WHY I HATE GERMANS
Dance music pumped up through the floor— the African students threw the best parties in the basement. I followed the music downstairs, entered the large room. I was not pretty there among cocoa-, blue- and ink-black women dancing. But I danced, maybe with every man there, even with the fat Tunisian guy who beat his wife across the hall from me. This must be what it feels like, I thought, other and conspicuous. Desirable as I had never been desirable, passed around like a dirty magazine, but always back to Yves. Yves, who once sat in my dorm room, his long legs crossed at the knees, limbs draping, so elegant against the water-stained wallpaper, the windows duct-taped to keep out the cold.
“Tea?” I asked.
“If you are having tea, I will have tea for harmony’s sake,” he said, his smile stopping under the ledges of his cheek bones, his answer seducing me. For harmony’s sake.
At the dance, I ate too much Ethiopian bread. Went to the bathroom, threw it up, wiped off my shoes, the exquisite African women in there with me not knowing this was 20 and American and beautiful. This was not extraordinary. I washed my hands, went up the two flights to my room.
I have no memory of what happened in between. My back pressed hard into the open door, door halfway open against the little rocking refrigerator in the anteroom between my room and the German girls’. Where was Liza? One leg reached past Yves, braced against the thin wall, wall flexing. Tights so miserable to peel on, stretch the crotch to my crotch—beautiful tights, blessed obstacle.
I had kissed him on Christmas Eve when we walked hand in hand through snowy Moscow streets. Kissed him when the conga drums at midnight Mass made me cry. Now all of him suddenly against me, his mouth distorting, sexualizing my cries to the uppity west German girls in the next room who turned up their radio politely, not wanting to eavesdrop on the untidiness outside.
I entered an icy concentration, every breath, thought, pulse leaning into the open door, all his strength pulling it closed, music still pulsing up through the floor. If a short skirt is not an invitation it is an unlocked garden gate.
Again, I don’t remember what happened in between. I was out in the hall, out of breath, standing with my back against the closed door. He faced me.
“Go in,” he insisted. French accent, smile, cheekbones. “Go ahead. I won’t follow you.” For harmony’s sake. “Are you afraid of me?”
I ran. Running for any German girl. I trembled and wept.
Multilingual beauty and harmony have just tried to rape me. “I’m afraid he’s still in my room. . .”
A German girl looked me up and down: short skirt, disheveled hair, tears. “Have you been drinking?” she asked.
Sexual assault goes beyond the initial incident. The fear didn’t end that night. The first week after he assaulted me, Yves approached me at school a few times. My heart beat fast. I couldn’t speak. I stared at my shoes as I kept walking. He seemed to genuinely not understand my rebuff.
My long blonde hair, which drew a lot of attention in Moscow, I cut that off. For the rest of the year, I glanced over my shoulder as I walked to the subway, every time I went to unlock the door of my room, walking to the showers down the hall.
There’s grief—grief for the person you thought he was, for the sudden death of a relationship. There’s self-blame. I mean, really, I was dancing. A lot. Did he think I was leading him back to my room?
And shame. I was a new Christian. I had aspirations to religious life. What had I just done? I didn’t tell anyone.
This is not my only, and not even my worst, experience of sexual assault. This is the one I am able to write about.
Believe the women around you.