TW: Sexual assault
My friend Louise got married this summer. My pals and I got a hotel in Aberdeen and took a taxi to Triple Kirks pub, a five minute uphill walk away that we didn't want to risk in heels. A coach would pick us up over the road and take us to the venue. We got snacks from Costa; it could be a while before we got to eat again.
Another group waited with us for another bus that was taking them to another wedding. Amongst the group was an overweight, bald man who walked with a stick. When he opened his mouth and a Mancunian voice came out that could only belong to one person, we all said, "Bob?!"
He was an old university friend I'd dated for a few months when I was 19. Bob had long, blonde hair and men whistled at us when we walked by together. He was short and slight and he drank a bit too much and he was great fun and kind. This sickly looking man in front of us could have been 50, not 30. If it hadn't been for the voice, we never would have guessed it was him.
He had cancer, but we weren't supposed to know; a mutual friend passed it on because he didn't want us to be shocked if Bob died, which he did, three months later.
I spoke to Lyndsey about it on the phone and she listed some of the happy memories she had of Bob. He was from the same area as her and they'd watch the shitty local football team on telly at the pub because it was a slice of home. Everyone in our group chat was devastated.
My memory of Bob is slightly different.
Bob and I dated for those few months, but never slept together, for reasons that are not mine to tell. We stopped seeing each other because I moved away, but we stayed very good friends. When I had tickets for a gig in Aberdeen, I thought nothing of going with him and accepting his invitation to crash at his house afterwards.
He got very drunk, and heckled the band. We went to a casino afterwards and were kicked out because he spilt Guinness on a card table. I started crying on the way home because it was such a horrible night, and he was being horrible, and I didn't know why. When we got back, I took the bed and he said he would sleep on the sofa.
I woke up to him getting into the single bed with me. He put his arms round me, and I pushed them away. I sat up, then got up onto my knees on the bed and faced him and told him no. He mirrored my position on the bed and tried to put his fingers inside me. I managed to wrestle him off and he got into the bed and sulked, before passing out from the drink. I went downstairs and stayed awake all night on the sofa, terrified in case he followed me. I left and went to a friend's as soon as it was light. I never saw Bob again, until we all stood at that bus stop this summer.
It took me a long time to tell my friends what happened. Bob was so well liked by our group, and I had a feeling it wouldn't really matter to everyone. I have a reputation for being dramatic and over-emotional (at least, I feel like I do) and I had the worry that all victims have that I wouldn't be believed, not even by some of my best friends. But they did believe me. They were shocked. They said it mattered.
Other than subdued anger about my friends' amnesia, I didn't really feel anything about Bob's death. I kept hoping it would scrub away some of my anger and embarrassment, or that it would allow me to remember him fondly, since there was no point in resenting him any more. But I felt nothing at all.
Nearly a week after he died, I got up at 6am to walk the dog. She's recently developed anxiety due to a noisy motorbike that kept passing the house, so we have to drive her down to the beach three times a day. It was pitch black and I realised my car windscreen was frozen solid. As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, the radio came on. "Just Like Heaven" by the Cure started playing, the song Bob used to put on when we were on the phone together, and I sobbed as my windows defrosted.
I cried because I liked Bob, like I liked most of the men who have taken advantage of me, assaulted me, spoken down to me. That is the poison that slowly drains my energy and knots me up inside. I know that Bob could not have done that to me and been a decent person; if anything is black and white in this world, it's sexual assault. When someone assaults us, we are looking for validation, someone to agree that what's been done to us is wrong, wrong, wrong. When you are met with shrugs and "He's a nice guy, really!" and outrage that melts away to business-as-usual, you are being told that it's not black and white. People are shades of grey and there are extenuating circumstances that could render your experience irrelevant to everyone but you.
Bob's death has given me closure, but only because my assault will probably never be mentioned again. It's like it never happened.