The first person to tell me I was gang-raped was a therapist, seven years after the fact. The second was my literary agent, five years later, only she wasn't talking about me. She was talking about Ani, the protagonist of my novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, which is a work of fiction. What I've kept to myself, up until today, is that its inspiration is not.
Since the book was published last May, my list of unsuspecting supporters has expanded. The list includes critics and editors, publicists and Hollywood executives. It might even include you, if you are one of the thousands of readers who reviewed the book on Amazon and Goodreads, or who reached out to me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You probably didn't realize you had acknowledged what happened to me when you acknowledged what happened to Ani, partially because I've never publicly discussed that flashpoint in my life and partially because Luckiest Girl Alive is not a memoir or even a roman à clef.
Or maybe it's because I have been so adamant about the fact that I am not Ani FaNelli, despite a few toothless parallels to my own life: Ani is 28 in the book; I was 28 when I wrote the book. Like Ani, I grew up in the suburbs and attended a tiny private high school where, surrounded by old-money Ivy League strivers, I was a bit of an outlier. In adulthood, Ani writes about sex for The Women's Magazine; I was an editor at Cosmopolitan for the first five years of my career. (Also, it's a reference to Bright Lights, Big City, which is one of my favorite books.)
Still, it is as though people sense a deep connection between Ani and me, especially those who ask about my dedication, which reads:
To all the TifAni FaNellis of the world, I know.
It means I know what it's like to not belong, I waffle in response to readers, usually women whose albatrosses I can sense, just as they sense mine. What I don't add: I know what it's like to shut down and power through, to have no other choice than to pretend to be OK. I am a savant of survivor mode.
I've spent the past year throwing bum grenades like that and running for cover. I dodge left by pointing to all the ways in which my fictional protagonist and I differ. Ani's heritage is Italian, mine is German. Ani is planning a wedding in Nantucket, I got married in New Jersey (which, if you've read the book, you know would not have flown with Ani). I've been running and I've been ducking and I've been dodging because I'm scared. I'm scared people won't call what happened to me rape because for a long time, no one did. But as I gear up for my paperback tour, and as I brace myself for the women who ask me, in nervous, brave tones, what I meant by my dedication, What do I know?, I've come to a simple, powerful revelation: everyone is calling it rape now. There's no reason to cover my head. There's no reason I shouldn't say what I know.
I know that before I was old enough to drive, I liked A Boy. I know that I went to a party at which the ratio of guys to girls was not in my favor, where I drank, flirted with A Boy, was dazzled by A Boy, drank some more, and slipped away from the waking world. I know I came to on the floor of a bedroom, A Different Boy's head between my legs. I remember A Different Boy from a flare of coherence earlier, trying to help me walk when my anesthetized legs failed me.