Carefully extracting myself from under the weight of an unconscious 19-year-old, I rolled to my side and pushed myself from the heap of dirty laundry on the bathroom floor. I wanted to pee, but I couldn’t with him there. I wondered how long I’d been gone, not knowing if it was minutes or hours. No one had knocked to use the bathroom. If they had, I didn’t hear it. I wondered if I’d blacked out. My head was cloudy from second-hand cigarette smoke and bottles of Bartles & Jaymes. I adjusted my damp underwear which had been stretched to the side, smoothed my skirt, and wondered what to do. He didn’t hurt me, I’m okay, I told myself.
My parents thought I was at a friend’s house around the corner from where we lived, not at a party on the other side of town. I replayed the night in my mind.
With snow coating the roads and the hedges and the rooftops like a thick blanket, I should have been wearing a long skirt and thick sweater. Instead, I had emerged with two friends from the taxi with bare knees and a sleeveless top under my unbuttoned winter coat. I knew it would be hot inside the mobile home. I’d been there before and it was almost tropical. So many bodies, so many people smoking and laughing.
As soon as my two girlfriends and I walked in, I saw my brother in the kitchen. Always easy to spot, his six-foot-five-inch frame towered over the group. With his best Speedy Gonzales accent, he said, “It’s my sister,” which sounded like sea-star. Then almost immediately, “Who invited you, Sue?” he asked accusingly.
“Wendy said we were invited,” I replied, moving toward him. He answered with a sinister laugh, which was probably annoyance that his barely 15-year-old sister appeared at his friend’s party. His blond, curly mane had been brushed straight, leaving a frizzy afro expanding like a dandelion ready to seed. We peeled off our coats and tossed them into a pile on a kitchen chair on top of other abandoned garments and made our way to the fridge.
“Well, who invited her?” He was just messing with us now.
“Have you seen any wine coolers?” I asked, ignoring his question.
“Do you have any money?” I extracted some bills from my bra and held it toward him. He took the money, then without moving from his corner spot, he opened the fridge to reveal cases of beer and several four-packs of fizzy, juice-flavored wine – starter booze. My friends and I each took a bottle, and the guy next to him popped the caps into the sink. Being of average height, we blended in at the edge of the kitchen. Metallica or Megadeth filled in the gaps between words as we tried to be cool.
Wendy saw a familiar face and wandered into the living room while Carrie and I downed our drinks at the edge of the linoleum waiting for the alcohol to make us feel less awkward. Having only really had alcohol during holiday dinners in the form of homemade wine mixed with Sprite at my Italian grandparents’ house, it didn’t take long. A few minutes later we went back for seconds. “Peach or wild berry?” I asked. With our second drink boosting our confidence, we inched toward the carpet recognizing the girlfriends of my brother’s band buddies.
My brother’s thrash metal band practiced at my house a few afternoons a week and on weekends. Our attic was a wonderland with drum sets and amplifiers attached to electric guitars and mike stands. Girls with teased hair and thick black eyeliner were often in tow.
“You’re Dan’s sister?” one asked. I nodded, knowing that being Dan’s little sister was my ticket out of social abyss where I resided with the synchronized swimmers and 4-H members. “He’s so tall!” they cooed. “I’ve met your parents, and they aren’t tall at all.” Girls loved his height and his hair. My short, flyaway locks were permed – it was the 80s after all – but it would never be on par with his golden mane.
That’s when I saw him, that boy I’d had a crush on. I’d never actually spoken to him. He was about my height and had muscular arms. He was the band’s lead vocalist, and whenever I saw him, my chest tightened in a strange way making it hard to breathe. His dark heavy metal haircut and thick arms in ripped t-shirts made him unlike the lanky boy with trim curly hair and braces I’d once kissed in the alleyway near his house. I wanted to kiss this boy, too. He had a girlfriend, but she wasn’t there that night. Maybe they broke up, I thought. Who can keep track? Another drink and I felt as if I belonged.
“He wants to talk to you,” Wendy said with a devilish grin as she squeezed next to me on the sofa. What could he want to talk to me about, I wondered. I scanned the room, forcing my eyes to focus on the faces until I found his. He was looking at me. He motioned for me to come over to him. “Go,” she urged.
Standing was much harder than sitting, and walking was much harder than standing. When we were face to face, he said, “I want to show you something.” All I kept thinking was, oh my god, he’s talking to me. He wants to show me something. With several wine coolers coursing through my boyish frame, I followed him from the living room to the hallway and from the hallway to the bathroom. “Come on,” he said. We went in. He pushed the door closed and pulled me to him.
