I woke up in my hotel room, nude, sore, bruised. Thick, crusty, sticky goop – semen, on my legs, in my pubic hair, on my thighs, on the sheets. I sat on my bed in shock. I knew what happened, yet I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. Not to me. I had no memory. Who? How? My head was pounding and swirling. I could barely keep it upright. My tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I needed water. I looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were swollen and bloodshot. I clearly cannot hold my liquor.
I don’t pretend to know who raped me. The throbbing between my legs though was a dead giveaway that it happened, even if the sticky, crusty goop that was semen didn’t already have my attention.
I was a trained Sexual Assault Victim Intervention (SAVI) advocate and I did exactly what I’m trained to advise victims not to do – I took a shower. I scrubbed every inch of my body. I didn’t cry. I was in shock. I didn’t know what to cry about. Was I willing participant? The soreness and the bruising said otherwise. Who was it? To this day, I have no idea.
When I met my shipmates in the lobby, the only thing I recall one of them saying to me, was about my uniform belt. I don’t remember exactly what it was….did I forget my belt? Was it on wrong? Still in shock. They didn't notice.
Up until the spring of 1996 my career in the Navy was pretty stellar. I was a squared away sailor. I had a few bumps in the road the first two years of my enlistment, but I didn’t have any behavioral issues – no conduct problems. It’s just that I was nothing, but an average seaman in my early days, but after that I picked up the pace. I grew up, matured, got married, had my first child, and got serious about my career. Pretty normal for most young people.
I had broken service – meaning I left active duty for a couple of years for the reserves and later returned. Once I did, I promoted easily each time, once with a perfect score on my exam, and once as an early candidate and the first time I was eligible – almost unheard of. I was doing well and I had a great support system and amazing shipmates!
My tours in Norfolk, VA and Rota, Spain were the best tours I could have asked for. I had orders for London after Rota, but broke rotation for a stateside tour in Pensacola at the request of the Commander, Naval Security Group (COMNAVSECGRU) to work on a new project. I was elated. Over the moon. London was a great tour of duty, but being asked to work on this project was a great career move. Or, it should have been. Instead, it was the end of my career.
We left Rota for the states where I attended school first before reporting to my command. I was the class leader and honor graduate. So far so good.
That’s where the good ended. There were arguments over which project I was to be assigned. COMNAVSECGRU specifically wanted me assigned to a certain project, one in which I was considered to be the Navy's subject matter expert, while the command had other ideas. So, I was assigned to a different project that I had little knowledge and information about, other than the information I had just received from the school I attended. It was made clear to me from the get-go, that I was the token female on the project. As in, they literally told me. Great. That came with menial tasks the like of drafting messages and running errands while the men brainstormed new ideas about the project management.
Then, and I don’t recall why or how it came about, but I was given orders for temporary additional duty (TAD) along with someone else in the division to go aboard several ships to do installations of new software. FINALLY! I was going to be able to prove I was more than a warm body.
We flew to San Diego where we were met by a civilian also working the project; he was retired Navy. We boarded two ships where we completed the software upgrade – I diligently watched and took notes. I had never been aboard a ship before – I know, crazy. I stayed close by, afraid I’d get lost. I stayed between the two men, as the one in front opened each hatch and the one behind closed each hatch. I didn’t go anywhere without one or both. I was dependent on them.
At the end of the first day we decided to take a trip across the border to Tijuana. I don’t recall how we got across the border. Did we walk? Drive? Take a bus? A taxi? I just don’t remember. I know once we got there we were drinking. Again, I don’t remember where we were drinking exactly, just the vague fleeting memory of the three of us having drinks and then the realization that I’d had too much, and it doesn’t take, but two drinks for me to have too much, because I don't drink. It's an odd realization that I got drunk, because I had sworn off alcohol after an incident when my youngest, Cassy, was just a baby. When she was only seven months old I had gotten drunk and was in a dangerous situation and swore I'd never have too much to drink again and I never did or have except for this day. I don't know why this day. Of all days. The plan, or at least my plan, wasn't to drink. At all.
Other than those fleeting memories, the next thing I remember vividly, is standing outside a strip club and the two men wanting to go inside. Night had fallen and there were a lot of unseemly characters on the street. I didn’t want to go inside, but they were insisting. I didn’t want to be standing alone on the street of a foreign country either. I didn’t like my choices. I chose to go inside with them, but I don’t know how much of a choice it was that I made on my own or how much the choice was made for me. I remember drinking again. I don’t know why I did it, except that once I’ve had too much I don’t make good choices anymore.
I can’t make good choices.
I can’t make choices.
I can’t choose.
And yet, I had sworn off alcohol, so why was I drinking? My therapist and I speculate that at some point during the trip, I may have been drugged. By whom, I don't know.
I STRUGGLED AGAINST THEIR BODIES
We sat near the stage where the women were dancing and stripping down to absolutely nothing. The men I was with were pushing and pulling, trying to get me up on stage while they were hooting and hollering. The women joined in, grabbing my arms, trying to get me up on stage with them. Everyone was trying to get me to take off my clothes.
I resisted the best I could. I struggled against their bodies, both the men's and the women's.
I had no allies in this place.
I don’t know if I was able to resist getting on the stage, but I do believe I was able to resist taking my clothes off.
Only because I must believe it.
We moved to a table in the corner and some of the strippers joined us. One sat between my shipmate and me. I use that term loosely, he was no longer my shipmate because shipmates protect each other. They have each other’s six. No one had my six in this place.
He was fondling her.
She was being fondled while I sat beside her.
I wanted to throw up.
Maybe I did. I couldn’t move.
I was frozen.
I couldn’t go out on the street where I’d be all alone. Where I thought things would be worse than they were right here in this club. Any yet, maybe the street would be better for a young drunk blonde woman from the US on the dark streets of Tijuana.
I don’t remember leaving that club. I don’t remember crossing back over the border. What I do remember is being back at our hotel and our supervisor being there as well. Why was he there? When did he get there?
Someone ordered me another drink. It was blue, and it reminded me of a fishbowl. I couldn’t even pick up the glass. I just leaned into it and drank from the straw. That much I remember.
I remember laughing.
And, that’s the last thing I remember.
A blue drink served in a fishbowl with a straw.
Then, I woke up with the crusty goop of semen and throbbing between my legs. My head bore the weight of the world. I threw up and took a shower.
I got dressed. Went down to the lobby. My belt was on wrong, or it was missing….
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash