If there is a video of what happened that night, I’m not sure I’d want to see it.
On Sunday, May 17, 2009 I woke up inches from the metal bumper of an older-model car and a few feet from a cement wall. My jeans were undone. My zipper was open, and my sport coat, glasses and shoes were missing.
I stood up, and stumbled around a bit in the dark space I had woken up in. I desperately wanted to figure why I was in a private parkade. Why I was missing those items. Why my pants were undone. Why it was daylight. And why the last thing I remembered was walking back to our table with two rye and Cokes more than 15 hours prior.
Recalling my last memory before blackout and the first memory after coming to terrifies me as much now as it did then. It will always, I imagine.
I don’t know what I did, if I did things. I don’t who did things to me, if someone did things to me.
You, like the person sitting beside you, and the next person you will talk to today, have heard of memory loss, blackouts and date-rape drugs. You may even appreciate this piece as a good story on the topic. I want you to. But I also want you to appreciate what it would feel like to know you’ve been active in a foreign city for many hours without one single memory of what you’ve been up to and with whom.
In Canada, only between one and two per cent of date rapes are reported. We were not raped or physically harmed. We’re victims of nothing more than what is described in this article, and we are not implicitly or explicitly attempting to liken what happened to us in Kansas City many years ago to the heinous accounts of those who have been assaulted or raped and left with no memory and often no support.
Public understanding of such occurrences usually involve the term ‘roofie,’ the street name for the strong sedative flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), a potentially amnesia-inducing drug manufactured and distributed as a sleeping pill by Hoffmann-La Roche, a Swiss global healthcare company. This reference is stale and now inaccurate.
Studies conducted since the mid-90s, when it began tracking north from Latin America and when incidents involving Rohypnol in Texas went from eight in 1990 and 1991 to 169 in 1993 to 483 in 1995, found traces of it in only one percent of the reported incidents surrounding date-rape drugs.
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB or liquid ecstasy), Zolpidem (also known as Ambien) and other benzodiazepines are the current drugs of choice for predators. GHB is virtually undetectable and reportedly makes its victims somewhat mobile, very agreeable, leaving them with no memory of what took place. It’s also known to tracelessly leave the body after only six to twelve hours. Rohypnol sticks around for eighteen to twenty-eight.
We drove to Kansas City on a whim. It was between KC and Chicago, the former being a place few rave about. We chose Kansas City to be different. So, after work on the Friday of May long weekend in 2009, we drove to Kansas City, arriving at the Marriott downtown early Saturday afternoon. We were hungry and thirsty.
The city’s Power and Light District, a self-billed entertainment and shopping district that resembles an outdoor mall, was relatively close to our hotel. We ate there. The restaurant focused on luring tourists in with “smokehouse” promises. The food was unremarkable.
The Shark Bar was across the cobblestone path from the restaurant. We wanted a drink. We didn’t know the bar. We didn’t care. The crowd wasn’t ours. We must have stood out. The young guy spinning vinyl hadn’t heard of Jackson 5.
Our first drinks were served to us.
I remember walking back to the table with our second round of rye and Cokes in my hands, and then nothing. In my last memory, I can see my friend sitting at the table waiting for me to return. And then nothing.
We were drugged.
Did I collapse? Did I leave the bar alone? Was I dragged out by security? Was I with others?
The parkade occupied three stories. I had slept — or whatever I did — on the lowest level, and the exit to the street was on the second floor. I found a way out. It wasn’t easy. Nothing was.
All I had were clues and a groggy mind to read them. My clothes were filthy, and I had no idea where I was.
I exited the dark parkade and stepped into the midday stream of Kansas City’s financial district. I was now a guy standing still on a sidewalk where everyone else was moving fast and with intent. I was an annoyance they were familiar with; an annoyance they didn’t need to make eye contact with to understand and avoid.
“Excuse me. What time is it? And how do I get to the Marriott hotel from here?”
She answered my questions without looking at me, and moved on.
I walked into the Marriott, straining to see where I needed to go without my glasses, in my socks, wearing filthy clothes, in the middle of the day. What that concierge wanted to say to me but didn’t, or couldn’t, is anyone’s guess. My room card was missing, but my wallet was still with me and contained the identification needed to prove I did in fact have a space booked.
There he was: the friend I was traveling with, and whose account of that weekend isn’t mine to tell.
“What the hell happened last night?” I asked.
