Yeah, you too.
When I was in college there was this young woman.
Let’s call her Eve to keep things private. Every straight young man and not a few of the women wanted Eve. That is to say they wanted to get in her pants. She was a stunningly beautiful young woman and, more than that, seemed so in control of her sexuality that, in a room full of girls her own age, she came off very much as a woman. We wanted her. Nearly all of us.
Notice, at no time in this narrative will i refer to her dress code or whether she was particularly flirty or not. Even if she had dressed like a video dancer every day of the week (she didn’t ever) and shamelessly flirted with everything on two legs, those behaviors would be irrelevant. In a very odd way, though she’s its focus, this story isn’t actually about Eve.
In college I was younger than everyone else by a minimum of three years. The first woman I slept with in college was over thirty. I was, I think, either the youngest person there or the second youngest. And I wanted Eve the way only a person can want whose puberty might still have been ongoing at that time. Needless to say, Eve, while she seemed to like me very much as a person (what’s not to like? I’m adorable.) clearly had no interest in anything I might do for her below the waist.
Did I mention our school was small enough that we could identify, at a glance, any person who wasn’t a student there? It was impossible not to see Eve. It was impossible not to be aware she had passed through a room before I had. It was maddening because, as I said, I really wanted her.
To make matters worse she had the audacity to fool around with at least one of my good friends meaning not only was she often present into the wee hours, she was sometimes present when we woke up the next morning. She filled up a swimsuit in precisely the right way. She could dance. She had an amazing laugh and well, as I said, WANTED.
It’s difficult to remember myself in that time and space. In retrospect the chemical soup of adolescence is like being constantly stoned and constantly on cocaine at the same time. From what I hear about those drugs anyway.
I suppose this feeling fell under the heading what some now might call the MALE GAZE. But being in your teens and twenties is nothing but male and female gaze and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. I will say that I made no secret of my attraction to her; she made no secret that it wasn’t going to happen and, for me, that was the end.
I never pressed her for more. I never made leering comments or became surly towards her for her “rejection.” There were people who wanted me who I didn’t want. It seemed unfair to penalize Eve for having the same. We were in the same little crew of friends for some time, constantly in and out of each other’s moments, sometimes even sharing clothes (I was way skinnier then and a lot more androgynous). I like to think we were friends. We certainly argued like friends when we argued. She got on my nerves from time to time like friends do and I got on hers.
One thing that my friends do that I don’t and really never have done is drink. I don’t like the taste of alcohol and I don’t eat or drink anything I don’t like right away. I don’t believe in acquiring tastes. As a result I’m always sober. Even in college I was only drunk twice and both times I became drunk on purpose for the specific reason of having the experience and being sure I didn’t like it.
I don’t like it. I’m NEVER drunk. I’m NEVER high. Ever. That isn’t true of, I think, most of my friends. So one night after several little parties that seemed to have cropped up all over the campus (my drug of choice has always been dancing), I came stumbling back to the dorms for a shower and a change of clothes so I could go back and dance some more, I found Eve sitting in the lobby, just hanging out with some folks. Some I knew, some not so much.
She and they were all well on their way to being drunk, passing beers around like candy. They were laughing, having a fairly mellow time and invited me to sit down which I did. I actually enjoy being around happy drunks or happy stoners from time to time. They’re goofy and they make me laugh.
We laughed a lot for what I remember as being a couple hours. It was long enough for all our mutual friends to bleed off to do other things, leaving behind a bunch of guys I knew by sight but who weren’t really friends.
These guys were buzzed but, I suddenly noticed, considerably less drunk than Eve. She was drunk enough that she was slurring words, laughing at things she was thinking she’d said but hadn’t. These guys were suddenly giving off a distinctly predatory vibe, beginning to make noises about taking the “party” back to one of their rooms. Now, I’m a staunch proponent of not tarring either gender with a broad brush but I began to get the distinct impression that this crew was less interested in more laughing and joking around with Eve. I got the very real impression that they were a rape waiting to happen. I could almost literally smell it. What I did next is traditionally called a cock block by boys and boys in men’s bodies. I sat down next to her with an arm around a shoulder, quietly asking in her ear if she wouldn’t rather just go to bed now. The night was pretty much done after all.
At first she didn’t and made murmured arguments but, after a little, I convinced her. I put the arm around her to create the misimpression that I was the guy who was getting in her pants that night and the others should back off. It’s why I whispered in her ear as well. From the pack’s point of view I was probably saying sexy things to her to make her hot and smile. This was all for effect and all in aid of getting her away from these guys. Make no mistake. Left to her own devices, under normal circumstances, Eve could have handled these three (I think three. Maybe four.) however she wanted. She was tough and smart and was used to the approaches of males in heat. I’m sure she got far more of that sort of attention than anyone might want. But this was not a normal situation. This was a situation in which she needed a friend to act as shield and I was the only one of those present. Much to the pack’s chagrin and, in fact, anger (I got ugly glares from each of them for weeks after that night, proving my feeling had been right.) I did get her up and walk-carried her the two floors back to her dorm room. She was a handful, as you can imagine– wobbly, slurry, changing her mind about bed every two minutes and, of course, telling me how adorable and funny I was. It was brutal. I got her to her room. The door was unlocked thank God. I couldn’t find the lights so it was a dark and stumbley procession to her bunk bed. I remember thinking how odd it was that she and her room mate had chosen bunks but I supposed Eve didn’t spend enough nights there to make it an issue. She usually slept over with whoever was her current flame. That was my pattern too so, whatever. I did not get her out of her clothes. I did haul her drunk ass up on the bunk and, after a little bit of gentle wrestling made her promise to stay there. I had a feeling those guys would still be lurking on the off chance of her return. “Only if you stay with me,” she said. She was surprisingly firm about it. I figured she’d drop off soon enough so, I resolved, if it would keep her there, what the hell?
