I’m not Hannah Graham, but I could have been.

To my Mom and Dad (and any other relative), warning, this post will probably make you angry.

I make stupid mistakes.

We all make stupid mistakes.

All men think all men mortal, but themselves.

Before I tell the story, I need to set the tone that was the inspiration for this post. As a woman/lady/female/gal/girl society has put certain rules on us. Act like a lady, don’t dress too provocative, act nice lest you be considered a bitch, smile, and so on. I’m sure all gals can list a number of things that have been rattled off to them. In my 32 years of life, I’ve certainly heard “that’s not very lady like” more than I would like to admit. Heck, my sister went off to college and I sent her off with a list of RULES

  • Don’t walk alone
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended
  • Don’t let your friends leave with other people
  • Don’t go home with someone you don’t know
  • Don’t, don’t, don’t

When my brother goes to college? I’d probably give him a list that says don’t do drugs, don’t get a girl pregnant, and ………honestly, I’ve sat here for five minutes thinking of what else I would tell him and that’s it. No rules for his safety.

But for my sister and me? And any other girlfriend? It’s a list of safety rules. Common sense stuff, don’t talk to strangers, don’t get into a car with strangers, don’t offend people.

I am not alone, and I know I am not the only girl in this world making stupid, dumb decisions. I made them because at the time they felt right, I felt fine, I felt OKAY. I bet Natalie or Hannah felt the same.

I’ve got a few stories, they don’t all need to be told, but one situation really does need to be told. Because it’s the worst story. The worst one. It’s the one that makes my skin crawl every time I think about how stupid, dumb, and most of all immature, I was at 25.

It’s actually a novella, but I’ll keep it short. I moved to Little Rock. Alone. This was my sense of adventure. And after about two months of living there, I needed to go out. I needed to make friends. So I went to a bar. I didn’t know anyone. I think I told myself I was going for a drink, just a drink, let’s just see what happens. And then these guys started hanging out with me, and I had friends! And instead of taking a cab, I insisted that these guys drive my car to my house, so my car was there in the morning. I GOT IN THE CAR WITH STRANGERS AND LEAD THEM TO MY HOUSE.

And I, of course, woke up and said “Melissa, you are in idiot”.

And then I laughed it off because, hello I’m alive, and I’m 25, and stupid.

Then a few weeks later my male neighbor asked me to water his plants. So I did. As a thank you, he invited me over for dinner and a movie. I went because I’m nice and I didn’t have any friends and hey, free food. And then he started making a chocolate martini (I mean what? Who does that). And I started feeling ‘ugh, this is fucking weird”. For some reason I had my dog with me, and Hatteras peed on the floor, so thankfully that is how I left. I later told the guy I was dating what I did and he freaked out on me for going to a guys house because all a guy wants with a pretty girl is not to thank them, but to do adult things to them, and how could I be so naïve? And here I am thinking—it was free food? I did him a favor? IT’S FINE I LIVE IN A GATED COMMUNITY.

In hindsight, it freaks me out because no one would have known where I was if something actually did happen to me.

Then the worst. The worst, worst, worst, and I only give the highlights because it’s so bad.

Living in Little Rock, my phone broke. This was 2005 and Verizon didn’t quite have the strong hold that it has today. So I had to drive to Memphis to get a new phone. BECAUSE CLEARLY I CAN NOT WAIT FOR VERIZON TO OVERNIGHT ME A PHONE (idiot). So I go to Memphis and then I think, hey—this is Memphis this is a pretty popular town. I should really do it up while I’m here. Got a hotel room, went shopping. Went to Beale street. And I drank. And I flitted from one group of friends to another. And by friends I mean people I just met, and I was nice and talked to all of them. I talked to all of them because why not, I’m confident, independent, and nothing is going to happen to me.

I don’t really remember the chronological order of the events. Or how I ended up with this particular group of guys. But it was 2 am. I think I was low on cash, I must have been. Or I must have been so cheap. Who knows? Whatever, I was with this group of guys, walked with them away from Beale St. and got into their car. (is your stomach turning yet, because mine is). And as soon as the car door shut and the doors locked, I thought “This is a terrible mistake, huge mistake, what have I done?”. But at this point I was so far away from society (three blocks). So, I stay in the car and they start driving me to my hotel. At one point we are on Beale St., stuck in traffic and I think, “I should get out here, there is a cop, I should get out and that is a cop, he will help me”. And I am making awkward conversation because I’m still trying to be the nice girl. The I’m not a bitch, you’re so nice for offering to take me to my hotel, thank you so much. And then I hear the driver utter words that to this day make my skin crawl. heebie jeebie crawl. Still scares me to this day crawls. He said, “I wish I wasn’t a nice guy, I wish I wasn’t such a nice guy.”

Which what does that even mean??? We are a block away from the hotel at this point, I said, “Here’s good!” I get out of the car, and I ran. I mean, I literally RAN AS FAST AS I COULD IN FOUR INCH HEELS AND DIDN’T LOOK BACK ONCE. The hotel was locked, you needed a key, which of course I lost, and I was freaking out. I was let in, got to my room, and probably broke down and cried.

