I told him that I had left Lake Braddock after freshman year, graduating from Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax and then George Mason University. I was surprised to learn that we had lived near each other all along, Juan attending a nearby high school and then going to a local university. I cried when he told me he’d gone to college. When I told him about the relationship I have with my current boyfriend, he said it sounded as if I had started making better decisions.
We reminisced. “Yes, I do remember when u stole your parents ride and we just drove all around Northern Virginia,” he wrote. “We were wild but I agree I see these kids nowadays and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. I do remember your parents hating me . . . . Damn, i still can’t believe here we are 13 yrs later and catching up on things.”
I finished my last message to him with my phone number. At 9:30 the next morning, he called. I closed the door to my office. An hour and a half into the conversation, he still hadn’t brought it up. So I did. We had never spoken about that night. I had always wanted to hear how he saw it. And now that I was speaking to him, I needed him to acknowledge what had happened.
“Do you remember that night we snuck out and met up?”
“When you took your mom’s car?”
Seconds ticked by.
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Why didn’t you help me?” As soon as I asked, I felt I already knew the answer. Those guys were the only family he knew, and in that family your loyalty was to your boys, not some white girl. I just needed to hear him say it.
“I should have helped you, Mandi. And I’ve had to live with that every day since it happened. You were my best friend. Sometimes it felt like you were the only one who cared about me. I apologize for ever bringing you around those people.”
I had considered the possibility he would deny it or dismiss it. I never thought he would respond so directly.
I nodded silently, a few tears falling.
“You still there?” he asked.
I continued nodding until I was able to say, “Yeah.”
“You know how it was back then. We were supposed to be tough, not care about anyone. I was the punk kid in that group—I couldn’t step up to them. Even if I had, they would have just laughed at me.”
“Did you know that was going to happen?”
“Hell, no. I knew they wanted to meet some girls and try to hook up, but I never knew it would go down like that. They should have gone to jail for what they did to you. I can’t change the past, but I hope one day you can forgive me.”
“I never blamed you.” He hadn’t been prepared for what happened that night, and he was probably right—any attempt to stop them would have been met with laughter.
Now he was silent. Then he told me what I always feared, confirming my one regret for not reporting what they had done.
“You know, he did it again. I’m pretty sure he did it several times.” He was referring to the driver. “He’ll get his in the end one day. I hope you know I never talk to that guy. Once I grew up, I knew I wanted nothing to do with him.”
He went on to tell me how much he had envied my home life, having two parents who cared about me. He envied my house, the fact that everyone sat down to dinner at night. He told me how hard it was to long for parents like mine when they hated him, adding: “But I guess I can understand why they did.”
“They didn’t hate you—they were just afraid for me,” I said, not wanting to tell him the truth.
Hearing Juan describe this longing for a family reminded me how grateful I was for my parents, despite the years it took me to feel that way. Though we fought less after I was released from the hospital, my relationship with them didn’t become really loving until I graduated from college—purely a result of my selfishness.
When I told them I had reconnected with Juan, my mom cried. My dad sat up straight, as if on alert. But as I described our conversation and how much it had surprised me, they calmed down.
Juan and I spoke a few more times. During one conversation, he told me about his attempt to reconnect with his father. After several phone calls, they agreed to meet for dinner. Juan told him what it was like to grow up without a father. They both cried. His father apologized and admitted his mistakes. Juan told him it was in the past and he just wanted to move forward. They left committed to working on their relationship.
But Juan never heard from his father.
“I finally decided to call him,” he told me, “and when I did, he didn’t even know who I was. When I told him it was his son, he said he couldn’t talk and would call me back. I’m still waiting for that call.”
My heart broke for him. I said, “For what it’s worth, Juan, I believe everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. I really believe he loves you. He just isn’t equipped right now to show you.”
This is what I used to tell myself about Juan.
Talking with Juan wasn’t a turning point, but it gave me a feeling of completion. I had made peace with what had happened. Part of that was taking responsibility for my choices: I had walked into what I knew was a potentially dangerous situation. No one had snatched me from my house or dragged me there against my will. I had ignored the warnings of my friends and my own instincts.
Juan didn’t let me down on the night I was raped—his actions had always been consistent. He was never reliable, dependable, or trustworthy. He was the guy who introduced me to drugs, stole from me, encouraged me to ditch school and defy my parents. I shouldn’t have expected him to become gallant.