“Dear Caitlin,” an inscription in my 12th-grade yearbook begins. “I’m really very sorry that our friendship plummeted straight downhill after the first few months of school. Really, the blame rests totally on my shoulders. To tell you the truth, I’ve wanted to say this all year. I know you’ll succeed because you’re very smart and I regard you with the utmost respect … Take care—love always.”

He was headed to a prestigious college. I was headed to a small, obscure liberal-arts college, which was a tremendous achievement, not just because I was a terrible student, but also because I had nearly killed myself as a response to what he apologized for in my yearbook. He had tried to rape me during a date that I was very excited to have been asked on, and his attempt was so serious—and he was so powerful—that for a few minutes, I was truly fighting him off.

I had grown up in Berkeley, but just before my senior year of high school, my father took a job on Long Island. Berkeley, California, in 1978 was about as much like Suffolk County, New York, in 1978 as the moon is like the black sky around it. I didn’t know a single person. I desperately missed my friends—although I only found out years later, my father was confiscating all of their letters to me. He thought they were a bad influence, and that I should make a clean break. I felt completely alone.