I hug my sexual assaulter like it’s nothing. It is he, in fact, who acts skittish about “making nice” in front of the others–is deliberate in wielding his groin away from my general torso. A part of me wants to scream something, of course, to let everyone around me know what he did. How he grabbed me, in the spirit of DT, by the pussy while I was sleeping like it was nothing, and that, worst of all, his actions ended a relationship because he was caught…by his own girlfriend. The lights clicked on and she started screaming in horror. I, still in a combination of a drunken and sleep-induced coma, jumped up to see his hand up my skirt. If it hadn’t been for Eleanor catching him in the act, I might never have really been sure of what happened. Might have chalked it up to my own alcohol-splashed reverie–a bad dream. But it wasn’t. And I can still feel his slimy fingers up there. He would likely tell me they were only slimy because he had made me wet, that I wanted it. Why else would I be sleeping without underwear on?
After Eleanor kicked him out, I couldn’t go back to sleep, and neither could she. At the same time, there was a strain between us. We didn’t know what to say to one another. We both knew her now ex-boyfriend was a shithead, of course, but what else was there to remark on? The thought of calling the police despite his evidently long history of “boys will be boys” antics while drunk (upon hearing the news of her breakup and why, several other friends of Eleanor’s finally felt comfortable saying how he had come onto them at various parties over the years) didn’t cross our minds. It wasn’t so easy to accuse before 2017. It’s not even easy now, just more depicted in the media as such–almost conspiracy-like in a way, as though men want it to come across as a witch hunt (warlock hunt?) so that women will, once more, not be taken seriously. So no, we didn’t consider it as an option to go to the police, not even as a passing thought resulting in, “They’ll just laugh us out of the station anyway.” No, our automatic reaction was to sweep it under the rug, as two women of Southern Italian descent tend to do.
But as the weeks went on, I could see Eleanor was upset–and that she was only making it worse by not talking about it. Just drinking about it. Her rage was a manifestation of sadness. They had been together for two and a half years, that sort of point where one has to truly decide if it’s “going forward” or not. And I think a part of her hated that she didn’t see what so obvious to everyone else: that he was a monster. At first, naturally, he didn’t reveal himself to be what Elena Ferrante would call “the ogre of fairy tales.” Of course, he never acted right–was the neighborhood lush. Eleanor, for whatever reason, saw past that because she, too, was a creature of the night. In the wake of the affront, however, being out at night seemed to remind her only more of the slight.
So she went back home for a week, to Savannah, Georgia. I knew it must have been dire for her to do that. And though our conversations had been clipped of late, she felt inclined to call me one evening while there, drinking white wine spritzer (or so I imagined that to be the requirement for any white woman drinking in a southern milieu), to rehash the non-comforting conversation she had with her mother, Thelma, which went something like this:
“You see?” she clucked with satisfaction. “This is what happens when you date ethnic people. They’re all rapists.”
She ended up coming back up to New York early and not speaking to Thelma for a year. Things between us could have gone either one of two ways: the incident could have brought us closer or she could have blamed me in some way–positioned it to be somehow my fault. Luckily, it wasn’t the latter because it would have been a heart-wrenching commentary on how desperate females are to hold on to any semblance of a straight man due to their scarcity. Instead, it was something in between. We were still friendly but distant. Could never really re-create the bond that had been broken by that assault. With the friendship somewhat compromised, I felt even less reason to stay in a city where alcohol + spending the night at someone’s apartment = normalized rape. It just took me longer than it should to come to that inevitable conclusion. A year, to be exact. By that time, we had lost all contact, even indirectly, with her ex. Assumed he was still skulking around in the many bars to choose from in old NYC. It didn’t seem strange to us that we never saw him after he was banished from her apartment.
At my going away party, Eleanor mocks, “Don’t start downing wheatgrass shots and shopping at Erewhon, okay? Or I’ll never talk to you again.”
“Like I could afford it,” I return. But I probably could. This new job I’ve landed at a major ad agency in Venice Beach is paying me a grotesque sum of money to write what amounts to five-word schlock. I don’t know how I finagled it with my lack of experience, but I guess that’s for the head hunter to know, not me.
To my surprise, I don’t feel weird upon touching down in L.A., where the weather stasis (apart from the occasional snowfall in post-apocalypse America) helps heighten my sense of nihilism.
At Erewhon, which I note to be weirdly close to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (like hey, let me blithely pick up some organic bone broth and try not to think about the bones of all the Jews thrown in a ditch after being gassed or ovened!), I stock up on some things for the week, expecting that I’ll be too swamped at work to find any other free time to grocery shop. I laugh to myself thinking of how disappointed Eleanor would be in me. Then again, how much more could I possibly disappoint her after what happened? I push the thought aside and push my cart full of embarrassing stock forward. When in Los Angeles, do as the Angelenos do. Daft pricks though they may be.
It is upon arriving the next morning–about fifteen minutes earlier than I need to–to the office that I am slapped with what my comeuppance is for thinking I could ever really escape the ghosts of New York. It is the sight of him. At the coffee machine. He hasn’t changed much. He’s a little sleeker, more polished. I have no concept of what lies he must have told on his resume to procure a graphic design gig here. For surely that’s what he was posing as–that was his only skill: being a low-functioning alcoholic graphic designer. Now I think: maybe New York wasn’t so bad. If I was in New York, my new job wouldn’t involve some hippie-dippy team building activity that involved me hugging this fucking demon. That’s what we proceeded to do when Deb, the head of the department, introduced me to the other employees and had us “gather ’round” to welcome me in this retarded California way.
While, at first, he appeared jarred by my presence, I discovered that, in my state of shock, therefore going along to get along, he had found his footing again. His confidence. At the end, I palpably feel the tone of the hug has changed. Suddenly, his arms are around me and it’s suffocating. He’s gripping me more tightly than he should, but no one around us seems to take notice. I don’t go in the next day, in fact, I quit. I leave the Erewhon products in the fridge of the apartment I had paid a year’s rent in advance for and go back to New York. I never tell Eleanor why.