I Wrote to the Man who Sexually Assaulted Me a Decade Ago
by Laura Elizabeth The name popped up in the most normal, innocuous of ways. I was sending an email to one of my students, when a name *very* similar to my email recipient popped up. I thought I hadn’t thought about him in years. But the heart palpitations and clammy palms revealed otherwise. His email address was just his initials and his birthday, nothing that should be triggering in itself. But instantly I was taken back to 2009, when I was a mid-twenties single mother, navigating a new dating world, a job, and a Ph.D. program and often finding confusion in my wake.
I met “Jay” in the beach resort town where my grandparents lived, where he was stationed as a Navy SEAL. He was a decade older than me and it was impossible for me, at that stage in my life, to *not* have been taken with him, I see now. He was tall, dark, handsome, in control, a great storyteller of war events, charismatic—pretty much everything I was looking for. In my twenties’ fog, I also liked the fact that he was a “get” for me, at least in my eyes. I had been the dorky, shy girl in high school, before I blossomed in my twenties to a size 2 blonde. I definitely enjoyed the guy attention because I had felt overlooked for so long. Perhaps I enjoyed it too much and focused too heavily on guys’ looks, their occupations, things that validated me. Reflected glory, so to speak.
Everything about Jay would have set off my mid-thirties, College Professor Mom Radar, but at the time, I failed to make connections between the “little” things and how they can reveal a cruel personality. For our first date, he took me to a very expensive restaurant, especially for a 27-year-old mom. That stood out to me more than how later in the night, it physically hurt when he kissed me, pushing me against my wall and grabbing me hard in areas where I wanted only tenderness. But he was smiling and I thought perhaps that was just his style. Or something like that. I similarly failed to pay much attention to the fact that he was on crutches, and not from just any normal training injury. He claimed to have shot himself accidentally while doing a live ammo drill to clear a house. Poor thing, I thought, as he hobbled around. His stories were similarly jarring, but I wrote it off to him just being the type of tough guy I found hot. One tale consisted of him leaning on a girl in a bar in Vegas to punish her for using his friend for drinks. Another involved him smiling at the memory of some things he had done and seen in Iraq and the power of a ceiling fan to drive someone crazy.
On our third or fourth date, he revealed that because he considered me “precious cargo” in his truck, he owed it to me to be complete honesty. He had just gotten a DUI, sometimes a career-killer for SEALs, and was fighting it in court. He said that if he had any alcohol, he would need for me to drive. I nodded in assent, told him I’d be happy to, and with all of the self-control that characterized my twenties, proceeded to get hammered at dinner because rum was stronger than my powers of resistance. This then forced him to drive. I vaguely remember an angry expression on his face, almost clenched teeth, as we arrived at his teammates’ house. Then going to their shed to go shot for shot with them--tequila as it was.
Then absolutely nothing after that until I woke up in the middle of the night, Jay behind me, having a type of sex that I never would have agreed to while sober. The pain was searing, even in my blacked-out state, and while slurring/crying out a “no, stop it” multiple times, realized that I was in such a state that I couldn’t even talk. He continued, as did the pain. When I woke up in the morning, I was in physical agony. My head, my body, everything. He gave me something, I still don’t even know what it was, from his black bag under his bed, and promptly fell back asleep. The next day, I received a lecture about what a party girl I was, that I was nowhere near marriage-ready, and he was done…save for some mindless group email that he randomly included me in months later. Why he was still in my email so many years later. Years during which I had written off his behavior to him being in a bad place, possibly suffering from combat PTSD and alcoholism. Excuse after excuse. I absolutely internalized that because I had consensually slept with him before and was on a date with him during which I drank heavily, that what happened could not be considered assault even though I never consented and having sex with a blacked out person is in its essence pure abuse and exploitation. Even more so if she is clearly crying out and moaning and trying to gesture when she wakes up.
#MeToo has allowed me to re-examine the entire experience, with both the benefit of age and wisdom from listening to the stories of others. I hold no ill will at all towards him and in fact, I hope he finds peace and happiness. But it is also important to me that he realize that I consider what he did that night to be an assault, regardless of what he thinks. That he knows that consent was never given, and that I view the entire course of events after I passed out as his punishment to me for drinking, for making him drive, for apparently putting my arm around his teammate when we were talking (something which I don’t remember at all). As much as he just disposed of me, seeing his name in my email made me realize how important it remains to me that he not similarly dismiss what he did, especially since he would now be over 40.
So I opened up a new message.
“Hi Jay. It’s Laura, I am sure you don’t remember me, it’s been so many years, but when you were still in (resort town) we dated briefly a few years back. The blonde single mom working on her Ph.D. I hope you are well and that you found happiness. You have actually been on my mind somewhat in recent days. You popped up in my email and it gave me a chance to reflect on something that I think has been bothering me since 2009. We dated when you were still on crutches after your injury, that time frame. I definitely think I was struggling with alcohol when we dated, so that was basically just ridiculous that I drank so much and made you drive.
It’s the rest of the night that I can’t really completely get out of my head all these many years later, and that’s why I am writing. Not to demonize you because we are all flawed, but to tell you the impact you had on me, and to possibly even get your thoughts. Jay, we both know I never consented to what you did at the end of the night. Blackout from alcohol is not a form of consent. The type of sex that I woke up to is not even a type of sex I ever had with the guy whom I consider the love of my life, who I knew so intimately in every way. We still never had that type of sex once. It’s too painful for me. Yet I woke up to you doing that to me, and you didn’t seem to recognize that I was trying to verbalize that you were hurting me and needed to stop.
I am not mad at you, but the scars of that night do remain. I find that in subsequent relationships, I tend to give a guy a ton of credit for simply listening sexually. Which is a baseline expectation, not a reason to give a guy a medal. I absolutely own that I drank too much that night and I was irresponsible to get to that point. But given your age compared to mine, that you were in the occupation that you were, I would have hoped and expected that you would have protected me that night rather than exploited me.”
I pressed send and my heart started to beat out of my chest. In a way, I wished that I had somehow gotten the wrong email. That would make it easier. After hours of compulsively checking my phone, still nothing. Though it’s not about his response as it is that I feel I stood up to be counted. He attempted to use and discard me, and #metoo shows that the shadow of that type of behavior looms large. As President Obama once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Only with pure honesty can healing happen, and sometimes just telling someone that what they did was wrong is as cathartic as anything in our imperfect world.