I shouldn’t watch the news. It often changes the focus of my blog posts. However, I feel that this week provided important stories that shouldn’t be ignored. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently explored the possibility of rolling back Obama-era Title IX requirements which protect victims of campus sexual assault.
On another blog last year, I wrote an article titled, “The Girl in My Roommate’s Closet”. Given the events of this week, I think it is important to republish this article. This is an issue that is larger than petty political differences. I urge Ms. DeVos to show the American public that the U.S. Department of Education supports women on campus. Women nationwide face the crisis of campus sexual assault. The Department of Education should not abandon them in their hour of need.
Here is the article I wrote last year. It’s a long read, but an important one.
The Girl in my Roommate’s Closet
I sat on the couch in my apartment, staring at the clock, drinking a bottle of beer. It was 3AM. My roommate sat next to me, sipping a beer of his own, questions written all over his face. He had a big presentation early in the morning. He went to bed before midnight, hoping to get some sleep. His plans were interrupted by an event neither of us expected.
“Dude,” he began. “Why is there a girl in my closet?”
I took a sip of Amber Bock, which we thought was good beer when we were in college. “It’s a long story,” I replied.
It’s a story we would tell often in the years that followed. We had many strange nights in that dingy college apartment. This one ranked among the strangest. I never committed it to paper because I didn’t consider our actions extraordinary. To me, how my roommate and I handled that odd situation reflected basic human decency.
Brock Turner’s arrest, conviction, and early release from jail spurred me to put pen to paper. The Department of Justice estimates that 1/5 women are sexually assaulted during their college years. Turner’s crime is unique in the fact that he was brought to trial and convicted, despite his light sentence. Over 90% of campus sexual assaults aren’t even reported.
Perhaps basic human decency isn’t as basic as I first believed. The girl in my roommate’s closet left our apartment with a story and an ugly Cleveland Browns T-Shirt instead of physical and emotional trauma. I tell her story with the hope that it can instruct other college students about alcohol and consent. As I said on that couch, it’s a long one. I’ll start at the beginning.
It was April, 2005. I was a junior at the University of Florida. I just finished my final presentation for an education course. I had a crush on a girl who sat next to me in class. Let’s call her Edith. In the last class of the semester, I finally had the nerve to ask her out. I said we should meet at Gator City, a bar on University Avenue, to celebrate. She said she was eating dinner with her girlfriends at a Mexican restaurant, but would meet up with me afterward. We exchanged Facebook information, which was a new thing at that time.
I waited that evening at the bar in Gator City, nursing a beer. I tried to watch the random NBA games on TV. Anything to take my mind off of the fact that Edith was over an hour late. I didn’t have her number. Smart phones and 4G Internet access didn’t exist, so I couldn’t check Facebook to see if she wrote me a message. I sighed. Wasn’t the first time I’d been stood up. Wouldn’t be the last. I got up from my stool. I was heading for the door when I saw her.
“You’re still here!” she exclaimed, enveloping me in a huge hug. I could smell the tequila on her breath. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “We had margaritas and nachos!”
“No worries,” I said. I pointed at the seats I’d been saving for 90 minutes. “Want to sit down and have a drink?”
Edith grabbed my hand. “Let’s go to XS!” she said. “I want to dance!”
I suppose I should explain about XS. Gator City was divided into two parts. One side was a sports bar and pool hall. The other side was a dark, windowless dance club. XS was known for cheap drinks, grinding on the dance floor, and make-out sessions with random strangers. It was normally where folks went late at night after fueling up with liquid courage on the sports bar side.
It was a bit early in the night to head to XS, but I wasn’t going to decline dancing with a girl I had a crush on. I let her lead me into the darkness of the dance club.
I was hit immediately by the pounding bass music of early 2000s hip-hop. Cigarette smoke permeated through the club. The dance floor was already filled with college kids grinding on each other.
Edith led me to the bar. “Let’s do shots!” she yelled into my ear over the din of the club. “Yeah!” I responded, taking out my wallet. The bartender came over. “2 double tequila shots!” she said. I did my best not to cringe. Tequila wasn’t my favorite. “Got any salt?” I asked the bartender. He shook his head and handed me a sad-looking lime wedge.
