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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Renken

It Happened

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

When you claim to know how a woman should have responded to her assault, you join the ranks of her abuser.

If you don't believe her, you'd never believe me.

And if you do believe her but think it's much ado about nothing (she was a party girl and he didn't even penetrate her, for crap's sake), then you most certainly would accuse me of being melodramatic.

Which probably explains the 50-pound weight that's been sitting on my chest since I started reading the reactions to her testimony. And the lump that lodges in my throat out of nowhere. Not to mention the utter inability to concentrate. Like my brain is just running blank film on a continuous feed.

Because if you hate her, think she's a shit-disturber, or simply lack compassion for her even if you do believe her, then what happened to me is so incredibly insignificant.

It shouldn't have broken me the way it did. I should've been able to just pull my big-girl pants back up and shrug it off. And for God's sake, it shouldn't still be haunting me 18 years, a marriage, a law degree, a successful career, and an amazing rugrat later.

I must be weak. Or attention-seeking. Or self-pitying. Or the ever-so-present fallback: just too damn sensitive.

You see, he didn't hold me down. He didn't threaten my life. He didn't leave any marks. Not the kind you can see, anyway.

But from that moment on, I was changed. Just like Christine Blasey Ford and Andrea Constand described, who I was and how I interacted with the world became defined by Before and After.

Until that moment, sex was sacred. While I certainly won't claim I had planned to save myself until marriage or was the picture of virtue, until that moment, I had only been with men I truly believed I loved. Men who had earned my trust. (Three months of dating and a blood test is generally how I decided whether he was trustworthy. Neurotic? You bet.) Point being, I took sex seriously--from an emotional and physical standpoint. For me, the intimacy of intercourse brought my vulnerabilities, fears, and insecurities to a whole new level. It bonded me with an individual like no other experience could. So I was excruciatingly careful about who I opened that part of myself up to.

Until that moment, we hadn't even kissed. I assumed he was interested since he invited me to stay at his friend's beach house, but I hadn't had the best of luck in relationships and generally wasn't the girl guys chased after, so I tried to keep my expectations in check. Not out of the question he just wanted to hang out at the beach with a friend. And he was quite a bit older than I was, so what did I know? Maybe "just friends" went on these types of trips when they were adults. (At 25, I didn't feel like I had quite yet achieved full grown-upness.)

I vaguely remember him starting to kiss me. I don't remember if he was a good kisser, or the exact moment we dropped to the floor. I don't remember him undoing my shorts, but I wouldn't have told him to stop at that point because we were making out, after all, and like I said--I'm not claiming I was pure as the driven snow.

But I remember like yesterday the shock and confusion I felt when, within seconds and out of nowhere, he was inside of me (my God, is this really happening?). And the despair and shame that overcame me after he finished, stood up, and left me lying there without so much as a peck on the cheek (please let me wake up from this God-awful dream).

No foreplay. No "You're beautiful." No condom. No "Are you ready?" or, much less, "Do you want to do this?"

Nothing that would have warned me I was about to add another partner to my I-can-count-on-one-hand list. For fuck's sake--we didn't even have our clothes off.

From him leaning in for the kiss until he pulled himself out of me, it couldn't have been more than a couple of minutes. So how in God's precious name could 120 seconds of a non-violent encounter leave me so irretrievably shattered? To this day, I can't give you the answer to that question because I DON'T KNOW HOW.

Just like I don't know why I did what I did afterwards.

I didn't cry. I didn't tell him I hadn't wanted that. When I saw the condoms in his duffel bag afterwards, I didn't ask him why he couldn't have at least had the decency to protect me from God-knows-what diseases. I didn't tell my friends what had happened because...why? What was the point? And I sure as hell didn't file a police report because I didn't even understand what had happened--or how it affected me--until more than a decade later.

What I did do is even more inexplicable.

I slept with him again that night. After I bought him dinner.

I slept with him again and again my last couple of weeks in North Carolina, and then wrote him x-rated e-mails after I moved to Dallas.

I invited him to visit me in Dallas for the weekend, and opened my home and bed to him. I gave him my car when he suddenly had relatives he wanted to visit while he was in town, and sat at a bar down the street until he came back a few hours later. And when he told me he was flying home early because I hadn't bothered to plan an itinerary for his visit, I pleaded through desperate tears for him not to leave. When he insisted I had screwed up beyond any chance of reconciliation, I begged even more pathetically to let me wait with him inside the airport. When he got out of my car and walked out of my life at DFW, my heart split wide open.

So yes, to be abundantly clear, my actions in the days and weeks after that moment were wholly inconsistent with what you would expect or assume someone would do after she had been sexually assaulted. Or raped. Or whatever it is you want to call it. (Does it freaking matter?)

As if my credibility weren't already suspect, I can't even tell you what month--much less, the date or even day of the week--the assault happened. I'm pretty sure it was May (definitely 2000) because it was after I finished my master's degree, but before I moved to Texas. I can't tell you what the house looked like from the outside, or the name of the restaurant where we ate just a few short hours after it happened. I have no idea who the friend was who loaned him the house for the night, and I don't even know if we stayed one or two nights.

The months and years afterwards were textbook, though. I drank. A lot. By myself. At home, at bars, wherever. There were times I got so drunk at the restaurant down the street from my apartment, I couldn't get out of the parking lot without hitting another car.

I had one-night stands. I had Hail Mary sex with men who appeared to be losing interest when I hadn't put out after a few dates. Because why not? It's not like sex meant anything. I was the one who had taken it too seriously for too long, while the rest of the world just enjoyed it for what it was--fun.

Except it wasn't fun. It left me a little more hollow and a lot more scarred every time.

How's that for a shitty witness? A supposed victim who can't remember certain details, pursued her alleged abuser after she claims he violated her, and doesn't know to this day if what she experienced was even a crime. And lest we forget, she's a slut (because who cares if her promiscuity came Before of After--a whore is a whore is a whore).

Even if I were the Virgin Mary, no way I could prove what happened in a court of law. Not unless there was a hidden camera and the tape somehow survived 18-plus years. We were the only two there, no one would have any reason to remember us taking the trip, and he's created a picture-perfect family since.

But regardless of the evidence (or lack thereof), the fact remains that it happened and it was him who did it (there's no bullshit chance of mistaken identity when you know your attacker). And there's no question it screwed me up beyond all recognition.

So whatever you do, don't tell me it didn't happen.

Don't tell me the mistakes I made Before and After cancel out what he took from me.

And don't you dare say I'm making too much of it, or he was just doing what guys do. DON'T. YOU. DARE.

It may be baggage, but it's my baggage and you don't get to decide whether I'm worthy of carrying it. When you presume to make that judgment call for one victim, you may as well hold your hand over the mouths of hundreds of others. The name-calling, the ridicule, the shaming...when you say it to one, we hear it for all. And it hurts like hell.

But perhaps that's exactly what was intended.


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