Our first kiss- my
first kiss - was behind a school dumpster. That really should have told me something.
He liked me. Somehow, despite my less-than-inspired attempts at fashion, despite my pale skin (no one is allowed to be pale in California), my hopeless, boring-brown hair, my never-small-enough waistline, he
He was all light spiky hair and blue eyes. He was one grade below and that suited me just fine. I'd never liked older guys, especially ones who actually looked older. I was a sucker for baby faces, lanky builds and boyish charm. Perhaps somewhere deep in my subconscious, I'd decided that a boy who was just a boy, and not really a man, couldn't hurt me. My subconscious was wrong.
We dated for two weeks. Then he dumped me through his sister.
I pined for him, all spring and summer and into fall. He was a highschool freshman now, and some part of me hoped that now that I could see him every day, I could somehow win him back. After all, he'd broken up with me, he said, because we didn't see each other enough. That was a problem I could solve.
The first day of school we all went out for burgers - me, Josh, his sister Emma, and the rest of our group. There was a new girl joining us, Kylie. She'd moved from the city and we were trying to help her fit in. Josh and I talked a bit, he teased me a little, and I was about to ask if he and Emma wanted to come back to my house when suddenly Josh reached for Kylie's hand and pulled her into a kiss.
I slipped out of the shop and walked home in tears. Emma and Josh walked home with me the next day. Kylie had some other engagement, it seemed, and in fact she barely acknowledged my existence at school that day, or any day. Josh, Emma and I hung out of lot in the following weeks, sometimes on our own, often joined by our other friends. Sometimes Josh and I were on our own. He flirted with me incessantly, making me grin like an idiot and stuff down any guilt I felt. Gradually, I began to feel no guilt at all. Josh and Kylie weren't getting along very well, and he took every opportunity to vent to me about her.
"She never lets me surprise her," he complained. "She tells
me what to do for her, what she thinks is the most romantic. But how is it romantic when it's what she's ordering
me to do?"
"Yeah, I know," I said. "That sucks. It means more when it's spontaneous."
He nodded, then grabbed my bra strap and snapped it.
"Hey!" I said, pretending to be upset.
He didn't buy it. He just smiled and did it again.
Things continued on like this for a while. October came quickly, and Josh's 14th birthday fell on a Sunday. Most of the group came to the party, though strangely, Kylie didn't. Josh took advantage of this by flirting with me, teasing me, touching me. I was staying overnight (their dad was a cop, how could my parents object, school night or no?) and by nine o'clock it was just Emma, Josh and me left. We settled down in the living room with sleeping bags, put in some slasher flick and turned off the lights. I wasn't really paying attention to the movie, but to Josh. My sleeping bag was between his and Emma's. About an hour into the movie, Emma fell asleep, and their dad got a call from the station. He said he'd probably be out all night, but that we'd be fine on our own. He'd still be in town.
It wasn't long after he left that Josh moved his sleeping bag closer to mine. I was starting to get sleepy. I'd missed most of the movie, so it wasn't making much sense, which bored me. Besides, there was something so comforting about lying next to the guy I thought I loved. I was contemplating how amazing it would be to fall asleep next to him, even if it was just like this, when I felt him reach inside my pants.
The surprise froze me stiff. Then I thought about what to do. It didn't feel good. It didn't feel anything
, except weird and unwanted. I should have told him to stop. I wanted him to stop. But he was paying attention to me. If he wanted to touch me like that
, well then - he must like me, right?
I remained frozen. I was still so tired, and none of this felt quite real to me. I badly wanted to look at him, to see what thoughts his face reflected, but that would have made it too real, and it was all I could do to just lie there and let him continue. I only hoped that when he stopped, then maybe...I wasn't even sure. But when he stopped, it was only to grab my hand and thrust it inside of his pants.
I gasped. This was way beyond anything I was comfortable with. I didn't know what to do. I tried to pull my hand away but instead he grabbed it more firmly and wrapped it around himself. Then he started moving his hand over mine, showing me what to do. My heart was pounding so hard I could barely breathe, and my tired limbs protested against my motions. I bit my lip against the pain in my wrist as he nudged me to go faster.
When he placed his other hand on the back of my neck and tried to push it down into his sleeping bag I finally found the strength to stop him. Perhaps it was the utter terror that gripped me at what I realized he wanted me to do, something I had no idea how to do, and no desire for. He pushed against my head a few more times, but I remained stiff, and when he finally looked at me, I just shook my head, mouth quivering. I couldn't read his face; it was shadowed, his expression almost blank. He removed my hand and I slipped it back under my sleeping bag. I felt confused and exhausted. I just wanted to sleep. Sleep, and try to make sense of all this in the morning.
