1993 was a more innocent age. We didn’t have cell phones, Internet or social media. We called each other via landlines. We left messages on answering machines. We rarely took photos unless we had brought along our Instamatic. When we had sex, there was gossip, but it was just words. Words could be denied. There wasn’t any evidence. Sex –- even casual sex –- was still a relatively secret affair.
Or so I thought.
Dave and I met at a party in our dorm half-way into our freshman year of college. He lived three floors up from mine. He wasn’t even that good-looking. He was medium height, medium build. Brown eyes, prominent cheekbones and fuzzy, wooly hair. I’m not even sure why I liked him at first. We had nothing in common. He didn’t read books; we didn’t like the same music. I was a geeky Goth. He was a rich kid from Beverly Hills.
I had never met anyone from Beverly Hills before. I had gone to high school in a small city about 45 minutes from L.A. Dave drove a new BMW. I drove an old Volkswagon Bug. He told me that he had celebrated his 17th birthday in a sushi restaurant. I had never even tried sushi. To me, he seemed so sophisticated, if sophistication was measured by the number of trips to Europe one had under their belt (he had three, I had none), the zip code you had grown up in (in his case, 90210), and how much money your parents had in their bank account. I remember Dave asking me what kind of stereo I owned. He owned a Kenwood. I admitted that I didn’t have a stereo. He asked me what kind of stereo my parents had. I lied and said they had a Sony, a brand I had seen in some of the kids’ rooms. My parents didn’t own a stereo. A stereo? My parents didn’t listen to music.
After our first meeting at the dorm party, Dave and I saw each other almost every day for a few weeks. There was kissing and heavy petting. Remember, this was 1993. Today’s casual-sex hook-up culture had yet to evolve. Things didn’t build emotionally for me until one day, out of the blue, Dave stopped calling me every day. Suddenly his frequent phone calls dovetailed to just one a week. In turn, I began to obsess about him. Why didn’t he like me anymore? What had I done to drive him away? The fact was Dave had probably come to grips with the reality that we had little in common.
Not liking to have my ego hurt, though, I denied it was over between us. I began to patiently wait for Dave’s once-a-week phone call. If I didn’t sprint up the stairs to his dorm room afterward, it was only because I was trying to hold onto whatever self-respect I had left. Instead of running, I walked, trying to play at nonchalance, but I wasn’t kidding anyone. Dave knew where he had me: in the palm of his hand. It was soon after his interest in me first faded that we first had sex.
After about two months of meeting up for weekly sex, Dave stopped calling me altogether. I was hurt at first, but it didn’t take long for me to come to my senses. Of course we didn’t have anything in common. It was only a matter of time until it ended.
A year later, I ran into one of Dave’s friends, Ben, at a bar. By that time I was long gone from the dorm, had an apartment off campus and a new set of friends. As Ben and I threw back Jäger shots, he said, “Did you know that Dave shot a video of you and him having sex?” He said this as if he were asking me to pass the peanuts.
I didn’t know if I had heard him correctly. It was loud in the bar and I was a little drunk. The prospect of having been videotaped while having sex with anyone was mortifying, let alone with a guy who had ultimately dumped me. And without my knowledge, without my permission? A hundred different thoughts flew through my head. I hated the way my body looked. Had a bunch of people seen me naked in the throes of passion? I thought about all the embarrassing positions into which I had contorted my body. Above all, I was humiliated that Dave had betrayed my trust.
My mind continued to race. Who had seen the tape? Ben? All the guys on Dave’s floor? The girls too? Did Dave still have the video? Was he showing it around in the frat I'd heard he'd joined?
And when exactly had the filming taken place? I vaguely remembered one night going up to Dave’s room to find him standing in the hallway with his buddies, all of them watching me intently before we went into his room, closing the door behind us. Was it then? And where had he hidden the camera? In the closet? How come I hadn’t noticed the red “on” light through the crack in the door? Was it my fault for letting this happen to me? How could I have been so stupid?
I pretended that I hadn’t heard what Ben had said. I certainly didn’t want him to know he had gotten under my skin. He repeated the statement, so I had no choice but to respond. “Really?” I shrugged, acting like it was no big deal. I held my poker face until Ben went back to his friends. Maybe they had seen the video too.
I wondered why Ben had felt the need to tell me. To protect me somehow? I doubted it. Maybe he just wanted to see if I would crumble in the face of the news. I couldn’t stay at the bar any longer. I left to go home.
The whole thing was so upsetting, the only thing I could do was pretend it hadn’t happened. What was I supposed to do anyway? I had no idea what Dave's phone number was anymore, and I never saw him on campus. Besides, confronting him meant admitting that I knew what he had done, and the whole concept was just too embarrassing. He had dumped me. I imagined him denying the whole thing anyway. Afterward he’d go back to his frat and there’d be high-fives around.
I decided not to tell a soul about the video –- not a single friend. I consoled myself that at least I didn’t hang out with that group of people anymore. I filed the incident under “humiliating mistakes of my freshman year,” alongside the time I got so drunk the RA of our floor had to drag me unconscious back to my room, or when I survived exam week with a huge stress zit on the tip of my nose.
I didn’t think about the incident until 15 years later, when I met up with a friend, also from college, named Sheila. In conversation, Sheila asked if I remembered a guy named Jake from my dorm. Sheila’s friend had gotten married to him.
I recalled him. Sheila said he remembered me too. “He said you were a total party girl. Don’t get mad, but he said you got around.”
What the hell? Of course I was mad. The one other guy I'd had sex with that year, I had dated for three months.
So I was being slut-shamed not only by Jake, a guy, but by Sheila too, 15 years later. Again I was mortified. Why hadn’t Sheila stood up for me? I forgave her, but I was still furious -– so furious that when she invited me to her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, I reluctantly went. And of course Jake was there.
When he approached me, I could hardly speak to him. My shoulders trembled with rage. I just kept imaging him watching a video that had been shot without my knowledge.
But I didn’t want to get into it with Jake at the party. I kept my mouth shut. Then my mouth dropped open. Jake had just said, “I’d like to introduce you to my daughters.”
I followed him to where two pretty preteen girls were standing. They didn’t look much younger than me at 18. They looked like good students, like I had been, a little shy and a little awkward. I gave each girl a terse hello. What could I say to them? I’m sorry that your dad’s a chauvinist. I’m sorry that your dad slut-shames women for having sex. I’m sorry that your dad was friends with a guy who betrayed my trust and videotaped me while we were doing something intimate.
I felt sorry for Jake’s daughters. They would be 18 soon, in college, and perhaps just as naïve. I wouldn’t wish my experience on them for anything. Jake’s daughters didn’t deserve to be treated the way I had.
I continued to keep quiet about the video. But now five years after Sheila’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah –- 20 years after Dave made that video without my knowledge –- I find myself reading what now seems like weekly articles about women who have been slut-shamed, which sometimes leads them to commit suicide.
I’m sick of keeping quiet. Consider me lucky. I can still confront my past. I’m still alive.
I’m still alive because when I was secretly videotaped having sex with a guy I trusted, and the year was 1993. There was no Internet. The video could not be easily uploaded. An email-blast was not just a mouse click away.
If I had been 18 today and the same thing happened, I’m not sure if I would be able to survive the shame.
So, yes, call me lucky. If that’s what you consider luck.