***If you get triggered by images of sexual assault, definitely skip this series. Plenty of kittens and snuggles to come, I promise. ***
This past Sunday, my therapist helped me to begin the process of confronting the teenage trauma that’s unfortunately one of the defining factors in my psyche, in the hopes of making it perhaps less so. After I told her the story, she tasked me with starting a dialogue with my sixteen-year-old self, with the goal of reaching some kind of…forgiveness isn’t the right word…acceptance, understanding, amends? Maybe embrace. Last night after I wrote the story on paper and put it in the Box of Things to Be Worked Out Later By Unseen Forces (What, you don’t have one?), I actually could feel my young self, ragged and feral, holding onto me for dear life. Maybe I can write her to safety, since I couldn’t fight our way there.
It’s possible that such a process might repair some of the holes inside me, break down the walls of anger, defensiveness, and detachment that come between me and self-love.
Before I can start the dialogue with the girl (Let’s call her S.) I have to tell you what happened. I’ve written it here before but I think it’s important to tell it from where I am now, from a place of processing rather than panic. There are many echoes of the story in the present-day one—sometimes I’m very proud of the ways I’ve relived and rewritten it, how I came from a place of helplessness and shame and somehow became a person who wins at parties, gets rescued by the Cutest Boy, who smacked the shit out of the guy who put an unwanted hand over my mouth before I figured out I liked it. But before all that, there was this. If you read it, thank you in advance—you’re easing the project along and easing the burden.
One spring when I was in high school, my body woke up and made me antsy. Because I didn’t count myself among those who could have relationships, I opted for quick and anonymous sex with any good-looking man I could get my hands on. The basketball court, conveniently located in the park three doors down, was an easy place to pick them up, and I still kind of envy myself the ease with which I took them home, fucked them, and sent them on their way.
I’m not introducing the story of the trauma with the fact that I was slutty in order to suggest any cause and effect relationship (though I admit, for years I did) only to give you an idea of what people thought I was, what I kind of thought I was for in a situation where it might’ve been helpful to see myself any other way.
My best friend told me that her boyfriend had a friend who’d fuck me, so we set it up for a Saturday night. We did the classic thing of telling each other’s mom’s we were staying at another friend’s house and went to meet the guys. They picked us up at the grocery store, of all places.
They took us to a park on the outskirts of town. My friend stayed in the car with her guy and me and the friend hiked up a big hill that overlooked the lights of our suburban town—I wanted to leave on my glasses to enjoy the view, but he didn’t like the way I looked in them, didn’t really like the way I looked at all, I don’t think, but he fucked me anyway, doggie style, maybe so he wouldn’t see my face. I enjoyed letting out yowls that echoed through the hills, felt both pleasured and degraded, mostly kind of coldly successful at life.
When the guys were all done with us, it was only 12:30 and we’d told our parents we were at Kristi’s house so we really didn’t have anyplace to go. We sat in the little park by my house, thinking about falling asleep on a park bench, when a pickup full of whooping partiers stopped to see if we wanted to join them.
I felt absolutely no hesitation, enjoying the idea of how horrified my mom would be if she knew I was riding in the back of a pickup. They drove us to a nice, neat apartment complex with “green” in the name.
I can’t say for sure that I was drugged, but I do know I was way more drunk than the number of beers I had. They were drinking some Cisco and could have slipped that in, too. We were sitting around playing quarters and I was barely able to sit up when the ugliest, most snaggle-toothed of the men said “So, which one of us are you gonna fuck?”
I said nobody, that I’d had enough that evening, but they kept pushing and said I had to pick someone. They kept insisting and I did feel like it was who I was, like it was something I had to do, like I couldn’t escape them or my slutty self. So I picked the cutest guy there, who I also figured wouldn’t do anything because his girlfriend was with him. But he sent his girlfriend home.
He took me in the bedroom and closed the door, made me strip off all my clothes. I was kind of a sex robot. I lay beneath him and tried to do my job of making noises, but he put his hand over my mouth. I don’t remember what the sex felt like, really, just remember scrambling around after my clothes because he left the door open after so anyone could see in.
I did get most of my clothes on but after that I couldn’t really move and I started throwing up everywhere. I passed out and when I came to, everyone was hitting me, atleast 5 people including one girl, with what turned out to have been tennis rackets, blows coming down everywhere in the pitch black and I still couldn’t move. They were all calling me names, yelling at me for throwing up, telling me I was a stupid slut and in between saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” I was screaming my head off so that some blessed person heard and called the cops. Otherwise, those might have been my last moment on earth.
The next thing I remember was seeing my bloody face in the bathroom mirror, the girl who’d been helping to beat me up was making soothing sounds and cleaning me up. My favorite shirt (a bright mod swirly thing in the manner of De-Lite front woman and my style-hero, Lady Miss Kier) was spattered with blood.
As the police put us in a circle and questioned us, it dawned on me that my best friend had been in the front room, all of this time, standing by while those things happened, that she had let it happen.
I refused, no matter how many times they asked, to tell the police or anyone the sex part of the story. In no way did I think it wasn’t my fault for being drunk and slutty. I’d never seen The Accused, but I’d seen a review of it on Siskel & Ebert and I knew well enough who the accused would be. The not-telling is the part I feel most horribly ashamed about, the guiltiest. Some of them did go to jail for what happened, including the guy, but not for rape. I’m very, very sorry for not having done what I could to try and protect other women from that experience; I wish I could go back and do the right thing.
The following weeks were a family nightmare. My mom, horrified that I’d chosen to dye my hair the same purple as the bruises beneath my eyes, upset that it made her look like a bad mother, held my head over the tub and tried to bleach it out with Clorox. In the culmination of a fight with my mom, my dad pushed me down to the floor a week after the incident, kicked me and punched me, called me the same names the other people had and blamed me for bringing this violence into our family, though of course it had always been there. He pushed my mother down the stairs and the next day, she had bruises to match my own.
A newish friend, an artsy dykey girl I totally had a crush on, came and rescued me that night, but there wasn’t anyplace safe to be until I was shipped off for a few weeks that summer to my Catholic aunt’s house in the Maryland countryside, which had always been my favorite place in the world. I learned how to make homemade pop-tarts and fell in love with a boy from her church, who’s as gay as the day is long, but that didn’t stop us from kissing in the waves and whispering sweet nothings with the wild ponies of Chincoteague island. I took comfort in his innocence and it took me through that horrible year, but the wall of refusal and dread inside me was otherwise insurmountable. I’d already been a damaged girl, but now I was very often nothing but fight.