It was the summer of 1972 and no one wanted to admit the ‘60s had come to an end — and in Weird Town, USA, they’ve yet to admit it! I was fifteen, soon to turn sixteen, and I was looking forward to the long, carefree days of summer.
My twenty-three year old sister was my idol back then. She treated me like I was an adult. She was the one who got me on birth control when I admitted to having sex with my best friend’s brother. She invited me to grown up parties, and introduced me to her campus friends. When I needed to get out of the crazy house we grew up in and away from my siblings there was always a bed to crash on at the group house where she and her fiancé lived.
My sister was getting married in a few weeks — according to my mother to the man she’d been living in SIN with. I was to be a bridesmaid in a small ceremony in the campus chapel with guitar music, long haired men, and women in long flowing skirts. But first a modern shower: both men and women were invited and asked to shower the couple with bottles of liquor to fill their liquor cabinet.
I don’t really remember that much about the evening anymore except who gave me a ride home. He was a Nigerian graduate student. He was six foot two, attractive, funny, and well dressed. He told me he was twenty-one. I wouldn’t’ normally have accepted an offer of a ride home from a man I’d just met, but I assumed he was a friend of my sister’s, so I hopped right in his new Camaro with no worries. But, instead of driving me home, he drove me to a closed park, and he didn’t take me home until after he forced himself on me.
I definitely wanted nothing to do with this man who was way too old for me and had an accent that was difficult to understand. I told him no and fought him off as best I could but, being six foot two to my five foot three and in great shape, he easily over powered me. Afterwards I blamed myself.
Did he somehow sense that I wasn’t a virgin? I had sex one other time with my friend’s brother, a boy my own age. Did that mean I no longer had a right to say “no”? All that I had ever heard from anyone was that sex before marriage was wrong. No one ever offered information about what the parameters were if you decided you were going to have sex before marriage. You were either good…or bad…there was no grey area.
At fifteen, there was no one I could talk to about this experience. I took to my bed in shame and turned the anger inward on myself feeling depressed and empty inside. My sister was someone I felt comfortable with but we’d never talked about sex in any honest way, other than trying to avoid the outcome of pregnancy. My mother had never said a word to me about sex other than NOT to do it before marriage and I got the sense she didn’t think it would be much fun afterward. We didn’t communicate in my family about anything of import and none one of us would have known how to talk about something like this.
My alcoholic Dad had died a few months prior to my sister’s wedding putting our family out of one form of its dysfunctional misery and throwing us into another. Now my mother, who had always been a housewife and had never completed High School, was forced to do housekeeping for other women and take care of other people’s children in order to make ends meet. (No matter how hard she worked, the bills never could quite get paid and by the end of each month the lack of funds was obvious at the dinner table.) She had way too much on her mind already and since it was summer, and I didn’t have to be in school, I imagine she wrote off the long hours spent in my room to my being a moody teenager.
The day following the rape flowers began to arrive on our doorstep from my rapist: beautiful yellow roses daily for a week. The roses were followed by more gifts and many phone calls. I suppose since I blamed myself for the abuse, as many women (and much of society) do, his attention afterward was a way for me to deny what had really happened and pretend that the man actually cared for me. I also found myself unable to resist the gifts. It may seem very strange to those who grew up in loving households where no one ever went hungry but to me this crazy relationship didn’t seem that different from what went on in the homes around me. Screaming and fighting seemed to go hand in hand with kissing and hugging from what I could see. Listening to my mother and her friends talk, sex was something all men wanted and women simply put up with in order to have someone to take care of them.
So without really understanding how it happened I began a relationship with my rapist that would last almost two years. Those years destroyed my innocence. He stood me up, abused me, cheated on me, and always after these violations came the apologies and lavish gifts. For a girl who grew up below the poverty line, these gifts had no small effect. They weren’t little gems from the dollar store but expensive hand-made purses, a complete new stereo system, a 10-speed bike, and the use of his hot, new Camaro to drive around the local college campus when he was out of town. I actually got this man to take me to my senior prom. That was something I wish I had pictures of: a grown man, the ONLY African-American male attending the senior prom at a conservative, white, catholic High School with a blonde haired, hazel-eyed, seventeen-year old girl.
He also bought me clothes, took me to campus parties where we danced all night, took me to my first sit-down restaurant where we were served by an attentive waiter (before this the only restaurants I’d ever been to were the Bob’s Hamburgers drive-through—I don’t think the town even had a McDonald’s yet–and Sizzler Steak House with my Mom to celebrate my birthday), and on trips to the beach and shopping in the big city.
