In 1986, I was in London for a semester abroad, along with 22 other kids from USC. For spring break, I decided to travel to Italy with two classmates. My grandparents had taken me to Venice when I was in high school and I remembered how gorgeous the Italian men were.
None of us had so much as a coffee date with a boy since arriving in London three months prior, so we made a deal: The first one kissed in Italy won free drinks for the remainder of the trip.
Italy greeted us with open arms. The sun was bright, the sea briny, the architecture and history world-class, but for Alex, Cassie and myself, romance was top of mind. So, when a handsome, blue-eyed Italian man sat down at the end of our dinner table the second night of our trip and introduced himself, in broken English, as Fabio, we welcomed him with our own open arms.
Fabio was straight out of central casting—storybook charming and outrageously flirtatious, but basically benign. After dinner, he suggested we go down to the beach, where we could stick our feet in the Adriatic Sea, and we immediately agreed.
We stopped into a liquor store first to purchase two more bottles of cheap red wine and when we came out, saw two young men leaning up against a telephone booth saying something to Fabio in Italian we couldn't understand. I asked Fabio who they were and he said they were "just some friends."
I felt a bit uneasy walking away from civilization with a boy we barely knew, but rationalized that there were three of us and one of him, he was a student like us and it would be an insult to his hospitality to back out now.
The beach stretched a good half-mile away before it touched the Adriatic. It was completely deserted with only one street lamp.
"I'm getting a little cold," said Alex, a slight note of uncertainty in her voice.
"Come on," Fabio said, his enthusiasm amped up a notch. "I find you somewhere warm."
Suddenly two shadows sprang from the darkness and a gasp stuck in my throat. I thought we were about to be mugged, then recognized the two young men Fabio had spoken to in town. The boys seemed to have teleported down to us and, noticing our collective anxiety, transformed from poker-faced strangers into smiling charmers, greeting us in serviceable English.
Fabio introduced the guys as Marco and David, explaining to them that he wanted to show us the beach. We had wine, would they like to come?
Something in Fabio's demeanor seemed rehearsed, but this observation was easily dismissed. After all, Marco and David were beautiful. Alex and Cassie looked to me for our next move, and I knew this was the pivotal moment where we could've turned back. But I wanted the story, the adventure and—I can admit it now—I wanted the kiss.
So, the three of us followed the boys down to the beach. As we came to the shoreline, Fabio pointed out changing cabins used by wealthy patrons of the nearby luxury hotels during tourist season. He knew just which cabin was unlocked, pushed the door open and the three boys piled in. "It's warm in here—viene, viene!" said Fabio.
We followed them in and Marco closed the door behind us, throwing us into complete darkness. It was a jumble of elbows and shoulders until one of the boys lit a candle with his cigarette lighter. Wine bottles were quickly uncorked and we settled in to drink, talk and who knew what else.
I sat next to David. We conversed in a mixture of Italian and English while he passed me the wine. When I offered it back, he declined. I found out later that none of the boys drank. We three girls—with a great amount of prodding—finished both bottles.
The wine warmed my belly and melted away my inhibitions. I decided David was the boy I would kiss to win the bet. But first, I had to pee. I went outside, did my business and while zipping up, Alex came out looking troubled.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Fabio's been saying he has a girlfriend, but that he sleeps with other girls." She said she felt uncomfortable and wanted to split. I was annoyed but agreed to go.
We went back inside to retrieve Cassie, who—in a semi-state of panic—was attempting to leave while the three men grasped her arms and elbows, imploring her to chill. A few moments later, Alex and Cassie walked out of the cabin, followed immediately by Marco and Fabio still pleading their case.
David and I momentarily remained behind and I knew I had a choice: follow my friends out the door or stay behind and collect my kiss. I stepped into David's waiting arms.
The kiss was lovely, but things quickly changed. The voices outside grew faint and the kiss didn't feel like a kiss anymore. It felt like something hard and sharp, forcing me to the edge of a black pit. I tried to pull away, but David held me tight, my arms pressed to my sides. I stopped responding, but David didn't seem to notice. I inched my hands up his chest and pushed steadily, expecting him to get the signal and back away. Instead, he pinned me to the wall with his full weight and held me there.
I continued to struggle, telling him I wanted to go. He continued saying he just wanted to kiss and that he'd let me go in a minute. Time stopped and I don't remember the details, but I somehow threw him off balance, broke free and ran onto the beach, hoping that my friends would be there to rescue me.
But they were gone and the beach was deserted. That's when David tackled me from behind and climbed on top of me. We wrestled until he bit me on the chin, drawing blood and put both his thumbs in my eyes, pressing as if he'd gouge them out. He told me that he had a knife and he was going to kill me if I didn't fuck him.
He sensed I wouldn't fight anymore, so he jerked me onto my hands and knees, his pelvis pressed against my backside as he pulled my jeans down over my hips. When he threw an arm around my neck to keep me in place, I smashed my elbow into his nose. I saw blood spurt and then I saw nothing but sand and a distant streetlamp as I ran headlong up the beach.
My legs felt like they were wading through molasses, my jeans were down around my thighs and my vision was blurry. I kept expecting him to grab me from behind and drag me back into the darkness.
I finally made it to the street, stepping under the streetlamp where Marco and David had appeared so suddenly an hour or so earlier. And there was David again! Apparently, he'd cut down the beach laterally, hoping to cut me off. Now he was walking toward me.
"Amico, amico," he said, his arms outstretched like we were the best of friends.
"Get the fuck away from me or I'll kill you!" I screamed. "I'll fuckin' kill you!"
I could see him decide if I was worth the trouble, and a few moments later, he disappeared into the night. I ran up the narrow, dark side streets of the Lido and emerged onto the main thoroughfare. Cassie and Alex stood on the sidewalk, flanked by Marco and Fabio.
Their horrified expressions said it all. My hair was matted with sand and blood. My shirt was in tatters, my bra fully exposed. The zipper of my jeans sagged open and my pants were still down around my hips. My chin was bruised, the blood crusting. My blinded eyes were wild and burning.
Fabio and Marco receded back into the shadows as Cassie and Alex ran to me. They explained that they didn't want to leave me alone on the beach, but Fabio and Marco pressed them, suggesting I probably wanted to be alone with David. They didn't know me well enough at the time to be sure that wasn't true.
We made our way back to our hotel where I showered until the house matron yelled at me to get out and stop wasting all that water. The next morning, I discovered bruises in the shape of fingerprints up and down my arms. There were scratches on my ribcage. My entire body ached.
I didn't report the attempted rape. I told myself it was because I didn't know any of the boys' last names or even if the first names were real. But the truth is that I felt complicit. Like many women, I felt I owed this boy something because I went down to the beach with him.
It took many years not to blame myself for what happened. I didn't know then what I know now. That the assault was premeditated. That I was naïve. That no woman under any circumstances deserves to be raped. That I was lucky to be alive.