“Twenty years ago, I was raped by a classmate at Cornell University. His name is Kyle Hammond. It happened the night of the Homecoming party for the Alpha Phi Chapter of Sigma Chi, a pretty well known fraternity. My first and only college party ever. I went with my roommate, Adelaide, who was at the time dating the chapter president, Andy. Andy is Kyle’s big brother and was Sebastian’s best friend. Sebastian Roth, that is. It was a great party. They held it at Greystone, Alpha Phi’s chapter house. I was glad to have been invited. See, I’d just come from Cameroon a few months earlier and I was homesick. I didn’t really know any body in the US. The only people I knew were my father’s cousin’s family and they lived in Texas. My aunt had flown to Ithaca with me when school started to help me settle in but that was it. I missed home, I missed my family. I missed Max. I was afraid and lonely. Adelaide was nice. She asked me to go with her and promised to introduce me to all her friends. “
“They were all very nice, especially Kyle. He was in a couple of my classes and hung out with Adelaide sometimes so I kinda knew him already. Adelaide was a bit of a social butterfly, so she took off from time to time that night. Kyle hung around to keep me company. I probably was one, of less than ten black people at that party that night and I was a complete stranger to those circles. He danced with me and made sure everybody else treated me with respect. He also brought me drinks.”
“I don’t remember going upstairs with him or him taking off my skirt and underwear but I remember knowing that something was very, very wrong. I tried to fight, but he’d put something in my drinks. He wasn’t rough. He was gentle, so gentle in fact, my body eventually responded and I climaxed several times. I remember crying and begging him to stop but he kept at it for over an hour, whispering in my ear that I actually really did want him and every time I came, he kissed my eyes, licked tears and told me I was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.”
“Sebastian found us. He came into the room looking for Andy and saw me laying there with Kyle on top of me. Kyle tried to convince him that I’d consented but Sebastian could tell from my dilated pupils and the fact that I was just lying there, crying and weakly begging Kyle to stop, that I had not. He told Kyle to get out and threatened to get him expelled. Kyle laughed in his face. Kyle’s father is Robert Hammond. You know, Bob Hammond, the guy who is Secretary of State. He was a Senator at the time.”
“Sebastian sat with me that night and barred anyone who tried to get into that room. He helped me to the bathroom and stuck his finger down my throat so I could throw up. Kyle had given me enough ketamine mixed with alcohol to induce a coma. Kill me even. When I’d started having convulsions, he panicked and called his cousin, Jacob who at the time was a resident at New York Presbyterian. Somehow, they’d managed to sneak me out of Greystone to the E.R. Sebastian paid for the rape kit and they used their family name and Jacobs connections at the hospital to accelerate it’s processing time. Everything checked out, the drugs in my blood, Kyle’s hair,saliva and semen.”
“One of the side effects of ketamine, especially such high doses is that one losses memory of what happened…” Iya paused and chuckled. “You’d know this better than me, being a doctor and all. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t remember much of what had happened. I knew I’d been violated in a horrible way and had flashbacks of Kyle doing things to me but I couldn’t remember exact details. Sebastian told me what had happened, why I was in the hospital. I was terrified. Everyone know the Hammonds, it was even rumored that Senator Hammond would run for president eventually. I was completely in over my head. Sebastian assured me that Kyle would not get away with it. That he’d already called his parents and a police report was being filed on my behalf. He assured me that word of what had happened had not leaked out to anyone and that it was better it remained so, seeing as I was a black girl. He said I would basically be considered culpable on that fact alone. He was right. An officer came later that day to take my statement and everything about his attitude confirmed Sebastian’s predictions. The next person who visited me was Carol Hammond, Kyle’s mother.”
“She told me in no uncertain terms that I was nothing but a slut who was trying to entrap her son. She assured me that the Roths would not protect me from her and her husband’s wrath if I tried to drag the Hammond name in the mud. She pointed out that it was unlikely they would even stick their necks out for me, a social climbing whore from some nameless family in the African jungles. She told me that if I knew what was good for me, I’ll shut my lying mouth or pack up and go back to whatever disease infested corner of Africa I came from and pray that I’d not given her son AIDS because if I had, they would be the one’s prosecuting me.”
Iya paused to take a sip of her now cold tea. Opposite her, Mabel sat frozen, a dazed look on her face.
“I believed her. Having hung out with Adelaide, I was pretty up to date on the who’s who of Ithaca and New York state in general. I knew that the Roth’s were a rich family from Chicago, but the Hammonds were not only rich, they were old money with political connections. I also doubted the Roths would go to bat for me against the Hammonds. I dropped all charges and left the hospital.”
“Sebastian was furious. He broke off his friendship with Andy, who naturally had taken his little brother’s side. He tried to convince me to refile charges but Carol Hammond had scared the living daylights out of me. I refused. He spent the rest of the semester alternately trying to convince me to refile and to make my stay at Cornell as pain free as possible. I could not bear to continue staying in the dorms with Adelaide, who was still Andy’s girlfriend and blissfully unaware of what happened that night. Andy had told her I’d gotten drunk and fallen down a flight of stairs which is why I was in the hospital. Sebastian helped me find a a small studio apartment and an under the table job to help pay for it since I was on a student visa and scholarship and couldn’t work. He’d used Roth family clout to get student affairs off my back when I moved out of the dorms.”