Along with being in graduate school he also claimed to be a tennis professional. He gave lessons in town and was out of town on tour often. His favorite outfit was his little white tennis shorts and crisp white top showing off his long muscular legs and deep, dark color.
At one point he was arrested and my mother saw it in the paper. He told me he was arrested for marijuana and I believed him, never bothering to look at the paper. (Other than the comics, reading the paper was just not something high school kids in my crowd did.) My mother read the paper, however, and went crazy. How could I be seeing this man? What was wrong with me? I remember telling her it was no big deal; that all my friends did it. It was months later when a friend told me that I actually found out he was arrested for attempted rape. Can you imagine what my mother must have thought when I told her all my friends did this? Still, she couldn’t bring herself to say to me out loud what she’d read in the paper. She never said the word “rape”, just as she never said the word “sex” in front of me. I look back on this and it seems completely unfathomable but I swear to you it’s exactly what happened. By the time I found out that he’d been arrested for attempted rape I had already rewritten our own history in order to live with myself. I told myself he would never do such a thing. I wondered to myself how my mother could have ever let me out of the house again reading such a thing but we never discussed it again.
After two years of this twisted dynamic, I was older and a tiny bit wiser and about ready to end things with him when a phone call came. He was in Canada. He had to leave quickly without telling me because there was a warrant out for his arrest. Again, he told me it was about marijuana, and again I believed him. Would I go to his apartment and bring him some items he wanted? In my mind I decided that all the damage he’d done to me was complete. I could never get back my innocence and trust so why not do as he asked one last time? I’d never been to Canada and I couldn’t afford to get there on my own.
I went to his apartment and ducked under the crime scene tape that made a huge X across the front door. Inside, I got the items he wanted, silly things like his favorite shoes, and then decided to have a look around while I was there. In the bottom drawer of his dresser I found more information than I wanted to know about whom I’d been spending my time with.
My emotional survival had required that the reality of him being my rapist was rewritten in my mind over the last two years. History got whitewashed because I couldn’t deal with acknowledging I was continuing to be abused by a man who raped me. Here in his bottom dresser drawer, however, was evidence of the reality of his life that I couldn’t ignore: letters from his wife and mother in Nigeria, asking when he was coming home to his four children; naked pictures of my girlfriends he’d obviously had sex with; letters from his three fiancés, one in Denver, one in San Francisco, and one in Seattle; and confirmation that he was actually a thirty-two year old married man, not the single twenty-one year old he led everyone to believe he was.
I left the apartment and being pragmatic since birth, having never been to Canada, and knowing there wasn’t anything further he could take from me I headed to the Greyhound bus depot and off I went. I stayed just one night and day. He showed me the sites and we acted as if we were just a couple of tourists on vacation. We said good-bye, me knowing it was the last time I would ever see him, and he was arrested the moment the bus pulled out of the station.
Upon my return, now a freshman in college, I began scouring the papers daily for news of his arrest. Sure enough, a few days after my return, I read about his arrest and extradition back to US custody where he would be held pending trial. He was not arrested for drugs, as he told me, but for a grand larceny mail fraud campaign he’d been perpetrating through ads in tennis magazines. This is how I learned that all of my gifts had been bought with stolen dollars.
He was quickly convicted and sentenced to serve 10 years in a US Federal prison to be deported back to Nigeria upon his release.
Apparently the FBI had been watching him for some time and his phones had been tapped. Just before they were about to arrest him he got wind of it somehow and fled to Canada. The paper described how he was arrested at the bus depot in Canada after seeing off a friend. To this day one of my biggest embarrassments in life is realizing that the FBI listened to my phone conversations with this creep. Somewhere, in a closed case file in the basement of some FBI building, preserved for posterity, remain tapes of me flirting, cajoling, and often crying on the phone with a complete sociopath.
The next I heard from him was a letter from the State Penitentiary asking me to write him. I did not reply. Letters continued to come for a few weeks but I ripped them up unread. I have often wondered if any of his many fiancés were foolish enough to stay in communication with him, but as for me, I never saw or heard of him again.
Every once in a while, even years later, I would get on an elevator and some man would have on the same cologne he used to wear and I would have a brief panic attack until I realized it could not possibly be him. Other than that I put the memory of those years in a box, I put it on a shelf, and I rarely ever pulled it out to look at it. Until today, when for some reason I decided to let it out into the open, possibly hoping to free the memory and let go of it forever.
August 7, 2011