Powerful Men, Good Men, and Assault

“I did try and fuck her.”

Liam* is a quiet kid who lives down the hall from me in my freshman dorm. We’ve never interacted much; he seems shy.

It’s Zonker Harris Day, a day when almost all the campus gathers on Foss Hill and celebrates “hippie culture.” Liam is in my room and he won’t leave. He is having a very bad trip on what we’d find out was a near-toxic combination of synthetic hallucinogens. My roommate is sitting on her bed, quietly trying to help him. That’s what we women are, we are healers, after all. I tell them I need to change my clothes; Liam says he isn’t going anywhere.

I go to the bathroom to change, giving Liam space. That’s what we women do, we make room for men, after all. On my way to the dorm bathroom down the hall, I tell my friend that something weird is happening and Liam won’t leave my room. My friend says he’s sure it’s fine, this is just what happens, it’s college, after all. That I should just meet him outside on Foss after I change. He walks away and I nod, willing the problem to go away.

Though, when I return to my room from the now near-empty dorm floor, Liam is still there. Now, he has no pants on.

Liam is crouched on the floor of my room, naked from the waist down. He says he loves the drugs because they’ve turned him into a rock star and now he can have what he wants. I ask Liam if he wants to get some air outside. I don’t want that. Liam says the outside scares him. His eyes are wild, dilated so wide they might explode. He locks his gaze on me, and I see that he’s decided his answer lies in me. You’re really hot. He steps toward me.

I’m going to kiss you now. I tell him no. He says yes. He moves in closer. My roommate watches, helpless, from her end of the room. Liam corners me between my bookshelf and my mini-fridge. My arms flail, fending off his touch, and I knock over a bowl of leftover microwave mac and cheese. Milky residue spills on the wall, and the room will smell like powdered white cheddar for weeks.

Liam pins my hands down and I can’t move. I scream, but I don’t think anyone can hear me, so I scream louder, and suddenly, luckily, thankfully Liam is pulled off of me. It’s loud and violent, but in a flash Liam’s hands are back on me, and then suddenly, luckily, thankfully, finally Liam is pulled off me for good and restrained in the hall. We are all crying. I close the door.

“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

I sit in Dean Scott Backer’s office. He asks me just how much Liam touched me, just how much I said no, just how much drugs he had taken, just how much drugs I had taken. Enough, so much, I don’t know, none. Dean Scott Backer’s eyes dart around the room, finally locking in on my fidgeting hands. Dean Scott Backer tells me he talked to Liam and Liam is very sorry. Dean Scott Backer asks me if I really think a hearing is necessary. I say yes. Liam is charged with harassment, abuse, and sexual misconduct. He is suspended for one semester.

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there.”

The next semester, Liam returns to campus and I see him in the student center. We both shirk away. Neither one of us wants to remember that day. Attack, harassment, assault… These are words neither one of us knows how to claim as part of our stories.

That same week, I see Liam moving into my dorm. I email Dean Scott Backer, who didn’t realize this would be an issue. He was on a lot of drugs, though, so… You weren’t injured, were you? So he just said he was going to kiss you, but he didn’t actually, right? So it was just words.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it.”

I don’t know if my story is really one of assault or just of an acid trip gone wrong. Is it toxic masculinity, a man claiming what he feels entitled to, or just a boy who didn’t know how to ask? I don’t know if I was gaslit, or if I’m doing my usual neurotic bit of questioning everything, or if I’m just being empathetic. I don’t know.

I do know that when my friend calls me a survivor, I don’t feel comfortable with that identity. If I am a survivor, it’s only because I’ve survived and continue to survive what we all experience. You know: locker room talk.

“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Almost five years later, a misogynist is exploiting his influence to campaign for the most powerful office in the world.

Almost five years later, the Boston Globe reveals that Dean Scott Backer is a sexual predator himself.

Almost five years later, I wake up crying, thinking about what it feels like to lose control of a space and a body that are mine. I cry thinking about the warm, kind, good arms wrapped around me, the ones I invited to share my bed, the ones that respect me and my agency. I cry thinking about the men who never learned that kind of respect. You are strong. I nod; I don’t need him to tell me that, but it’s nice to hear. He holds me tighter. You know none of it was your fault. I tell him I know. But I keep crying, because I don’t think it was Liam’s fault either.

*Name changed.

Originally published at www.sarahhallecorey.com on October 12, 2016.

Sarah is a writer, filmmaker, and digital content creator who produces work about feminism, feelings, pop culture, and everything in between. You can read more of Sarah’s writing here and here, and subscribe to her newsletter Pop Warrior here.

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