April 13, 2004 Columbia, Missouri
The cool early spring air washed over Katie’s sweat drenched skin. The smooth beat of Poe’s Haunted played on repeat on her MP3 player. Her mind was not blank, but more unconsciously aware of her destination. She knew where she was going, but if someone asked she wouldn’t be able to tell them.
It was still dark outside. She was alone. If her mom knew she was running alone on a college campus at two in the morning, she would surely have a heart attack. But her mom wasn’t here.
She would never know unless Katie decided to tell her, which she most definitely would not.
She could hear the admonishments her mother would give her. They played themselves in her head: it’s dangerous. Someone could have attacked you. You need to take care of yourself. Not everyone out there is good. Katie knew that. She knew that before tonight; knew that strangers were not always trustworthy, especially at this time of night. But tonight she had learned that even those she thought she could trust, the ones who cared for her, could be bad too.
Katie sprinted past the Quad and the iconic columns. The Quad was one of her favorite places on campus and she could often be found there when the day was nice, finding a quiet, unoccupied spot to study. But tonight she had no desire to visit the columns.
The columns represented security and strength, neither of which she was feeling at the moment.
Katie finally reached the spot she longed to be. It was her spot. Sure, she knew that other people must have known about the bench underneath the tall Oak tree. On a campus this size it was impossible that not one of the twenty-five thousand plus students hadn’t found it. Still, for now, it was her spot.
Katie plopped onto the bench, her breathing hard and uneven. She was not used to running. She was more of a swimmer. But tonight a swimming pool, even if it had been open, was not what she needed. She needed to run; to run away—at least for a bit. She needed to process what had just happened. Make sense out of the jumbled mess in her head.
The experience seemed unreal. This couldn’t have happened to her, could it? She swore that she’d never let it happen; that she would fight, claw, scream, anything. But that’s not what happened. Instead she had lain there, confused and silent. She was a smart young woman, she knew that. She should have picked up on what was happening, understood what he was doing to her, but her exhausted brain refused to acknowledge that he, her boyfriend, would violate her in such a way. By the time she realized what was happening, it was too late. The soft, strangled “No” that escaped her lips either went unheard, or, more likely, ignored.
At least that was how she interpreted it at the time. But now, sitting alone under the trees, she wondered, had this really happened or was her overactive imagination making things up; tricking her?
“No,” she said vehemently. This was not something someone made up. Not something she would make up. It had happened—of that there was no question.
Should she tell someone? Logically the answer was yes, but she doubted anyone would believe her. There were no marks—at least not physically. Emotionally she was torn deep down to her core, bleeding inwardly. She could hear the arguments his defense would make. She had let him come over. They would comment on her attire: a pair of boxer shorts and t-shirt. They would argue, in this chilly weather, that the clothing was intended to be sexy, inviting. But that wasn’t the case. She had changed into the comfy clothes then began writing her article for the student newspaper.
That was hours before he’d come over. Yes, she could have changed, could have put on jeans or something less revealing, but she’d been too wrapped up in her story to consider it.
What she was wearing should be beside the point. The fact that she let him come over to watch a movie did not mean she was obligated to give him more. In a perfect world, those facts would be immaterial, but this was not a perfect world, and they would be a factor.
Katie sat on the bench for a while longer, arguing inside her head; trying to figure out whether she should tell. Eventually she made her decision, as painful as it was. Resolved, she turned and began a slow march back to her dorm room.
When she arrived she found that her boyfriend was still in her bed, his average body sprawled across the extra-long twin bed.
Her heart dropped a bit. She’d hoped that he would have just left, that he would notice her absence and just go. She thought about waking him up and kicking him out but decided against it. What was the point? He’d already taken everything he could from her. Katie whimpered quietly, ashamed of herself. She pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a loose-fitting t-shirt then climbed into bed, where she silently cried herself to sleep.