I must be stupid. I keep thinking that, any day now, the reasons women don’t report sexual assault will cease to be the hot topic du jour and I’ll be freed of the sense of responsibility to provide yet another gruesome illustrative personal example.
Remember that whole “most fucked up things that happened between the time I grew boobs and turned 22” scale? As ghastly as the events in the prior two posts were, part one clocked in at a mere four (I might put it at a six now that I’ve thought more about it) and part two clocked in at an eight. I must have been subconsciously saving the incident that topped the chart for the occasion of Brett Kavanaugh’s elevation to the post of Most Eminent Rapist in the Judicial Branch. It’s kind of a fitting analogy, given that it happened a long time ago, everyone was drunk, and no one anyone would listen to remembers any of it.
Tijuana — that wonderland of donkey shows and all-you-can-drink nights packed with underage revelers, that bastion of free-market capitalism (at least when it comes to sexual exploitation and OTC opiates) — was a mere thirty miles from my parents’ house. Like all teenagers who grew up anywhere near an arbitrary dividing line between draconian drinking-age laws and total freedom, I crossed that border semi-regularly to patronize various party palaces and drink the night away to the tune of “Boom Boom Boom” by the Outthere Brothers with thousands of other teenagers and the Marines who made the trip down from Camp Pendleton to prey upon the female ones.
For my readers who may not have experienced TJ in the 90s (or been to Thailand or whatever), I ought to set the scene. On the average night, the clubs on Avenida Revolución and the avenue itself were slathered in piss, puke, and stumbling, blacked-out children who — if they weren’t already oblivious to the very real dangers that surrounded them due to sheltered upbringings in the upper-middle-class suburbs of San Diego — had been rendered so by a deluge of Dos Equis and off-brand tequila, the latter often having been delivered in the form of a “popper.”
(Poppers aren’t available just anywhere; they’d be classified as assault in places where people don’t know how to party. A popper can take many forms, but it usually begins with someone surreptitiously handing $5 to a man with a tequila bottle and a whistle and pointing out a friend/victim, then standing back to watch as the poppero puts the victim in a chokehold, pulls their head back, pours tequila down their throat while tooting his whistle, then does one of two things: if the victim is male, the poppero will shake his head around, then spin him in a circle and let him loose; if the victim is female, he will often pick her up, put her over his shoulder, twirl around a few times, then unceremoniously dump her on the ground. In either case, the victim will usually be dizzy enough to fall ass-first into a puddle of beer and vomit before rejoining their friends. I told you, it’s a real party.)
As fun as this all sounds, it isn’t that much wilder than, say, a Georgetown Prep house party or a frat party at — I don’t know — maybe Yale? However, there was a special service available to the young male patrons of TJ night clubs: almost any bartender in town, for a small and negotiable fee, would “roof” the drink of his customer’s choice and turn a blind eye to whose hand that drink ended up in. An attendee at a Georgetown Prep house party or a Yale frat soiree who wanted to roof someone usually had to do it himself. Ah, the benefits of overseas travel.
By the time I was nineteen, blasting down the I-805, parking in San Ysidro, walking across the border, taking a taxi to Club A, irritating Border Patrol officers on my way back into the US, and then somehow getting back home was old hat. So, when two acquaintances, Jenn and Shauna, suggested one Wednesday night that we hit up Club A and I couldn’t think of a better idea, I got in the car. We found ourselves sitting in a half-empty club by about 10 PM, besieged almost immediately by a couple of unremarkable bros who insisted on buying us drinks. (Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at the time, but it’s noteworthy that this was the first time I had ever gone to TJ without a boyfriend or male friend.)
I wasn’t Hank Williams, Jr., but I wasn’t exactly a lightweight at nineteen. On countless prior occasions, I had graciously endured multiple poppers on top of several beers and made it home safely with most of the night intact in my memory the next day. Not so this time. I remember drinking exactly two beers, and then — bang — I woke up in a strange room in my underwear to find two nameless dudes looking at me with trepidation.
I had nary a clue where I was, what had happened, or who these motherfuckers were. I couldn’t think straight or talk properly, but I was petrified. My most immediate concern was getting clothed and getting away from these two strangers. I mumbled an inquiry as to where my clothes were and they claimed they didn’t know. I asked them where we were. They told me the name of the town, an exurb of San Diego with a reputation for redneckery, and I realized that I was an hour east of Tijuana and an hour southeast of my house. I asked them how I got there, and they hemmed, hawed, and then told me they had found me drunk somewhere in Tijuana and decided to take care of me. Riiight.
Realizing that I was alone in the company of two dudes who had probably drugged and violated me, I asked meekly for some clothing and access to a bathroom (so that I could check myself for signs of, uh, forced entry) and a phone (so that I could call the people I was with the night before to come and pick me up). What I should have done, according to characters as varied as Lindsey Graham and my own dear aunt, was run outside naked, scream for the police, and submit to an immediate gynecological exam.
I can’t explain why, but that thought just didn’t occur to me. I also didn’t think of grabbing the cordless phone one of them was holding and dialing 911. Another big fuck-up on my part. Instead, when he insisted on dialing the number himself, I gave him Jenn’s phone number. He handed me the phone once she answered, I told her she needed to come and get me, and when I asked him for the address, he demanded I hand the phone back to him so that he could give her directions to a Circle-K rather than the house at which these two knights in shining armor had selflessly stood vigil over me the night prior.
