It Wasn’t Your Fault (But Really It Was)

by Elizabeth Ollero

I have trouble sleeping and I knew I had to get to bed to wake up early the next day, so I took an Ambien, washed up, and got ready to go to bed. I checked my phone and saw a male friend of mine had left a text: “I missed the last train home, can I crash at your place?”

Of course he could crash at my place. How could I say no? And so, growing sleepier as the Ambien kicked in, I let this boy into my apartment. I had warned him before he even got there, “I took an Ambien, so I’m going straight to bed.” He assured me that was fine.

I offered him a large shirt, which he declined. I thought maybe he wouldn’t want to sleep in his shirt from the day. I was right. Instead, he stripped down to his boxers and climbed into bed. I on one side, he on the other. I fell asleep on my stomach, arms close to my side, facing him. I felt his arm move slightly so that it was pressed against mine, but the contact didn’t scare me. It was almost natural, and I fell asleep.

I woke up bewildered, but trapped in the sleepy Ambien fog. My eyes were closed. I wasn’t moving. It was as if I was watching myself from across the room, aware of what was happening but unable to interfere. I was now lying on my side, facing away from the boy, a hand crawling up my side. I didn’t like it there, but I couldn’t do anything. I was trapped in my own head. The weight of this hand resting on me, on my waist, beneath my shirt, grew heavier. I finally woke up enough to gingerly lift this hand from my bare waist and place it firmly on the owner’s body. I slipped back into sleep. Ambien will do that to you.

I didn’t fully come to the second time. I was confused about how much time had passed since I had removed the strange hand from my body because it had now returned. It was the sensation of kneading, my breasts, my nipples, that made me aware of the trespasser’s hand. I was trapped deep inside of my head. I could feel the groping, the touching—every sensation magnified in the most terrifying way. These hands did not belong on me. But I couldn’t do a thing. I was still in my dream, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move. Maybe it was the Ambien, or maybe it was the fear.

I had always assumed I’d be stronger in a moment like this.

The clock’s ugly red light read 2:32. It was dark outside, and the hand was still kneading. How long had this been going on? I felt like I had fallen back asleep for hours. This time I was awake enough. I pushed the hand away and stumbled to the bathroom. My balance was off, I was dizzy. I didn’t even have to pee. I just needed a moment away. My brain was fuzzy, though. Instead of sleeping on the couch, or telling him to leave, I got back in bed. I laid on my stomach, my arms tucked firmly into my chest to protect myself. Once again, I fell back asleep.

Then my back was on fire. There was a hand under my shirt again, rubbing in circles. My skin felt raw and burned from the touch that I hated so much. The night continued as such.

I laid in bed when morning finally came, face down, arms clenching to hold my body close to myself and only myself. I watched as he put his pants on, his shirt. Tucked it in, his belt clicking. “Thank you for letting me crash here,” he said. And then he left.

I fell back asleep once more, and when I woke, the nausea overwhelmed me. I ran to the bathroom to throw up, thinking of the plans I had for the day. Was I sick? No. Just horrified. The gnawing in my stomach grew, a bitter growl as I still felt the hands kneading and rubbing around my body. I threw up once more. I sat on my bed and time passed. I didn’t even bother to text to cancel my plans. I just didn’t go. The night played back in my head on repeat, the sensations prickled my skin. I called my aunt and I cried.

I told her a brief version of my story. The who, the what, the where. The how. I skipped over the groping and kneading, cringing as I remembered each detail. I was ashamed, and she let me cry. Then she spoke: “Boys are stupid, honey. They’re stupid and they’re horny, they don’t know that it’s wrong.” It was like she was talking about a small child who played a bit too rough.

I’m supposed to tell you he was drunk, because I guess that detail is important. “Drunk boys, well, they’re just drunk. He probably didn’t mean to do it. I bet he doesn’t even remember it, and if he does, he didn’t say anything because he’s embarrassed. Just try to forget about it.” But I couldn’t forget about it. And he wasn’t that drunk. I didn’t remember him being that drunk. Why do I need to fight to prove that he was in the wrong? My frustration grew with my disgust.

I thought, maybe if I talked to someone younger, someone who is surrounded by anti-rape activism, I’d get a comforting answer. I don’t know what I was searching for. Maybe communication, a connection, someone to tell me the right thing to make it all feel better? I didn’t find it, though.

“It wasn’t your fault. But maybe if you didn’t have casual sex so much you wouldn’t be so bothered by this. Or this wouldn’t have happened.” My casual sex was consensual, though. My casual sex was not a call to be touched. My history was not a sign across my chest, begging for sexual interaction in any form it could take shape.

Consensual, casual sex did not deem me an appropriate victim for sexual assault. Did it? (No.) Had I marred my image so much that I was seen as an object of purely sex? (No.) Was that what people expected of me? (No.) Is this what I deserved? (No.)

I had not treated my virginity nor my pleasure as something “sacred,” and for that, it was not respected. (It should be, though.) My body no longer belonged to me, but rather, whoever sought pleasure from it. I have always been a giver.

I did not know where to seek comfort. Everywhere I looked, I heard, “It wasn’t your fault, but…” But what? How, in any way, was this my fault? How did I bring this upon myself?

“It wasn’t your fault, but you shouldn’t have put yourself in a situation like this.” A situation like what? Letting my friend, my seemingly harmless friend, crash at my place because he missed his train?

“It wasn’t your fault, but he was drunk. You can’t blame his actions.”

“It wasn’t your fault, but you took an Ambien. Maybe you consented in your sleep.” Consent is not viable when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I clearly told him I had taken an Ambien, and that it would knock me out. This wasn’t me saying “Please, touch me.” It was me telling him, “I’m going to fall asleep for eight hours and not wake up.” It was not an invitation. And yes, it puts me in a vulnerable position, but I did not take it knowing a boy would be sleeping at my apartment. I did not say, “I’m going to be practically comatose, have a free-for-all.”

“It wasn’t your fault, but what were you wearing? Those little shorts you usually wear to bed?” No, thank you, I was wearing an oversized t-shirt and long pants, not that that makes any difference whatsoever.

“It wasn’t your fault, but was there any sexual pretense? You probably gave him the idea that you were going to hook up.” Nope. I did not.

“It wasn’t your fault, but did you clearly say no?” No. I probably didn’t. I probably should have. I chalk that up to the Ambien, mostly. And fear.

But I most certainly did not say yes.

Image via YouTube

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