TW: Sexual Assault.
About a year after I moved to California, I was working at the Marriott in downtown San Diego, waiting tables during the week while I attended classes at City College. Most of the people I worked with were also students with the occasional lifelong cook or bartender mixed in. One of the crew was a blond, blue eyed guy named Ron who wore loafers and Izod shirts. He had gone to Exeter and was studying PolySci at UCSD, clearly taking notes from the Official Preppy Handbook. Ron was sure of himself, cocky and cute. He was always talking about politics and shared fundamentally different beliefs than I did, including wanting Bush to win in the upcoming 1992 election. These discussions reminded me of heated discussions with my Dad but this guy was sharp and funny, and I enjoyed the banter. I was trying out something new, getting away from only engaging with my typical dirty art boy/hippie beach bums. I wanted to expand my mind and not just with psychedelics. It was fun and we were friendly. Together with the rest of the restaurant crew, we would hang out sometimes at a local bar.
One night after work, everyone was drinking and talking about going to Vegas, which was only a five-hour drive away. I had never been, and it sounded both disgusting and fascinating. At some point, Ron asked if I wanted to ‘come with’ for the weekend. He said it would be cheap and explained the whole gambling to buffet to hotel room breakdown. Of course, we would get single beds since we were just friends. I figured I had nothing to lose but sleep and my tip money, so I said yes.
After a peaceful drive through mostly desert, we arrived on the strip and found our hotel. Everything about Vegas was overwhelming. Even arriving midday, the bright lights, noise, opportunity, and seduction was palpable. The Excalibur Hotel had only been built the year before so the novelty of staying in a massive castle and the largest hotel in the world had not yet worn off. We dropped our bags in the room and quickly went downstairs to explore the casinos. I’m not a gambler, I have zero poker face, so I mainly stuck to the slot machines. Somehow it calmed my usually angst-ridden brain. After I wasted a few dollars and drank a sickly sweet rum and Coke, I went to find Ron who was playing cards at a table nearby. I still don’t understand the strategy behind gambling but I did understand that pulling in chips from the middle pile was good. Ron knew what he was doing, quietly surveilling the scene while taking sips of whisky out of a plastic cup. I remember thinking that I could never be that calm in the face of potentially losing my money but I imagined that’s what it is like being raised with the safety of financial privilege. After a few more wins, we decided to celebrate by skipping the free buffet and going out to dinner.
The plan was to go back up to the room, shower, and get a recommendation from the concierge. I was excited. I was still sorting out how I felt about Ron, though. We’d been friends for a few months by then. I couldn’t see any romantic relationship in the future but he was being pretty nice. And that’s all I needed then. Just a little kindness. I see now that I was holding the bar too low.
When we got back to the room, I opened my backpack and pulled out a dress I’d brought. When I turned around, Ron was standing in front of me. Right in front of me. I pushed him away and made a joke about him wanting to see the dress but I felt a surge of adrenaline hit me. I turned around to put the dress on the bed and felt him come closer behind me. I stood still and held my breath. If I just waited, quietly, he would back away. He would know. But then he put his hands on my breasts. I turned around quickly to push him away again but he grabbed me by the arms and threw me on his bed. He was smiling. I remember that he didn’t stop smiling the entire time. I told him to stop, to let me go. I thought he was just messing around, but his grip on my wrists did not loosen. Something that only lasted seconds seemed to go on forever. Every sensation was heightened. The breeze from the air conditioning on outside of my thighs. The rough texture of his jeans in between my thighs. His breath on my face. His weight. How could someone be so heavy? I continued to tell him to get off of me. He continued to say things about how this was what I wanted, how I have been waiting for it since I got in the car, since no one would take a trip like this if she didn’t want it. I was stupid, naive, afraid. I could feel my heart beating in my throat and behind my eyes. I wanted to scream but nothing was coming out.
So I smiled. I looked at his big white teeth, his shit eating grin, and I matched it. And then I laughed hard and loud. It caught him off guard and he loosened his grip long enough for me to roll off the bed onto the floor. I kept laughing, manically, and then he started laughing too. He said “You’re weird, but I like it. I’m going to take a shower, then we can pick up where we left off,” and he went into the bathroom. The second he turned on the shower, I grabbed my backpack and my shoes and ran. At the bell station downstairs, I begged the valet to let me take the first available cab. I wasn’t crying but I know I looked terrified. He escorted me outside, blew a whistle, and I jumped in a taxi.
“Airport,” I said.
When I arrived, I went to the first ticket counter I saw and asked how to get back to San Diego as soon as humanly possible. There was a flight in 45 minutes so I took out my wallet and gave her all of my cash, including coins for the slot machines. I have no idea how much the fare was or if she helped me out, I only know I had a ticket in hand and my breathing slowed. I got through security and began walking to my gate. I was across the atrium when I heard my name being shouted. I turned around to see Ron, outside of security, red faced and waving his arms at me feverishly.
Back in 1991, the U.S. airports had heightened security measures due to the previous year’s Gulf War. In May of that year, they began to lift these measures, but lucky for me, that hadn’t happened yet. Ron continued to yell, this time obscenities, and a nearby guard told him to calm down. Other travelers began to notice his outburst while I pretended I didn’t know who he was.
I kept walking toward the gate, hoping he didn’t do something rash like buy a plane ticket just to come find me. I looked back once or twice but couldn’t see any evidence of him, and I boarded the plane. I held my breath until the plane doors closed. When I got home, I quit my job. I had been working at a deli on the weekends and immediately asked them for more shifts instead. I couldn’t face Ron or how stupid I felt for letting the whole thing happen.
I wish I could say I never saw him again but I did worse. Months later, I called him one night. I was feeling especially sorry for myself because my current boyfriend was in the hospital from drinking poisoned mushroom tea. That wasn’t a particularly healthy relationship, we’d been on the outs for a while, but it wasn’t one that warranted this behavior. Ron came over and I asked him not to say a word. I led him to the bedroom and I let him kiss me, I let him have me, while I rested in my shame.