I was finally drifting off when I felt his hands untying my pants. He seemed to be having trouble, so I undid the tie for him, not really sure why. But then he pulled them down and turned me onto my stomach. Becoming slightly more aware, I tried to ask him what he was doing, but was cut off by the sharp pain shooting through my body. I hissed and tried feebly to pull away, but his arms held me still. It hurt so bad. I started to whimper, low moans of "ow" escaping me, but he didn't seem to notice. I was so confused. And so very, very tired. I tried to hide the pain; I didn't scream, I didn't cry out. I was a crybaby, my teachers had told me when I was little; I'd complained too much, according to my friends and parents. I was used to hiding my pain, even if it was more emotional than physical these days. Was there really a difference?
I started to cry. The pain was so intense I could hardly think of anything else. I couldn't think about what it meant or why he was doing it. I just wanted it to stop. "Ow," I moaned softly through tears. "Stop, ow, please."
I still doubted he heard me, but I continued to moan and plead quietly, anything to distract myself. When he finally stopped, and the pain subsided, realization hit me so fast I couldn't even move.
He seemed to notice then that I was crying. "I hurt you," he said, voice pained. "I'm sorry. Now I've hurt you."
I was still too stunned to move, but I managed, even through the pain and horror, to rasp the word "no". I wondered whether I had said that word before. I couldn't remember. It didn't seem important now, even if it should have been.
He threw a glance at his sleeping sister then pushed my pants into my hand. "Put these on," he told me. I simply stared that them for a moment before moving, very slowly, to put them back on. Every part of my body hurt and my limbs felt stiff with shock. It was enormously difficult just to lift myself enough to slip the pants back on.
"Hurry up," he said, glancing meaningfully again at his sister. I willed myself to hurry, even while some part of my brain guessed that if she hadn't woken up already, it was unlikely she would.
Pants replaced, I simply lay there on my side, staring at the wall, unable or unwilling to think. After a few moments, Josh asked me, tone completely casual, "Want to go to the kitchen for a snack?"
That was far more movement than I felt myself capable of at the moment, so I just shook my head. He leaned over me. "No one can know about this," he told me, his eyes boring into mine.
"I know.” Then I knew he was going to kiss me, and maybe it would be worth it, maybe...
His lips met mine and I opened to him, eager, but he pulled away. "You really need to learn how to kiss." He shook his head, laughing softly.
My heart shattered. “Sorry,” I mumbled. I lay there while he shifted our bags together then held out an arm in invitation. I hesitated but a moment. This is what I'd wanted all along. Just to be with him, comforted, and I needed comfort now more than ever. I nestled in beside him and his arms encircled me. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on nothing but the feel of his arms. Maybe he really did want me. To actually be with me. If he did, then maybe everything that happened would be worth it. I told myself this over and over, as the exhaustion finally claimed me.
When I woke up in the morning he was already gone. He'd left for school before Emma and I were even awake. She and I walked to school together, chatting casually about nothing. At the edge of campus a member of the group, Jody, met us, and cast me an expectant look.
"Is it true?" Jody asked. "Did you really sleep with Josh?"
I froze momentarily, then my body felt like mush. At least I managed to look surprised, since I was. "No. Who did you hear that from?"
"Josh told me.”
"Why would he do that?" I asked, truly curious.
"That's what he said. You sure it's not true?"
"I think I would know," I replied, and she laughed, then walked off.
Emma shot me a puzzled look but I simply shrugged and headed off to my locker. I was confused. Josh had sworn me to secrecy, but then told Jody. It didn't make any sense.
Classes passed in a bit of a daze. I tried to concentrate on the lessons to distract myself from everything else, but it didn't work. I kept thinking about why I had let it happen, and why he had told people. How many people already knew?
Lunch time came around and I wasn't remotely hungry. I headed for the metal shop building where the group hung out. Everyone's eyes fell on me. Emma was first to speak. "We know it's true. Josh told me. So what happened?"
What exactly had he told her? I wondered.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Over by the wall with Kylie. She just found out.”
I swayed a little on my feet. "Well what did he expect? Why did he tell everyone?"
"I don't know. Maybe he wants to break up with her?"