Edith held her lime in one hand and the shot glass in the other “To the end of the semester!” she said. I clinked glasses, took the shot, and sucked all the juice out of that tiny lime. I did my best to look normal, but that shot hurt my soul. The feeling quickly passed. I felt energized. I looked up at Edith. She was looking at me flirtatiously.
She grabbed the collar of my button-down shirt, pushed me against the wall, and kissed me. It was turning into a good night.
Edith grabbed my hand and led me onto the dance floor. While dancing, I could tell that she was extremely intoxicated. Dancing turned into a strange alternating experience between keeping up with her erratic movements and making sure she didn’t topple over. When we went back to find a spot on the wall, she could barely walk. She leaned on me and tried to kiss me again, but her lips landed on my neck.
It wasn’t sexy.
Edith giggled. “Sorry, she said. She held up two fingers and pointed at me. “I see two of you.”
“Ok,” I responded. I realized I was subconsciously using the “teacher voice” we’d worked on in our education class. “Stay here, I’m going to close out the tab, ok?”
I went to the bar and closed out my tab. I looked to my right and saw Edith taking another tequila shot. “Dammit,” I muttered, signing my check. I walked the three steps over to her. She put her arm around me and led me back to the wall again- an awkward attempt to find something to lean on.
The din of the crowd and music had become louder. “Edith,” I began. “Do you have a ride home? One of your girlfriends you went out to dinner with, maybe?”
“I lost my phonnnnne,” she slurred. She stuck out her lip, making a pouty-face. I was now supporting almost 100% of her weight. She thought it was sexy, and was trying to do some awkward half-dance against me while swaying back and forth.
I realized I was going to have to take care of Edith. “Alright,” I said. “I’m gonna take you home. Let’s go.”
“Yeahhh!” she slurred. I don’t think she understood that this date was over. There’s nothing sexy about a girl who can’t even stand up or talk.
Blockbuster Video is not your Apartment Complex
The two block walk to my car was a grueling ordeal. I was practically carrying Edith. Drunk frat guys gave me the thumbs-up on the sidewalk. A few even tried to high-five me.
Why are you trying to high-five me, dude? I thought to myself in wonder. I was too busy trying to keep Edith from falling over to high-five anyone. She drunkenly began singing “Take me home tonight,” humming most of the words and speaking the unintelligible language of the severely intoxicated.
I finally got her to my car and helped her into the passenger seat. I got behind the wheel. I pulled out onto University Avenue.
“Alright,” I began. “Where’s your place? Where am I going?”
“So bright,” she said, pointing out the window at the passing cars.
“Edith,” I said, with more authority, using the teacher voice again. “Where do you live?”
“Just go to Archer Road,” she said dreamily, staring out the window.
Archer Road is one of the main roads in Gainesville. Driving up and down Archer means driving all over town. Nonetheless, I made my way to Archer Road.
“Ok, Edith,” I said, nudging her arm. She had passed out against the window. “We’re on Archer. Which way do I go now? What’s the name of the complex?”
“Left, left, left, left, left,” she said.
“Left at the next light?”
“Yes,” she murmured. “Left, left, left, left.”
I turned left.
“Ok, now where?”
“Right, right right right right,” she said.
I was beginning to think she was just giving random directions. “What’s the name of the complex?” I repeated.
“Turn right here!” she shouted suddenly. “That’s it!”
I pulled into a Blockbuster Video parking lot. “Here we are!” she said, beaming.
“Edith,” I said slowly. “This isn’t your place. This is a Blockbuster.”
“We can make it my place,” she cooed. She tried a wink. Maybe the tequila was closing one of her eyes. Either way, her meaning wasn’t difficult to infer.
“Where do you live, Edith?” I asked again, trying to change that subject as quickly as possible.
“I don’t knowwwww,” she slurred. “Let’s just stay here.”
I sighed. I wasn’t going to spend the night at Blockbuster. I was thankful my car had child safety locks that clicked on the second the engine was engaged. Last thing I needed was drunk Edith trying to run into a closed Blockbuster Video.
“We’ll go to my place,” I said. “I’ll set you up on the couch.”
“Yeah, you will!” she replied.
I didn’t respond. I drove the car back to my apartment, hoping she’d go to sleep the second she hit my couch’s pillow.
Someone who was drunk enough to think Blockbuster was her apartment complex was most likely drunk enough to puke.
I pulled into my apartment complex. Edith was passed out against the window. I parked in front of my apartment and nudged her. She yawned and stretched.
