We Don’t Have to Do Anything
When I made the decision to take a week-long trip to New York, it was the first time I ‘took the reins’ by forcing myself to figure out how to exist in another country. I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask if I could stay in their homes and didn’t have enough money to stay in a hotel, so my strategy was to ‘play it by ear’ in the early stages of planning. I packed light in case I had to move around often. The problem of where to stay became nonexistent after Stan, a writer/editor from New York, started to contact me.
Stan invited me to stay at his place after we had exchanged emails for about one week. I was unfamiliar with his work as a writer other than a publication he ran, which I had read and enjoyed on multiple occasions. He and I began exchanging emails daily, which contained playful updates on our lives, unpublished writing, and occasionally planning my stay at his place. He explained that there would be three other people staying in his apartment at the same time I would be there, and that I was “welcome to sleep in [his] bed if [I would] be comfortable with that haha.”
“I’m down,” he continued. But if I wasn’t, I “might wanna find a different place.”
I explained that I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor, and that I would bring my sleeping bag. I hoped this would help him understand that I was in no way romantically interested in him, but he ignored my suggestion and moved onto explaining that his roommates were fine with my staying at the apartment. We exchanged a few more emails and our phone numbers so that we could keep in contact on my way to New York. In the back of my mind I felt mildly concerned that he believed my main focus in New York would be pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship with him, but I put aside my concerns and assumed that this wouldn’t be the case. Worst case scenario, I would have to verbally explain my wishes and slightly damage his ego.
I arrived in New York at 2:30 a.m. on the first day of May with the hopes of cultivating relationships with people I had vaguely interacted with, and emphatically admired, via the Internet. Stan made it clear that we would be going on a ‘bender’ throughout my visit, which, for the most part, I had no problem with. I have always liked drugs, and was definitely open to taking them for free. Stan explained to me in a text message that he’d “picked up a few things to aid in our bender,” specifically an enormous bottle of gin and two medium-sized baggies of cocaine. These were not drugs I used frequently — I usually had neutral to negative experiences with cocaine — but figured it would be there if I wanted it, and in someone else’s body if I didn’t.
On the night of my arrival, Stan and I sat on his bed until 3 or 4 a.m. getting to know each other. When I explained I was tired and began unwrapping my sleeping bag, he stopped me.
“Oh come on, you don’t have to do that,” he said.
“It’s cool, I don’t mind. I actually like sleeping on the floor.”
“No way, I’m not gonna let you do that. Come on, my bed is comfortable. We don’t have to do anything.”
“Okay,” I said sheepishly, realizing what the situation could quickly become.
I removed the absolute least amount of clothing, hoping to steer clear of any non-verbal invitations while still remaining comfortable, to some degree. I got into bed and immediately faced opposite him as he turned out the lights. After about three minutes of laying completely motionless, hoping to become more relaxed through his lack of movement, I felt his arm grazing over my waist and up and down the length of my body.
“Fuck,” I thought.
I remained frozen, unable to make any decision at all. He continued rubbing my body and began kissing the back of my neck. My hairs stood on end and I cringed. He started moving his face forward and slowly, but firmly, pulling my body back. He began kissing my mouth. I felt nauseous.
“Hey, I’m really tired. Could we not do this right now?” I said between the pressure of his open mouth.
“Uh, ok. It’s cool.” He kissed me once more and rolled over.
The next morning I shot out of bed, stepped over his brightly colored American Apparel briefs on the floor, and got dressed. I met his roommates, who were friendly but seemed less than pleased to have me there. I made an effort to keep to myself, but desperately hoped I could make enough of a good impression that I wouldn’t have to spend every moment of my trip with Stan.
He took me out for breakfast that morning at a small café near his apartment in Bed-Stuy. He was friendly, and pleasant; so pleasant that I almost felt the ‘incident’ of the previous evening would be a one-time thing. We discussed my mild obsession with health food while I forced pieces of balsamic kale in my mouth, and he stared at me for what I felt was a little too long. He paid for the meal, and we left the café to go for a walk.
Stan was the type of person to steadily give you compliments throughout the time you spent together, seemingly without expecting something in return, but actually, secretly, expecting a lot in return. Every few hours he would tell me how pretty I looked, and every few minutes he’d ask me what I was thinking about if I was looking in any direction but his. I have always felt mildly uncomfortable with any comment about my appearance, and this constant influx of them, along with the way he intently stared at me, made me feel severely overwhelmed.
That evening we were in his room sitting on his bed, and he began kissing me again. I felt unsure of how to proceed. I had no interest in making out with him or having sex with him, but had a feeling that it would ‘turn into an ordeal’ if I rejected him. I had never been in a situation where I was living with someone for a period of time who wanted to have sex with me, that I didn’t want to have sex with. I knew I had nowhere else to stay, and if I upset him that I might be forced to leave. We continued kissing and I felt like vomiting. He took off my clothes and I felt like wrapping myself in one million layers of plastic. He seemed to be ‘preparing’ to have sex with me, and I imagined becoming invisible. Suddenly I heard the lock on the apartment door click, and all four of his roommates entered.
