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The 2016 Fiction Issue

'Undergrad'

The narrator recounts six brushes with rape in college. In short troubling episodes, he describes things he heard and victims he met—both accuser and accused.

by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi
Dec 6 2016, 12:00am

Photos by Fanny Schlichter*

This story appeared in the December fiction issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

1.

Freshman year I had a friend who'd recently dropped off the intramural rugby team but was still getting the emails. Early in the spring someone on the team wrote to the list late at night, "I just got done fucking a girl from both ends, goodnight!!!" I learned that this had happened in one of the campus's imitation Gothic archways. The archway would have been a thoroughfare for other students returning from drinking at the off-campus clubs, so maybe "in" meant the narrow maintenance staircase that led up from the archway to the building's vast slate-tiled roof. The archway was named in honor of the graduating class in which a US president of diminished reputation had matriculated. My friend—who wore his bangs in a southern-boy sweep deep across the forehead and had a middle name inherited from a different former president, and who wasn't really my friend—handed me the freshman facebook. She was a pretty girl, slightly feline. She was from St. Louis. I was from Kansas City, but you'd have to be from a place like Montana or Alaska for a fellow home-stater to care. Three years later I was taking an advanced video course and I thought of naming my notional production company in honor of this archway. Something about the story made me already nostalgic for the youth I wasn't having. A friend in the video class got the reference and told me the girl from St. Louis had been raped. That's why she was a year behind now, because she'd taken a leave.

2.

There was a girl who did the radio station's political humor segment with me on Tuesdays. I played the progressive, she the conservative. I made a comment to a radio friend about how this girl and I ought to set up a banter on the segment in which we made reciprocal and absurd accusations of sexual misconduct committed by the other. Well, she was raped last month, the friend said. A Korean electrical-engineering graduate student followed her home. She found this out later from her roommates, who had thought he was with her, though he was walking unusually far behind, maybe ten steps. She had no memory, but in the morning she could tell. She did remember the guy from earlier in the night.

3.

There was a girl in our residential college who, sophomore year, was raped or attempt-raped by this guy who got into her bed while she was sleeping there with her boyfriend. The police were called, so the story was all over the student papers, and it was the only time I saw an incident of sexual violence become public. An old man wrote in to the alumni magazine to ask why everyone let pass without comment the fact that this girl's boyfriend had been sleeping over, and was that kind of thing normal nowadays? She was moved to another residential college, and the guy—a black guy in our year from a Caribbean immigrant family—was named everywhere and withdrew temporarily and then permanently and wound up in a public university in the Mid-Atlantic city he'd grown up in.

Several years later, I heard through the guy's friend that he'd eventually been cleared of all disciplinary and legal suspicion but by then it would have been too difficult for him to return to school—whether this meant financially or socially or both, I don't know. He'd been seeing the girl in secret but he'd gotten drunk that night and wandered in, and her boyfriend woke up and confronted the guy and she was trapped.

4.

My sophomore-year girlfriend, with whom I got back together for a while after we graduated, when I was living in LA and she was working for an NGO in Port-au-Prince, would misunderstand obviously sarcastic statements as sincere when she was drunk, and then argue with the sarcastic person on a point about which they were both probably in agreement. One "point" that I was making at a taqueria in Echo Park, with indoor picnic tables and hyper-colorful alpine landscape murals filled with waterfalls and galloping horses, was that it was pretty amazing that only two rapes happened at our school our last year there, per the official numbers, and what a coincidence that I knew both victims personally. It happens a lot more than that, said my girlfriend. It happened to me freshman year.

The conversation died down and moved on. The only people paying attention were two gay guys we'd gone to school with, one of whom was still claiming to be bi. When we got back to my apartment I was in a bad mood. She didn't understand why I was upset and said that this had happened a long time ago, and what she wanted to talk about was not "that" but "us," and did I love her, which I hadn't ever said and couldn't not say now. Then she flopped away from me because she also tended to overheat when she drank a lot.

5.

This girlfriend had once told me that a friend of hers, a girl who'd been on the sailing team with her and to whom I'd sometimes sold pharmaceutical drugs, had been raped by this jock who'd dropped by her room. She was too fatigued from anorexia to resist. One night senior year I had gone over with a delivery and began falling asleep on the bed—it was cold out and cozy in there, and she had a big, expensive, non-university mattress and frame; she was OK with it at first but then the wind turned imperceptibly and she weighed anchor and said, Sorry, no.

Sophomore year she'd lived in a big suite and one of the other girls, from a household-name American industrialist-philanthropist family, turned on her and ratted her out over her cocaine habit, though the heiress herself was much worse in that way, to hear my customer tell it. She spent two days in the hospital being treated for malnutrition and dehydration, was discharged, and took a taxi to where her SUV had been accumulating tickets. Six years after we graduated (she hadn't finished, but her parents argued it would be dangerously destabilizing not to allow her to walk with her class), she died back in Colorado, of heart failure. A couple of friends who knew of my relationship with her asked if I felt guilty, knowing how she eventually died, and I found the question idiotic. I visited her newspaper obituary page and clicked through to the guestbook but by then it had been archived and taken offline, and you had to pay to revive it.

6.

There was a time I went home with a Waspy willowy blonde of passing acquaintance after a champagne binge. I remember walking with her past the student health center and being unable to read but also not really bothering to read whether she was into having me back to her dorm. In her room, I later learned, I became belligerent. I kicked her out, into the hallway, then put on her nautical-theme flannel pajamas and went to sleep. She stayed on a friend's sofa down the hall. I wrote her a letter of apology on some too-large stationery that I reserved for when someone had died, but that didn't happen often so I figured I might as well use it.

This story appeared in the December fiction issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

*The images featured here are from a new series Fanny Schlichter's working on about underage partying. The models in the photos have no association with the story.