“We’re here, Edith,” I began, turning off the car. “Let’s get you some water.”
Her eyes widened as she opened the door.
“You found it!” she exclaimed. “My apartment is right upstairs. Let’s go!”
She bounded out of the car with surprising energy and charged up the steps toward the second floor.
“Edith!” I said loudly, trying to keep my voice down but also trying to get her attention. “That isn’t your apartment!”
My apartment was on the first floor. My upstairs neighbor was a 300 lb. man with cornrows who loved working on his car in the parking lot. He had a custom license plate on that big sedan displaying his nickname: TRU-PLAYA.
Tru Playa would come down and have a beer with me and my roommate sometimes. He was a fan of Bud Light.
Tru Playa would not appreciate a random stranger trying to break into his apartment at 1AM on a weekday.
I caught Edith right before she put her key in the lock, wrapping both of my hands gently around her own. “That’s Tru Playa’s apartment,” I whispered. “We’re in my complex.”
“That’s right,” she said, seemingly in realization. “My apartment is across the courtyard!” She ran down the stairs.
“God dammit,” I grumbled under my breath.
Where the hell did this energy come from? I thought. I strode with purpose down the steps, not wanting to wake up my neighbor. She turned the corner and headed toward the grassy courtyard area.
It had rained earlier that evening. Edith slipped the moment her heel hit the muddy lawn. I ran toward her, worried she was hurt.
When I arrived, she was laughing. I reached out my hand to help her up.
“Come on, Edith,” I said, taking her hand. “You’re getting all muddy.”
“I like it,” she said. With surprising strength, she pulled me toward her. “Let’s get dirty,” she slurred. “Come lay with me in the mud.”
I helped her to her feet. “Let’s just go inside,” I said, exhausted. “We’re right around the corner.”
She did a sort of skip/frolic toward my apartment, staying about three paces ahead of me. I realized the best way to keep her from running off was to turn it into a game. “Keep going,” I said. She skipped a few more paces, looking back over her shoulder with raised eyebrows. “One more door down,” I said, taking my keys out. She leaned on the wall next to my apartment door, pointing at it, a quizzical expression on her face. I reached the door and nodded, opening it. She went inside.
I closed the door and bolted it. Last thing I needed was drunk Edith frolicking all over our apartment complex or trying to walk into my neighbor’s apartment again.
“Which one is your room?” she asked, kicking off her heels.
“Around the corner to the right, the master,” I answered automatically, more concerned with ensuring the door was locked. I realized my mistake immediately.
I walked into my room just in time to see Edith leap onto my bed.
“No!” I called out. I hurriedly took a pair of pajama pants and an old Cleveland Browns shirt out of the dresser, along with a towel from my closet. I placed them in my bathroom. I came back out to find Edith trying to get out of her shirt, flinging mud all over my sheets.
“Shower!” I said in my teacher voice, pointing at the bathroom. I felt like a middle-aged father yelling at a child. That’s exactly what excessive alcohol turns us into. Children. Children should be taken care of, not taken advantage of. They also can be really annoying. Those were new sheets.
“Finnnnne,” she slurred. She went into the bathroom and slammed the door.
I heard the water turn on. I walked to my computer and logged onto Facebook. I clicked on Edith’s profile.
Friends, friends, friends. I scrolled through her friends list, looking for anyone I recognized, anyone who could come pick Edith up. Most people didn’t put phone numbers on Facebook at that time. A few did.
Then I realized it was super late. Edith was my responsibility. I sighed. I needed to find someone to write a message to. Someone who would be able to pick her up in the morning.
I clicked on her profile again. I saw a picture of her with other girls at a Mexican restaurant. I wrote a message to the girl who posted the picture, telling her that Edith was really drunk, but I was making sure she was safe, and she’d be on my couch with a bucket next to her face. I asked if she could pick her up in the morning and provided all of my contact information.
I opened the beer fridge in my room and cracked open an Amber Bock. Before I even took a sip, I heard Edith yelling.
I listened to the water. It sounded like she was running a bath.
“Helllllllp!!” she yelled again, with more volume and urgency.
I opened the bathroom door. The tub was about a quarter full. The remnants of salsa and nachos were around the drain. Water weakly ran from the faucet. Edith sat there, staring at the running water.
“I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower,” she said. “I also threw up,” she added unnecessarily.
