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I am One

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This is a short story about two high school best friends and sexual assault.

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My Life, My Story.

It’s amazing how social media has the ability to connect people from all over the world. Old friends, former classmates, and long-distance family members coming together after years of separation and rekindling relationships that would otherwise not exist. With a simple search of a first and last name and an invitation, you have the ability to bring the past straight to your front door. In my case, my past is there for a reason and I never sought out old high school friends or former coworkers when I first joined Facebook. In fact, I didn’t even create an account right away. Maybe I didn’t understand the concept at the time or maybe I just didn’t care. Either way, when I did eventually open a Facebook account, I kept it pretty simple. If people found me and invited me into their worlds, most times I accepted. There were a few invitations I declined because I didn’t want certain individuals in my space - there was no place for them in it. Over the years, I have cleaned up my account, unfollowed several people for various reasons (even blocked a few), and now it’s a little more than a handful of friends and family that I watch grow, celebrate happy times, mourn losses, and share their special moments through pictures and captions. I’ve watched babies grow into young adults and the adults age with grace, humor, a few more wrinkles, and touches of grey. I’ve mourned with those who have lost loved ones and I’ve celebrated their happy times, holidays, and accomplishments with them, albeit from a distance. I have also shared my life on social media; my children and their milestones, birthdays, vacations, special occasions, and even the loss of a loved one or two. Along with Facebook I also jumped on the Twitter, Instagram, YouTube bandwagons, but have recently settled comfortably into the simplicity of my Instagram account. It’s essentially my online photo album and since I cannot have all of my actual photo albums at an arm’s reach like I once did, Instagram is the next best thing.

The funny thing about social media and the Internet is how easy it is to actually find someone. You don’t need more than a name and a state and soon enough you’re down the Internet/social media rabbit hole. Eventually you will see at least a glimpse into the life of who you are searching for. You’d be amazed at how much you can find out about a person without even friending or following them on social media including close relatives or associates, places of employment, current and previous addresses and phone numbers, political affiliations - the list is endless. Public records, especially in Florida, are wide open for anyone to search. I’ve searched Google for myself to see what pops up and immediately I see my Facebook page, Instagram account, connections to my place of employment, and I can access a million sites that claim to be a ‘white pages’ type search engine that will provide me with random but solid information. I happen to have a few different last names, but it doesn’t matter how you search: you will find my age, close relatives, the city I live in, a map to my house, previous addresses and phone numbers, and because I share the same name as my mother, her obituary is in the top five Google results (without even putting Florida in the search bar). So, when a handful of years ago (or so) I received a message through Facebook Messenger from an old high school friend, it was strange that she said she had a hard time finding me. At that time, we would have actually had a few high school friends in common. I really didn’t think much of it, but my husband was the one who said that was an odd comment given all of what we know about Facebook and the Internet. Moving on... I was pleasantly surprised to hear from her, but after nearly 30 years and remembering our very last time together, where do you even begin catching up?

You see, this wasn’t just any friend. This was my very best friend in high school, a friend I met on my first day of my freshman year of the very prestigious Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school in Garden City, NY. That was the beginning of a friendship that would last through high school and beyond for a short time, until distance, a physical altercation, and maybe something more ominous separated us for good.