"But he told me not to tell anyone!"
Emma contemplated. "Maybe he just wanted to do it himself?"
That made sense, I supposed. Except then why didn't he tell her before everyone else found out? I couldn't get my hopes up. If she forgave him, if they stayed together...
"Is it true?"
The door of the metal shop slammed open and Kylie walked in, eyes bloodshot and tears streaked across her face. She was holding a screwdriver.
"Is it fucking true?"
No one spoke. From beyond the open door the sound of a fist hitting brick emanated, followed by a deep groan. Josh.
I wanted to go to him, but in that moment it was clear that he didn't want me.
Emma spotted the screwdriver and slowly walked towards Kylie. I couldn't move at all. I was glad there were several people in between us, but I couldn't keep my eyes off Kylie.
She raised the screwdriver. "Tell me right now or I'll slice my arm open with this thing!"
I lost it. My knees buckled and I fell forward, eyes still glued to Kylie as she thrust the screwdriver toward her flesh and Emma dove to try to take it from her. I was barely aware that someone had caught me.
"Come on. You don't need to see this. Let's get you out of here."
I nodded, numb, and followed. It was Cassandra. She was on the fringes of the group; most secretly called her a bitch behind her back, for daring to argue, or a whore, for her gall to date boys that the group didn't approve of. It was rumored she'd even gone out with a girl once. Whore, lesbo, bitch. I'd heard her called each of those things and never said a word. But she was the one who lead me away and soothed me as I clung to her and cried until the bell rang.
By the time classes let out I’d learned that Kylie had given Josh another chance, so long as he never talked to me again. I walked home alone, trying desperately not to think. I lifted my sleeves and dug my nails into flesh, blocking out every other sensation. It got me home. Once there, I slipped into the bathroom and locked the door. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and stared ahead at nothing. Then my eyes focused in and registered the razor. I knew it wasn't the kind of razor used for cutting, but it was sharp. Maybe it would work? I'd never cut before, unless you counted digging my nails in too deep and actually drawing blood. But that was by accident. I was too chicken to do it on purpose.
But my nails weren't enough. My emotions swelled in my chest until I couldn't breathe, until I didn't want to breathe. I gave up on the razor. I didn't need any help making myself less attractive. I opened the medicine cabinet and searched for the bottle of Zoloft I hoped was still there. My mom had insisted I try it the year before, after my break-up with Josh, claiming I suffered from depression. The pills hadn't done much, aside from make me so hyper I was kicked out of class, so I had to stop them. They seemed like a good idea right now. I opened the bottle and shook three pills into my hand. Three times the dosage. A voice in the back of my head told me this was drug abuse, but it wasn’t like I was taking them for fun. I was taking them to stop myself from doing something stupid.
I swallowed the pills with a handful of tap water then went and curled up on my bed. I finally let myself cry. I'm such an idiot, I thought, assaulting my mind with all the insults I could think of. How could I have ever thought he really wanted me? And now I can never talk to him again...I cried harder. I hated myself. I should have said yes when he asked me to go to the kitchen for a snack, I told myself. I should have talked to him when I still could. I should have answered "show me", when he told me I needed to learn how to kiss. That would have been the right response, the sexy, cool response. But I never knew when to say the right thing. I didn't know anything.
I stopped hanging out with the group. I saw my friends here and there individually, and they all asked for details involving Josh. I told them what I kept trying to convince myself. Somehow, I thought it better to be a home-wrecking whore than a raped virgin. I hated that word. Rape. It crept into my mind sometimes, unbidden, and impossible to banish once there. I didn't want to believe it.
But I didn't want to have lost my virginity either. I just wanted to erase the entire incident and pretend it never happened. If I told myself I had consented, then not only was I not a virgin, I was a whore. Josh was with Kylie. I'd wanted him back, yes, but...I didn't want to be that girl. If I admitted to myself that he had raped me - then the fragile peace I'd constructed around the idea that I was okay would come crashing down. I wasn't okay with it. I hadn't wanted to, and he'd forced me.
I finally admitted this, nearly a year later, to my friend Jess. She had an easy answer for me. "It doesn't matter if it was rape or not." I cringed. I hadn't used that word - I never said that word. "You still had sex. So you're not a virgin."
"But I didn't want to," I protested. "I know I should have fought back harder, I tried, but...that doesn't mean I wanted it to happen."
She shrugged. "It doesn't matter. No one's a virgin anymore. Not by sixteen."
