A thorn by any other name …

Content warning: this is LONG and unpleasant. (So don’t say I didn’t tell you.)

Alain was the best friend of my best friend’s boyfriend.  It wasn’t exactly a connection that guaranteed that we’d get along with one another.  But it was enough of a reason for us to meet.  My friend and her boyfriend were living in France, Alain and I were in New York.  Of course we should meet. 

And that was fine.  It was a cold night, the first of December, the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree.  He met me at my job and we walked over to watch the lighting and then went downtown for … I don’t know, coffee? Something small and quick.

An easy evening.  Just to meet and see if we might want to meet again.  I knew my friend was hoping a romance would start.  I wasn’t closed to that, but not looking for it, either.  It was a chance to practice my rusting French, maybe start a new friendship.  We started meeting up for dinner every week or two.  Not dates, just more getting-to-know-you time.  Sometimes a woman named Odile joined us.  She was older, maybe 40, and I thought she might be his girlfriend, his lover.  She was vaguely condescending to me and would speed up her French when she didn’t want me to understand the conversation.

I wasn’t attracted to him.  I tried to convince myself that I could be — it would have been fun to have a rich, French boyfriend.  But there was no spark, and it seemed clear that Alain wasn’t the least bit attracted to me, so I let it go. That was where we stood for six months, for seven, for eight.  I had fun with Alain.  We went to museum shows, even a party or two.  Odile continued to join us from time to time.

Alain got tickets to see Tito Puente.  I can’t remember, but Celia Cruz might have been there, too.  The show was at a big performance space somewhere in the way west 20s, practically at the water.  I was just at the beginning of my love of Latin music and was excited to go.  And, too, I was going to be living in the city for a few days, house-sitting for a friend.   My sister was coming in on Saturday for a movie date.  The concert was a great way to start my hanging-in-the-city weekend.

We had dinner somewhere.  We walked to the show and it was fabulous.  Almost as soon as it ended, the hall filled up with kids and a band called Third Rail came out. They weren’t great, but they were.  They had so much energy and passion, they had such love from the audience.  (They also had a very adorably young Eagle-Eye Cherry, maybe one of his first bands?) Alain and I stayed for their show then headed east toward my friend’s place.

On St. Mark’s we were met by some lightly and congenially drunk men who congratulated Alain on his good fortune in finding himself with me.  They invited us for ice cream, and we accepted.  As we stood on the street with our cones, I said I didn’t feel like going home yet, and Alain suggested we go dancing.

We went to Madame Rosa’s a tiny, funky, back-alley kind of place off Canal.  I danced with Alain for a while but then started dancing with a guy I was attracted to.   He asked if Alain was my boyfriend, and I laughed and said no.  I danced with him, his friend and Alain at the same time, making a little circle in one corner of the club.  They turned out to be Hungarian, which pleased me enormously and immediately endeared them to me.  When they invited us to their place, I accepted without a moment’s hesitation.  Alain asked if I knew them.  I said something like, “No, they’re Hungarian,” as if that could have made any kind of sense.

At their apartment we listened to Nick Cave, drank wine and talked about Budapest.  It turned out that the friend didn’t speak much English.  He was a drummer in a band and was in New York for a drumming festival or conference of some kind.

We stayed a ridiculously long time.  We exchanged numbers and talked about seeing a movie.  Alain and I left and headed back east toward the apartment.  I asked about his trip home, about whether it was safe for him to ride the train so late — it was maybe four or four-thirty in the morning by then, and he didn’t live in Manhattan.  He was on Long Island or way out in Queens.  He said it probably wasn’t safe for him to be on the train, so I said he could come hang out with me until a more normal time like six.  We’d already been up so long, what was another hour or two?

At the apartment — a studio in the East Village — we sat at the tiny table and talked.  I was fading, but it wasn’t time to send him to the train, so I said nothing.

Then he said, “You know, I probably could have taken the train,” and smiled.

I remember being annoyed by that because I really wanted to be asleep already.  “Why didn’t you?”

“Well, don’t you think it’s time we became lovers?”

To say I was stunned to silence sounds melodramatic but is entirely accurate.  I just stared at him, then asked where that had come from.

“We’ve been dating for months.”

Again I just stared at him.  “We have not been dating.”

“What did you think? I was one of your girlfriends or something?”

I was surprised by how nasty he sounded, as if I was a child he’d been scolding all day and now wanted to shake. Or slap.

“Why do you think I came here?”

“It was too late for you to ride the subway,” I said.  I don’t remember what I was feeling then.  Confused, probably.  And angry, too. I do remember thinking the unpleasantness of our misunderstanding would mess up our friendship.  One thing I know I didn’t feel was fear.

Have you figured out where this is headed?  I hadn’t.  In fact, the next thing I felt was relief because he stood and said he’d go.  He stood and said, “At least give me a hug,” and I smiled and thought maybe things would be ok with us after all.  And I stood to hug him.


