I am a professor at NYU. I teach freshman writing. Every September, I greet new classes full of shiny, bright freshman–18, 19, 20 years old–and think the same thing: You are all so, so young.
I do not remember my brain at 20. It was the beginning of my life in London. I had few friends there and no family. My “life” had consisted of being raised in a New England suburb, discovering a facility for singing and auditioning to get into LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). At 18, I left for the big city in a new country. In retrospect, I had very little life experience at all. Yet I hold 20 year-old me to my current standard: A woman who lived in another country for ten years, has three degrees, had more than one career, who divorced but lives with her ex, has taught college writing for 17 years, published countless essays and two books of memoirs. In short, I have had a life.
At 20, I’d graduated from LAMDA and was looking for acting or singing work; but mainly singing. I was classically trained, and had been performing for many years by that time. I looked into session work and then did some recording; someone thought my voice was worth a demo tape. I was referred to EMI Records, who were hot shit at the time: record makers, star makers, deal makers. One executive, Andrew ____ , was one of the hotshots who discovered new acts. He was youngish, 30 or so, and wore jeans. Attractive. He liked my demo and photos. He wanted to meet me. The first time, we talked a bit and he told me they all liked my voice but “of course you will have to lose weight.” He told me that EMI was interested in new talent and we agreed to meet in a couple of months. I was extremely ambitious and determined. I knew I was a good singer and thought I had what it took to get a recording contract. So, I did lose the weight. I did have more photos taken. Very sultry.
I met him again, this time at a hotel restaurant bar. But the meeting did not happen there. The meeting happened up in his hotel room. First, he told me he liked the new photos and appreciated my looks. That I was sexy. From there, and I have tried to block out details but from there, I was on the hotel bed and he was on top of me. I still had my dress on. It was a strapless dress. His pants were down. I think what he was attempting to do was ejaculate on my face, but I kept pushing his hips down because I did not want that to happen. I didn’t want any of it to happen. But apart from pushing him down and saying no, I didn’t know how to stop him. So he wound up ejaculating on my neck. Then he got off me, and pulled on his pants. As he was leaving the room, he turned back, looked at me, and laughed. I laughed, too, because that was a better alternative to crying. I cleaned myself up and got out of there.
I never heard from him again.
That happened over thirty years ago.
Of course, I was not sexually assaulted. By choice, I went to the meeting at the hotel restaurant bar. By choice, I went to the meeting that was not at the hotel restaurant bar, but in his hotel room. By choice, I wore a strapless dress. He was attractive.
It simply never occurred to me then that a man would ever do anything to my body without my consent.
Once the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, I began reading all the accounts of the women that went up to his hotel room. Young women. Powerless women. Women like me. One day in 2017, walking up Waverly Place to class, I thought, “Of course, I was sexually assaulted in that hotel room by the EMI executive.”
But there were and are so many stories, so much worse than mine. I told only two people. Even then, I was still ashamed.
Until a week ago. A week ago, I read “I Am Breaking My Silence About the Baseball Player Who Raped Me,” by Kat O’Brien in The New York Times. She was 22 years old, working as a sports reporter, interviewing a major-league baseball player in a hotel room, doing her job. She was raped. She could not stop him. She wondered why she wore a skirt. For 18 years, she did not tell anyone. O’Brien says, “And with it came the relief that I actually hadn’t invited it, hadn’t done anything wrong at all, something I had never once considered.”
If I could, I would walk into that restaurant hotel bar and sit down next to my 20 year-old self. I’d tell her she looked beautiful in her strapless dress. I’d gently tell her that some men will do things to her body without her consent, like the man she is meeting. Then I’d tell her to hightail it out of there.
But let’s say I was too late. Let’s say I caught her afterwards, coming out of the elevator, her face smeared with humiliation. I’d wrap my arms around her. I’d tell her she did not invite this. I’d tell her to forgive herself. I’d tell her to not wait over 30 years to forgive herself.
Lisa says, it would be my classically-trained singing voice, though I do like singing other types of music as well, and in a parallel universe, I introduce myself by saying, “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band.”
Just a singer, in our dream band:
Lisa del Rosso originally trained as a classical singer and completed a post-graduate program at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), living and performing in London before moving to New York City. Her plays “Clare’s Room,” and “Samaritan,” have been performed off-Broadway and had public readings, while “St. John,” her third play, was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Barking Sycamores Neurodivergent Literature, The Chillfiltr Review, Sowing Creek Press, The Literary Traveler, Serving House Journal, VietnamWarPoetry, Young Minds Magazine (London/UK), Time Out New York, The Huffington Post, The Neue Rundschau (Germany), Jetlag Café (Germany), and One Magazine (London/UK), for whom she writes theater reviews. Her first book, Confessions of an Accidental Professor was published in 2018, and she had the pleasure of being interviewed about the book by Brian Lehrer on his WNYC radio program. Her second essays-in-memoir book, You Are All a Part of Me, was published in early 2021. She is the recipient of a 2018 NYU College of Arts & Sciences Teaching Award, where she currently teaches writing. In 2019, she was awarded a New York Writers Workshop scholarship to Sardinia.