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.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Jules on said:

    Let those tears fall as long as they have to. It may be a while. It’s not your fault.

    When I was a kid, my beloved grandparents lived a ways away and we didn’t see them much. On my block, there was a couple about the same age, and they were very sweet. They became my adopted grandparents, and I would spend time helping them around the house.

    At the age of twelve in 1977, boobs sprang from my chest overnight. By the age of thirteen, I looked twenty. I stopped by on my bike one Saturday and was surprised the wife was gone – she had to visit family, but he invited me in to see something really interesting – a giant stuffed dog. This thing almost touched the ceiling. As we sat there in the spare bedroom on a twin bed turned into a couch, I felt a hand go up my shirt. When I pulled away and asked him what he was doing, he said he was “seeing how little girls were made.”

    I ran out and got on my bike as fast as I could. He came out onto the porch and told me not to tell my parents, which I didn’t out of shame until maybe five years ago – I felt dirty even thinking about it.

    There’s a lot of silence.

  2. I’m sitting here crying for you as I can’t imagine just how deep this realization has hit you. I’m sorry for what he did to you & the fact that you, like many women, have felt shame for something that wasn’t their fault.

    You will get through this and regardless of whether or not you decide to tell your friend what happened so many years ago you may want to think about talking to a therapist. There are a lot of emotions that come with this sort of situation and I thank you for sharing because like Jules said above, “there’s a lot of silence” and this needs to change. *hugs*

  3. This last summer I went on date with a man. We had a great time. We went back to his house, ostensibly to watch tv. Stupid? Yeah, now I know. But I trusted him. I had told him before our first date that sex was out of the question. I wanted to be clear, set the boundaries early. But when we got to his house I knew I had made a mistake. He was all over me. He was bigger than me in every way. And he was insistent. I tried to say no many times but he kept pushing and pushing. I finally gave in. I just endured what I had to in order to get out of there. After he was finished he said “Next time honey, I make it better for you.”

    For the longest time (and still somewhat today) I felt guilty. If only I’d run out of there. If only I hadn’t gone to his house to begin with. The more time that goes by I think I was sexually assaulted but I can’t get past thinking it was my fault to begin with.

    I wish I had been stronger.

  4. TheNextMartha on said:

    I am so sorry you have lived all these years with guilt. Guilt that you should not have had. Guilt that had tore your insides and friendships apart. I am sad for you.

  5. I don’t know what else to say other than I’m so sorry and this shouldn’t have happened to you. To any of you.

  6. thinking of you…sending strength and love.

  7. reading your thoughts and feelings and experiences sometimes make me laugh, sometimes make me cry, and always make me want to hunt down and maim anybody who hurts you. so, if you ever wondered if you’re doing a good job – you are. from someone who’s only seen you in person in passing, I love you, Lady.

  8. oh honey. you are so brave.

  9. Friend, you are brave. The road to survivorship is bumpy. Allow yourself to feel and to cry. You are incredible for using your voice.

  10. Much love to you, my sweet friend. You should have never had to carry this burden alone – it was forced upon you,; I am so proud of you for releasing it.

  11. You rock, girl! Much love to you and all those you touch with your heart and your words!

  12. So, so sorry for what happened to you. It’s really an almost inexpressible thing, and you are very, VERY brave. Me, not so much. But hopefully, one day…

  13. angie on said:

    i’m so glad you finally realized that you are not to blame. i hope you finally find peace.

  14. Melissa on said:

    Thank you for speaking out, to share your story and help others. We are so glad to have you in Richmond.

  15. Say it ain't so on said:

    Free counseling from AMAZING licensed counselors at the YWCA of Richmond who specialize in domestic and sexual assault. Over the phone, in person, or in group settings. FREE. Call 804-643-0888 24/7 and someone will answer. The Richmond YW is the oldest YWCA in the south and has been at the forefront of the women’s movement and domestic and sexual assault services. It is a fantastic community resource. Did I mention FREE?

  16. Chris on said:

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m praying for your healing.

  17. Julie on said:

    I want to send vibes of love and healing wishes…I know it’s the right response. But I will be very honest. I just wish I could avenge you, and every other woman who is victimized by men like this, in particular men whom they have been led to believe they could trust.

    I had a friend in high school who went to a party, was among “trusted” friends, and wound up in a bedroom being raped and abused…thank God that people didn’t have cell phone cameras back then. The next morning (I wasn’t there that night) I came around and two of the guys involved were JOKING about their acts. She refused to allow me or any of us to call police. I wanted to. She was afraid to let her parents find out, they were abusive to her as it was. Had they known, they would have made it her fault. I respected her wishes and she never got justice. I still know 2 of these males and how to find them. I wish very often that I could become a beast, a giant grizzly in the night and rip off heads. Impotent rage. And to this day I have never, ever, ever allowed myself to drink alcohol. I don’t trust the world enough.

  18. I wish I could say I did not know how you felt, but in some ways, I do. So many girls and often boys are sexually assaulted in subtle ways. Ways that do not leave a physical mark. We wonder what we did to cause this person to touch us. Usually the person is one we trust, have known for a long time or is related. Not only do we feel bad or guilty for what happened, there is the other person who was part of your life and now you just want to avoid. Yet, we do not want anyone else to know what happened.

    Then there are those who cry assault who have not been. They diminish what the rest of us have really experienced. Yes, we usually remain silent.

  19. Oh, honey. I know how that kind of guilt feels, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    Well, maybe Sarah Palin, but I think she’s too soulless to feel guilt of any kind.

    It takes time for this kind of epiphany to stop feeling like a badly-healed wound being torn open again. Know it was not your fault, and that there are plenty of us out here who know exactly how you feel, ’cause we’ve been there.

    Marital rape (my qualifier here) is always *our* fault. So is the crap perpetrated by all pederasts. Know that you are one of the most amazing women I, and many of us, know – and kick that bad dream’s ass to the curb. Dance on its bones.

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