*A STOLEN FIRST KISS

In spite of the “unconventional” beginnings, I continued to date Cosby Sweater. I hoped that by pouring out love and affection, he would mirror my actions and love me the same way in return. I was hoping that this would not only make him into the man he could be, it would make him into the man I needed. —————————————————————————————————————- I had a crush on a friend freshman year of college, but he had a crush on Michelle Kwan. Despite all our study sessions and meals together, we did not date. Darn! Michelle Kwan I left that school, transferring to a college in Boston. Prior to beginning my new college, there was camp. I always felt at home in my skin there, and the summer of 1999 was no different. Even with my weight-loss and now shared senior-staff status with PK, my camp boyfriend from the previous year, he was not interested. Despite his aloofness, camp as it always did bolstered my confidence. That summer, The Kid from Long Island was on first year staff. His affection was obvious, as he followed me around like a puppy and babbled cute little things to me. Not only was he still in high school, at barely sixteen, he was the youngest member on staff. He was such a child. But, yay! Someone has a crush on me! Camp buoyed me and allowed me to step into more of myself in the outside world. I was still inherently shy and I still had difficulty walking into a room of strangers, but this confidence shot in the arm made transferring colleges easier. It allowed me to walk into those rooms with strangers and feel less awkward. During the first week of my new school I made friends and immediately found a home with the TV production people. I was and forced to be more outgoing than I ever was. We gorged on war stories of the entertainment industry and spent long days working on set or late evenings in pre-production meetings. To recharge, before or after these meetings, in solitude, I wrote. We further satiated our appetites by reading things like The Mail Room, The Hollywood Reporter’s annual “Women in Entertainment Power 100” (I would constantly re-read mine until the following year came out), Is That a Gun in Your Pocket or Hello He Lied. I wanted to be like Nora Ephron, Sherry Lansing, Nancy Meyers, Lynda Obst… Naturally, when the opportunity came to go to Manhattan with my school and meet working entertainment alumni, I was there. The weekend was an intensive networking/career building event. On a tour of the Late Show with David Letterman, I met a guy in a Bill Cosby Sweater. I shared self-conscious flirty smiles with him. He sat next to me during one of the lectures, we shared an elevator ride and dinner that evening. I learned he was a senior getting ready to graduate. His best friend was attending New York University. He invited me to have drinks with them and some of her friends at a dive bar in Greenwich Village. (How grown up.) Even though I was only 20, I accepted. This was the closest thing to a date I’d ever been on. I sat next to Cosby Sweater. The friends talked about their first presidential election they voted in. I realized I was only in junior high while they were having this milestone. They taught me how to order drinks when you’re underage. I felt incredibly out of place. Cosby Sweater squeezed my knee, and I knew I was going to be okay. I had one drink because I didn’t like breaking the law and I didn’t want to be out of control. I drank slowly and enjoyed this very adult moment. Times Square Cosby Sweater and I went back to our hotel in Times Square. He even walked me back to the mini suite I was staying in with my weekend roommate. I was expecting maybe a kiss goodnight, at the most. He came in and we hung out with her in the modest living room until she went to bed. I was attracted to Cosby Sweater and had those great nervous butterflies, but I wasn’t accustomed to the attention he was giving me… flirting, touching… He gave me a back rub and I politely fended off his advances. We kissed some more and I told him I was tired. He asked to join me. My emotions were sitting between dizzying panic of sleeping next to a boy and an extreme worry of not wanting to be rude and make him sleep in his own room. I agreed. The bedroom was a standard hotel room two full-size beds, and a nightstand assigned to each. No sex until marriage. It was a solid plan. My “no sex decree” wasn’t inspired by my time working at church camp. It certainly wasn’t inspired by mainstream media. It was an idea set forth by my public high school Humanities teacher: “Wait until marriage. Your virginity is the only gift you can give once.” It was incredibly romantic. I loved giving gifts. THIS was the ultimate “I like you” gift. While my weekend roommate slept soundly in the bed next to me, Cosby Sweater took my “I like you gift.” I felt detached, like I was watching myself in the third person. I was scared and frustrated I didn’t have my gift to give. I scrambled to make the misstep out of marriage ok. The crazy thing is, is: This wasn’t making love; it was date rape. But, I didn’t know that at the time. When Cosby Sweater and I woke up the next morning, the roommate was already gone. Cosby Sweater walked to the window and peeled back the shade; it was a window to nothing. It was as if the building had folder over on itself. House keeping came by. The sheets were ruined. Shit! It was an awkward morning. I’ve never had sex before and wasn’t entirely clear how we should act. Do we hold hands? Do we not hold hands? Do we pretend like it’s not a big deal? I don’t know how people act after they have sex for the first time. All I could think of was Tom Hanks in Big and how he gave everyone high 5’s and started drinking coffee and went as far as to take it black. I did not feel that way. But Cosby Sweater and I sat next to each other in the remaining weekend lectures and even on the bus ride home. I was embarrassed and frightened. My brain went into overdrive to rectify everything. I wanted to erase what Cosby Sweater did and worked to