“You owe me.”

That’s what he said. And I’ll never forget it.

A Date to the Dance

It was my senior year of high school — in many ways the best year — and I felt as if I’d come into my own. I had stable friendships, cute clothes, a part-time job and involvement in extracurricular programs. I had finally figured out what I wanted to study in college and even settled on a hair color.

I had been finding my worth in dating relationships that always ended in disappointment — until one guy completely broke my heart. It was a devastating wake-up call. I realized I needed to be enough for myself. I needed time to heal. I was done dating, done kissing, done with it all.

So, when I needed a date for a formal dance that winter, I asked a friend.

Several friends, actually, all of whom had already been snatched up early by other dance-goers. I ended up asking a guy who sat behind me in psychology. I barely knew him, but he was cute and nice and reasonably friendly. What could go wrong?

When I replay it in my mind, I always get stuck on all the guys who declined to take me to the dance before I asked him. I keep thinking that maybe — just maybe — if one of them had said yes, I would not have ended up being raped. But they all turned me down, and now it was him I had to get to know.

I long to know what my life would have been like if that one detail were different.

Breaking the Ice

Even though I was glad to be spared the awkwardness of going stag, I was nervous to go with him because we hardly knew each other. Then, one of my girlfriends had a great idea! We could throw a party, invite him and all his buddies and break the ice before the big dance.

We set the date for just before Christmas.

I remember worrying about what I was going to wear. I wanted to look good, of course, but I needed to also look festive because there were two days until Christmas. Hot dresses I had, but I wasn’t that into red and green. Easy fix: a little black dress with a gaudy Christmas bow pinned at the shoulder, plus heels.

As we prepared drinks and snacks — emphasis on the drinks — the guys trickled in, ready to party. To be honest, the party was amazing. My friend and I always had fun drinking, playing hostess and making new friends. This was no exception. I measured my sobriety by how gracefully I could ascend the stairs in stilettos, a test with which I repeatedly impressed myself until I missed a step, hit my head and blacked out. Un-phased, I continued to socialize.

Dark Surprise

It was late, and I decided to call it a night. As I made my way to a vacant bedroom, he followed me. I thought nothing of it. He was my guest, so maybe he wanted to stay close in an unfamiliar house. Maybe he just felt awkward.

But then he got into bed with me.

Again, I was unsuspecting. He was probably just tired, too. It was a late night and a crazy party, so that was understandable. And it was a pretty big bed, so he was probably just trying to be economical and share space. That wasn’t all that weird. I mean we’re all friends here, right?

Then he asked me to have sex with him.

Seriously? Right now? Right now, when I’m clearly exhausted, head-on-pillow, eyes-closed, trying-to-sleep? With you? You, who I barely know, whose main role in my life is keeping a seat warm behind me in psychology?

“Um, no.”

He asked. I said no. That was that. Or, it should have been.

He insisted. Although shocked at his impetuousness, I still assumed him to be somewhat reasonable. So I calmly, albeit a little annoyed, answered his objections.

“You owe me,” he said.

For him doing me the favor of going to the dance with me, I owed him sex. For renting a tux and being my plus one, I owed him sex. For clearing his schedule for one night, I owed him my body. And he literally wouldn’t take no for an answer.

He tried to force himself on me, but I fought back. I was strong enough to take him. And yet, I never felt unsafe. I still assumed he had basic decency — that he’d be reasonable, that he’d stop. I still sincerely hoped this nonsense would end peacefully so I could just go to sleep. So, I fought.

He took off my clothes before I could stop him.

I was so, so drunk and so very tired. I know I was not thinking straight. After all that arguing and fighting, I started to think he would inevitably get his way. And I made a choice that, to this day, I cannot understand and deeply, deeply regret.

I gave up.

I gave up, and he raped me.

Morning Regret and Memories Repressed

The next morning, I woke up in a fog. Then I realized I was naked. And I realized he was next to me. I saw my clothes on the floor, and realized we’d had sex.

A wave of regret and shame swept over me. This wasn’t supposed to happen. When he woke up, I earnestly asked him to please not tell his buddies about his conquest.

When all I wanted to do was shower and have some coffee, I had to go to the pharmacy for a Plan B pill because he did not use protection.

I took my pill, my shower and had my coffee. I got dressed, got ready for Christmas Eve with my family and put that night behind me.

But it was more than a hangover with drunken regrets. What I didn’t realize until over a year later was that I completely repressed those memories. As a result, I had no idea I was raped. And, because I didn’t remember what he did to me, I still went to the dance with him.

Before that night, my relationships were something I took semi-seriously, even if they were mere high school romances. But after that night, I felt as if my body no longer mattered, as if there were no shred of purity left to defend, that going to bed with a man didn’t mean anything. Maybe if all that were true, then I could live with what he did to me.

He had made me feel like I was nothing but a means to a wicked end, and I projected that into my encounters with the opposite sex over and over and over until it seemed utterly, horribly true. I was nothing, and the darkness was my friend. I seared my conscience until it felt nothing.

But deep, deep down I was broken.

More Loved Than I Dared Hope

Years later, the shame of what I became crashed down on me.

My rapist took something from me that was never his to take, and I responded by throwing away what was left. He made me feel worthless, and I believed it. I had to own my choices, too, and the guilt was crushing.

When I came to the point of wanting a husband, I, like many girls, had a wish list of husbandly attributes. I wanted him to be everything my rapist was not: kind, generous, respectful, tender and loving. But after everything I’d done, I felt I could never deserve such a man.

Elizabeth Cordova was defiled through and through. Who could ever love me?

But the answer came to me quite unexpectedly, after I’d already accepted there was no answer at all.

When I was found stained with guilt, Jesus presented Himself as pure and ready to share His purity with me. I felt guilt from my own choices and shame because of what was done to me in that dark bedroom. But Jesus washed away every last speck and smudge. When I felt completely unlovable, He showed me that I was loved more than I ever dared hope.

His Shame, His Hope

When I think back to that night, so much is stirred up. But the biggest thing I think about is him — that cute, unassuming guy who shocked me by revealing himself to have such a capacity for evil. He took so much from me. I am still haunted by detailed flashbacks of that night. My perception of the world is forever colored by this traumatic experience. I honestly doubt I’ll experience full resolution of this evil done to me on this side of eternity.

But, do you want to know what really lingers in my heart? His shame.

One day, the rightful guilt and shame of what that young man did is going to rush onto him without reprieve. One day, he will realize the evil of what he’s done and be powerless to undo it. One day, he’ll face the monster in the shadows. And it will crush him.

And on that day, I hope to God he is able to give that soul-wrenching guilt to Jesus — the only One who can bear it and live. I hope he will see the forgiveness and healing Jesus offers for whatever has him so twisted up inside. The only thing that could possibly bring me peace beyond what God has already done in my own heart would be for Him to do the same for my rapist — take his shame and make him a new man, a peaceful man, a loving man.

If I know anything, it’s this: Heaven will be filled with all manner of wicked people — rapists included — whose only claim to Heaven is in God’s forgiveness and power to change them. And one day, I will be among that crowd praising the Lord, and I sincerely hope my rapist is there, too.

I want him to know hope is freely available to him, and I want him to know just one more thing:

I forgive you.