Continued from Part VIII
I had hoped to write about something else today. I had hoped to write about the experience that Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, has had on me. I had hoped to write about how, for the first time in my life, I seriously weighed the prospect of making aliah. I had hoped to write about the unique experience of being here on U.S. Independence Day. I had hoped to write about how this experience, and I can only call it an experience, was not just a break from the ultimately unimportant bullshit I deal with on a daily basis, but refreshment of my soul, a reminder that my dedication to Israel genuinely helps people, people I had never met, but who couldn't have been happier to see me.
And above all, I had hoped to write about how, despite my efforts to experience this solely for myself, the people I spent this experience with crept under my initially defensive exterior and genuinely touched my heart.
I had hoped to write about all those things.
But, even here, life intervenes.
I have a number of friends who were hurt by a woman in the past and have allowed it to dictate how they treat women. While I've certainly had my heart ripped out and stomped on until it's a bloody pulp on the floor, I've made a concerted effort never to fall into that trap. While one friend has indicated that the respect with which I treat women is because of my close relationship with the women in my family, I believe that's only one of the reasons. Another one of those reasons is because of an experience I had in college.
One night, I was out with a number of friends at one of those random parties at someone's house that are all too common in college. Among the friends I was with was M____. M____ had been having a hard time with a guy she was seeing and was looking to drown her problems for the night, not surprisingly in alcohol. Copious amounts of alcohol.
M____ spent a considerable amount of time that night hanging on this guy, J____. I had known J____ previously and had had a few discussions with him, often about the random bullshit that guys usually talk about. So, while M____ was clearly inebriated, she seemed happy, having what seemed to be a drunken college night.
I, however, was pretty tired. I had spent most of that day working on a presentation and had only wanted to make an appearance. So, when I was offered the opportunity to leave, I quickly checked on M____, who drunkenly told me she was fine, and left for the evening, hoping to catch up on some much needed rest.
The next day, I called M____ to make sure she got home alright and see if there was any funny story from the night I may have missed.
"Hey M____, how are you? Have you recovered?"
"Okaaayyy. What exactly does that mean?"
And then the words I'll never forget hearing. Ever.
"J____ raped me last night."
The words tore my heart out of my chest. Once I got over the initial shock and what must have been a good five to ten seconds of silence, I started questioning her about her well-being. While I don't remember much else of the conversation, as I was pulling my jaw up from the floor, I do remember that we spent the next G-d-knows-how-long with me repeatedly asking what I could do for her and her saying "nothing."
Simply stated, I felt incredibly guilty. Incredibly guilty.
I felt like if I hadn't made the decision to leave, if I had properly recognized that M____ had had way too much to drink, if I had been there a little longer, things might have been different.
And I've carried that guilt since that day.
And it's one of the other reasons I treat women the way I do.
Because I remember what it's like to see the scattered shards of a woman who was treated so horribly.
Earlier, I mentioned that I wanted to write about the people I have met on this trip who touched my heart, but am saving it for another day.
That's not entirely true. Today, I'm writing about K____.
K___ and I met on the first day of this trip and it was like we had known each other forever. On every activity, K____ and I were together, cracking jokes, learning from one another, discovering Israel together. To borrow an analogy from Forrest Gump, K___ and I were like peas and carrots. Strangely, even though I was on a trip where I knew no one, thanks to K___, I spent the entire time with one of my closest friends.
Yet, our relationship was plainly platonic. While K___ is absolutely adorable and sweet as sugar, for some reason, we just struck the friend vibe from day one. But it was one of the very rare times that I struck such a strong "friend vibe" with someone that I knew I could let down those defense mechanisms I have spent so many years developing and immediately give her my complete trust.
And, time after time, K___ proved me right.
After our last full night in Israel, I went out with my family friends, realizing that I probably wouldn't see them for years. However, K___ went out with the rest of my group, hitting the Tel Aviv bar scene.
Evidently, it was a crazy night, because at 2 a.m., I was sitting with my Israeli family friends when the parade of taxis began pulling up to the hotel. And with each taxi, the drunken passengers stumbled their way onto the sidewalk and into the hotel.
Each one had a slurred story to share from their evening out, some of which were entirely incomprehensible. But one of my friends said to me, "Dude, K___ is really hammered."
I knew I had to see this.
About fifteen minutes later, I had said my goodbyes to my family friends and walked back to the hotel. Soon thereafter, K___ arrived, with B____, pretty much pulling her out of the taxi.
Yeah, "really hammered" didn't begin to describe that scene.
I ran up to K____ and immediately grabbed her other arm, trying to ensure that she didn't fall onto the ground. She turned her head, brushed her hair from her face and said, "Hey honey!"