I let it drop. I'd been fifteen, but that wasn't the point. She didn't get it.
I tried to talk to my friend Rachel next. Her advice was even less helpful.
"Oh come on," she scoffed at me. "You were crazy about Josh. You know you wanted it."
I bit back angry tears. "I wanted him," I clarified. "I didn't want that."
"Then why did you tell everyone you were fine with it? And now that you don't want him anymore you say he raped you?" That word again. I flinched. "It's just kind of weird. Why tell people now?"
I tried to explain. "It was the only way I could deal with it. Pretending it was okay, that I'd agreed to it. But I don't want to lie anymore."
“I guess. But a lot of people will think you're lying now.”
I couldn't win.
That night, I called a rape hotline. It felt wrong. Rape hotlines were for people who'd really been raped; girls grabbed while walking home at night by threatening strangers, girls whose bedrooms were broken into by crazed perverts.
The website said otherwise. Acquaintance rape, it was called. The most common type. That surprised me.
I waited until midnight, when everyone else in the house was asleep, then dialed the numbers. A woman answered and introduced herself as Pam. I couldn't think of what to say.
"Last year," I half-whispered, "I was raped." My mouth tripped over the word. It felt like part of me broke as it escaped my lips. I wanted to put it back. I wanted to bury it deep beneath the earth and myself with it and never have to think of it again. I drew another breath and continued. "He was my ex. I didn't want it to happen. But I didn't fight as hard as I should have. I didn't scream, I don't even remember saying no." The words came out in a rush, barely discernable through my whispered pitch and shaking voice.
"I'm so sorry," said Pam. “What do you need from me? Why are you calling?"
That was a good question. "I don't know," I said. "I pretended for a while that it was okay. All my friends thought it was consensual. He might even think that." I hadn't considered that until now. I suddenly wondered just what exactly he did think about it. "But I don't want to lie anymore. I'm not okay with it. But now they don't believe me. Or they don't think it's a big deal."
"Have you reported it to the police yet?" she asked.
Something hot jumped from my stomach to my throat. "No. I can't do that."
"A lot of reasons. He was only fourteen when it happened. I'm almost two years older. No one would believe I couldn't have stopped him. He's skinny and I'm...not. And his dad is a cop. It just wouldn't work."
"You don't know that. There are people who could help you. You don't have to be scared."
"I'm not scared, exactly. I just don't want to go through that. Enough people already think...that I'm a whore."
"You're not a whore," she told me, voice sad. "But you need to think about your safety. What if he does it again? To you, or to someone else?"
I hesitated. That was the issue, really. I was fairly sure he wouldn't do it to me again. Now that, months later, I'd come to my senses, I never intended to get that close to him again. Someone else, on the other hand...
"He won't do it to me. I'm never going to see him again. And someone else, well, I don't think he would. He's sorry for what he did, he must be. He'd never do it again."
"Are you sure?" she asked. "How do you know?"
I didn't. I changed the subject. "Okay, so even if I did turn him in, what then? Even if somehow he was convicted and even went to jail - how would that be good? He'd hate me. He wouldn't be in there forever, he'd get out eventually, and then I'd have to worry about him coming after me, or someone I love. What if I had a daughter?" It was becoming hard to speak now, as I struggled not to cry.
"There's ways to prevent that," she said.
"I know," I whispered, tears finally trailing down my cheeks. "But they might not work, and besides..." I choked. This was almost as hard to say as it had been to utter that terrible word. "I forgive him. I do. I know I probably shouldn't, but I do. I don't think he meant it, I don't think he would ever think it was...rape." I swallowed. "And even if he did, I just couldn't be responsible for sending him to jail. I mean, is he really a rapist, just because I was so weak?”
“You are not weak,” she said evenly. “I promise you.”
“I still forgive him.”
Pam seemed momentarily speechless. "So you're calling because you're worried what your friends think of you, that they won't believe you, then?"
"Explain it to them the way you explained it to me. And give them time. And in the end, it's only what you think that matters."
"Thank you." I paused. "Am I still a virgin?"
"Were you a virgin before he raped you?" Wince.
"Then of course you are."
I released a sigh. "Thank you so much."
"You're welcome, sugar. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
She sounded hopeful, as though she wished I'd change my mind and inquire how to file a police report.
In the end, it's only what you think that matters.
"No, I think that's everything. Thanks again."
We hung up. I pray that she was right.