“Wait, Stan we can’t. Everyone just got home; they will definitely hear,” I said, hoping this was a way out.
“No they won’t. It’s fine. Let’s keep going.”
“No, I think they will. I really don’t want to if your roommates are home. We really shouldn’t.”
“No, it’s fine. We should. We should. Let’s keep going.”
“Stan, please can we just do this later. Your walls are really thin.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes and tried to dissolve them. I didn’t want to do it later. I didn’t want to do it ever. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to leave, but I was trapped with him in his tiny, dimly lit room.
“No, we should keep going. Let’s keep going.”
He got on top of me. I began to relinquish control.
“Wait, aren’t you going to use a condom?” I asked.
“Oh, come on. Please don’t make me do that.”
“Stan I really, really think you should use a condom, please use a condom.”
“I’m clean. Are you?” he questioned.
“Yes but it doesn’t matter. Please. Come on.”
“Its fine Sophie, come on, we don’t need one. I hate condoms.”
I realized there was no way for me to win. I lay back and closed my eyes. I did the things I thought would make him finish faster. I heard his loud grunts pulse into my eardrum. I heard his roommates making guacamole in the kitchen. I imagined his roommates rolling their eyes at us. I imagined what it must feel like to be a pigeon in the fall. His sweat dripped onto my forehead and into my eyes. I imagined buying a smoothie from the shop down the street that I walked by earlier. I imagined things happening that weren’t this thing happening.
After he finished he rolled to his side and I stared at his hairy, gleaming chest. He grinned and put his wet arms around me. I stared up at the ugly framed comic on his wall. His skin shed sweat onto mine. His skin shed sweat onto the bed and the blankets and made little wet spots everywhere that I tried to avoid.
“Listen,” I said, sitting up and leaning away from him. “I really didn’t come to New York to, like, have a relationship with you or sleep with you. That’s not why I’m here.”
His expression immediately changed.
“Okay. I don’t really understand but okay,” he said.
“I came here to meet people and get to know everyone and to write and explore the city, but I didn’t come here to pursue a romantic relationship with anyone.”
“It’s okay. I get it. You don’t find me attractive.”
He was correct, but that wasn’t the only problem, and I somehow felt saying that would be cruel.
“It’s not that, I just don’t want to get into a sexual or romantic thing with anyone while I’m here.”
“No, it’s okay, I get it. You don’t think I’m attractive.”
I repeated myself three or four more times, but he continued to self-deprecate. I lost the will to convince him. We got dressed, and I left his room feeling humiliated.
That night was his roommate’s birthday, and a group of us went to a bar in Brooklyn to celebrate. I tried my best to avoid Stan. I almost completely forgot about his existence at certain moments, but right when I thought he might have left, I would see him staring at me from across the room. At the party I met a girl named Serena, and after a few drinks, she and I began kissing and dancing together.
Later on we discussed our favorite clothing designers and admired each other’s shoes. We exchanged phone numbers so that we could meet for coffee or maybe go shopping later that week. It was clear that neither of us viewed our kissing at the bar as something serious, but we did want to spend more time together as friends. I was relieved to find a friend to hang out with that wasn’t Stan.
Stan was exhausted after the party and immediately fell asleep without touching me. I was excited — I presumed that he got the message, and was happy that I could spend the rest of the trip feeling calm and not preyed upon. This ceased to be the case the next day: while we walked around together, he held my hand, put his arm around me, and outwardly claimed my body while walking around Bed-Stuy together. On a bench in a park near his apartment, I had to explain to him once again that I was not interested in romance, and that I just wanted to be friends. This time he was more understanding, and immediately removed his arms from my body.
After dinner that night in the Lower East Side, Stan and I took the train home to his apartment. I got ready for bed with the hope that I would be treated to another evening of sleep without exhausting sexual assault, but was denied. Once again I found myself trying (and failing) to convince Stan that I didn’t find him unattractive, but still did not want to have sex with him, and was not consenting, by any means, to having sex with him. Once again I failed, and he had sex with my body while I stared up at the ceiling. I imagined what it would be like to be raped violently. I tried to feel grateful that he wasn’t hitting, punching, stabbing, or suffocating me. He partially fell asleep on me after finishing, and I made an effort to push his body away as much as I could.
The next day he had to go to work, and I was overjoyed to have a few hours to spend completely alone. I walked the streets of Brooklyn, took a train to Manhattan, and sat at Think Coffee to try to do some writing. I watched people enter and exit the café, and stared at myself in my dimmed Macbook screen. I felt nothing. I felt powerful. I felt useless. I felt sad. I bought another coffee.