For the sake of this story, I will call my best friend Mary. You will understand why in a bit. Mary and I were seated behind one another in most of our classes because in those days, we were seated alphabetically. We were always in the first row and directly behind one another. It was just fate that we hit it off. It was easy to make friends with the girls sitting behind you, in front of you, and directly to your right or left because those seating arrangements followed us from class to class. Many of my closest high school friends’ last names began with the letters A through F. Cheating was easy too...a little slide to the left or right and we could help one another if needed. Mary was beautiful, funny, and many times the center of attention. She had the blackest hair I had ever seen and it was fiercely wild. Mary had high cheekbones, a pointy nose, a high forehead always covered by bangs, and a pretty smile. She was engaging and we became fast friends. Looking back at those years, I remember feeling never ‘good enough’ to be her friend. I always felt she was the pretty one and I wasn’t even a diamond in the rough. I was just the pretty girl’s best friend. Mary never made me feel ‘less than’ and I’m sure that by the time we met, my insecurities, low self-esteem, and lack of self-worth were already set in motion. This would not be the only relationship in which I felt like I was living in someone else’s shadow, but this is the one where I feel that a real pattern emerged. That is, until my husband came along. He never let me feel second to anyone. To him, I’ve always been the brightest, shiniest, most beautiful, rare, one of a kind ‘diamond’ he has ever known. Back to the story - Mary knew makeup, Mary knew fashion, Mary was confident, Mary was a leader, and I cannot remember ever having a fight or disagreement with her. She was part sister, part friend. It was the 80′s, we had big hair, black eyeliner, tight jeans tucked into our scrunched down socks, sweatshirts off the shoulder, leg warmers, and sometimes a little belly showing. The boys gave Mary a lot of their attention and she loved every bit of it. She was flirty and she was good at it, but Mary was a good girl and it was all in good fun. I have many fond memories of our years together. I practically lived at her house through high school, loved her family more than mine (didn’t we all have a friend like that), and the option for me to stay with her family when mine was moving to Florida was on the table. In the end, I opted not to do that because, in fact, I did love my family and the thought of being away from them for that long was too difficult to bear. Or was there more to me not wanting to stay there?

Mary and I did everything girlfriends do: studied, talked about boys, danced, experimented with hair and makeup, hung out on the street corners where I started smoking (Parliaments, for those of you who would remember the brand), listened to music, went to the movies, got fake ID’s to get into the 18 and over clubs, and so much more. We were listening to Madonna, Kool and the Gang, Expose, Shannon, and Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam among many others. We spent a lot of time at her house and a lot of time in her kitchen talking with her mom. Her parents were called by their first names and were the coolest parents around. The first time I got drunk and passed out was at a party at Mary’s house. Her parents also let the kids drink, which was pretty cool when I was 17. That particular night my mother must have known something was up because she refused to let me spend the night and sent my brother to pick me up. I literally threw up out of the car window the entire way home. That’s a story my brother has brought up many times over the years.

Back to Mary’s house - Sundays were a day for cooking, eating, and family time. I had not really experienced that cultural tradition before and I loved being a part of it. Her grandparents lived in her house and everything was homemade, authentic, and delicious. There was always enough food to feed an army. Thinking back about those days, there were always so many people coming and going at Mary’s house and everyone was welcomed with open arms. There was one particular kid I remember being around quite often, but he was not a family member. He may have been a friend of a younger sibling, but he hung out with the older kids so I’m not sure. I mention this because he comes back up in this story a little later on. I remember I had a crush on Mary’s older brother for a while, but don’t remember talking to her about it and nothing ever came of it. I am positive some of my friends ended up with crushes on my brother too. Mary and I went to clubs, movies, the flea market, school dances and our high school’s ring night together. She came on vacation with my family and I went on a weekend trip with hers. There was nothing we didn’t share.

When we were 16, Mary came on a family vacation with us to Florida. It was a great time! We visited with family, went to the beach, hung out on Fort Lauderdale’s strip, and baked in the sun covered in baby oil by the poolside. We both got pretty sunburned and my mom thought Mary had sun poisoning, which was pretty scary. My mom took care of both of us and even called Mary’s mom to let her know what was happening. Mary was in such pain I thought her mom would want her home as soon as possible, but she let her stay with us. After a couple of days, we were both feeling better. While we were in Florida I got my driving permit, not to be confused with a drivers license. That may have been because we could not literally spend another minute in the sun or just preparing me for our move to Florida later that year. Overall, it was a great time with a great friend and I have lots of pictures to prove it.

