Flickers

Trigger warnings out the wazoo here.

In the summer of 2013, I was one of only three people I knew who still didn’t have a smartphone. I didn’t have extensive knowledge of Manhattan’s subway system, either. My spotty mental map was drawn piecemeal from a decade of occasional weekend visits from New Jersey, and nights out that were only starting to become regular that year. New York’s subways are more likely to defy logic and reasoning than follow it. Trains are habitually rerouted, delayed, skipping stops, or canceled altogether. The exit you took yesterday might be barred today. Trying to navigate it when you’re sober and alert is already a challenge. Trying to do so in my state at three in the morning, after waking up plastered in a stranger’s hotel room, was on a whole other level.

I remember flickers of hastening through streets and avenues, half running, half stumbling, screaming in rage and terror at closed subway entrances.

I don’t remember the ride down to Penn Station at all—for all I knew, I gave up and hailed a cab.

The first Jersey-bound trains of the day don’t run until after five o’clock. I don’t remember waiting for it, or the ride home, or walking through my front door.

I remember getting into my shower and sitting on the floor. The polo shirt and khakis lay discarded on my bathroom floor, never to be worn again. Dully, I wondered why they hadn’t protected me, even though I knew attire had nothing to do with it. I sat on the cold floor, cold water raining down on my head and splashing in my eyes, and realized the night was finally over. I spread my legs and plunged two fingers inside, trying to scrape off the night. What next? I was drained of energy and emotion. I was supposed to cry, right? A few tears leaked out, but they felt forced. The whole thing felt like a charade, like bad acting in a Lifetime movie. Maybe it didn’t really happen, because if it did, I would have felt more.

The following Monday morning, I went to a coworker’s office, someone I viewed as a friend and older brother, with whom I frequently partied in the city. I told him I had a crazy night out on Saturday, passed out, and woke up to the blinding light of a camera phone as someone was having sex with my body. I told him I kicked the phone away instantly, hopefully before the man managed to get a photo. “That’s crazy, dude,” my coworker affirmed, visibly uncomfortable, fixing his gaze on his computer screen and half-smiling nervously. “What if it was a video?” I said I hadn’t thought of that. “Did he use a condom, at least?” I didn’t think so. “Yeah. Well, hope you’re okay. Be careful, dude! Feel better soon.”

Gradually, I stopped getting invited to go out with the guys at work.

~

In early 2017, I walked into a police station for the first time in my life. The interior was old and run-down, all musty yellows and browns, nothing like what you saw in The Departed or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Nobody scurried about with stacks of case documents or demanded to see the chief. No junkies slouched in the waiting chairs. A few officers sat at desks and behind counters in a sectioned-off area, one in a Plexiglas booth. Another stood by himself near the door.

I approached the one manning the entrance. He looked at me expectantly.

“I’d like to report a crime, please,” I said.

“What kind of crime?”

I glanced around the room quickly before replying, trying to see if anyone else was listening. “A… rape,” I said with a lowered voice.

There it was. The first time I’d ever said the word out loud to label that night. I’d talked about it with a few other close friends after the chat with my coworker, but always with euphemisms and circumlocution. Suddenly, my nerves were on the edge of collapse. This time, it didn’t feel like an affectation.

Surprise flashed across his face. He nodded and gestured to a sign-in book on a nearby stand. I approached it and picked up the pen, feeling as if I were at both a tourism site and the doctor’s office. Name, date, time, and nature of the report. Rape. That was my first time writing it in relation to myself, too. I took a seat next to a weary, middle-aged woman, and across from an irritated-looking one. I wondered if they knew what I was here for, what I had just written, what secret I had kept inside for so long.

After an hour of waiting, the police officer at the entrance asked me to walk over to the side with him. He pulled out a notepad. They didn’t handle rape cases at this station; someone would be here shortly to escort me uptown. In the meantime, he was going to ask me some questions. When did the incident occur? he asked gently. I was cool and collected at first. What happened that night? I still remembered too many details too vividly. Who else was with me? Abruptly, I began sobbing, undamming a three-and-a-half-year reservoir I didn’t know was there. Did I get a rape kit done afterward? “No.” Why not? Abruptly, I felt wildly absurd, standing here in this corner of a New York police station, gibbering about a stupid night so long ago. Did I know him? I wasn’t sure this was the right thing to do anymore. What was his name? I didn’t want to make such a big deal out of it. Could I show him a photo on social media? I thought it’d be like a noise complaint, that his name would go on some cautionary list, in case anything more severe ever came up in the future and someone else could use a reference. Has he tried to contact you ever since? You know, I probably led him on accidentally and confused him. I wanted to take this back. This was too much. I wanted to go home. Why are you reporting this now?

“I can’t risk letting this happen to anyone else,” I answered.

When I went uptown, I met a stern, brisk, but not unsympathetic female detective. The questions recommenced.

When did the incident occur?

What happened that night?

Who else was with me?

Did I get a rape kit done afterward?

Why not?

Did I know him?

Could I show him a photo on social media?

Has he tried to contact you ever since?

Why are you reporting this now?

~

I awake with a jolt because there is somebody inside me and I panic. I am completely naked and I do not remember taking off all my clothes but maybe I did or actually more likely I think I may have taken off some things like my socks and jeans but why are my shirt and bra off? Did I do that oh god there is somebody inside me and it is moving in and out and I am terrified he moves in and out with a furious pace breathing hard thrusting hard in and out I do not remember how I got here in and out there is somebody inside me and so much movement in and out. I want to be still in and out. The world is shaking and spinning and I am dizzy in and out. I want to go back to sleep in and out and rest but for some reason I cannot in and out form words because there is too much movement in and out and I am still so drunk in and out I am going to be sick in and out I am going to be sick in and out. Sluggish memories form in and out of bar hopping with a friend and his date and his other friend in and out a hotel bar in and out where curtains closed and reopened on my consciousness in and out and I spilled my drink in and out I knew I was too drunk in and out I tried to leave in and out he suggested going upstairs to rest and that’s why I’m here now in and out. He kisses me wetly and whispers the word “spectacular”—suddenly the movement stops! I silently give thanks that it is over and try to go back to sleep but now there is a bright light. I look up and he is holding what I realize in a lightning strike of lucidity can only be a phone, and he is trying to take a picture. I scream, “No!” and kick his phone and it goes flying and hits the wall. I am not going back to sleep now. I know what is happening. I am awake and I go to the bathroom to pee and splash my face with water. I stare intensely at my reflection in the mirror for a few seconds or minutes, recollecting myself. When I step out of the bathroom, I go straight to my clothes, piled in the corner, and put them back on.

“Hey, I’m not finished yet,” he says, almost imploringly.

“I need to go home,” I say.

“Don’t ruin a good time, come on,” he says.

I look at him with the most clarity I have the entire evening: buggy eyes, dripping sweat, disgusting, pathetic. My skin is crawling. I feel a desperate rush of filth and contamination within myself, having been touched all over in and out by this revolting slob. “I’m ruining a good time?” I ask, my voice far weaker than I intended. Then I run out the door.

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