Forty some years ago we were still in the era of sexual liberation pre-HIV. I was a strong confident woman just turned 30, capable of handling myself and the situation around me.
I met the man – whose name I have repressed or simply forgotten, or I would tell you – in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art a month earlier. We talked about Richard Diebenkorn. The next day we sat on Telegraph Hill overlooking the city and getting to know each other. There was no physical contact.
I mentioned I would be in NYC in a few weeks checking out photographers to be guest presenters at a master’s panel I was organizing for the Smithsonian Museum Adult Education program. He invited me to visit him at his apartment – he lived in NYC – and even to stay if I wished. What could possibly go wrong?
My day with prominent photographers took longer than I expected so by the time I was dropped off by cab at his address it was dark. The first thing I noticed was that the street was not what I expected – dark, unkempt, no traffic.
His apartment was in the basement of the building, and he had multiple locks on the door. I instinctively reviewed if anyone knew where I was and realized only a couple people had a vague idea.
Nothing felt right but there was no leaving, no running into the street. I was slightly comforted by his collection of Inuit art.
I sat opposite him with my feet pointing at him, legs crossed, on the round cocktail table between us. I kept the conversation impersonal and refused a glass of wine. I had not anticipated that he would put a drug in the delicious fish stew he made.
To this day I do not know what the drug was. I remember exactly what I remember and I know there were things I never knew. I remember in the course of a minute losing control over my body. I could not move. I could not talk. I could feel horror.
I do not know how the cocktail table was moved or how I became naked on the sofa bed. I remember being raped.
My first words while still under him, “What was that?” meaning the drug. He answered, meaning the sex, “It’s what bodies do.” I said nothing more. Neither did he.
I forced myself to stay awake the entire night, rigid, in terror, while he slept. I felt he could suffocate me if he woke and I were asleep. It seemed likely.
At the first light I stirred, testing my body and hoping he would wake. I would need the door unlocked. He did. I dressed in silence. He let me out in silence. There were still no taxis. I walked for blocks.
Much of the next day is lost. I sat next to Richard Avedon at a conference at MoMA on photography. I went to the bathroom stall and the black and white checkered tile on the floor started moving and re-aligning itself. I was still drugged.
I got on a train home to DC with a bladder in full seizure. Mysteriously, two hours later as I was begging some caring god somewhere for relief the seizures stopped.
Not mysteriously, I never once considered pressing charges. It was to be put behind me, though the memory of the terror has a place in my cells.
Besides I was an adult, I went to his apartment willingly. I had simply made a colossal miscalculation. My instincts had failed me.
There was no way to win in a court. No way. I had no bruise marks. It would be his word against mine.
I knew that. The women raped by Bill Cosby knew that when it happened to them.
If you are looking for a moral to this story, or a word of warning or of advise, I have none except rape of anyone – women, men, children – is the act of cowards meant to control and demean – even split the souls – of those they rape.
I was lucky – a strong woman in a western culture who got out. But there is no statute of limitations on harm done. Writing of this now, I feel the fear, the horror of being incapacitated, the violation of my body and psyche.
Please help vulnerable people find safety, shelter, and acceptance – and justice. Please do not be a wiseass about women, or anyone, filing for suit years after a rape. Repeat: there is no statute of limitations on the harm of being raped or otherwise brutalized.
Rapists are criminals.