I dressed carefully for that date, purposefully matching my style with that of the slightly older woman whose driver’s license I flashed at bars to get served.
My unruly hair was short then; I used a styling product to make the frizz into curls and, forgoing most make-up, added only my trademark dark lipstick. Standing at my one-room apartment’s door, I put on my worn thrift store suede jacket and — feeling grown up at 20 — added a colorful silk scarf that my trendy grandmother had once given me.
To complete my outfit, I wore the heavy, dangly bead earrings I’d assembled a week earlier with Arturo, the older Peruvian jewelry maker I was about to see.
We’d met at an underground salsa party a friend had heard about from the immigrant kitchen staff at her waitressing job. The only two non-Spanish speakers there, we were also the only two women — and instant belles of the ball.
That night, I was taught tequila body shots and samba by a cadre of willing squires. As the clock stuck midnight, I drifted to one who seemed different from the rest.
Soft-spoken, Arturo was almost chivalrous when asking me to dance. He was college-educated and made his living importing beads from his native Peru. At only 30, he had a little store in the college town’s downtown square where students came to create their own personalized inexpensive trinkets.
Our dinner date was uneventful and after he walked me to my door, I asked him inside for coffee. On my dumpster-dive couch, one thing led to another and I felt him trying to disrobe me. I said no. Surprisingly strong for his short stature, he continued anyway, and proceeded to penetrate me and quickly finish.
It was over almost before it started.
Questioning if what had happened was what I thought had happened, I was bewildered, sprawled on my carpet, my coifed hair in disarray, the scarf thrown carelessly to the side. One earring had fallen in the scuffle.
I shouted at him, “I said no! You didn’t even put on a condom! I could get pregnant! Diseases!”
He shrugged, closed his pants, and said, “I couldn’t help it. Anyway, you’re not ready to get pregnant. I can tell.”
I thought I deserved it — this undefined unpleasantness I now call rape — and told no one. Definitely not my parents, who were recovering from the recent death of their son from skin cancer. Not my friends. It was my fault for putting myself in that position: I’d stupidly invited him into my apartment, where I lived alone, where no one had my back.
And so, after a few weeks of anxious waiting for my much welcomed period, I told my black cat Elijah it was best to forget all about it.
And I did — for more than 20 years.
I write this with a 4-year-old boy sitting on my lap, the youngest of my six rambunctious kids who tear in and out of my small home office, asking what they can eat, when they can play on the computer, and can I listen to their reading homework.
Life is full and wonderful and crazy. And for over 20 years I didn’t spare a thought to Arturo.
Until Donald Trump ran for president.
Suddenly, this year, in both Israel, where I live, and in the US, where I have family, there is a lot of talk about men who take what they want. Entitled men, unaware of their actions, and certainly ignorant that what they have said or done could be called “abuse.”
And as I listen to these men and see them redressed and often excused in the public court of opinion, I flashback to Arturo, and feel again my sense of self-blame and powerlessness.
I write this today, November 25, the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. According to the UN, at some point in their lives, 35% of women suffer from sexual abuse. And a follow-up statistic also brought from the UN: “Other national studies show that up to 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner.”
Most women I know have suffered and tolerated a form of sexual abuse in their lifetimes. Most of them, like me, didn’t do anything about it.
Today, I sit here and wonder, how can I train my three daughters so they won’t go through this. And if something does happen, that they’ll tell me — no matter what.
But typing with my now lightly snoring child’s heavy head on my arm, I realize that’s only part of my job.
How can I educate my son and his brothers in a way that Arturo’s mother didn’t — so that this innocent boy will grow up to be a better kind of man?