“He tried to get me into therapy but that would have meant talking abut what had happened. I couldn’t. I was terrified of the Hammonds finding out that I had talked. I couldn’t tell my relatives because I knew they also would be out of their depth. I couldn’t tell Max. He was 6000 miles away in Cameroon and I was ashamed of what had happened. I was disgusted by the fact that I’d had multiple orgasms while being raped. Max and I were each others firsts, just before I left Cameroon. I had never orgasmed with him, but I had for my rapist. The guilt I felt was all consuming. It ate at me inside.”
“Sebastian became my only support system and we had to keep it on the down low so no one would question why he was so invested in my welfare. He got Jacob to agree to arrange for me to get prescriptions for anxiety pills. His parents, as Carol Hammond had predicted, wanted nothing to do with the potential scandal. I finished my undergrad years at Cornell. I saw Kyle Hammond everyday on campus, watched my rapist live his life worry free. He acted like he didn’t know me. Adelaide tried to remain friends but I couldn’t stand to be around them so I cut off all communication and built a new circle of friends.”
“Sebastian is how I stayed sane, why I stayed sane during that time. He gave up on the Harvard MBA program to go to Johnson’s at Cornell so he could be close. My senior year was hard because he’d finished business school by then and moved to Chicago, but we kept in touch by phone and he visited when he could. When I graduated, he convinced his father to hire me at their Chicago office so I could get away from New York. He is the one who helped me get a green card and eventually citizenship. He arranged for the company to pay for my MBA at Kellogg. He basically helped me put myself back together and we fell in love as that happened. Sebastian is who helped me become a woman again, who helped me be able to bear a man’s touch without having a panic attack, who helped me be able to share a bed with a man again. If it wasn’t for Sebastian, Max would have married a shell, a dry husk, a machine on autopilot.”
“We knew our love was doomed. Roths could befriend, but they could never marry black women, talk less of a woman from some barely known African country. Plus, there was Max. He’d faithfully kept in touch all the time, taking my withdrawal in stride, attributing it mostly to the distance between us. He graduated top of his class from the University of Ibadan, in Nigeria where he attended medical school and he won the American lottery soon after. He moved to Maryland and completed a surgical residency at Georgetown’s Providence Hospital. His move to the US had coincided with the time when, due to family pressure, Sebastian had married Kate, a childhood friend who he’d dated on and off through college and who his family liked.”
“I was devastated and the comfort and familiarity of Max’s love was where I found succor, even though in my heart, I don’t love him as I should, as he deserves. Max was just happy to have me back. I poured all my energy into my marriage and we were mostly happy. We knew each other well enough to be. Sebastian took a position at Morrison & Roth’s office in New York so the distance helped. We tried to stay out of each other’s way but, we really couldn’t, seeing as we work for the same company and attend business meetings together sometimes. It was during one of those meetings in London about two years ago, that things started again between us. The company put us in the same hotel. Nothing could have stopped us getting back together that night. That was the night Morrison got the video recording of me and Sebastian. We were careless and started messing around in the hallway of the penthouse suite, forgetting there were cameras. The Morissons and the Roths may have been in business together for nearly a century but they keep as much dirt on each other as possible, for leverage.”
Iya gave a bitter laugh.
“The day Max came to my office, the day he found out, Sebastian had just told me had left his wife because he wanted to be with me, even if his family was against it. He’s ready to walk away from the company and his family if that is what it takes. He told me I needed to tell Max. I told him I couldn’t. That Max would be devastated, that I couldn’t do that to him. We argued. He told me that we belonged together and that he would wait for me until I realized and accepted that.”
“I noticed Max’s withdrawal but I was too caught up in my own drama to give it much thought, I just attributed it to work stress. It wasn’t until last week, when my assistant Lorie overheard one of my friends, Joan, telling me that she’d been at Bloomfeld-Hyman with her daughter and saw you and Max together. She said that you both looked suspiciously cozy. Lorie happens to own a condo where you live and she has already seen you and Max together many times over the last year. Also, she was with me in London and knew about me and Sebastian. She’d kept her silence for a year, not wanting to involve herself in my business. She’d seen Sebastian head towards the restrooms after leaving my office that day, then had seen David Morrison leave his office and follow Sebastian. Then Max had gone in there too. She’d then seen Max leave the rest room looking dazed and confused and instead of coming back to wait for me, he’d left the building. She had feared the worst but kept silent still not wanting to involve herself in anything more than what she was paid for. Lorie is a straight shooter and hated being made to feel like she’s keeping secrets that she didn’t consent to keep. She’s also a highly valuable member of my team. After Joan left, she sat me down, told me what she knows and informed me to sort out this mess or she would take it to the board.”
Iya looked up at Mabel.
“I need to come clean, before things spiral out of control, but I am terrified of what it will do Max when he finds everything out. It’s going to hurt worse than finding out I cheated on him, because he will now also know that the marriage he thought he had is a lie. That I have been lying to him all this while. He’ll want to know how me and Sebastian started and I’ll have to tell him what happened back at Cornell and then he’ll know just how much I have kept from him, how deeply I have betrayed him. It will destroy him, Mabel. I have no idea what I am going to do.”