I’m not going to describe it, not willing to paint that picture.  I will say that the hug was a ruse, a way to bind my arms before he pushed me back and back and onto the bed.  I will say that when he was done he zipped up and looked at me with disgust before turning to leave.  “You might want to get up and lock this door behind me,” he said.  I will say that I didn’t get up, that I curled into myself and started rocking, trying to understand what had just happened.

I slept for a couple of hours then got up and made myself cheerful.  My sister was coming, I had tentative plans with the Hungarians.  Couldn’t let something like Alain forcing himself on me spoil my plans, right?

So I put it aside, hung out with my sister.  She and I met up with the Hungarians and went to see Angel Heart.  I don’t remember the rest of the weekend.  Did the four of us get dinner?  What happened Sunday?

More importantly, why am I thinking of Alain now?  It’s not that I haven’t thought of him at all in the last 25 years.  I have.  Plenty.  But there’s always been a clear trigger, something I’ve seen or heard or remembered that has pushed me back to that morning on First Avenue.  I can’t see the trigger now.

I’m meeting a lot of men right now, and a fair number of them have very clearly wanted to have sex with me.  But none of them has frightened me, none has forced himself on me in any way.  It’s hard to see any of them bringing Alain up from the back storage room in my brain.

Maybe it’s that my memory is psychic, throwing Alain in front of me just before the new Republican Tea House chose to redefine rape in HR3.  Have you missed the firestorm that is HR3?  It’s the latest move to criminalize abortion, to control women’s bodies and the lives we are able to lead.

And outlined in section 309 is the casual revision of terms, the tiny detail that means what Alain did doesn’t “count” as rape:


    `The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion–
  •  `(1) if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest; or
  •  `(2) in the case where the pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.
  •  The emphasis is mine.  So, because Alain didn’t beat the crap out of me or use a weapon to coerce me … which seem to be the only things the House Republicans think “forcible” means, he didn’t rape me.  And in the conveniently-not-having-to-deal-with-the-ramifications-of-their-acts minds of some, there would have been nothing wrong with forcing me to carry to term the pregnancy that could have resulted from that rape time I spent with Alain.

    Still trying to understand how keeping a woman from having the last word on what happens to her body equals job creation and deficit reduction?  (Oh, you know, the things the Tea House members got elected on a few months ago.)  I’m still trying to figure it out, too.  But that’s where our new legislators took their first fight: 

    Forget jobs.  Forget the deficit.  We need to handle the women, remind them of their place and how their main value in our world is as chattel to produce our gifted progeny.  We need to get them in a Clayton Williams frame of mind.  Honey, that wasn’t a rape, that was a little bad weather.  Just relax and enjoy it!

    Fortunately, I didn’t get pregnant.  Even more fortunately, if I had gotten pregnant, I’d have been able to get an abortion without worrying about breaking laws.  What I did get was raped.  I recently posted the comment: “Rape never needs an adjective. Brutal, heinous, cruel: all are a given when you say ‘rape.’ No modifiers necessary.”  Worse than the extra-especially-bad adjectives are the diminishing qualifiers like “date” or “friend.”.  Rape is rape.  We can call it bad weather or any other thing our lack of understanding/ sensitivity/sense/humanity tells us to call it, but it is still rape.  I don’t know what Representative Smith thinks “forcible” means, but all rapes use force. Period.

    HR3 is in committee now.  I’ve let my congress people know how I feel about it.  Have you?


    16 thoughts on “A thorn by any other name …

        1. Hi, Lisa–
          My issue with “forcible” is that it’s undefined. Sady Doyle does a good job of articulating the issue in her Slate piece. That idea of “utmost resistance” just leaves the door open to the exclusion of most rapes. Scary stuff.


            1. I know! And I think of what Raivenne says below about women being advised not to fight back … so much for “utmost resistance.” As if not fighting back is the equivalent of consent.


    1. I’ve been on a tear about this for a while now.

      In Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It”, the female lead had a friend with benefits relationship with a couple of men. At some a point in the story she finds herself suddenly being taken by one of the men in a fit of jealous anger. Because of their past relationship before that point, when she called him on it sometime later, he could not see that his act , at that moment, was in fact rape.

      Here’s the other slap in the face, to add insult to injury. I distinctly remember in the 80’s when women were told not to fight a rapist. That we should just give in, because fighting gives him power and “it wasn’t worth the beating.” However, if a female followed this advice , doesn’t it now mean it wasn’t “forcible” rape? If a female is slipped a mickey, does this also become exempt from the HR3 definitions?

      We’re slowly being stripped of the right to define for ourselves what is violation of our bodies.


    2. Linda Atkins

      I’m so sorry to read this. Thank you for your honesty and clarity. This most certainly was rape. I’m sorry your rapist got to walk free.


      1. Thanks, Linda. As I said to Lisa above, I struggled with whether or not I would post this. I still have more to say about it, but sadly none of it involved Alain being held responsible.


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