Content warning: description of rape.
Nashville musician Amy Speace launches a new album, Tucson, on 8 April via Proper Records. This the album Speace has spent most of her life finding a way to write. Tucson is a hard story to tell. Amy was raped as a college freshman and built her entire life around protecting herself. The album's name comes from the treatment center (Cottonwood de Tucson) she checked herself into last summer to address this trauma. The album's first single, 'Cottonwood', came pouring out of her after a few weeks at the center, an out-of-tune piano becoming a close ally in her treatment. The six songs that follow are Amy's roadmap to healing.
Ahead of the album launch, Amy has shared with us an open letter addressed to the man who raped her. It's really hard reading, but we are so grateful to Amy for her bravery in sharing her story. Sending love and solidarity to Amy, and to everyone who has a similar story of their own.
To The Man Who Was The Boy Who Date Raped Me,
I don’t have the words to start this letter; long ago they got stuck in my throat in a scream that never got heard. I sat in front of this page for a few minutes, my fingers poised, not knowing how to begin. It is a good metaphor for how I feel when you come to mind from time to time. Stuck. Halted. Hovering over a truth.
I thought, over the years, I might bump into you in person at a college reunion, or see you on Facebook. I’ve even looked with detached curiosity. I’d brace myself each time I searched your name or scrolled the pages of your friends, expecting to see proof that you’d skated through life to finance or law with the ease you seemed born to, silver spoon and all. I’d look, eyes squinting like passing a car wreck afraid to see blood, flesh and bone. You are nowhere somewhere, disappeared. As seems right. You graduated quietly, relieved, I’m sure, to not have been exiled and banished from the ivy towers, and then you slipped out the back of those four years without a sound. Thank you for that. Thank you for being a ghost I cannot trail.
A small-town, Catholic, virginal naïve public school freshman gets set up with an Upper East Side, Prep-School, privileged freshman. She tells him she is a virgin, knowing he is far from that, to test the waters, to make sure he is not going to test hers. She is unsure about how sex and love will fold together in her lifetime yet. She tells him she doesn’t want to have sex. He woos her with nighttime walks through quads and paths lit by gas lamps, telling her tales of Manhattan and dating famous girls. He makes her nervous. He is not her type, but he fascinates her and she feels far underneath his league. He takes her to the college formal. Her first black tie event. He owns a tuxedo. Of course he does. She buys her first Little Black Dress. It was $99 at a store in Boston. She drinks a little too much champagne with her friends, meets him in his dorm room with his two roommates, also dark and mysterious. There is a baggie of white powder which she’s never seen. He asks her if she wants some. She says no, afraid, a bit stunned. This is out of her league. Staring at her, he puts his finger into his mouth, then into the bag and then quickly, rolls his cocaine-laced finger along her upper gums. She is startled but doesn’t want to show her fear. Her mouth goes numb. She is afraid of seeming naïve but afraid she has just done something she didn’t want to do. She continues drinking beer and champagne. She has been drunk before this time, she’s even gotten completely shit faced, but this time is different. Things get blurry and her legs buckle. She only remembers standing at the roulette table. She remembers nothing after that. She wakes up naked in bed with the boy, sore, in the single dorm room of his Resident Advisor’s room, a Junior paid to be a responsible counselor for a freshman dorm. She found out later that the Junior Advisor gave the freshman the key, seeing him carrying her body up the stairs from the party to where the dorm rooms were, and said to him, “take her to my room.” She remembers nothing of the night.
I am that girl. I have spent years trying to find the memory, digging through every nook and cranny, floating through mediations and yoga and therapy sessions where I hover above a foggy scene and cannot see it clearly enough to own the certainty. But my body owns the truth and over the years it has struck me in the most peculiar ways, some leave light traces, most leave scars. The rumblings of a massive earthquake started a long time ago. It was 3 years ago that the earth finally split below me and I could no longer hold onto a false narrative of who I thought I was. The truth has been trying to get my attention for so many years that I’m not even sure if it’s always been there, like a bird at a window tapping constantly, day and night. “Date rape” is a phrase to stumble over. Not quite ‘real’ rape. Like a case of mistaken identity. An apology. A softening of the thing itself. And that is why it is such an insidious thing because it leaves it an open-ended question. Did she consent? Didn’t she?