When we got back home, the fact that my Florida permit only allowed me to drive with an 18-year-old licensed driver did not stop Mary and I from taking her parent’s van to the mall - without permission and without the already mentioned mandatory 18-year-old licensed driver. I will never forget how scared I was, not just how mad her dad would be if he found out, but I really did not know how to drive. Mary was much more carefree about breaking all of the rules (and driving laws) on this particular day. All I could think about was all that could go wrong and how it would be my fault. And on top of that, all of the windows of the van were covered (I think with curtains) so I couldn’t see anything behind us or in any blind spot. That could be why I still have to turn in all directions multiple times before changing lanes all of these years later. Like I said, I have told that story many times over the years and had a few good laughs, but actually writing about it makes it a bit more cemented in my history; a history that Mary was a big part of. With all of the worry I remember feeling as we backed out of the driveway and all the anxiety I felt driving to Roosevelt Field, it’s ironic that I can’t remember how the day ended. Obviously, we survived my driving and we didn’t get caught because between Mary’s dad and mine, I’m not sure I would be here to tell the story.

Another memorable night with Mary was when we went food shopping for her mom. I remember feeling like that was an impossible task considering all of the people in her household, but we went and she was a champ. My mother would never have sent me or my siblings grocery shopping so this was quite an adventure for me. During this trip however, Mary stuck a few makeup items in her purse while we wandered up and down the aisles. I remember not really caring about the stealing of an eyeliner or lipstick and didn’t give it any thought because she was so calm and confident. That was until, after checking out at the register, a security guard (or police officer – I can’t recall) stopped us and asked us to walk with him to an office at the front of the store. We were caught and we were both guilty, it didn’t matter who stole what. When the officer asked us our names and ages and said he was going to call our parents, we were beyond freaking out - begging and pleading for him not to. Again, between her father and my retired-cop father, our asses were in deep trouble. The fact that I was turning 17 within a week or so (Mary was just 16) allowed me to acknowledge the complaint and basically take Mary into my custody. I think we were trespassed from the store and I think the officer really gave two near-hysterical girls a break, but going grocery shopping wasn’t a regular thing anyhow. This story has also been repeated many times through the years and my feeling of relief at not having a juvenile record has never waned. Again, our parents never found out.

In July of 1986 I went on a ‘camping’ trip with Mary’s family to Shawnee, Pennsylvania. Mary’s parents allowed each of the children to pick a friend to go with. I was 17 and this would be our last summer together because my family was moving to Florida the following month. I wouldn’t have known the exact place or date of this trip, but it is written on the back of a photo I have from the day we arrived home. Also, on the back of the photo, in my handwriting, are the names of everyone pictured in the photo. For many, that way of cataloging people, dates, and places is a trip down memory lane. For me, it is a stark reminder of a memory I had repressed a long time ago.

That repressed memory came to light after two things happened: (1) Mary messaged me on Facebook and (2) shortly thereafter I came across that photo taken on her doorstep the day we returned from the camping trip. While purging my attic, I found a lot of photos from those carefree high school days and sent them to friends who could enjoy a walk down memory lane.....

At first, the memories came in waves. Flashes of faces. A jolt of fear. My stomach turned. I was laying on a floor. I was scared and nothing was making sense. These quick flashes of a living nightmare didn’t seem real, but I knew they were. I saw his face. I saw him laughing. I saw both of them laughing. I saw me lying there, drunk, passed out and incapable of stopping it. There must have been a moment or two of clarity during my blackout because I saw me being sexually assaulted by my best friend’s brother and the younger boy I mentioned earlier. I see both of their faces, but the younger boy’s relationship to the family is escaping me. He was younger than us by a couple of years, he spent a lot of time with the older kids at Mary’s house, and he was with us on that family trip to Pennsylvania. He could have been a friend of a younger sibling or he could have been a troubled youth Mary’s family took in. These small flashes eventually came to life as a full-blown memory and made me anxious and sick. My head was spinning and I was unable to stop the memories, feelings, and horrors that were engulfing me. This assault was replaying over and over again in my head and I could not turn it off. I was so ashamed and confused by what I was experiencing that I couldn’t even tell my husband to his face. I wrote it all down for him in a letter and we never spoke about it again - at my request. And I never said another word about it – not to anyone. I felt shame, I felt embarrassed, I felt angry, I felt humiliated. What else do I remember about that weekend beside being sexually assaulted? We were drinking heavily on the night of the assault, the next morning while taking a shower (hungover and having no recollection of the night before) Mary’s brother came into the bathroom while I was showering and took my clothes as a prank (or so I thought), and taking that photo on the doorstep of Mary’s house when we returned from the trip. That’s it. But that was already too much for me to handle.

