‘Get Home Safe,’ My Rapist Said
- JWB Post
- December 15, 2015
Here’s a story about sexual harassment at a workplace; the title of which provoked us enough to not only read it and soak it in but also to repost it.
Written by Alisson Wood, a creative writing student at New York University, who is at work on a memoir, the story originally appeared here.
“I WANT to make sure you get home safe,” my rapist said, as he walked me to my car. It was after 2 a.m., the Sunday before Christmas, and snow was falling. In some ways, in the very visceral, physical, rape way, it was all over. In more important ways, it was just beginning.
I was raped by my boss at work when I was still in college. I was a waitress at a diner, and one night, the manager announced that someone on staff had stolen a $50 gift card. He made all the front-of-house employees stay after closing, taking us each into the back office individually for questioning. I had closed with this manager many times before. He was a few years older than I was, and nice enough. We had always gotten along.
I waited for my turn to be questioned. The endless cycle of holiday music was still playing throughout the building. The lights in the table service sections were almost all turned off. There was just the glow of the emergency lights, and their reflection on the tables. Part of every server’s work before clocking out was to clean and buff every table in her section, using paper napkins and soda water. Out of nervousness, I re-buffed every table in every section of the restaurant. The entire place shone.
One by one, the other servers, busboys and hostesses went in and out of the office and were allowed to leave until it was only me. Then I was called in.
The office was tiny, the size of a bathroom. The only illumination came from cabinet lighting above a built-in corner desk. On one wall was a magnetic strip where the cooks left the good knives, letting them air dry so they wouldn’t rust. The room reeked of fryer grease. There was a chair against the opposite wall, in the back corner from the door. I sat down, anxiously wrapping and unwrapping my apron, which held my tips from the night.
I didn’t steal the gift card. I hadn’t seen who had stolen the gift card. Later, my lawyer would question if anyone had stolen a gift card, or if it was just a ploy to get me alone in the building after hours. I’ll never know. What I do know is that my manager interrogated me in the office for more than an hour, reminding me again and again that if I was lying, if I had stolen the card, I would be arrested and go to jail and never work anywhere again. He told me that the police would believe whatever he told them, and that the diner’s owners gave him the power to do whatever he needed to find out what had happened.
I was young and naïve. This was my first real job. I was just hoping that if I did and said the right things I could go home.
When he finally finished with his questioning, my boss stood up and took a step toward me, which was as far as he needed to go to be able to touch me. Or to reach one of the knives on the wall. “Have I ever told you,” he asked, “that you have really nice breasts?”
Looking back, I blame myself, in that typical victimized woman way. I never should have let myself be alone with him. I should have run the second he stood up. I should have grabbed a knife and started screaming.
Then I remind myself that no one would have heard me. He was positioned between me and the door. Even if I had grabbed a knife, he had 50 pounds on me.
Then I remember what actually happened: I was pulled out of the chair by my ponytail and dragged to the desk, my shirt torn open and my belly pushed down onto the desktop. I remember him pulling my jeans down. I remember being turned back around and shoved to the floor, pinned against metal filing cabinets, one of my arms behind me, bent the wrong way. I remember how the drawer pulls clawed into my back, how he squeezed his left hand tightly around my neck. Then he forced himself into my mouth. My jaws locked, wide, in spasm.
I was crying. In my mind I was screaming, although I did not make a sound.
And then he just stopped. Apparently he was done with me. He backed away, buckled his pants, and said nothing. The noise in my head ceased and all I heard was the Christmas music, still being pumped into the office. I sang along in my head with “Deck the Halls” while he started shutting down the various systems in the building from a computer on the desk.
Eventually, he told me to get up. He put his arm around me and walked me to get my coat, and then to my car in the parking lot. I didn’t speak. He leaned his body on mine the whole way.
He followed me home in his car, his headlights in my rearview mirror. When I got to my driveway, his car idled in the empty street. I waited. He didn’t leave. I got out of my car, shaking in fear that he was going to follow me into my apartment.
When I got to my door, I looked behind me. He slowly drove away.
The next morning, I didn’t know what to do. I told the head manager of the diner, who told me the company would take action, that they would protect me. Nothing happened, and in January I went to the police and subsequently filed a criminal charge. It went nowhere. My boss did not deny what he did to me. But he said that it was consensual, that I was a liar and a slut. The prosecutor declined to pursue the case, citing lack of evidence. It was just my word against his.
Word got around work that I was trying to ruin my boss’s life by making up a rape charge. The company didn’t fire him. I quit, moved back home and tried to start over.
I couldn’t. My days were broken up by panic attacks, flashbacks and startle responses. I took in loud gulps of air if I heard a door close behind me unexpectedly. My nights were paranoia and nightmares. I saw my rapist everywhere. Any physical touch by a man made my pulse race and my head spin. I couldn’t focus enough to read. I had a boyfriend, but he couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to have sex anymore, even though he was the first person I told about the rape. He couldn’t understand why I was always crying. We broke up by the spring.
Many years and hundreds of hours of therapy later, I have not been able to sustain a romantic relationship for more than a few months. I have trust issues. I still have nightmares. Sometimes I see my rapist for a second in the face of a stranger. I hate surprises. I hate scary movies. I can’t sleep without a night light. I can’t wear turtlenecks or tight necklaces. I can’t go into diners. They all smell the same. I hate Christmas music.
I don’t know what happened to the man who raped me. I can’t remember his last name, although I suppose I could look it up in the police report. I have it in a cardboard box in my mother’s attic, along with pages of legal documents and court paperwork and other ephemera from the case. My mother found the box recently and asked me, “Do you want me to keep all this, or do you want to take it?” I imagined lighting the contents of the box on fire, the flames cleansing the trauma from my past, all of it burning away.
But that’s not how this works. I told my mother to keep the box. I already carry everything inside it with me, everywhere I go.