Here’s the thing: I. Do. Not. Remember. So if I did, if he said I did, how could it be so because I. Do. Not. Remember. Every other drunken mishap before then, none involving sex, provided a hazy memory, foggy events, conversations coming in and out. None were a complete blank. Until this one. I have literally no memory from standing at a Roulette Wheel to waking up naked.
If I try hard enough, I can see the bookshelves and the double futon flattened. I see the dress, the black velvet dress from Filene’s Basement, the back zipper ripped. The torn stockings I threw out. I can see the room. I can’t see the event. I can only see the dream: I can’t breathe, my thighs are against my chest with a heavy weight on them, and my grandmother is calling to me.
“You can’t call it rape because you asked for it.” That was the answer you gave to me when I awoke, groggy, naked, aching, next to you on the RA’s futon on the floor. I’d asked you “what happened?”
After that morning, I started drinking. Heavily. I skipped classes. In a class I was getting an A+ in, I failed the final and ended up with a C-. I started throwing up every meal, a bulimic for three years. I became neurotic, anxious, afraid, arrogant, bitchy. My self-esteem took a nose dive. I was never faithful to anyone after we broke up, a month after the rape (remember? You slept with my friend?). I cheated on every single man I dated. I slept with your roommate for a few months after you dumped me. I slept with him AT you. I drank AT you. I fell in love a few years later, but didn’t know how to hold my own in a relationship, so I cheated on him and found myself, at 25, pregnant and scared and alone in Brooklyn. I tried to pretend that I wasn’t pregnant until, during a family vacation at the beach, I started bleeding and cramping and I was forced to tell my very Catholic mother what was happening. Then I drove up I 95 in August heatwave in terrible traffic to pull, 5 hours later into the Brooklyn Hospital, and there, alone, I bled out tissue and blood. A lucky miscarriage, I thought. I slept for 2 weeks. Then resumed my life. Ambition and confusion and late-night-all-night bar hopping and riding subways without being able to see straight and cheating and lying and lying upon lying upon lying until I’d lost track and time fell away from me and I was married and in a long affair and drunk and in the deepest denial, just telling everyone who’d ask that I was fine. I was just ‘stuck’. I was stuck for the next 20 years. It took me 1 miscarriage, 3 abortions, countless infidelities, and a mind numbing amount of tequila and wine to land at my bottom, which wasn’t even that dramatic. No fireworks. Just a drunk 45-year old divorced woman stuck in an affair with a (cut the word ‘lying’) married man, in her friend’s car weeping, saying “I can’t do this anymore. I’m so tired.”
I know one thing is probably true: that you rarely think about me. I was probably an accident, at best a moment of shame that time erased; at worst, your dark secret you carry. I know that I carved no scar into your soul. I doubt that you carry me in your history as I carry you.
I hate this, too. As you were nothing to me. An entitled rich boy, not my type, not that interesting. You weren’t kind. You weren’t ugly and evil, as I wish you’d have been in order to make my story an easy horror tale. Instead, you were just you: a normal college freshman who had sex with his girlfriend when she was blacked out. Boys will be boys. What chance does a teenage girl have when the President of the United States winks and calls talk of sexual assault “locker room talk”?
I drowned you out for the past 30 years with wine, with sex, with self-destructive behavior that almost killed me. At the same time, I have drowned you out with ambition and creativity, with songs and albums and dazzling performances both on and off stage. I have drowned you out in long runs through a riverside park, in yoga retreats, in sweat lodges and 3 hour meditation sessions. I have drowned you out in rage and joy and grief. I have made that truth you gave me my superhero shield. And I have bashed that shield to bits against the mirror until the shards of glass beckoned me to slice open my own skin and bleed you out onto the floor. And in that broken mirror, I can see one thing that’s not blurry:
You raped me. On a Saturday night in late January in 1987 on the carpeted floor of a room on the 2nd floor of a freshman dormitory at Amherst College, you raped me.
And that is one thing that I know that is true.