Tina and I met Alvin on the Friday night before Homecoming 1991. We were idly wandering Warriner Hall waiting for intermission to end and talking excitedly about the Ellen DeGeneres show we’d just seen.
A tall, dark and handsome man approached and started chatting us up. The lights flickered to signal Gilbert Gottfried was about to take the stage. Tall, Dark and Handsome slipped us a piece of paper with his name, address and phone number. “Party at my place tomorrow,” he said.
We were the first to arrive at Alvin’s apartment. After 30 minutes, I realized we would be the only ones. While Alvin fried chicken, I took Tina aside and told her I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave. She insisted the guy was harmless. She suggested I drink a fuzzy navel and lighten up.
I thought about leaving without her. Then I thought, “safety in numbers.” I ignored the red flags, the alarm bells and the seizing in my gut. I stayed.
One minute, I was cheering on Central’s quarterback on TV. The next, I was struggling to escape Alvin’s lecherous hands and mouth.
I managed to get away, and then he was all over Tina. Then he was on me again, squeezing me and saying, “Let’s dance.” Luther Vandross was on the stereo.
I don’t know how long we were in Alvin’s apartment. I don’t remember how we got back to our dorm. I just remember that, once inside our tiny little room, I didn’t want to leave again.
“We should call the police,” I told Tina.
That was our entire discussion of the ordeal.
When evening came, I called my boyfriend, who attended another university. He reacted as if I’d told him I had a hangnail. He said I was selfish for bothering him when he had serious academic concerns. He didn’t have time for my petty problems.
Tina and my boyfriend acted as if nothing had happened. It didn’t feel like nothing to me.
I considered going to the police without Tina. But I was too afraid. I didn’t know if I could repeat what had happened to a stranger in uniform. Tina was my only witness, so she would have to talk to the police whether she wanted to or not. She so staunchly refused to talk about it that I worried she might deny it. What then?
That school year, I sank into malaise. I escaped into sleep. Any time I wasn’t in class or scrubbing dishes in the cafeteria, I slept.
I stopped my after-dinner walks around campus. I rejected invites to parties, movies, bowling. I preferred the company of my pillow. I listlessly dragged myself from class to class, occasionally nodding off during lectures. I dropped a grammar class to avoid failing it. My boyfriend cheated on me repeatedly and I didn’t have the gumption to dump him.
I was an automaton, moving through my sophomore year but never experiencing it.
Worst of all, I became afraid. Any man that remotely reminded me of Alvin caused me to panic. More than once, I left a store without finishing my shopping; or turned around and left a room because a man looked, moved, spoke or smelled like Alvin.
I wasn't just afraid of Alvin, I was afraid of myself, because I had been foolish enough to stay in a man’s apartment when my intuition told me to leave. I trusted no one, least of all me.
Junior year, I picked up the campus newspaper and Alvin’s face was on the front page. It was a police artist’s sketch, but it was definitely him. The headline above the picture informed me that he had been sentenced to several years in prison for sexual assault on several counts. A young woman braver than I had pressed charges against him. Then several other young women had come forward to say he had assaulted them, too.
I was heartsick, flooded with guilt and shame. I should have reported the assault on me. Because I hadn’t, he had assaulted other women. Those women suffered as I had.
And how many other women, like me, had been too afraid to go to the police? All that suffering might have been avoided.
I no longer feel responsible for Alvin's assaults on those women. But I agree with Albert Einstein: "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."
Editor’s note: April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist