I was in NYC this weekend visiting the Russian lover, who has been staying there more on business. On Sunday evening we headed to a place in Soho that’s known for getting a raucous international crowd – even and especially on Sundays. We expected to have a raucous time, and we were not disappointed – the debaucherous chaos inside was unreal. To wit: I now know that Scottish men do not wear anything under their kilts and following an afternoon of heavy drinking they will be more than happy to prove that to any ladies who may innocently inquire.
There were pitchers of mojitos being consumed all around– the Russian lover grabbed one for us and a girlfriend. Sometime later he grabbed another one. But I ended up drinking relatively little, since the pitchers were crammed with mint leaves and lime slices and sugar cane and not all that much alcohol. Packed in with so many people having a good time in a small space, it was impossible not to lose some (or all) of your inhibitions. I let my hair down literally, and then I let it down figuratively; the Russian lover socialized nearby while I danced with the aforementioned kilt-wearing exhibitionists.
After a couple of hours we decided we were hungry and it was time to go someplace where we could sit down and eat without the possibility of drunk girls trying to climb up and dance on our table. As we left together with our friend, I was happily buzzed, flushed from dancing, and ready to wind down the evening with some good Italian food in a more relaxed atmosphere.
The minute I sat down at the bar at Cipriani, I knew something was wrong.
While the Russian lover ordered drinks, I decided it was probably best if I headed to the bathroom to figure out what I was feeling. At first I wondered if I’d managed to drink more than I thought, in which case maybe I just needed to vomit a bit and switch myself to water. But by the time I sat down on the toilet in the ladies room, the nausea was eclipsed by a wave of total confusion. And then my whole body went numb.
I don’t know how long I sat there on the toilet. It can’t have been so long that the Russian lover started to worry, but it was long enough that the ladies waiting for their turn did. But I couldn’t think, and I couldn’t move. Finally, gathering all of my effort, I was able to get to my feet and stagger out of the restroom. I stood by the back service station helplessly. I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t know where I needed to go. If you had asked me in that moment, I could not have told you my name. I didn’t know it. But I wouldn’t have been able to speak it even if I did.
A woman – I think maybe she was a hostess or a server but she could have been a patron or an angel – took me firmly by the arm and led me to the bar at the front where the Russian lover was drinking and conversing. Seeing the familiar form of the person I know and love most in all the world brought me back to myself for a moment, just long enough for me to force out the words “We have to go.”
He turned and asked “What’s wrong?” And that’s when it hit me. I understood what had happened, what was happening to me. Again focusing all the effort within me to form the thoughts to make the words and speak them out loud, I told him “I’ve been drugged.”
And with that I lurched toward the door and out to the street, because I knew I was about to be violently ill. The Russian lover threw money down on the bar and followed behind, grabbing me and pulling me just far enough away from the al fresco diners before I projectile vomited onto the sidewalk and street. The spasms of my own heaving nearly knocked me off my feet.
Once there was nothing left inside me, we got in a cab. As we rode uptown, the Russian lover asked me what happened. I didn’t have any answers. As far as I knew up to that point, I’d just had a fun evening with some drinks and dancing. I hadn’t been offered or taken any drugs, and I am an Olympic drinker; I know my limits with alcohol, and I know exactly how my body feels when I’ve erred and had too much. This was not me very drunk. This was me in an altered state, losing control of my body and mind as I drifted toward an inevitable unconsciousness.
By the time we got to the apartment, I was losing the ability to walk. My legs buckled under me, and the Russian lover half-carried half-pulled me up the stairs. Twenty or so minutes before I had been dancing and chatting and fully lucid, if somewhat inebriated; now I was almost fully incapacitated. Halfway up, I collapsed to me knees and cried “I’m so…m–. Mm- -.” My lips wouldn’t move the way I wanted them to; I couldn’t push the sounds off of my tongue. “Mad!” I finally forced out. I started to sob. The Russian lover kept me going, kept me moving, spoke encouraging words I can’t remember but I do remember the anger in his voice that he couldn’t conceal – anger that this had happened to me right under his nose, anger that this had happened to me at all, anger that this is something that happens to women ever, anywhere.
I managed to make it to the bed, where I vomited one last time into a trash bin. Then I lay down, and I couldn’t move again. The Russian lover and my friend worried about me in hushed tones, wondering what they should do. I couldn’t tell them anything; the part of me that wills my body into motion was completely disassociated and my paralysis felt total. I just wanted to sleep.
I awoke 7 hours later beside the Russian lover. I could move again, and I marveled out how light my body felt and how easy it was to speak. “I’m OK,” I assured him as he wrapped his arms tight around me. “I’m OK.”
And I am. I’m tired, but I’m OK. I won’t allow myself to spend much time contemplating the alternative. What if the Russian lover hadn’t been there? What if the drug had taken effect sooner while he was distracted and someone led me away? When the full force of the drug overtook me, I was a mere puppet. A voiceless puppet without any will or strength. Anyone could have done anything they wanted with me; I was lost in a helpless void and approaching total blackness. I have never experienced a terror like that before.
When I went to tell a friend today, I started by saying that I “got roofied.” I’ve used the term before, in jest. It’s a great word to joke around with–it rhymes with goofy, and doofy. But today the word felt wrong, like a balloon where a shroud should be. I was violated as a person, and the word I use to describe that experience shouldn’t ring trivial. We’ve made drugging women into something of a punchline –I am guilty of it too – and then we are shocked when men seemingly have no compunction about drugging women.
What kind of smiling, jovial monsters are these men lurking in bars that are capable of treating another person, but especially a woman, with that kind of callous disregard? How can a woman feel safe anywhere knowing the possibility of being drugged is looming with every sip she takes in the company of others? And how have we allowed for this culture of devious cowardice to emerge?
I’ve told this story because I wanted to get it out and move on. My usual caution in bars will be upgraded to full-scale paranoia for a while (“hey lady, why are you here drinking beer out of a baby bottle?”) but I don’t intend to dwell on this incident or allow it to shut me down socially. Awful, terrible people exist. But so do wonderful ones. And if I shrink away to escape the former, I’m going to miss out on the latter. All I can do is be careful, be smart, and be grateful that the only lingering consequence of this experience is the humiliation of throwing up all over the sidewalk right in front of the see-and-be-seen scene of Soho.