I put the picture away and for five or so years just tried not to think about it. That didn’t stop me from remembering and I certainly was not healing. Every single time Mary popped up on social media, she was a trigger for a flashback. I even unfollowed and muted her for a while to see if that would work, but it didn’t. The nightmare would rear its ugly head and I would wonder how I could go about facing what happened and actually heal from all the pain it brought me. I thought about writing this story many times. I would start it and not be able to continue, I wrote in great detail and then less detail, I wondered if people would believe me or not, and I struggled with naming my friend and her brother or would that be going too far. Well, that’s ironic, isn’t it? Questioning my going too far when I was the victim of sexual assault. And I was the one carrying the weight of this incident that happened so long ago. The final straw came when the subject of sexual assault came up in one of my sociology classes. I was reading about victim blaming, how 1 in 3 women (worldwide) will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, how 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported, and how the majority of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. I knew it was time to tell my story.

Back to my best friend……

I remember so clearly lying in her bed together, talking about the future, how much we were going to miss each other, and listening to You’ve Got a Friend. For years that song brought back those moments instantly. My family moved to Florida in August of 1986 and life as I knew it went on. Everything about that year was hard though: adjusting to a new home and a new school, and making new friends was tough at 17. I visited Mary’s family during my first Christmas break and she visited me during that first spring break. At the time, I was in what I would call my first serious relationship, one that would go on for about 4 years. While Mary was visiting, we hung out with my boyfriend and new friends a lot. I saw nothing wrong with it, but apparently, she did. One night before we were supposed to go out, she started an argument and I thought she was just insecure and jealous of my new relationship and friends. One wrong word and one instigative push led to an all-out girl fight. The next day she flew home early and we never spoke again.

Until that Facebook message 30 years later…. One message that led to a picture, a picture that led to a memory, a memory that led to a single night that changed my life forever, a single night that led to the truth, a truth that led to my journey of healing.

For many years I felt that I was a victim of ‘something’ but I could not put my finger on what it was, who may have been involved, or why I felt I had been violated. These feelings gnawed at me for years. My husband is the only one I talked with about any of these feelings and he has always been a source of emotional and mental strength to get me through the rough patches. Years ago, I went to rape counseling because although I didn’t ‘know’ what happened, deep down somewhere in my subconscious, I did know. I have battled depression, I live with anxiety, and many years ago I contemplated suicide. I basically mirror the definition of a sex assault survivor with post-traumatic stress disorder type behaviors.

Lately I’ve wondered if my best friend was aware of what happened that fateful night so long ago, but I guess I’ll never know. What I do know is that two rapists got away with a crime for over 35 years and they will never be punished for what they did. What kind of men or monsters did they become? Because they got away with it once, could there be other victims? Do they have daughters? Does what they did to me ever cross their minds, and how would they feel if their daughters were victims at the hands of cowardly monsters like them? Are they married? What would their wives think if they heard this story and know that the men they married are men who assaulted an incapacitated, drunk 17 year old girl? Thanks to the Internet and social media, I already know the answers to some of these questions.

I don’t really care about any of that, but I hope they are both looked at just a little bit differently for the rest of their lives after people read about what they did. They are rapists and they altered the course of my life in many ways. This is now another story cemented in my history linked back to my high school best friend - brought straight to the forefront of my life through a simple social media message and a long-forgotten photo. I guess the past does have a way of catching up to us.

For reference:

Consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.

One in five women in the United States experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime. I am one.

Being drunk is not a free pass. If you are drunk and you perform a sexual act on another drunk person, you are accountable for your behavior. The person initiating the sexual act is responsible for getting consent.

Victim Blaming is not okay. No rapist rapes by accident. The rapist has time to make a choice and with the wrong choice, victims suffer for a lifetime. Start writing here…

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