The Night that Changed Everything
By Wendee Holtcamp
(Names have been changed)
Fifteen years after the event, and with the stimulus of marital counseling, it slowly dawned on me -- that night in my youth that I had always blamed on myself had not been my fault. I was fifteen, and I was raped. Claiming this part of my past freed me from the blame that I'd placed squarely on myself for so many years. It was not my fault that one of the first times I'd ever drank alcohol I became so drunk that I passed out. It was not my fault that a boy from my school took full advantage of the situation, and I didn't stop him. I couldn't. It was not my fault that my drunken and asleep body felt sensations that were remembered piecemeal after the fact, sensations that intensely compounded the guilt I placed on myself. This is my story. Research on date rape indicates untold numbers of women have had similar experiences that remain as memories silently ignored in their hearts and souls. The body knows. It is my hope that others may find strength from my story, and help prevent the same from happening to other young women.
I was in tenth grade and had just moved to
. A few seats in front of me, I noticed a guy whose blonde hair hung to his shoulders. He sat low in his seat, shoulders hunched. When he turned around, something about his green eyes intrigued me. Texas
Before long, he passed a note back to me on folded notebook paper. "Are you new here? What's your name?" We exchanged notes back and forth while doing our schoolwork. "Would you like to go out on Friday?" he wrote right before class was letting out.
My first boyfriend - who I dated over the first summer I lived in
-- had broken up with me a few months before, leaving my young heart broken, the way first loves do. Although at fifteen, I hadn't been on any other dates with guys that weren't just friends before, I decided I'd go - but only if my friend could come along. Texas
Peter picked me up at seven. My friend Tessa and I piled into his beat-up pickup truck. We made small talk, and Peter asked what I wanted to drink as he drove towards the liquor store. It was exciting to be out with someone who looked old enough to buy alcohol -- even if he did use a fake ID. Peter wanted to get some beer, but I didn't like the taste of beer or practically anything else alcoholic, so Tessa and I decided on a sweet liqueur -- peach schnapps.
As we drove around, I sipped on the sweet and bitter nectar. It's power caught me by surprise. The world became fuzzy, and at first, the kaleidoscope feelings were fun.
We drove to a back alley where lots of kids from school hung out. There were crowds of people, and we walked around -- talking, laughing and listening to music someone had cranked up from their car stereo. I continued to drink the schnapps, which I carried inside a brown paper bag.
The world was becoming very blurry. "I'm not feeling so good," I said to Peter and Tessa.
"Look out!" someone called as I bent over and began to heave. Peter guided me to the grass, and I threw up once, twice maybe. I still felt dizzy and sick.
"Are you ok?" he asked. "Do you want to lie down?"
"Mm-hmm," I muttered. "Do you have any gum Tessa?" I wanted to get the taste out of my mouth. She dug through her purse and found me a piece.
We walked back to where Peter's truck was parked, and I lay down in the back of the pickup bed. Voices and people swirled around me. The cool metal felt good on my face.
"Great," I heard Peter remark to Tessa. "What am I going to say to her mother?" They decided to let me sleep it off. I had downed over half of the bottle, and my heavy drunkenness was not lifting.
After some time, someone leaned over the side of the truck and asked, "Can you walk?"
"Uh-uh," I grunted as I lay my head back down. Then I was being lifted, carried and then laid down on something soft. They had laid me inside the cab of the pickup truck. Peter thought I would be safer here.
I slept. I could not shake the fuzz. I could not think straight, and I could not walk. I could only sleep, in fits, with voices and colors blurring around me.
Someone was kissing me. "Peter?" I murmured. No reply. I could barely open my eyes. Someone was putting his hand in my hair, under my shirt, up my skirt. My underwear came off. I felt my body sensations, but it was as if a dream.
Someone knocked hard at the window, and I opened my eyes. Peter's angry face was outside the truck, staring at me in disbelief. "What are you doing?!" he yelled at me. I looked at the person on top of me and it was not Peter, it was another boy in my school. Peter turned away and Chase pulled his pants up, and quickly left. I began to cry.
"What is happening?" I begged Tessa, my eyes red and my clothes in disarray.
"I think you were messing around with Chase. Peter is steaming
"Did I, you know, with him?"