As the perennial designated driver, I've seen a lot of drunk people in my days. A lot of drunk people. But something was different. Very different.
When I looked into K___'s eyes before, I could always see her. The real her. The person I knew and trusted and adored. But, when I looked into K___'s eyes at that moment, she wasn't there. Sure, it was her face and her voice, but her eyes were no longer the deep pools to her soul. They were glazed mirrors, reflecting my bewilderment back to me.
And I couldn't figure out why.
Despite this, K____ began having a conversation with some other people from the trip in the hotel lobby, often joking about her inability to stand up straight. Yet, as she wobbled from side-to-side, she continued to hold what appeared to be a drunken, but cogent conversation.
While I was distracted by another one of my friends, B____ and K____ started walking to the elevator. I immediately excused myself and got into the elevator with them.
As B____ pressed the tenth floor, I was searching for a coothful way to try to determine whether or not K____ knew what she was doing, whether she was consenting to what I knew was going to happen. Also at the forefront of my mind was that, although I felt like I knew K____ forever, the fact was that I didn't. I had only known her for this week and, she was a grown woman who I only knew for that amount of time, I couldn't help but think, what right do I have to stop her from doing anything?
When we got to the tenth floor, K____ and B____ walked off the elevator and K___ said, with a giggle, "I don't live here!" Before I could muster the courage to interject, K____ waved back at me and giggled, "Okay! Bye!!!"
As the elevator doors closed, my stomach twisted into a knot I hadn't felt since college.
Disturbed and concerned, I went back to my room, where I learned my presence wasn't welcome due to my roommate's plans that evening.
Ultimately, I ended up at the empty hotel bar until 5 a.m., sipping water like it were vodka, literally worried sick about K_____.
The next day, K____ wasn't at breakfast or at any of the morning activities.
While I tried to tell myself that she was probably fine, when I hadn't heard from her by noon, I called her cellphone.
We had a short, pleasant conversation, but one of those conversations where you each know the other person is holding back. She asked me about my evening and I told her, "Why don't you meet me downstairs and I'll tell you all about it," knowing that I was going to discuss nothing of the sort. Rather, I had decided that I needed to talk to her about the events of the night before and, in order for her to truly understand the concern that led me to raise the issue, we needed to talk face to face.
"Great!," she said, "I'll meet you down there in ten minutes."
I sat down on the hotel patio overlooking the Tel Aviv beach, staring into the beautiful blue water, thinking of how I was going to discuss what happened with K____.
Eventually, she came onto the patio. And before I could utter a word, she looked around and seeing no one, stated, "Someone slipped me a mickey last night!"
My jaw dropped.
When I could muster words, I said, "Then you need to sit down, because we need to talk."
I told her the story about what happened to M___ and college, how it made me feel, and how I always regretted those events. Then I told her that I didn't mean or want to infringe on her decisions or her life, but that I was deeply, deeply concerned about the events of the night before.
Then I asked, "Do you remember talking to me last night?"
"I saw you last night?"
"What happened? I don't remember anything."
Then I told her everything. I told her how she came into the hotel, how she had a glassy look in her eyes, how she could barely stand. How I went with her in the elevator. How I wanted to take her, but didn't know if I could or should.
"Then why didn't you take me to my room?!?!"
I heard each word in slow motion. And each syllable struck the center of my chest and pried my heart out of my body.
K___ had just vocalized what I had been agonizingly saying to myself for the past ten hours.
I told K___ that I wanted to, but that I had never seen her drunk and didn't know the difference. I told her that I didn't know if she was making a conscious decisions, but I didn't know that she wasn't either. I told her that I didn't even know what floor her room was on. I told her that, even if she hated me, I wish I had intervened now, but that I couldn't change what happened.
And, in many ways, I wasn't explaining it to her. I was justifying my inaction to myself.
K____ looked out to the same sea I looked at before, her thoughts deep as the water, her blonde locks brushing her face and floating in the ocean breeze.
Accompanied by the sound of crashing waves and never looking away from the water, she told me how she was, for all practical purposes, unconscious that evening. She told me that her only memory after being at the bar was waking up in B____'s room, naked, but not bruised or hurt. She told me that she understood why I didn't take her that night and I had no reason to feel badly. And, most importantly, she told me she was fine, a little embarrassed, but fine.
I told her she had no reason to feel embarrassed. I've come to hate when wrongful actors blame the victim, so much so that it's one of things crawls under my skin like few other things. And I repeated it over and over, hoping that she would truly listen to that point.
And as we sat and stared at the Mediterranean together, watching the foam tops and listening to the sounds of waves crashing, all I wanted her to know was how sorry I was that I wasn't strong enough when she needed me.
And how I promise to be there from now on.
Sorry, no pictures this time. Sometimes words say enough...