*** TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains mentions of sexual assault and descriptions of date-rape drugging.
Claire is a real person. Although her name has been changed for the sake of privacy, these events really happened to her, and every detail is true and accurate. She was drugged. She lost her memory. Although she has moved on, she will never be the same. There will always be a part of her that wonders what happened to her and why. There will always be anger that a stranger polluted her body, imposing her with their perverted desires. When I interviewed Claire, she was not ashamed. She did not wallow in her story. Rather, she was indignant because every day, women and men are drugged with the intent to inflict emotional and physical pain. This is Claire’s story.
I woke up dazed and distressed, and with the worst hangover I had ever had. For a second, I couldn’t remember anything, not even my own name. My fingers rubbed the cotton fabric of my blue pajama shorts, which had been put on inside out and backward. The golden morning light seeping through curtains felt artificial on my skin, like someone shining a flashlight through the window.
I sat up and immediately doubled over in regret, my stomach a ball of lead among acid and air. The agony in my head was so brutal that black spots danced in my vision like spastic ballerinas. My heart struggled to pump blood to every numb toe and frigid finger.
Somehow, the pain resurfaced memories. Claire – that’s my name. I’m a college student in Iowa City. I was supposed to wake up hours ago. Last night, I went out to the bars and… nothing. It was like a black hole in my memory. I felt a prickle at the base of my neck, like someone was poking a very small needle into my spine. Heaving myself out of bed, I sprinted to the bathroom and hurled into the toilet.
That was the first red flag. I have never thrown up the morning after a night of drinking. My immediate thought was that I had food poisoning or maybe the bubonic plague, but that didn’t feel right. In fact, I just felt wrong. Everything about the situation – my lack of memory, writhing stomach, and uncharacteristic delirium – felt like I was still asleep, like this was all in my head. But the pain was too real to be a nightmare.
As I gripped the sides of the toilet bowl, four black lines on the back of my hand drew my attention. They were tally marks written in permanent marker to count my drinks. How could I have been blackout drunk – to the point that I couldn’t remember my own name – from only four drinks?
With two tablets Advil, several layers of deodorant, and a skin-scorching shower, I got myself together and headed toward campus.
Lumbering across College Green Park, my night returned in flashes. Some of it felt like a dream. Did I really get carried out of Sports Column by a burly man in cutoff jean shorts? Chunky red puke splatters caught my eye, and I felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Was that my vomit on the side of that trash can?
“It sounds like you were drugged,” my friend told me when I recounted this story.
Maybe she was right. Rohypnol, a common date-rape drug, is associated with blackouts and amnesia, nausea, headaches, confusion, loss of coordination, and extreme fatigue. Red flag number two. My symptoms lasted over a week, during which I recollected fragments of the night.
Some memories were clear.
I put my drink down. It was only for a minute, and it seems so stupid now. DJ What’s-his-name turned up the music and lured me to the dance floor. I didn’t want to spill my beer, so I set the plastic cup by our jackets. Didn’t my older sister always tell me to never let my drink out of sight? I was smarter than that.
I went to two bars. First, the bar where I worked. My coworker said she loved my smokey eye makeup, that it emphasized my eyes, as did my long-sleeve emerald crop top. Jake, the regular I always flirted with, was drinking Busch Light tall boys in the corner. Next, I walked to Sports Column with Jake and his friends.
The rest of the night never fully came back to me. I remember blue and purple lights, a hand on my waist, and music that was way too loud. It’s what I don’t remember that terrifies me – what my roommates had to tell me the next day.
Jake had to carry me home. He called my roommate because I couldn’t speak coherent sentences, much less tell him my address. I threw up on him. I threw up on myself. My roommates changed my clothes, tucked me into bed, and debated whether they should drive me to the hospital. They should have.
I don’t think I was raped. The key word, however, is “think.” I don’t think I was assaulted, but I don’t know for sure. Even so, I remember feeling watched.
Maybe it was my high-waisted jeans, accentuating the small of my back and the curve of my pockets, that drew unwanted attention. Perhaps it was my crop-top, which showed a bit too much cleavage, that invited the gaze of vile intent. I will never know, but I will always wonder.
“Who do you think did it?” my sister has asked me time and again. I don’t know. Even now, I picture a shadow man lurking in the corner, poisoning my mind from afar. For all I know, I was a mistake, and some other girl had been the intended target.
I went to the bars to flirt with a boy. That’s the only reason, and it wasn’t worth the physical or emotional pain that I still endure. Had I known how the night would end, I would have chosen sweats over jeans and Netflix over tequila.
That night is still obscure, like a photograph whose main subject has been burned away so that you can only see the background. Important moments are missing, and they will never be returned. Replacing these memories, my internal dialogue debates reality from imagination.
Last year, I was drugged in a bar. Sneaking into my system, Rohypnol robbed me of my memories.