"I think so," Tessa whispered.
Peter drove us back to my home. Still furious, he dumped me on my front lawn where I crumpled in a heap. I was still too intoxicated to walk. Peter screeched out of the driveway, and tiny Tessa, having only had a little to drink and now sober, was stuck trying to figure out how to get me inside my house without waking my parents.
"Your parents are going to wake up," Tessa pleaded. "Please, please just get up and walk." I couldn’t move. I lay crumpled in a heap on the grass.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, I sobered up enough to walk. "I'll help you," she said gently. She took my keys and unlocked the front door. Holding onto Tessa's arm, I put one foot after another. We silently walked through the front door and up to my room where we fell asleep till morning.
In the weeks and months that followed, I slipped into confusion and self-loathing. I imagined that I loved Peter. Then I imagined that I loved Chase. I became more and more disrespectful to my mom and stepdad. Screaming became the normal way we spoke to one another. I felt desperate for someone to recognize my pain, but I refused to tell anyone what had happened. In my youthful naivete, I did not entertain any view but that everything was my fault.
Upstairs in my room at home, my anger turned toward myself. I sobbed uncontrollably and then got angry at myself for being weak. I hated myself. I slapped my face. It stung. Then I punched my legs over and over as I grimaced.
I started drinking. I snuck whiskey from my parents' liquor cabinet, which I mixed with coke in a flask and hid in my school locker. I took swallows in between classes, so I could keep the warm fuzzy feeling I was beginning to grow used to. One day in between classes, I took a safety pin into a bathroom stall and tried to pick enough skin off my wrist to slice open my artery. I was too scared to use a knife. I scraped Peter's name on my inner arm. I scraped up and down my wrist, but did not break through.
The principal called me to her office, and demanded I show her my wrists. A student had told her what I'd done. The principal called my mom and stepdad up to the school. They stared at me, and my mom demanded, "What is this about?!"
"I don't know," I said, looking at the ground.
"Were you trying to kill yourself?"
"Dammit! What do you think you're doing?! This isn't funny."
They made me take a urine test, which turned out negative, but they sent me to a drug counselor anyway. I sat in group therapy with kids who were recovering heroin and cocaine addicts, but I had never touched a drug. I was in the wrong place, and after a few visits, I told my mom I did not belong. She let me stop going, and that was that. I never shared my story, or my pain.
One day after school, I decided I had had enough and felt life had nothing more to offer. I wrote goodbye notes to my parents -- one to my mom, and one to my dad in
. I put on my favorite sad song. The melancholy music comforted me and reinforced my decision. I walked to my bathroom and selected a familiar yellow-and-red labeled bottle of acetaminophen. I took it back to my room, locked the door, and swallowed one handful, then another, chasing it down with water. Then I took a couple more. I unlocked the door, so my mom could get in, later, when I wouldn't awake. Oregon
I rocked myself back and forth, with my arms hugging my knees. I looked around my room at the photos on my dresser. Friends from the past places I'd lived -- I'd moved around every two or three years. My older brother, who was in and out of my life. My daddy whom I adored but only saw in summers. Tears streamed down my face, and I curled up on my bed in fetal position. Soon, I began to get very sleepy. That's when I started feeling scared. "Oh my God, I don't really want to die," I whispered.
I wasn't raised in a particularly religious family. But somehow in the depth of my despair, it came naturally to cry aloud to God. I lay down on my bed, and fell asleep praying.
I awoke the next morning as if nothing had happened. That my survival was a miracle I only discovered years later. The amount of acetaminophen I took should have killed me, or at least caused severe liver damage. I don't know why nothing happened, but today, I'm eternally grateful that nothing did. No one ever knew I had tried to take my life. I never told.
The greater miracle, though, is that something that night utterly and irrevocably changed me. After my awakening, I never again felt the desire to take my life. I had experienced a night of darkness that sent me into a spiral of despair. But at my darkest moment, one that easily could have been my last, I was given a gift -- life. The night that changed everything was not my night of darkness. The night that changed everything was the night I was saved from my own self-destructive tendencies by an invisible hand. Life didn't instantly become prettier, and I didn't instantly reverse course on the ills of my young life. But a tiny seed of faith was planted that night. And it has continued to grow, bit by bit, every day since.