Later that evening at the apartment, Stan sat on the couch snorting lines of cocaine while I attempted to manage my steadily increasing anxiety.
“This reading tonight is going to be sweet. I’m excited you’re coming with me,” Stan said between ridiculous nasal inhales.
“Yeah, I’m excited too. It should be fun,” I said, quickly switching between songs in iTunes. I began playing “Bye Bye Bayou” by LCD Soundsystem.
My anxiety continued to increase and I began to wonder if I was going to have a panic attack. I took deep quiet breaths and got up to drink some water.
“Hey, don’t you want any of this?” Stan asked while shaking one of the baggies.
“No, I’m actually feeling a little anxious. I wish I had some weed,” I laughed to myself.
“Oh I bet Nathaniel and Molly have weed. They always do. I’ll go ask them,” he said.
“It’s okay, I’d really rather not ask your roommates for weed. I barely know them,” I said.
“No it’s fine, I’ll do it!” Stan stood up and disappeared into the other room. “It’s totally fine!” he called out. “Come in here.”
“Jesus,” I muttered under my breath.
I entered the other room where both of Stan’s roommates awkwardly stood and feigned smiles as they handed me a joint. I knew it would calm me down so I smoked it quickly while staring at the floor. After a few inhales I handed it back to Nathaniel who seemed visibly upset, to some degree, that Stan and I were in his room. I attempted to make small talk with Molly, his girlfriend, but failed for the most part.
On the train to the reading Stan repeatedly chirped, “I love cocaine!” while tapping his feet and staring in all directions.
Everyone remained quiet but him. I tried to keep myself from verbally asking him to stop existing.
At the reading, I found a couch to sit on and looked around in deep appreciation of the fact that I was at this event stoned. I hadn’t smoked marijuana at all during the trip, which was strange for me. The opportunity to feel ‘like myself’ was extremely calming. Stan called me over to where he stood with James, another writer, and I slowly got up and made my way over.
“What did you take?” James asked Stan.
“Uh, maybe a lot of cocaine,” Stan said proudly.
“What about you? Did you take cocaine too?” he asked me.
“No, I’m pretty stoned though,” I muttered. James grinned.
“Wow. Both? Damn. Interesting.”
I realized he thought I had done cocaine and then smoked marijuana, and instinctively began to laugh.
“No. Not both. I’m just stoned.”
“Oh, ok. I’m also stoned,” James said, still smiling.
“I need some water I think,” I said to no one.
“Yeah that’s a good idea, let’s get some water.”
We walked to the bar and left Stan standing a few feet away. James passed me a glass of water, and his sweater lifted slightly to reveal a tiny tattoo in a similar font to one of my own that said “fuck america.” I laughed.
“Nice tattoo,” I said.
“Wait, did you see that on the Internet?” He asked.
I laughed again. “No, I just noticed it now.” He seemed confused.
Stan approached us again and once again I felt unlike myself, and physically ill. I went to sit down and wait for the readings to start. The readings were extremely entertaining. I sat next to James and Serena on the floor and laughed steadily throughout. After the readings were finished, there was a musical performance, which I felt moved by. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the lyrics, music, atmosphere, or my “fragile” state, but at certain moments I felt like audibly crying.
When we arrived at home that evening, and the next evening after that, I gave up on trying to convince Stan to leave my body alone. He would have sex with me and I stared at the ceiling and imagined sitting alone by the river in my hometown and dipping my hands into the water. I imagined feeling a beautiful wetness by choice. After he finished he would go to sleep immediately. I was amazed by his ability to use cocaine so heavily and still have sex. I accepted the fact that sleep was not an option during this trip.
On one of my last days in New York, Stan and I had a conversation at a café about his success as a writer, or why he wasn’t succeeding. I tried to assist him for some reason, but once again he barely listened and mostly talked. I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to assist him at all — perhaps because in the daytime it felt like he was a different person, perhaps because despite his actions I still pitied him. He went into great detail about how he worships women, and thinks they are all incredible. He clearly meant this as a compliment, but to me all it seemed like was that he viewed women as literal objects to stare at and fuck and very closely admire. If Stan were a museum patron and I were a work of art, he would be asked to leave immediately. If women were different shades of lipstick at Sephora, Stan would be taken outside by the mall cop, and the mall cop would call his parents. If Stan were a 20-something man, and I were a 20-something woman, I would like to think I wouldn’t have let him claim my body as his own. But the reality is that I did. The reality is that this happened. The reality is I’m not the first person he has done this to, and if I say nothing, I have a feeling I won’t be the last.
Sophia Katz [b. 1994] is a writer and artist from Toronto, Ontario. She has been published on The Bohemyth, Everyday Genius, Electric Creal and more. Her first book, The Title Of This Book Is An Inside Joke, will be published by Sad Girl House, and released in February 2015.
Image by Andrea Addante