How do I remember, over a decade later, that Edith was at a Mexican restaurant before she met me at Gator City? That image of salsa clogging my bathroom drain will remain eternally imprinted on my memory.
I helped her to her feet. I made sure the water coming from the faucet was warm. I turned on the shower for her. She flinched as the water hit her and then relaxed.
“Ahhhh,” she sighed. “Thank you.”
I closed the shower curtain. “Don’t worry about the drain,” I said. “I’ll take care of it later. There are pajama pants and a shirt for you on the toilet, along with a towel. There’s some Listerine on the counter.”
I went back to the computer, double-checked the information, and hit SEND on my Facebook message. I took a long sip of my beer.
Edith came out of the bathroom wearing my old clothes, the towel wrapped around her hair.
“These pants are huuuuge,” she said, giggling. She tightened the drawstring. I got a pillow out of the closet. She hugged me. “Thank you for taking such good care of me,” she said, trying to kiss my neck. I broke away gently. “Let’s get you set up on the couch,” I said.
She looked at the bed, then back at me. “Why not here?” she asked.
“Or you can take the bed and I’ll take the couch. Either way, I’m going to get you a glass of water.”
Her expression changed in an instant. “Fine,” she said, scowling. “If you don’t want to sleep with me, I’m going to sleep in my room.”
Edith stormed down the hall toward my roommate’s room. I hurriedly followed. “Edith, wait-”
She opened the door. My roommate woke up in a flash. “What the fuck?!” he said, startled.
Edith pointed at him. “Shut the fuck up!” she shouted.
She stumbled into his walk-in closet, curled up on the floor, and promptly fell asleep. She was snoring within a minute.
My roommate got up and pointed at the closet, staring wordlessly at me.
“I’ll get you a beer,” I said. We sat on the couch.
A Pillow & A Letter
That brings us back to the beginning of our story. I told my roommate the entire epic tale.
“Did you write a message to one of her friends?” he asked.
“Done,” I said.
“Is she coming?” he asked.
I pointed at the clock. He nodded. “We should probably get her a pillow,” he said. “Or she’ll have a crick in her neck in the morning.”
I snapped my fingers. “I’ll write her a note!” I said. “Bro, she thought Blockbuster was her apartment. There’s a good chance she’s not going to remember any of this. If I woke up in a strange closet wearing a Cleveland Browns shirt, I’d be freaked out.”
“Why do you have a Browns shirt?” he asked. “They suck.”
I laughed. “I know,” I replied. “My dad gave it to me for Christmas one year. It’s one of my favorite sleep shirts.”
My roommate and I put a pillow under her head and a blanket over her. I got to work writing a letter describing all the events of the evening. XS. Shots. Blockbuster. Falling in the mud. Throwing up in the tub. The clothes she was wearing. Thinking my roommate’s closet was her room. And finally, that I wasn’t upset, just wanted to make sure she was ok and not freaked out. I told her the name of the friend I wrote to on Facebook, and said she was going to pick her up in the morning. I wrote that whenever she was ready, to come on out to the living room and we’d talk.
I put the letter next to her head with a bottle of water. I went back out to the living room.
“Where are her clothes?” asked my roommate.
“I’ll get a Publix bag,” he said.
We went to the bathroom. He stared in wonder at my room. The muddy sheets. Her dirty clothes, balled up on the floor. We put her clothes in the plastic grocery bag.
“You weren’t kidding,” he said. “She actually rolled around in the mud.”
He looked at the tub. “Oh, man.”
“I know,” I replied.
He went to the living room and began playing PlayStation games. I put clean sheets on my bed and cleaned out the tub. It ranks to this day as one of the most disgusting messes I’ve ever had to clean up.
I joined Tyree in the living room. “Want to play?” he asked, pointing at the baseball game on the PS2.
“Don’t want to go back to sleep?” I asked in response. “You have a presentation in the morning.”
“No way I can sleep in my room with that girl in my closet,” he said. “I’d be worried she’d come out and yell at me again. Or come out, wonder who I am, and start screaming.”
“You can sleep out on the couch,” I offered. “I’ll try to sleep a little in the chair.”
“Naw, man. I’ll wing it on the presentation. We’re gonna remember this night. Let’s have a few beers and play some video games.”
So we did. Eventually he dozed off on the couch. I stayed up, staring at my cell phone, waiting for Edith’s friend to contact me.
