When I came to, the sun was already bright, poking through broken blinds. A fan beat stale air overhead. I was lying on my back in a room I didn’t recognize. I never sleep on my back.
With consciousness came panic. What happened last night?
The guy from the bar was passed out on his belly next to me, his head pointed away from mine.
This day happened 10 years ago, but every moment has been coming back to me in vivid detail lately in light of current threats to emergency contraception and abortion care.
That morning, I was terrified of what I already knew to be true, yet still, making as little noise as possible, I slid my hand under the covers. I felt the ripstop of my cargo pants and, with it, relief.
And yet — there was a feeling I couldn’t shake.
My hand dove below the bedsheet again, slipping just under the waistband of the pants. I felt my naked hip where underwear should have been. My stomach tensed.
I found the kitchen and my purse. A black screen on my phone stared back at me ― dead.
Max entered the kitchen, flicked open a lighter and sparked up a joint. He started making small talk until I interrupted him to ask if we’d had sex 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 break down there. Not yet. My phone was dead, and I needed this guy, high or otherwise, to take me home.
First he filled up at a gas station on Michigan Street, one that has haunted me every time I have driven past it. That 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 Plan B ― and the sooner the better. I had and still have no idea exactly what this guy did to me.
He hopped back in the car and I asked him if we could go to CVS.
“As he stood at the pump, my eyes drifted to the CVS across the street, and it occurred to me that I needed Plan B ― and the sooner the better.”
Under fluorescent lighting, I asked the pharmacist for the medicine that would erase the biggest possible physical consequence of the night. The man held his gaze, full of unchecked judgment, on me for a few extra beats, as if I needed that time to catch onto his scorn. I didn’t. 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 it was fine and I shelled out the $52 for two pills and a bottle of water so I could take care of the pregnancy (just one of the nightmarish consequences from him raping my passed-out body) that might be inside of me.
As soon as I swallowed that pill, a wave of nausea nearly made me throw up.
That was nothing compared to the sickening shame I felt in the years to come.
The morning after, I told Julia, my best friend at the time, about what happened. All she said was, “At least you got some.”
Her words didn’t match the anxiety and fear I felt, and so I held off telling anyone else for as long as possible. When I finally let the words tumble out once more, five years later, a more understanding friend told me that what happened to me was rape. I didn’t believe it.
I told her it couldn’t have been rape because I was drunk. Somehow I believed that my drunkenness made whatever came next my fault — that I was responsible for this man sticking his penis inside me simply because I had been too irresponsible to control my drinking and go home.
But even this I am not sure of. Never before and never since had I blacked out for an entire night. I still don’t know if I was drugged at that bar. Either way, I could not have consented to sex. An intoxicated person cannot give consent.
Moving forward, I couldn’t shake the fear that lingered. After Max, I was scared of every man. I suspected that anyone was capable of what he did. Intellectually and statistically, I knew this was impossible. Still, I couldn’t trust that a man would not take advantage if given the opportunity.
After Max, I could almost never sleep without waking from a nightmare. I would bolt upright in bed, sweating with panic. Asleep, my mind found its way back to this night and would hunt for any clues, any 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 drunk I allowed myself to be 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 again take shots, never again get drunk, never again drink a beverage that may be spiked (though someone certainly could also drug a non-alcoholic drink), never again be in proximity to a man who would see my drunkenness as an invitation to have sex. Of course a woman should be able to drink whenever and wherever and as much as she wants without fearing she will be raped. I was not responsible for Max’s actions and I am not to blame for what he did, no matter how much I drank. But I didn’t understand that in the wake of that experience, and giving up alcohol seemed like the only way forward for me.
It’s been nine years since I stopped drinking.
Through sobriety and lots of therapy, I have found a peace that has largely gone unchallenged — that is, until the Supreme Court draft opinion on Roe v. Wade leaked and I learned that emergency contraception, including Plan B, might no longer be an option for women, including women like me who were taken advantage of by men.
What good comes from removing the freedom of choice for women who suffer at the actions of men — or, in fact, for any reason. I’m not sure what further lessons I ought to have gained. My only “crime,” if we can even call it that, was that I was drunk in a bar.
I’m scared right now, for women like me who might drink too much, might be drugged at a bar, might be taken home by a stranger, might not remember what happened, and might be raped or coerced to have sex. I fear for anyone with a uterus who will need safe, affordable, legal access to abortion or contraception for any reason if Roe falls.
I can’t imagine having no option 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.
To this day, one of the biggest pieces of this that I can’t get past is that I don’t know if Max knows what really happened. I certainly never told him. From what I know, Max never faced any consequences for his actions that night. Nor do I think the night stressed or troubled him in the slightest. He might not even believe he did anything wrong.
I saw him once more at another bar a week after the incident. He kept trying to talk to me. I was with a friend who didn’t know what had 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 faced any consequences for his actions that night. Nor do I think the night stressed or troubled him in the slightest. He might not even believe he did anything wrong.”
I never confronted Max or told that friend the truth about that night. I regret that. I felt so much shame at the time, and that kept me silent. But I owe it to myself 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 uteruses and what horrors will befall us if they take away our options ― our rights.
Women so often face so much invasive scrutiny after any rape — having their clothing, sexual histories, drinking habits and so much more 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 men who decide to use us sexually.
It took a substantial amount of work to quit drinking, attend therapy and walk myself out of a place of blame and shame, and I can’t imagine being made to do it all while raising my rapist’s child.
Note: The names in this essay have been changed.
Brooke Morton is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida. Her work has appeared 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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