“The last thing I remember is you going to the bar to get us another drink.”
I didn’t know how to feel about any of this just yet. I wasn’t motivated to phone the police, the bar, anyone. I remember feeling shame and embarrassment, as if we had done this — whatever this was — to ourselves and didn’t want to involve anyone else or think about it anymore.
After a few hours of sleep and some attempts to figure out what happened the night before, we left the hotel.
My friend doesn’t need glasses, so he was the eyes as we tried to retrace our steps.
I recognized the name Muehlebach spelled out from top to bottom on a sign running up an old brick building. It was large enough to see without glasses. The parkade I woke up in was on that street: Baltimore Ave. (I found an image of that sign on Wikipedia and have since sent it to people who ask about the incident. I can see the parkade door in it.)
The lot was locked to the public. We waiting until a car pulled in, and quickly ducked through the overhead door.
My sport coat was crumpled and stuffed in the inside corner of the parkade, just inside the garage-style door.
The USD$300 I had taken out for this trip was there. My phone was in the right-hand pocket, and my hotel card was there, too. We found my shoes on the third level, tucked away in the southwest corner. They were clean, and placed neatly beside each other.
My glasses, the last piece of a puzzle that seemed to only be getting more perplexing, were on the lower floor, about twenty feet from where I woke up. They were in the middle of the lane. I picked them up, wiped the lenses with my shirt — not a scratch.
This is what I was left with. Nothing stolen. No aches or pains. And a block of time I could not account for.
The phone calls were tough. It wasn’t easy for anyone close to us to process. It still isn’t.
The Hangover was released on June 5, 2009, a coincidence I could only laugh about in public. In private, and for years after, there was nothing funny about what happened or could have happened.
On May 19 that same year, after leaving a few phone messages, I emailed a supervisor at the Shark Bar. This is that email, copied and pasted from my Gmail account:
My (blanked for anonymity) and I were at your bar on Saturday, May 16. We were having a good time — dancing to Jackson 5 — and then I woke up in an unfamiliar parkade with no shoes – my shoes, sport coat and glasses were missing. We came to Kansas City on a whim. We took a long-weekend road trip from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Neither of us drink that much, so I am assuming we were drugged. I have absolutely zero memory of the evening — same goes for (blanked for anonymity). Do any of your employees remember anything strange happening that night — perhaps a bouncer would remember? I am desperately trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Any help would be much appreciated.
If you are looking at camera footage, I was wearing a black sport coat and retro, ’50s style glasses. I am tall. (Blanked for anonymity) is shorter than me, wearing a black shirt. He has a short black beard — more like scruff.
Please, any info on how we left the bar, with whom and what time would be much appreciated.
Give me a call if you have any questions (blanked for privacy)
The bar did not respond.
Later that year, I tried again. Silence.
Every time I got a new email address, I’d try again, hoping the clout that came along with working at some national news organizations would get me somewhere closer to figuring out what happened. But, nothing.
I called the police to tell them what happened and that nothing was stolen. They couldn’t do anything, but logged my comments. I called the Kansas City Star to report the incident. They were sympathetic but unwilling to take it further.
We don’t talk about it much, but when we do I laugh, kind of. It’s all I can do. Spending more time than what it takes to let out a cursory chuckle on the subject leads to a serious, frightening examination of the unknowns and what-ifs. This is not a pleasant space to occupy.
That we were arguably targeted accidentally or at random suggests a whimsical use of the drug by a demographic that may not immediately be recognized as predatory. But in so doing, it is very much predatory. This is frightening. This is why the police in Kansas City should have pursued the lead. This is why the bar should have conducted its own investigation. And this is why the Kansas City Star should have asked more questions.
I’d say be smart out there, but that’s condescending. But do recognize that there is a sample of humanity currently sharing space with you on this planet that for a myriad of troubling and psychological reasons will non-consensually drug another human being with the intent of victimizing him or her in some capacity. This you should know. This is something you should enter every party, every bar, every festival armed with.
Kansas City will never be anything but this story to me. My response to it will always be visceral. And I’m still unsure if I really want to know what happened.
This is what I remember from that night. And that is all this is. I understand that many such stories aren’t as easy to tell. I understand that this is a story women know all too well, and for many it includes physical abuse and rape. Look out for your friends. Don’t stay silent if you see something strange.
Toban Dyck is a farmer/writer living in southern Manitoba.