The Sound of Silence

One night a friend took advantage of her while she slept. 11 years later, a recent news story about someone who had a similar experience, thousands of feet in the air, has helped her realize that it wasn’t her fault 11 years ago.

We did this thing, from time to time. A few nights a year, actually.

Board games. Drinking. Sleepover.

My closest friend and her husband lived in the mountains that surrounded the city in which I lived. It was a slightly treacherous drive from my house to hers during the day, even while stone sober. It was one I’d never make at night with a few drinks in me. So, we’d do this thing, whenever the two of us would have two days off in a row. We’d get together, my kids would play with her kids until they were exhausted. When the young ones went to bed we would play games, watch movies, consume alcohol, and then I’d sleep on her couch.

I frequently woke the next morning with sore abs from laughing so much, and it was something that this hardworking single mom looked forward to.

But one night was different.

We did the usual — sitting in the yard while the kids ran themselves ragged, putting them down in her daughter’s room, trivial pursuit with wine coolers, sleepytime — everything was ordinary, familiar. I settled down on their sofa, lying on my side, and slipped into a comfortable, buzzed deep sleep.

I don’t know what time it was. I could have been asleep for five minutes, an hour, or six hours. It was pitch dark and I was on my back, still on the sofa, and chilly. Had I thrown the blanket off? Just before I made a move to grab it I sensed something was wrong. I heard the noises first: the sound of friction, skin on skin — hard to describe but terribly easy to identify. And the quiet grunting that came with obvious effort to muffle it, to push it down. It was coming from so far inside that it was almost emanating from the core. It was male.

It was after analyzing the sounds that I realized my underpants were down, and there was a hand touching my genitals.

My mind raced. Pieces came together. Analyzing the sounds and sensations I concluded that my best friend’s husband was kneeling next to the couch, touching me with one hand and himself with another–while I slept.

I froze, still feeling foggy from the alcohol and, for some reason, not wanting him to know I was awake. I can’t explain it, but I felt somehow guilty–instant, immediate shame. This thing was happening to me and all I could think was: “please don’t let him figure out I’m awake” and “please don’t let her wake up and walk in because this would ruin her marriage.”

The grunting and touching continued. My eyes were wide open but there’s no way he could know. We were in the country, and there isn’t a blacker night than a country night.

I frantically tried to think of a polite way out of the situation. I kid you not. I did the only thing I could come up with: I made a pretend irritated sleeping noise and rolled over to my side, closing my legs. It was the kind of noise you make when your husband is poking you in the back with an unfortunate erection while you’re trying to sleep, not at all the kind you make when someone else’s husband is touching you without permission.

I turned my back to him, but he didn’t stop. He grabbed the back of my hair, gently tangling his hand in it, and finished his business. I lay there, frozen, while I heard the deepest grunt, then a sigh. I heard the shuffle of standing, then footsteps, then the master bedroom door closing.

I stayed on my side, tears falling on the guest pillow that had become mine over the years, racked with guilt over this thing I had done. In my mind, I just had sexual relations with my friend’s husband, a man I had known for almost ten years and considered a friend. I was a horrible person.

I cried myself to sleep and looked it the next morning. “Whoa, somebody’s hungover,” my friend said. “Want some coffee?” I didn’t. I made an excuse about having to be somewhere, woke my children, and beat feet out of there.

I tried to tell my friend about it so many times. But I just couldn’t. How do you tell someone such a thing? I had betrayed her trust. I was depressed, I was withdrawn, our friendship, fifteen years strong, died. She was hurt and confused. I was angry with myself and felt guilty.

Until today.

This morning I read the story of Ranchhodbhai Lakha, a man from Georgia who was just sentenced to six months in prison for sexually assaulting a sleeping female passenger on a flight from Dallas to Atlanta last week.


According to the federal indictment, the woman said she awoke during the trip to discover the 61-year-old former hotel owner touching her below the waist.

She removed his hand and told him to stop, documents said.

Lakha responded by asking her, “Is that OK — you don’t like that?” according to the complaint. The woman said no and recoiled her body to protect herself, but Lakha reached down and touched her again, the indictment alleged.

After the woman got up and reported the assault to a flight attendant, authorities arrested Lakha on a federal criminal complaint of sexual assault.

Sexual assault?

Tears fell when I read the story. They are falling, still. I was sexually assaulted. I WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED. How did I never realize this? This guilt I’ve been carrying for eleven years isn’t mine. It belongs to the person who assaulted me. Who took advantage of me while I was in a state of weakness.

I wish I had a neat, tidy ending to this story, but I don’t. After all, I just came to this realization about two hours ago, and am still reeling. For now, I’m going to take a hot shower and let the tears fall. Then I’m going to get dressed and figure out what I need to do to make myself feel better. Because I’ve felt bad for long enough.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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