The Promise of a Cake
At 7AM my phone buzzed. Edith’s friend sent me a long text, thanking me for taking care of her and promising to drive over to my apartment within a half hour.
Edith emerged a short time later, holding the bottle of water. She wasn’t the drunk girl from the previous night. She was the smart, articulate woman from my education class.
“Hi,” I said. “Did you read the note?”
She nodded. “I was wondering why my hair was wet.” She paused, chuckling softly. “I don’t know why that was more alarming than waking up in a random guy’s closet.”
“What’s up?” said my roommate, smiling and waving.
“Hi,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”
Edith’s friend knocked on the door. She came inside and gave Edith a hug. Then she gave me and my roommate hugs.
“Thank you guys so much,” she said.
“Yes,” added Edith. “Thank you. And I’m so sorry. I’m so embarrassed.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Just did what any other guy would do. It happens to the best of us. Tequila is nuts.”
“Just, don’t mention tequila right now,” said Edith, holding up a hand. “Still not feeling great.”
Her face suddenly became alarmed. “Oh, no, I threw up in your bathtub. I’ll clean-“
“It’s done,” I said. “Took care of it last night.”
“We are going to bake you a cake,” said Edith’s friend.
“Seriously, we’ll bake you any cake you like,” added Edith. “We’ll bring it by next week.”
My roommate and I described our favorite kinds of cake. We gave Edith her bag of clothes. Seeing them covered in mud brought back snippets of the memory of rolling around in the courtyard. We gave them hugs goodbye.
Edith never came back with our cake. She was a year older than I was, and graduated the following week. She went to graduate school in another state while I finished my final year in Gainesville. I never saw her or that Cleveland Browns T-shirt again.
The Problem with High-Fives
I told Edith that I did what any guy would do. As a doctoral candidate on the brink of a doctorate in higher education management, I now know that’s not the case. I still believe that most men have the aforementioned basic human decency to take care of the Ediths of American universities the same way that my roommate and I did. But I know that Edith would have had a much different experience if she was with any of the guys who were trying to high-five me on University Avenue.
Turning sex into an objective, rather than an experience, creates a zero-sum game that highlights “winning” at all costs. Even the rhetoric of hook-up culture on campus conjures troubling images. “Sexual conquests”. “Breaking down her defenses”. “Getting some ass”. When sex is turned into a zero-sum contest, the losers are women at American universities.
If I had consented to any of Edith’s propositions, I wouldn’t be found guilty in any court of law. But I certainly wouldn’t be innocent. Having sex with a girl in that condition, even if she is pressuring you for it, goes against both conscience and human decency. That girl trying to have sex with me at Blockbuster, in the mud, and at my apartment…that wasn’t Edith. That wasn’t the sarcastic, articulate woman who sat next to me in class.
That was a drunk person with decision-making capacity of a toddler and the body of an adult woman.
If you’re against having sex with toddlers, you should be against having sex with women as drunk as Edith was that night.
At the time, I thought there was no way in hell anyone would have said yes to Edith that night. Saying no was a natural response. I have come to the realization that that those frat guys on University Avenue would not only say yes, but would also celebrate afterward. Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman at Stanford who couldn’t even say the word ‘yes’.
Women nationwide face the crisis of sexual assault.
I’ve come to the realization that such encounters happen every night, in every state, on every campus around the country.
That alarmed me and compelled me to put pen to paper. Edith’s story could illustrate what I thought was basic common sense. If men exercised common sense and decency became common practice, maybe sexual assault wouldn’t be so common at college. If a woman is too drunk to remember where she lives, then you shouldn’t have sex with her. Just because you could, doesn’t mean that you should.
Even when she’s saying yes, you should say no.
The Ediths of American universities deserve the confidence to know that even if they have too many drinks, they won’t be victimized by men who see them as objectives rather than people. They should wake up with clean hair instead of muddy clothes.
Too many women across the country leave the apartments of strangers with trauma instead of T-shirts, and shame instead of stories. It is my hope that telling Edith’s story can help college men learn to offer a helping hand to their female colleagues, rather than a high-five to the boys who exploit them.
When a night out ends in a closet, it should be a comedy instead of a tragedy.
It is my hope that Edith’s story helps make human decency more common on campus.
Rudolph W. Lurz is a doctoral candidate and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com