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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Renken

After That

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

I wasn't beaten, tied down, or threatened into having sex with him, but I certainly didn't consent. And I've spent far too long hating the wrong person.

When he asked me to go out of town with him for the weekend, it was almost too good to be true. He was a real grown-up: a Ph.D. student, a man with a successful career before heading back to school, a thirty-something academic. He even had an ex-wife. Nothing like the too-cool-to-be-tied-down wannabe intellectuals who joined me at the bars. There was an endearing nerdiness about him. This one was different.

This one was safe.

We hadn't even been dating. Just a couple of nights and an afternoon out with a mutual friend. So the invitation came as a surprise (albeit an exceptionally pleasant one). My surprise wasn't based so much on the fact that it seemed fast or inappropriate. It was because there were so many other girls who were prettier than me. Smaller than me. Worldlier than me. Cooler than me. But he chose me.

And so we went. Our first date: a couple of days at a friend's beach house. Not bad.

The weather couldn't have been nicer. Once we got there, I couldn't wait to get my suit on, walk down to the beach, and just enjoy being finished with my master's degree. I was giddy.

I pictured him kissing me on the beach. Surely he wouldn't bring me here if he wasn't interested, right? Surely he would kiss me.

Before we did the beach thing, though, we needed to greet the weekend with a drink. He made us gin and tonics.

Then, That.

After That, things changed.

They changed in the minutes afterwards, while I lay there wishing I could press the rewind button and make different decisions--decisions that wouldn't have left me on that floor, at that moment, hating myself and my stupidity. One minute, I was excited about the prospect of new love; the next minute, I was questioning what I ever really knew about love in the first place.

They changed in the hours and days afterwards, when I actually had the chance to say "no"--and didn't. Didn't because I didn't want to disappoint him or, worse, make him angry. Didn't because That was all it took to convince me that my dating-three-months-and-a-blood-test rule was for amateurs.

They changed in the weeks afterwards, when I started sitting at bars alone, ordering Boodles and tonics (because drinkers who knew obscure liquor labels were sophisticated as opposed to pathetic). My drinking company changed from friends to small-talk strangers and regulars.

They changed in the months afterwards, as I invited Drunk into my home. Just the two of us. We got to know each other on a much more intimate basis. The goal of my drinking had changed from loosening up to just plain numbing.

Until recently, I referred to the time following That as my "lush period." I condemned myself for the person I became after That. For not being able to handle my liquor (or, in layman's terms, getting trashed to the point of humiliation every time I went out). For adopting the sleeping-with-men-to-keep-them tactic that proved amazingly deficient at finding someone to share my life with. Mostly, for becoming that pitiful girl who repeatedly put her self-respect aside for the sake of a man. Men.

I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't re-do those years if given the chance. I'm not going to say some crap like I'm glad That happened because it made me stronger and brought me to where I am now. Because I'm far from glad.

I'm pissed.

I'm pissed that things changed the way they did after That.

I'm pissed that I spent two and a half years trying my best to screw up my life, but having no idea why I was doing it.

And I'm pissed that I spent a decade despising who I was during that time that I despised myself.

So instead of embracing what happened, I am embracing the girl it happened to. I'm telling that girl who lost her way that she didn't do anything to deserve That. And she shouldn't have expected That. I'm telling her that being naive is not the same thing as being stupid. I'm telling her that nothing about those repulsive few seconds changed a thing about who

she is.

I'm telling her that I understand why her life took that nasty detour, and that it's time she understands, too.


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