Rape Stole My Soul

rh-ithaca-college-freshman-year-cropped-8-14-14Rape stole my belief in myself and left in its wake a corpse lying in a heap on an unmade bed. Rape took away the little girl I loved and put an actor in her place.

Fall, 1984. After a couple of hours at the college career counseling center my sophomore year, I decided exactly how I would achieve my career goals. It was a rush – a huge, empowering relief. I’d work by day in the editorial department of a magazine and write screenplays at night. It was all coming together. A killer plan that would make my dreams of being a screenwriter with a beachfront house in Malibu a reality while still in my 20’s. I walked out of that counseling center on a cloud-less spring afternoon feeling high, rejuvenated by a new sense of direction.

As luck would have it, my roommates were invited to a happy hour house party being thrown by upper classmen. We set off in our grey 1980’s Ford Escort to purchase our liquid contribution, Steve Winwood hitting the highest high notes on “Bring Me a Higher Love,” while my friends regaled each other with “Bring me another Bud.”

Buds in hand, we parked the Escort facing up a hilly street and followed the drifting sounds of the Grateful Dead. We arrived at a grey Victorian with a large front porch, the sun shining directly overhead. The air felt light. We saw no one we knew, but the stylish upper classmen decked out in Polo shirts and Tommy Bahama shorts were laughing and gently rocking their bodies back and forth – the “Deadhead Bop,” as it was known in sophomore land.  Undaunted, we mingled. Anna flitted here and there, joking with people she’d met for the first time, while Carmina and I hung back, smiling, content to be where we were on what we knew was a rare and perfect day.

Already buzzing with visions of my future deck overlooking the aquamarine Pacific, I got drunk quickly and easily. The day became night. We’re at a grimy underclassmen bar – back with our own kind. A senior from the porch party is there, wearing a light blue Mets cap. Kinda cute. Funny in a snappy, sarcastic way. I want to feel attractive, desirable. I steal his cap, flirting with him. He watches me walk away, smiling slightly. He lopes toward me.

The bed. Unmade double with door swung wide open. My naked body lying on it, head turned toward the door. His long, thin penis inside me, pushing himself harder and harder into me. How did I get here? Why is he on top of me? I want out but stay quiet. He’s hurting me. I lie there motionless. Where did I go and why can’t I speak?

His face never looks down at mine. Never wonders who I am. Never questions if I am someone’s daughter, sister, best friend since pre-school. Someone who played with her Barbie camper on the front lawn, knocked on every door on the block looking for friends when she moved to a new town, taught herself how to ride a unicycle.

robin-at-prom-senior-year-with-softball-bat

Someone with an unshakeable belief in herself and her place in the world.

As he pushed himself carelessly deeper and deeper inside of me, I left her on the bed, in that house, that night, in Ithaca. Never said goodbye. Never mentioned her again. She was dead, but my corpse carried on.

My belief in myself and the inherent goodness of others lie in ruins on the top of that unmade bed. In the 29 years since, I’ve never fully believed in anything. It’s like my soul was ripped out and replaced by a copy – a perfect replica on the outside but empty within.

Gone is the girl with the bounce in her step. Who am I now and how do I get that bounce back?

The girl who whiled away rainy Sundays watching Gene Kelly and Cary Grant movie marathons and loved nothing more than lying on the warm cement at the swim club eating Fun Dip while the sun baked your back. The one who felt strength in her difference when friends called her “flake,” “airhead,” or “FROBIN” (fucking Robin.)  I was sensitive and my brain worked differently, but that’s what made me who I was. And that was good.

I miss that girl, her spunk, and her Barbie camper.  When she comes back, I promise to love her and never let her go.

Carmina, Seth and Connections Untended

I went to my summer orientation at Ithaca College in 1983 mainly concerned with the paltry, much-ballyhooed 1:3 guy/girl ratio.  That fear quickly gave way to elation when I saw Seth – a tanned fellow frosh with a shy, crooked smile and black Specials t-shirt sitting on a dorm room desk during our ‘grain alcohol in trash can’ mixer.

I stood motionless at the doorway, unable to lift my arm to accept my first grain punch in a red plastic cup offered by my orientation roommate whose name and face I no longer remember. Seth’s smile and dancing brown eyes told me all I needed to know – he would be my salvation from four years of girl-only company.  I saw us strolling hand in hand through the quad, laughing casually, gazing deep into each other’s dark, brown eyes, then shyly at the ground. Others would long for our connection.

Seth one week after we met
Seth one week after we met

My visions of a Seth-filled future were quickly dashed when into the room flew a storm of a girl with black curly hair and a slightly hunched over, Groucho Mark walk. She strode toward Seth and hopped up next to him, their bare thighs touching. She talked loudly but closely in his ear. She announced, “No one here knows good music,” marched over to the boom box, increased the volume, and unleashed Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” upon the roomful of would-be freshmen. She was from Long Island. She knew good music.

Hatred seethed from every pore, as I remained rooted in the doorway.