I climbed into her bunk with her and she snuggled me into the some of the worst minutes of my young life. She smelled so great. He breath was on my skin. Her hands were inside my shirt. I was dying. I wanted her, remember. I mean I REALLY wanted her. NOTHING can want something like a teenager can and I still was very much one of those. She kissed me. A real kiss. The kind I had always wanted from her, the kind I’d written poems about. She told me to stay and have fun with her. I thought about it. I thought about it seriously. What? You thought this was a superhero story? I was seventeen. Whatever box of self-restraint they dole out to adolescent boys, mine was long empty by then. I was running on crumbs and fumes. She was making a really good case for nobody to be wearing pants for the next hour. “Tell you what,” I finally managed to say. “I’m going. You’re staying. You need to sleep and you’re staying. “
“You’re staying. I want you to, “ she said. “You’re so great. I never tell you how great you are.”
That’s true. She didn’t. People mostly don’t. Fuck. Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fuck, I thought over and over.
I wanted her so much. She was saying she wanted me. I could even have believed it if I’d wanted to. And I kind of did want to. The problem was I kept hearing a line Jimmy Stewart said to Katherine Hepburn in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY in my mind and that fucker wouldn’t let me alone.
“No,” I said. “I want to but no. You’re a little bit the worse for liquor right now and there are rules about that. “
She groaned and pulled at me but I did get out of that bunk. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in more than one way. “If you wake up tomorrow and you still feel like this,” I told her, “We can talk or whatever. If you don’t, no hard feelings. Honestly. Just go to sleep. Please.”
She made that little noise women make sometimes, part disappointment, part promise, and I almost broke. I mean, JESUS CHRIST, why couldn’t her ACTUAL boyfriend have been there instead of me? FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK. I didn’t break. I left. I stood there until I was sure she was dozing and then I left. Just as I was creeping out I was surprised to hear a soft new voice, Eve’s roommate (let’s call her Beth). She’d been there, in her bunk, the whole time. “You’re a good guy, Geoff,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said as I closed the door. “I’m fucking great.” Now, at this point I could stop the story and make myself look like a great guy, Good Samaritan, all that. But the thing is, I felt like a wuss for weeks after. I felt small and soft and not much of a man at all. I felt like I’d done something weak, something a “real man” would never have done. I was actually angry at Eve for a couple of days for showing up and, as I assumed, NOT desiring me at all the way she had that night. Maybe it was the booze in her. Maybe she had her own demons chasing her and would have been happy to make two backs with any willing partner that night. I don’t know. I’ll never know. But I do know that I felt somehow emasculated by that night for a long time. I think our society is not very nice to its young men. I think we are fed the meme of women as things to be cajoled, or coerced or conquered as if love actually was the battlefield the song claims it is. Why should I have felt like that? I did the right thing. I was a good friend to a friend. Those other young men, the pack, they didn’t even see her as more than an evening’s fun and a story about it after. She wasn’t real to them. Not really. All she was, was what they wanted. And, on some basic level, she had been a little unreal to me. If she hadn’t, leaving her bed wouldn’t have been a struggle. But it was and I punished myself for that decision for many weeks after, every time she pissed me off or draped herself around her boyfriend. Any time somebody says there’s no such thing as Rape Culture, I’d like to shove my fist down his throat on behalf of my younger self and those weeks of ridiculous and unnecessary self-hate over doing what was ABSOLUTLEY the right thing. But that’s assault and not recommended. Rape is a crime on the scale of murder. Tolerating it, condoning it, washing it away, blaming the victims in even the slightest way mitigates the series of choices [usually a man] has to make in order to commit the crime. They don’t “just happen.” Not because the girl is drunk or the boy is high. The crime is too active, too aggressive for the word “accident” or “misunderstanding” to ever enter into the equation. They happen because a series of choices are made, in succession and then acted upon in that same succession. Rape can be coupled with assault or it can be the result of being tricked into drinking sedatives or it can be the result of coercive power being exerted. And it can be a crime of opportunity in which the victim is already unconscious and dragged behind a dumpster for the act which she may even sleep through. Her choices are taken away. Her ability to say “No, I don’t want this,” is taken away. Her future is taken away, even if she “gets over it quickly.” Every rape is the same rape. Every rapist is the same rapist. Every rapist is who they’ve chosen to be and should be held accountable for those choices. When they are not, which, frankly, is nearly all the time, the message is sent that this is no big deal and, really, unless she’s got bruises, it’s her word against his. Maybe she has an ulterior motive. Maybe she’s angling for his money or wants to cause him problems with work.
Really guys? Really? Or are you not all just a little bit scared that, given the right circumstances, you might just take what you want and don’t want that potential hammer to fall on you? Who you are when no one’s looking is who you are. When I tell you I know who I am, you’d best believe it. Who are you?