I got into the shower, relieved to be (sort of) alone, and inventoried my injuries before scrubbing myself raw from head to toe. I know, I know, I was destroying evidence. The rohypnol (or whatever it was) hangover must have diminished my detective’s instinct.
When I emerged from the bathroom wearing one of these dudes’ clothing, they drove me to the Circle-K. Jenn showed up a few minutes later, and when I got into her car, the owner of the clothing I had borrowed requested that I return the pants I had on. So I did. And I rode an hour home — and entered my parents’ home (they were, thank god, out at the time) — in nothing but underwear and a plain white t-shirt that homeboy figured he could afford to let go. Cheap date, I was.
On the ride home, Jenn told me she recognized both of the dudes as the bros from the night before who had bought us drinks. I blankly asked why she let them take me with them, and she said I was too fucked up for her and Shauna to carry me. I had apparently tried and failed to crawl through the cigarette butts and bodily fluids in the street to get away from the club. When Jenn and Shauna tried to pick me up and couldn’t, the two dudes appeared, assured them they would take care of me, hoisted me up, and carried me away. Jenn and Shauna went on to have a night of adventure and hilarity, unencumbered by the responsibility of caring for me, the details of which Jenn recounted to me for the rest of the trip home, pausing only to laugh at me for not having any pants on and for being a “lightweight.” I just sat there.
I don’t know, given that this occurred in 1996, if anyone involved recognized what had occurred as something called rape, myself included. I don’t know if these two dudes were experts in pharmacology and knew I would be too out of it for most of the day to even think about trying to remember the route from the house to the Circle-K. I don’t know why they hid my clothes from me and/or disposed of them (and I really don’t want to) but either left my underwear on me or put them back on me. I don’t know if the owner of the pants was concerned that they might contain traces of his DNA or if he just didn’t want to donate his Dickies to some slut he had picked up in TJ (I’m assuming it was the latter since I still had my underwear in my possession).
They were clearly aware that they had done something wrong, though I’m not sure whether that sense derived from the situation as a whole or something in particular that they had done that I didn’t and will mercifully never know about. They must not have been that concerned, or they would have killed me and/or dumped me somewhere. Maybe they were new to the game.
After I got home, I took the shower of the century, deposited the white t-shirt and my underwear in the trash outside, and retreated to my bedroom. Then the narcotic fog began to lift and was replaced by an erratic, broad-spectrum terror.
What had these dudes done to me? Did I have HIV now? Herpes? Syphilis? Why had Jenn and Shauna let them take me? Why had Jenn laughed at me? Would everyone find out? Would people call me a whore? Was I pregnant? Who the fuck were these guys? (All I could say for sure was that one had a shaved head and the other one had shoulder-length hair and that one of them lived in the city of Alpine, CA.) But, the most devastating question that looped through my mind endlessly was, why didn’t anyone care enough to do anything to protect me? (This was the incident that finally convinced me I was on my own on that one. Slow learner.)
Neither parents nor police nor friends nor medical professionals nor my motherfucking diary entered my mind. The shame and fear didn’t leave any room for any of that. My chief concern was finding out as quickly as possible whether my health was in danger and then devising a means to forget that anything had happened at all.
I could walk past either of these assholes on the street today and not know it, but they were strangers and I was drugged the last time I saw them. Had they been high school or college acquaintances, I probably — a supposition based on my prior reaction to similar situations — would never have done anything but warn other girls away from them. I definitely wouldn’t have bothered enduring a fruitless entanglement with obtuse cops before the statute of limitations ran out. Were I to magically remember their names and faces and find out one or both of them were being groomed for positions of weighty authority, I’d like to think I would come forward, despite knowing it would result in fuck-all but misery for me and a hiccup for them.
Just for laughs, I’ll speculate on how an investigation of this event at this late date would play out (for starters, it wouldn’t, because the statute of limitations passed twelve years ago). I could provide investigators with the year and season it occurred in, the details above that I remember, the name of the town in which it occurred, the layout of the room I woke up in, and the names of people I had told about it prior to coming forward (I started telling people about it about six years after it happened, when the memory of it would erupt out of nowhere and shake my sense of self and self-worth to the ground). I could pass a polygraph administered by the king of the CIA. This sounds kind of familiar.
Jenn and Shauna, on being interviewed, might remember what had happened, but maybe not. It was 22 years ago and it didn’t happen to them. If Jenn remembered it at all, it would probably be due to her having driven me home with no pants on. Though sexual abuse — especially of intoxicated and/or incapacitated women — was as normalized as listening to Sublime at that time, she would surely recognize when thinking about it now that something untoward had occurred. But she wasn’t in the room. This also sounds familiar.
It would just be another case that highlights the unique failure of the juridical philosophy of the presumption of innocence when it comes to rape. Just another instance of a misogynistic society — when presented with the choice between recognizing a woman’s humanity rather than giving a man the wealth of benefits that comes with the slightest of doubts — shrugging its collective shoulders.
Fuck it, right?
(Nah. I’ve gotta write a post in the immediate future that includes a detailed analysis of the US legal/political system and offers some kind of inchoate roadmap to remedying this situation — at least in part — and then convince everyone to get on board and effectuate it. I also have to see someone about these delusions of omnipotence.)
That’ll be the end of this series.