I need not have seethed. That fall, arriving early to my first Tuesday night “Introduction to Cinema” class, with the large lecture hall nearly empty, it was easy to spot Seth sitting near the back row of seats, his leg bobbing rapidly up and down. Instinctively, I knew I had to act. I’d watched my junior high through high school crush date the entire cheerleading squad, remaining mute in his presence for fear speaking would reveal my inner weirdness. History would not repeat. I sat next to him and attempted my best small talk. Our mutual awkwardness bonded us immediately. He lived in Ithaca, had a pet Tarantula, and loved horror movies.  I told him about my summer lifeguarding, cleaning bathrooms with buckets of a chemical wash that looked like dirty Listerine, and picking up lipstick-stained cigarette butts. 3:1 ratio be damned. I’d scored my first-ever boyfriend on the second day of college.

We were a serious couple for a year and a half – akin to briefly married during the pre-AIDS college years.  He was the first person I ever cared about more than myself. This I discovered through the 1984 movie “Starman” was the definition of love.  I lost my virginity to Seth on the twin bed in my dorm room after a Friday night date of Mexican food and The Big Chill.

Midway through freshman year, at Thursday’s dime beer night, I met Anna Green, a tall blonde woman who seemed to do everything at ten times the speed of normal people. Within ten minutes of meeting Anna in the narrow corridor of a bar where the bathroom door never quite latched and the floor was perpetually coated with a layer of Pabst, I laughed harder than I’d ever remembered. Her deep, booming voice resonated over the heads of our fellow drunken 18 year olds and pounding music. “Make like a Honda. Follow the leader,” she beckoned. Anna deftly led me through the sweaty bodies pressed together at the bar to where the beer soaked ground parted, and there stood….the curly haired disco girl from Long Island.

“This is my best friend, Carmina.”  Still stinging from memories of Orientation ’83, I mumbled a lame hi in Carmina’s direction. She met me with a slightly confused smile.

Anna Carmina and me
Anna Carmina and me

The three of us were connected from that ‘dimies’ on. As young friends do, we raucously rolled through life, my initial judgments vanishing. We were roommates until the singularly most depressing day we’d ever known – college graduation in June of 1987.

From the time she broke free of her mother’s womb, beating the other triplets, Carmina was the one to do things first. The first roommate to cook a steak for her date, which also marked the first time our apartment’s broiler saw any action. Flames flickering in the oven, Carmina laughed, rushing her towel-covered hand into that bottom broiler pan, rescuing the blackened meat.  She was the first to try a dance I knew on the slippery, diamond-lighted floor of the North Forty disco;  the first (and only) to try the sardines in tomato sauce my dad packed in his slightly eclectic care packages; and the first to speak a foreign language during our travels abroad. The first to get us kicked off a London bus for talking back to the conductor who, thinking we were entitled young friends of Ronald Reagan, asked to see our American Express cards.

In Paris, Carmina, our London semester roommate Michelle, and I neglected to notice the tunnel walkway beneath the Arc de Triomphe. We thought the only way to cross was directly through the traffic circle of careening 1960’s cars whose drivers would surely love to impale three, lost American girls. Carmina grabbed Michelle’s hand and navigated them safely through the swarm of cars. I can still hear the honking.

This woman I’d envisioned as symbolizing everything I’d hate about college made it one of the most joyful times in my life. Carmina died from cancer on May 27th at the age of 48. We hadn’t spoken in over a decade aside from a quick chat on Facebook years ago. She said she’d had breast cancer.  She was upbeat. I assumed cancer had nothing on Carmina.

After seeing a Facebook photo of Carmina and her best friend Patty last month, I realized something was wrong. The comments below the picture read “BFF’s before there were BFF’s” and “Very significant photo.” I sent questions to her FB friends. The funeral was the next morning.

Attending her funeral was the best friend thing I’d done for her in over 10 years. Driving there, the tears raged.  Gone was my chance to sit in her kitchen, laugh about our college exploits, and listen as she filled me in on her life and struggles with breast cancer.

After Carmina’s funeral, my thoughts turned to Seth who was diagnosed with MS several years after graduation. I Googled his name.  Seth died this past March, just two months before Carmina. A high school friend wrote on the funeral home guest book that Seth always championed the underdog, fearless of the repercussions. I’d often thought he was too good for this world. He cared too much, loved too deeply.

When I think back to the mid 80’s, Carmina and Seth loom larger than life. I imagine them sitting together again where I first saw them, laughing, enjoying each other’s strength, high spirits, and kindness. I know they’re the friends we all wish we could be.

Will the pain I felt driving down Route 80 toward Scranton late last month break me out of my bubble of insularity? I so wish I could say a resounding yes.  Truthfully, I still barely answer my home phone. My hope is that I honor them a bit more each day by being what they were blessed with – Carmina’s ability to make anyone feel like her best friend and Seth’s limitless love and sensitivity.  My heart aches for their presence, but I’m sure glad they got to teach me while they were around.