Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 5.2]

After Andres left, I discovered I didn’t mind hanging out alone. Essentially, I did the same things I would have with Andres or Steph; I just went solo. I loved waking up with no agenda and interacting with the world at my own pace, lingering in book stores, writing in cafés, catching movies whenever an urge struck me. As I was walking through the student union one afternoon, I caught a glimpse of an airline special—$350 round trip tickets to London. Within a few minutes, I had purchased a ticket. From there, I filed for a passport, picked up an Off the Beaten Path travel guide, and purchased a backpack.

One month later, I was wandering around an open market near Piccadilly Circus. I stayed one night at a funky hostel near there and then boarded a train to Cambridge. There, I wandered into a chapel where a choir was practicing and sat down in a pew. I was mesmerized by the floor-to-ceiling stained-glass walls. A brochure said the church and stained-glass windows took almost two hundred years to construct. Tragically, a few hundred years later, when a war broke out, invading forces fired cannons nearer and nearer to the church. The town’s people feared the blasts would eventually shatter the windows, so they rallied together and dismantled the glass walls. Each of the thousands of pieces of glass were given a number and buried gently under the ground until the war was over. It took another two hundred years to put the chapel back together again. Not only was the time scale in this country staggering to think about, somehow I just couldn’t fathom my fellow Americans selflessly and collaboratively rallying together to spend the next two hundred years of their spare time putting intricate pieces of a chapel back together.

After a day and a half in Cambridge, I took a train to Liverpool and arrived close to midnight at my hostel, which was in the basement of a huge old limestone. It was a lively place for a Tuesday night and Pete, a young guy, about twenty-five, was checking people in. He cheerfully offered me tea and dry toast—the best tea and toast I’d ever tasted by the way. His father owned the hostel and had gone to school with Paul McCartney. Pete asked what brought me to Liverpool, and I told him I was on a mission to find The Cavern Club, Strawberry Fields, and a pair of Beatle Boots in my size. He said Wednesday was his day off and asked if I wanted a tour guide.

I graciously accepted his offer, so the next morning after breakfast, he drove me to his favorite abbey in an old, hilly part of town. He ordered us pints of beer mixed with some sweet liquor, which were pretty tasty. By the time I ordered a second one, Pete was on his fifth. The alcohol didn’t seem to affect him, so I assumed he had a high tolerance. Pete hadn’t stopped talking either. He was a huge thrill seeker who liked to put himself into some seriously dangerous situations. Specifically, he enjoyed illegally sneaking onto night boats headed to Russia. Once the boat docked, he would slip off and trek into the city, seeking to fraternize with the local women, which would invariably piss off the local men. Pete excitedly bragged about his belligerence and valor when it came to picking fights with the “Russian thugs.” On his last trip, he was chased back to the boat and almost stabbed.

“It was the greatest high of me life! I was hidden in a wee closet, waiting for someone to find me. I kept imagining ’em stabbing me in the dark in all my limbs and how I’d be left to bleed to death in the cool night air, with the smell of the ocean all around me.”

Then Pete took a deep drag on his cigarette and exhaled a long sigh. I detected disappointment. He also enjoyed the thought that no one might ever know what happened to him if he’d been stabbed in that closet and dumped in the ocean. His death would remain a mystery. Don’t ask me why this didn’t scare me the way it should have. I suppose I thought he was overdramatizing things to impress me or something. His stories sounded like fantasies to help him escape or feel alive. His demeanor remained cheery the whole time, and after his sixth drink, he took me to Strawberry Fields and The Cavern Club. He invited me to see an Oasis cover band that night with him and some of his mates.

Around 9 p.m., we met up with his mates, who all seemed pissed off about something. I wasn’t really having a great time, so I was happy when Pete abruptly said he wanted to go back to the hostel. He sped like a race car driver and parked in the back of the building. I assumed he’d help me find my way to the common area from there. Instead, he led me through a back door, down a hallway, and upstairs to a dumpy old apartment, which I presumed was his. The walls were concrete and painted brown, brick red, and evergreen. He had a metal kitchen table and two black chairs. In his living room were a frumpy old couch and a frazzled oriental rug. Pete disappeared into his bedroom and came back with a pile of cocaine on a book.

Without speaking, he aggressively cut and snorted two huge lines of it and looked up at me with what I perceived to be focused hatred. His earlier jolly demeanor had turned intense and angry. With a blank look on his face, he walked over to me, grabbed me by the ribs, then walked me over to the filthy, threadbare living room rug and laid me down in the middle of it. Staring right through me, he pulled off all my clothes and his and got on top of me. Twice he bit-pecked-kissed me. Then he put on a condom, which confused the hell out of me because up to this point, I was pretty sure he was going to rape me. But what kind of rapist wears a condom? It occurred to me that maybe these were Pete’s best moves and he was just supremely horrible with women. I looked into his eyes and cracked a meek smile, just to see what his response would be. He snorted out a little laugh and shoved his dry-condom dick inside of me. That’s when time stood still.

He rammed me for I don’t know how long. My spine was digging into the concrete floor, which mercifully had a kind of paralyzing effect on me. No chance he’d sense the weight differential between us and try to relieve any of the pressure. I was screaming at myself for letting this happen. How many signs had I ignored? I had the feeling several times on this trip that my head wasn’t really clear. Things felt ethereal. I’d felt fuzzy and dreamy—probably not the safest state of mind to be in while traveling alone. I began replaying the entire trip in my head backwards from this moment…

Fuck, I thought, no wonder I’m getting it right now. I put myself in at least ten dangerous situations.

I hoped this was all Pete had in store for me. Midway into the ramming, he paused to kiss me. Aw hell—I decided to just pretend he was a horrible lover. I thought if I fought him or rejected him in any way, he might just quench his thirst for death on me. An image of my father popped into my head, and I knew this was one thing I would never tell him. Then I realized this was the longest stretch of time I’d ever gone without thinking about Dad. Until that moment, I’d had no idea just how interwoven my dad was into all my thinking, like a part of him had always been with me until this trip abroad. This revelation startled me and I felt free and deeply saddened at the same time. I longed for my early childhood and my sunny life in Florida. I thought about my classes, my professors, my old stuffed mouse. Then I remembered where I was.

My whole body was numb by now. Not able to connect with it, I was a stranger to myself. I failed to conjure up a memory of ever feeling my body. I wanted to believe that Pete’s intentions hadn’t been to rape me. And if I got real, this sex felt pretty damn similar to A LOT of sex I’d had in the past. Aside from Trey, the guys in the several one-night-stands I’d had over the years had all been totally oblivious to my reactions and feelings. Pete had merely dropped the fake pretenses and manipulated me more overtly.

When I thought of all the dicks I’d felt tear into me—or jab me in the dark through my clothes, or poke me in the stomach, or be stuffed into my mouth—my stomach churned and I felt like puking.

When Pete finished, he collapsed on top of me for a few minutes—again throwing my rape script off. He kissed my neck with a big slurp and pulled his penis out, taking a little bit of me with it. Then he got up and started chain-smoking naked in the corner. I told him I’d better get going because I was leaving early for Edinburgh, and he said to have fun and gave me his address and told me to write him about America.

I woke up the next morning feeling a fierce determination to never ever put myself in a situation like that again. Moreover, I made a promise to myself that I would never again have sex again with anyone when I didn’t want to.

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