referenced one of our inside jokes or ordered us another round.
Finally, I brought up that night. I asked him if he remembered what happened. His mood turned somber as he realized I was serious. When I told him what happened he was immediately apologetic. He stuttered through his repeated apologies, and asked questions about what exactly he did. He didn't once question the veracity of what I shared, but took full responsibility for it though he seemed deeply embarrassed and surprised. His tone and his tears felt genuine.
Through that conversation, and a handful of other talks after, I began to forgive my friend for that night. It was, and continues to be, a difficult process. I slowly regained some of the safety and comfort I had felt around him before the incident, though I don't think I will ever be as close with him as I was before. We began to hang out again on a regular basis, and I stopped avoiding group gatherings where I knew he would be.
This infuriated my boyfriend. He told me that my forgiving Dan was a slap in the face to him. It meant I never loved him. It meant I never loved myself. It meant I never could have really felt as traumatized by Dan's actions as I had seemed to be--it must have been a ploy to keep my boyfriend around as our relationship was disintegrating.
I began to question my decision to move forward and plummeted back into the darkness I felt right after the incident. I considered that maybe I was able to forgive my friend because what he did was partially my fault. I wondered if I had blown the whole ordeal out of proportion hoping my boyfriend would come to the rescue. He mentioned that his friends were on his side. They agreed that if I was able to forgive Dan, then I was either "asking for it" or exaggerating what it was like.
The fact that he had told his friends about one of the most personal and significant things that has ever happened to me nauseates me to this day. I felt like an isolated shell of myself wearing something worse than a scarlet letter.
I don't know where I found the strength to finally see how despicable it was for my boyfriend to use the fact of my sexual assault as a weapon against me. But that was the truth of it. His overwhelming selfishness and myopic nature drove him to conclude that what I suffered through revolved around him and that how I would go on to heal from it should revolve around him, too.
It was the final straw for our relationship. More than anything that had happened with Dan, I regretted that I had given so much of my time and attention to a man who valued me so little as a person. His opinion of my choice and his aggressive ways of using it against me made it easy to walk away and never look back.
*Names have been changed.