I don’t remember how we got to the floor. I don’t remember him pulling my skirt up or pushing my underwear out of the way. I remember his weight, though, feeling crushed. It was hard to breathe. I remember what I thought were his fingers probing and poking, rough and angular. It hurt; I only wanted to kiss. The room rotated like a hula hoop. A minute later, strange heaving erupted from his mouth, each exhale like a cough onto my face. I worried something was wrong. “You okay?” I whispered.
“I just came,” he heaved before his breathing slowed and the feeling I imagined were fingers retracted as he passed out on top of me. Those were the last words he ever said to me.
Nearly 20 years later, I pulled my legs up onto the soft brown sofa in her compact office. I held myself in an attempt to settle the mixed-up feelings about the marriage that made sense on paper, but nowhere else. I had started seeing her as we teetered near the precipice of divorce. It was that uncertain period when we were in couple’s therapy and he was in individual therapy and I was in individual therapy trying to figure out if our marriage would survive, if it was worth saving, mutual vegetarianism aside.
“Tell me about the first time you had sex,” she said in the middle of one of my sessions. I didn’t want to make eye contact, so I looked at the shelves lined with books and the abstract paintings behind her.
“With my husband or ever?”
“The first time ever.” She set her legal pad on the desk, giving me her full attention. Her gaze was direct yet delicate.
I told her about the skirt and the lie I told my parents that got me to that party. I told her about the drinking and the crush and how I wanted to kiss the boy who was four years older than me. The one who had a girlfriend. I told her how he led me to the bathroom and the details that followed. When I got to the end, my muscles shivered as if I were in that short skirt with the snow coating everything, giving the illusion the world was clean and wholesome. I wasn’t cold, though. Heat radiated from my underarms and face. Trying to hide my shame, I dropped my head into my lap.
“There’s more, isn’t there,” she said. “Can you try to tell me the end?”
It seemed that my head began shaking back and forth, trying to push the memory away. She waited patiently while I tried to find the words to explain it in a way that seemed logical. I could hear cars passing the second-story office as I nudged my mind to return to the dimly-lit bathroom all those years ago and to find the words to explain….
After I pushed myself up from the pile of laundry, I wanted to look in the mirror, to study my face to see if I looked different. Surely there was a look when you no longer held virginity between your thighs. And probably another kind of look when it was taken and not given. I wanted to know what the others would see when I went back into the living room with the carpet like egg yolks and the walls like golden stalks of wheat. They would know; my brother would know. My parents would know, too, when they saw me in the morning.
As I stepped over the body to get to the door, I kneeled down. “I’m glad you were my first,” I said. Then I opened the door and walked back into my life that had been suspended for an unknown amount of time. Those were the last words I ever said to him.
Only I was not glad. I was not glad that he jammed himself inside of me. I was not glad when at school the following Monday, a group of kids called me over to their lunch table to let me know they knew that he fucked me. I was not glad that he blasted my insides with semen. I have never once felt glad about it. I can’t imagine anyone has ever felt glad about events that require HIV and pregnancy testing.
“I don’t know why I said that,” my voice barely audible. I pulled another tissue from the box at my side and blew my nose again.
“It makes sense,” she said. “You took control and reframed what happened. It was about surviving being raped. In your mind, if you said you were glad, then he didn’t rape you. He didn’t have power over you. It doesn’t change what actually happened, but it probably helped you cope.”
I’d never called it rape before. And aside from that therapist, I’ve never told anyone the whole story.
Even though my 15-year-old self attemped to be glad about what had happened so that it wouldn’t define me, it defined me anyway. That night was part of my self-worth, my sexuality, and played a role in all of my romantic relationships. While I pushed the memories down, it was an unconscious weight I carried.
At Six Hens, the stories that we are most drawn to are the ones that appear like crocuses in the aftermath of the snowstorm. We showcase moments that offer us better understanding of ourselves. It’s not that I was raped, or even that I said those words to my rapist. It’s that only when I finally understood why I said I was glad that my story from 1988 could finally stand tall.
It’s in the wake of the Stanford survivor’s powerful letter to her assailant that I decided to tell my story. Thank you, Anonymous Woman for your courage. It helped me find mine.
Welcome to the fifth issue of Six Hens.
Carefully extracting myself from under the weight of an unconscious 19-year-old, I rolled to my side and pushed myself from the heap of dirty laundry on the bathroom floor. I wanted to pee, but I couldn’t with him there.
I wondered how long I’d been gone, not knowing if it was minutes or hours. No one had knocked to use the bathroom. If they had, I didn’t hear it. I wondered if I’d blacked out. My head was cloudy from second-hand cigarette smoke and bottles of Bartles & Jaymes. I adjusted my damp underwear which had been stretched to the side, smoothed my skirt, and wondered what to do. He didn’t hurt me, I’m okay, I told myself...