And the next day laughed it off like, that was so much fun, you’re lucky. You’re stupid, but lucky.

And that has been my life. A series of situations where I fortunately haven’t been Hannah Graham. Or Natalie Holloway. But I could have been. What makes me the most upset, is that I should have been able to do all of those things without fear. I should be able to go to a bar alone, or a neighbors house alone, or a city alone. Would you fear for your son or brother if he did those things? No, you probably wouldn’t because HE would be fine. But as a female I am viewed as the more vulnerable, the weaker sex, the weaker link. I should be ashamed and I should feel bad about the decisions I made because how could you have been so stupid.

And that’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have to live with this guilt of making stupid decisions (although the outcome is totally fine), but the fear that it could have been something different. It could have been way worse than what it was and if I was a boy, it wouldn’t have been. It would have been fine. If you change this situation to a boy, you would laugh it off or not even worry about it once. But as a girl, we worry, and our blood pressure rises, because “How could you be so naïve”?

The common theme in each of these stories and in the stories I haven’t chosen to tell, is that I was trusting of people. I assumed everyone was nice, and didn’t have an ulterior motive. And luckily in my case, they didn’t. But now that I have a daughter, I’m in this conundrum of do I raise her to think that people are inherently nice, or do I dwell on the Hannah’s and the Natalie’s.

Which I guess that is the story for the next generation. Use everything as a teaching moment. Every little thing. Help her make smart decisions. Help her make better decisions.

Sadly, I still think, at least I’m fine. Hey it hasn’t happened yet. And I’ll still be nice to people because I don’t want them to think I’m a bitch. And that is where I fall short. Over and over and over again.

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2 thoughts on “I’m not Hannah Graham, but I could have been.

  1. We all have stories that we look back on and think, “What was I thinking?”

    My mind always goes back to my semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I walked everywhere, and I almost always walked alone at night. I’d meet up with friends in a central location (usually the steps of the Duomo) and we’d go out together. When the night was over, we’d go home. Since we all lived in separate parts of the city, we all went different ways. I never took a cab because I didn’t want to spend the money (I mean, every euro spent on a cab is once less euro I’ll have to buy awesome Italian clothes).After a couple of weeks of walking the shortest route possible at night, I realized that what was a totally safe piazza during the day to walk through was a different atmosphere after midnight. Mostly because gypsies would sleep there. So I started to walk the long way home so that I could always be on well-lit, busy streets. A smarter move, but I was still alone. Thankfully, I didn’t usually drink more than one drink a night because I’d rather buy Italian clothes than drinks, so I was never the walking drunk girl target.

    There was one time some friends and I met some Italian guys when we went out to dinner. We went to a club opening with them. One of the guys was really into me. His friends said he was an underwear model. He was shy about it. Even though he was hot and had the body for it, I didn’t really believe that the was an underwear model, but maybe he was. Eventually, my friends, who lived on the same side of the city as each other, were ready to go home and I was going to go home my usual walking way, so we parted ways. The underwear model and his friends were like we’ll take you home! We have a car! I was like, “No really, I’m fine,” and they were like, “Yes! We drive!” So it came to be that I got in the car alone with three strange Italian men. In typical Italian douche fashion, the car was red and sporty and the guy whose car it was drove like a maniac. But they did drive the most direct way to where I lived. The underwear model walked me to the door of my building while his friends waited in the car. We said goodnight, and he left. Thankfully, they actually were nice guys. But seriously. What was I thinking?!?!

    And then one time while I was in Florence, I went over to a friend’s house one afternoon. She lived on a busy, main street. I remember being creeped out by the door of her building. It was a palazzo style door, so it was this big heavy two-story door. You would put your key in and it would open automatically, then slowly close automatically behind you. The kind of slow where you would halfway up the first set of stairs and the door would still be closing. I said to her, “This door closes incredibly slowly. Aren’t you worried that someone will come in behind you?” She shrugged it off. A month later, someone did follow her in. He grabbed her hair as she was walking up the stairs and dragged her down. He was most likely planning to rape and rob her. His plans were thwarted by my friend’s roommate. He obviously didn’t see someone go in the building ahead of my friend. The roommate ran down the stairs screaming and the bad guy ran off. My friend was bruised and hurt from being dragged down the stairs, but she was otherwise, thankfully, okay. She later put in a request with the housing department of our school to get a new housing assignment.

    As a mother of boys, I’m already working on raising them to be considerate of girls. We walk their little gal pal to her car after playing with her somewhere. When they are being obnoxious and unruly with me and I ask them to stop, and they don’t, I say, “When a girl says ‘No! Stop!’ You need to stop what you are doing and leave them alone!” We talk about always walking with friends. I hope that they will be the kind of men who look out for their friends who are girls. Men share a responsibility in looking out for the women in their life too. People let their guard down. People make bad choices. It’s not their fault. It’s harder to make a bad choice when you have people you trust looking out for you

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