reconcile the events of New York. By making a relationship work, everything would be okay. I’d visit Cosby Sweater in his dorm room. If things got too heated (and they often did), my nerves sent me fleeing back to my room. I was on a seesaw. I wasn’t ready for an intimate relationship, but here I was hymen-less. I had to make this relationship work. That’s what people do, right? Marry the first person they sleep with? Part of my inability to see that it was date rape was my naïveté and part of it was the vitriol that women were fed, and it was always some permutation of NO: “no” and “no means no.” Other phrases like “stop” or “get off me” were not part of the “say no to rape” catchphrases we learned at a time before the rule of “Yes Means Yes.” I cordoned off my first sexual experience and locked it and the miserable memories associated with it in a room to wither and die. In spite of the “unconventional” beginnings, I continued to date Cosby Sweater. I hoped that by pouring out love and affection, he would mirror my actions and love me the same way in return. I was hoping that this would not only make him into the man he could be, it would make him into the man I needed. We dated all through my junior year and broke up in the summer going into my senior year. Boston Public Garden Senior year was transformative. It was also the year where other media students and I were involved with a group that was collaborating with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) and the Boston PD to produce a rape awareness video. The video would be shown to incoming college students in the greater-Boston area. The message was twofold: educate them about available resources and teach them they’re not alone. Doing this work, I learned that one in four college women are raped or sexually assaulted. Holy shit! Those are some crazy statistics. Holy shit! That’s me! I submitted a script pulling from my experience. The three members of BARCC, who were liaising between the center and the college told me the script was too dramatic. Really? My script was essentially a cry for help. Now, the very people whose duty it was to assist rape victims through their work at the Rape Crisis Center were telling me my script was not accurate. Their inability to see the cry and listen to my explanation of camera movements showing how the victim would feel detached from everything after a rape made me feel like my experience was invalid. I knew if I confronted Cosby Sweater to tell him he raped me, he’d cry. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. It’s okay you raped me. You didn’t know any better. After he’d be done crying, he’d say it wasn’t rape and then blame me for not wanting to have sex. He is one of those Accidental Rapists, one of those people who admits to having sex with a person against their will, but doesn’t view their actions as rape. The article points out if the R word isn’t mentioned, more people are willing to admit to doing it. Cosby Sweater’s misconception of rape doesn’t make him any less culpable and it doesn’t make him any less rapey. I do not want to even consider confronting him. For a time after the incident and moments since then, I felt I could no longer connect to things that were enjoyable. Food on occasion became more of a necessity— Fuck what am I going to eat? I have to eat something. In the weeks and months after the rape, life started becoming filled with more moments of yawning indifference. I even became fed up with long-distance dedications on the radio and witnessing the smallest romantic gesture in other couples made my stomach turn. Sex for may years was an enigma, often times scary, un-enjoyable and even one of those duties one must subject themselves to (like doing dishes). To my soul, the rape was like taking a crystal vase, dropping it on the floor and trying to put it back together. There really isn’t an amount of glue that will repair it. Talking about rape is one of those things that people push off. It’s taboo. It makes people uncomfortable. It’s one of those things that shouldn’t happen. A dialogue needs to happen. But, people’s inability to have an open discussion or burring a discussion within a blog shows how uncomfortable the discussion of rape is. While not admitting it was rape right away, I knew there wasn’t something right about my first sexual experience. I couldn’t deal with it. Admitting I was raped seemed inaccurate. A dream. How can I be the victim of rape? Over the years I’ve tried to rewrite history, to talk myself out of it. Then, I reread things like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings or Patricia Lockwood’s “The Rape Joke,” and I’m thrust back into the reality. No, I’m one of the four. Somewhere in my dating life, I was able to get back to enjoying romance, making other people happy and even cooking for them (out of affection). But, while traveling I still can’t and won’t stay in the same brand of hotel where the rape occurred _____________________________________________________________ SIDEBAR The issue with rape and sexual assault among college students is that the crisis is large. Many victims remain silent. Their silence and the lack of help from their college or university goes beyond resources, college-sanctioned alcohol consumption, state laws and sexual mores. In trying to find contemporary material while making peace with my past, I found many articles on the subject. One that really spoke to me and helps shine a light on the many angles of the problem is  an editorial by Jed Rubenfeld. In his editorial, “Mishandling Rape,” (published in The New York Times, November 15, 2014), Rubenfeld takes time to carefully unpack the elements of rape among college students. In it, he looks at historical social mores and current trends while calling for a transformation of colleges. As an outsider who is over 10 years out of college, I can see that colleges have come a long way. It’s not enough. Cultural change won’t happen over night, but we need to keep advocating change.