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« In Which We Can't Remember The Name Of The Bar »

The following essay contains descriptions of sexual violence.

Exact Address

"Where do you live?"

I opened one eye just barely and sat up slowly. The room hadn't stopped spinning just yet so I lied back down on the bench I had made my temporary bed. The bench was to the right of the bathroom in which I had just spent five minutes vomiting. I can't remember the name of the bar I was at with friends that night, I only remember that it was within walking distance of Lake Merritt in Oakland. The year is 2009 and I am twenty-four years old.

My friends and I walked to the bar. It was a short enough walk made even shorter by the whiskey flowing in our systems and the cool breeze of an early June evening. Just prior to the bar, I was standing in my friend Melissa's kitchen wearing a Depeche Mode concert t-shirt, black tights under cut off jeans and cowboy boots, a wild ensemble.

Melissa pointed to my tights and handed me a glass of wine, "Your outfit is pretty perfect." I just smiled and took a swig from the wine glass. Melissa was my introduction to Oakland. We "met" one day while I was browsing her blog and when we realized we had mutual friends in common, I was quickly swooped up into her world. I was brought on as a marketing/PR person for the non-profit she ran with eight other women. All Bay Area based. All friends. It was the beginning of something in my life, though at the time I couldn't exactly pinpoint what that was.

I had just broken up with a boy and I was lost, as usual. When Melissa and the other women welcomed me into their lives and homes, I was stitched back up in some way. I grew up in the Bay Area but had never been to Oakland before. It wasn't even that the city's violent reputation had left an impression on me, I never went to Oakland because I had no real reason to. In 2009, I did. And I went a lot. Just about every single weekend of that year I would drive my little maroon Honda Civic up the 580 freeway and my whole world just burst the hell open.

The very first night I visited, I had to circle Melissa's block maybe five times before I found a parking space. My car barely made it up the real bitch of a hill that she lived on. Her house was known as "Carroll Gardens", named after the Brooklyn neighborhood she once called home. I was there for a fundraiser that I helped organize for the non-profit. There would be burlesque dancers, and a bake sale and live music and an open bar. It was the most wild thing and I just fell for the image of myself that Oakland and my new friends reflected back to me.

Quickly I would become a familiar face at Carroll Gardens. There was always an abundance of alcohol and cocktails made from bitters I'd never even heard of before. We were maybe a bit excessive but all of our personalities were giant. We towered over people just with our laughter and jubilee. We were a living, breathing party and I felt like I found a second family. There were birthdays, and dinner parties, and parties thrown for absolutely no reason other than the girls had leftover exotic cheeses and they wanted to make macaroni and cheese and did I wanna come over and help eat it? I always said yes. That was one of the things Melissa and the other women taught me. "Follow the yes", they would say. I knew what this meant instinctively, as if I had been waiting for permission to say yes to life all along.


On the dance floor, I started to spin. There was mixture of alcohol in my body that wasn't agreeing with the beat of the music and the heat from the movement of the other bodies that surrounded me. I needed to get horizontal immediately.

"Are you okay?"

"Oh god, this bitch is throwing up in here."

I heard the comments directed at me from other girls in the bathroom but ignored them and went to tell my friends it was time to leave. That's when I realized I could barely walk and that's when I found the bench. Ah, a bed, I probably thought. I'm not sure how long I stayed there but when a man asked me if I was okay and then where I lived, going home sounded like a damn good idea.

By some miracle, I remembered Melissa's exact address despite the booze practically seeping out of my pores.

"I'll take you home," he said.

He helped me up and as we walked passed the dance floor, I didn't even think to look for my friends. The stranger and I walked passed the bouncers, who smiled at me. Then he led me to his black Chevy Silverado that was parked directly in front of the bar, just waiting.

The night fades in and out like a pen that works fine one second, then gradually loses ink as you write a sentence.

We are parked somewhere that is not Melissa's house. I am puking out of the passenger side of this guy's truck and he is holding my hair. I black out again and when I come to he is arched over me with his dick in his hand. His pants are around his ankles, and my black tights and shorts are draped over the back of the driver's seat. When I notice that there is a hole in my tights, I call him a 'fucking prick' and that is when he penetrates me so roughly, I begin to bleed.

I'm still sitting in the passenger seat and it is difficult for him to maintain an erection. He is sweating on me, and I am present, but not. I go to a place in my mind far away from the reality of what is happening. I'm too drunk to consent or fight back, I know that even while I slip in and out of the blackout. I do not want this to be happening, I know that to be as true as the sun sets in the west, even as I slip in and out of the blackout.

He's frustrated now because his penis is not agreeing with his decision, so he pulls out, sits in the driver's seat and begins masturbating. When he's finished, he smears his ejaculation on my naked thigh.

"Put your shorts back on," he says as he tosses me my clothes.

We are pulling into Melissa's driveway and I am just about to get out of the truck when he says, "I want to take you to the movies tomorrow." I say nothing, just slam his car door and walk into the house, quietly closing the front door along with the events of the night behind me making sure not to wake anyone.


The next morning is a bit of a blur. They were worried. They called my phone dozens of times but knew that eventually I would make it back to Carroll Gardens. That's kind of what usually happened with this group of friends. We all left together but sometimes along the way we would disperse into the city in smaller groups. We would meet up with other friends nearby and go to different bars or go out for burritos; it was always late nights and crazy stories. This was just normal, but the excess had gone too far, finally. "Sorry, I just stayed at the bar with this guy and he drove me home," I lied. They scold me. I tell them nothing.

I didn't blame anyone but myself for a long time. I didn't talk about it because I was embarrassed and because I knew how rape culture worked. If I hadn't been drunk. If I hadn't left the bar. If, if. There was a haze of "was this even rape?" that clouded my better judgment for a long time. It took a while for me to even recognize what happened as the inherent, deep violation that it was. When I did, I became angry. I was seething. At myself, at men. Mostly at the fact that this kind of thing and much, much worse happens to other people every single day.

Oakland wasn't the same to me after that. I stopped going as often, not because I was afraid of being assaulted again but because I knew the partying had to stop sometime. I wanted to do something important with my life and I felt an internal clock ticking. A few months later I applied at NYU and within six weeks I received my acceptance letter. I was moving across the country and it felt right, it felt good. I felt like every single thing that had happened to me up until that point had only been preparation for this move. I was ready to leave the Bay Area and see what I could make of things out east.

There was an incident a couple weeks ago at a Dunkin' Donuts in Harlem where a man said something extremely vile and sexual to me, out loud and in front of a large group of people, all of whom said and did nothing. I felt defenseless and humiliated. Walking home in the snow after, I started to cry and that's when I realized that I had just been triggered. I've become less interested in defining what rape is or isn't; I'm only interesting in keeping the dialogue open. Shame breeds in silence, and despite what the world at large whispers and sometimes screams in our ears, we are not defined by the things that have happened to us.

These days if I happen to come across a picture of Lake Merritt, I ache for that time of my life when the world, both beautiful and curious, dangerous and threatening, revealed itself to me. Not a while ago I made some tea and stared out my kitchen window to watch the snow fall. It's just after 8 a.m. and this winter has been the coldest I've ever lived through. What sounds like a glass bottle being kicked around in the courtyard two stories below startles me. I turn my back to the window and walk to the shower to begin a new day again.

Teresa Finney is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Harlem. You can find her twitter here. She last wrote in these pages about her father.

"3:16 am" - Jhene Aiko (mp3)

"The Worst" - Jhene Aiko (mp3)

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