The last thing I remember clearly was him telling me his name: Max.
When I came to, the sun was already shining, piercing through the broken blinds. A fan beat the stale air above. I was lying on my back in a room I didn’t recognize. I never sleep on my back.
With awareness came panic. What happened last night?
The guy from the bar was passed out on his stomach next to me, his head pointing away from mine.
This day happened 10 years ago, but every moment has come back to me in detail lately in light of the current threats to emergency contraception and abortion care.
That morning, I was terrified of what I already knew to be true, but still, making as little noise as possible, I slipped my hand under the covers. I felt the ripstop of my cargo pants and, with it, the relief.
And yet, there was a feeling that I couldn’t shake.
My hand plunged back under the sheet, slipping just under the waistband of the pants. I felt my bare hip where the underwear should have been. My stomach tensed.
I found the kitchen and my purse. A black screen on my phone stared at me – dead.
Max walked into the kitchen, opened a lighter and lit a joint. He started chatting until I interrupted him to ask if we slept together last night.
He told me we had. I asked him if he was safe. He said he used a condom – but it broke.
At this point, I felt sick, but I knew I couldn’t collapse there. Not yet. My phone was dead and I needed this guy, stoned or not, to take me home.
He first filled up at a gas station on Michigan Street, a gas station that haunts me every time I pass. This gas station still makes me sick. And angry.
As he stood at the pump, my eyes drifted to the CVS across the street, and it occurred to me that I needed a plan B – and most the sooner the better. I had and still have no idea what this guy did to me.
He got back in the car and I asked him if we could go to CVS.
“As he stood at the pump, my eyes drifted to CVS across the street, and it occurred to me that I needed a plan B – and the the sooner the better.”
Under fluorescent lighting, I asked the pharmacist for the drug that would erase the greatest possible physical consequence of the night. The man held his gaze, full of uncontrolled judgment, on me for a few more beats, as if I needed that time to catch his contempt. I did not do it. I live in the South. I saw it as soon as I said “Plan B”.
Eventually the pharmacist handed over the pills, and I turned to Max and asked if he would split the cost with me.
“I’m a little short right now,” he said. “Can you cover me?”
I mumbled that everything was fine and shelled out the $52 for two pills and a bottle of water so I could deal with the pregnancy (just one of the nightmarish aftermath of her rape on my passed out body ) that could be inside of me.
As soon as I swallowed this pill, a wave of nausea almost made me vomit.
It was nothing compared to the sickening shame I felt in the years to come.
The next morning, I told Julia, my best friend at the time, what had happened. All she said was, “At least you have some.”
His words didn’t match the anxiety and fear I was feeling, so I held off as long as possible to tell someone else. When I finally let the words drop once more, five years later, a more understanding friend told me what happened to me was rape. I do not believe it.
I told him it couldn’t be rape because I was drunk. Somehow I believed that my drunkenness made everything that came next my fault – that I was responsible for this man thrusting his penis into me simply because I had been too irresponsible to control my drinking alcohol and going home.
But even that, I’m not sure. Never before and never since had I blacked out for an entire night. I still don’t know if I was drugged in that bar. Either way, I couldn’t have consented to sex. An intoxicated person cannot give consent.
As I moved forward, I couldn’t get rid of the lingering fear. After Max, I was afraid of all men. I suspected anyone was capable of what they did. Intellectually and statistically, I knew it was impossible. Still, I couldn’t believe a man wouldn’t take advantage if given the chance.
After Max, I could barely sleep without waking up from a nightmare. I sat up in bed, sweating in panic. Asleep, my mind went back to that night and searched for all the clues, all the memories that would tell me what had happened.
I really had no idea if another man would do this to me. The only thing I could control was how much I allowed myself to get drunk in public. I decided that, for me, not drinking was the only safe option. If I kept drinking, I just couldn’t be sure that I would never take shots again, never get drunk again, never drink a drink that might be doped again (although someone could certainly drug a non-alcoholic drink), never again be near a man who would see in my drunkenness an invitation to sex. Of course, a woman should be able to drink when and where she wants and as much as she wants without fear of being raped. I wasn’t responsible for Max’s actions and I’m not responsible for what he did, no matter how much I drank. But I didn’t understand this as a result of this experience, and giving up alcohol seemed like the only way forward for me.
It’s been nine years since I quit drinking.
Through sobriety and extensive therapy, I found a peace that went virtually unchallenged – that is, until the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Roe v. Wade be disclosed and I learned that emergency contraception, including plan B, may no longer be an option for women, including women like me who have been exploited by men.
What good is it to take away freedom of choice from women who suffer from the actions of men – or, indeed, for any reason. I don’t know what other lessons I should have acquired. My only “crime”, if you can even call it that, is getting drunk in a bar.
I’m scared right now, for women like me who might drink too much, get drugged in a bar, be taken home by a stranger, not remember what happened and be raped or coerced into having sex. I fear for anyone with a womb who will need safe, affordable, and legal access to abortion or contraception for any reason if Roe falls.
I can’t imagine having no choice but to raise the child of a man I knew for literally 10 seconds. A man whose last name I still don’t know. A man who raped me.
One of the biggest things I can’t get past to this day is that I don’t know if Max knows what really happened. I certainly never told him. From what I know, Max never suffered any consequences for his actions that night. I also don’t think the night stressed or troubled him in the least. He might not even believe he did anything wrong.
I saw him again in another bar a week after the incident. He kept trying to talk to me. I was with a friend who didn’t know what happened — because I didn’t tell anyone except Julia. This friend kept pushing me to talk to this guy who was clearly interested in me – at least that’s all she saw.
“From what I know, Max never suffered any consequences for his actions that night. I also don’t think the night stressed or troubled him in the least. He might not even believe he did something wrong.
I never confronted Max or told that friend the truth about that night. I regret. I felt so much shame at the time, and it shut me up. But I have to talk about what happened, not only to release the shame that should never have been mine in the first place, but also because lawmakers need to know what a disservice it would be to women and people with wombs and what horrors will befall us if they take away our options ― our rights.
Women so often face intense scrutiny after any rape – their clothing, sexual history, drinking habits and more are called into question. We are not allowed even the smallest misstep, not even to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, lest we be blamed for the actions of the men who decide to use us sexually.
It took a lot of work for me to quit drinking, go to therapy, and get out of a place of blame and shame, and I can’t imagine being made to do all of this while raising my son’s child. rapist.
Note: Names in this essay have been changed.
Brooke Morton is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been published in Outside, Martha Stewart Weddings, Islands and Scuba Diving magazines. She is currently working on a book about alcohol and sexual consent.
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