When I was eighteen, I discovered that a girl I loved had been raped just before I started seeing her again. We had dated previously back in high school, but ours didn’t last long enough then to qualify as an authentic high school romance. When she called during my freshman year at college, I felt hopeful again. Hopeful of love and true romance, and all the things that were supposed to happen to boys and girls who did “good,” who showed a proper respect for each other and their world.
Her mother had abandoned her and her sister when they were grade- schoolers. The mother didn’t leave town, just moved in with a different man, leaving her father to raise these two girls alone.
I didn’t discover that this man wasn’t her biological father until our most recent Facebook message.
“He was such a sweet man,” she told me not too long ago. “He adopted me and always treated me like his own. But I was so troubled, and he never knew.”
It’s strange now to think of the man I saw on those nights, the one who either wished us well as we headed out to a movie, or sat on the sofa with us during Alabama football games on TV. I believed then that he was looking after the child of his loins. Like him, there was just so much I didn’t know.
I did, however, know her rapist. I used to play little league baseball with him. He had red hair and freckles and had lost his own father to some heart-related illness. His mother sat alone in the stands for every game, cheering her boy on. He seemed mild enough to me, and before I knew what he did, I’d see him at parties. Once we shared a plate of raw oysters. Many times we shared a joint. I never really liked him; he was just one of the guys I knew back then. One of “our crowd.”
He was older than both the girl and me. He was a football player: compact, burly, and usually very quiet. Home from college, he asked her out one early fall weekend and took her to a party. He lured her to a back bedroom and asked if she knew what a Yankee Dime was. She didn’t. Then he showed her.
She had been a virgin.
After she called me when I was in college, we dated again for a few weeks. At that time, I didn’t know about her rape. I found out from a mutual friend who swore me to secrecy.
“She thought she was pregnant,” the friend told me.
I never found out if that was true or not, or if it was, what happened next—what she did about it. But it killed her anyway, and it killed us. Though she initiated our renewal, she gave up on us after a few weeks. All I ever wanted back then was to kiss her, to love her. Sure, I would have wanted more had we kept dating, but in the “back then” of us, unlike her, I was still a virgin.
Occasionally over the next few years, this girl I maybe loved would contact me, and we’d talk. Finally, I let her know that I was in a serious relationship.
“Oh, I see.”
We didn’t speak again for nearly forty years, and when we did, she finally told me what had happened. She wasn’t concerned that I already knew. In the meantime, she had married, though she didn’t love her husband romantically. They had her only child together but eventually divorced, and she began seeing another guy—someone, ironically, she first met not long after we broke up.
It turned out that this new guy was a sociopath. He hurt her physically and could have killed her. She blamed herself, as she always had. None of her horrors, I’m sure, would have happened if this guy we all knew had not offered her his Yankee Dime. If he had not seen her as a thing but rather as a person. As a troubled, beautiful girl.
I thought of this story again when I first heard The National’s song, “Conversation 16”:
“Now we'll leave the silver city 'cause all the silver girls
Gave us black dreams
Leave the silver city cause all the silver girls
Everything means everything”.
I listened to these lyrics, and others: the “Hollywood summer,” where “We belong in a movie, Try[ing] to hold it together 'til our friends are gone.”
I know it sounds strange, maybe even “Hollywood,” but the song gave me a curious kind of courage. I know I’m distorting The National’s intent, changing it to suit my needs, but it helped me.
I know, too, that this young woman held it together as best she could. After thinking about the song and letting it cleanse me, I wrote about us, elsewhere, and asked her permission to publish.
“Yes, I’d like you to tell this story,” she said, “but please don’t use his name.”
I had considered exposing him because whenever I told friends what he had done, the responses I received ranged from incredulity (“He wouldn’t have done that!”) to defensiveness (“But he was such a good guy!”), to blame (“What did she do?” And, “Don’t you know that guys are more and more becoming the victims of vengeful women?”).
“What if your son was accused wrongly,” a friend asked.
“I don’t know, I have daughters,” I said.
I keep hearing the chorus of “Conversation 16”:
“I was afraid, I'd eat your brains
Cause I'm evil.”
So, in the end, I didn’t use his name. Like the song suggests, I took the only road available, the most direct route I could.
I called him “Evil.”
Maybe I would have told this story without hearing The National’s haunting chords. I know that the rapist is married and has children. Little girls. I know this because as I was writing the story for the first time, he sent me a Facebook friend request. Though I turned him down, I looked at his profile. I saw the same supposedly innocent, “good-guy face.” Still, I wish I could play him a song I love. I feel reasonably sure, though, he wouldn’t get it, even though we both know that indeed, “everything” does mean “everything.”
Terry Barr is the author of the essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings from My Alabama Mother, published in its second edition by Third Lung Press. His work has appeared in Red Fez, 3288 Review, EMRYS Journal, Vol 1 Brooklyn, Left Hooks, Hippocampus, The Bitter Southerner, and Wraparound South. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.