When it comes to my writing I’m a coward. My reticence to share my deep dark secrets and feelings holds me back. I know that and I want it to be different but I am afraid.
I’m afraid of a lot of things. If that box is opened I will never be able to close it again. If I share some of these things people that I love and who love me may be hurt or angry. No actually, will… Will be hurt and will be angry. I’m stronger now than I have ever been in the knowledge that I am, albeit flawed, a good and honest person. There are people who I’ve known for most of my life that do not believe this and never will. With a lot of self appraisal, therapy and private journaling I am learning to accept that I cannot change that and more importantly, as taught to me by one of those very people, it’s none of my business what they think of me.
I listened to a podcast segment this morning from my favorite radio show called “This American Life”. The show was dedicated to telling the story of an eighteen year old girl named Marie. She had been a foster child and at eighteen was doing her very best to become an adult. She had a job, a subsidized apartment and family in the form of former foster mothers and friends. She was outgoing, silly, flirty, loud, obnoxious, attention seeking, inappropriate – all the things a teenage girl is.
One night she left her patio door unlocked in her apartment and was tied up, blindfolded and raped by a masked intruder with a knife. He photographed her nude with her ID on her chest and told her he would publish the photos if she went to the police. She did call the police and two of her foster moms and told them what had happened. Long story short, her demeanor was so unexpectedly odd that the people she trusted came to believe that she had made the story up. Her caseworker at a local non-profit even went so far as to force her to stand in front of a group of young people like herself and tell them all that she had lied. The police charged her with filing a false police report after brow beating her into retracting the entire story. She was harassed on social media and in person.
Like something out of an episode of Law and Order, a serial rapist was later arrested after raping numerous women with the same M.O. and they found those photographs! The people in her life who didn’t believe her and the police etc were mortified and remorseful and apologized to Marie. She has gracefully accepted these apologies and has moved on with her life, settling out of court with both the police and the non-profit. Her foster moms are still part of her life even though it could be argued that their disbelief, and their audacity in sharing their doubts with the police, may have been the catalyst.
At the end of the interview one of the foster moms was recorded as saying that Marie should take some responsibility for the things that happened to her because of her odd behavior. I was furious! I literally had to pull off the road because I was shaking with anger at this woman for blaming this teenage girl – who incidentally it should be said was sexually assaulted as a child in her own mothers home – for her own rape and subsequent public humiliation. She was victimized countless times for something for which she had no responsibility. Her rapist even told her that she shouldn’t have left her patio door unlocked.
When I had just turned fourteen and was a Freshman in high school I was ridiculous. I was loud and goofy and, like a lot of girls that age, trying to forage my way through a sea of awakening sexuality, confusion, frustration and fear. There were people my age and younger who were already way advanced. They were already well on their way to becoming young men and women and much more savvy than me and most of my friends.
I was still kind of a tomboy, hadn’t gotten the hang of dressing like a girl yet and I wasn’t allowed to wear make up except for lip gloss. I was shy around boys I liked and rough and tumble with the boys I was friendly with. I don’t think at that point anyone saw me as anything but a silly immature girl.
There was a boy. He was beautiful with long blonde wavy hair, a gorgeous mouth, tanned skin, long legs and fingers and the swagger boys then got from wearing big bell Levis and Colorados. He was my lab partner in Biology. He never spoke to me or acknowledged my existence outside of class and I was ok with that because I understood the social hierarchy that was our school. He was a popular kid and I was not.
One day in the fall right after school had started he gave me a note in class asking me to meet him after school at Walker School. I was scared to death. I’d never been so nervous and excited in my entire life. This boy, a popular boy who I had a huge not so secret crush on m, wanted to see me outside of class. I lied to my mom and told her I was going to my friends around the corner and I dressed as girly as I could and went off. I think I even stole some of my moms eyeshadow and mascara.
We met at 4:00 and it was sunny and warm. He took me to the side of the school that was hidden from the street and most of the classrooms and he sexually assaulted me. I was not raped but it was a non consensual sexual assault nonetheless. It actually took me many years to even recognize that.
I was completely out of my element. I had no idea what to do. I mean I knew what was happening because I wasn’t an idiot but I didn’t know how to handle it. I tried to say no, I tried to push him away but he was persistent and I was … So many things … Scared, confused, hopeful and curious (I know those last two sound awful but I’m being honest here). I can tell you one thing I was absolutely not and that was sexually intrigued. I knew girls who were okay with this behavior and he kept telling me it was okay. At one point I saw two boys I’d known since kindergarten run by and I called out to them. These were athletes, another group I was not a part of so we didn’t interact at all. I was hoping that they would be curious enough when I called out to stop and walk over and discourage this boy from continuing. Instead they innocently teased me on the bus the next day for having a secret boyfriend.
When it was over, rather quickly as these things tend to be, I ran home. I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe and I just wanted to take a shower and get the smell of him and his cologne off of me. I can still smell his stench now. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to lay down on my bed and cry. There was another part of me though that still was hopeful and I wanted this boy to like me. I was confused about my role in this. I wanted to be the girlfriend of a popular boy. I knew because I was not completely oblivious that this would probably never happen but with the optimism of youth I saw myself forgiving him and him professing his undying devotion and promising never to force me to do anything like that again.
I told someone I trusted right away what had happened. The initial response I received was disbelief. I was asked if I was making it up so I wouldn’t get in trouble for being at the school when I wasn’t allowed or for being late for dinner but that changed fairly quickly when my behavior seemed appropriate to the situation. My father wanted me to report it to the police so I lied and told them I didn’t know the boys last name or where he lived. I begged them to let it go and they did, reluctantly.
I was barely fourteen and had just started high school. I had to see this boy every weekday. He was my lab partner. More importantly he was smoking area royalty. He and his friends had a lot of power in my mind and I was very afraid of the ramifications if I told my story. Socially I would have become more of an outcast than I already was. A pariah. A prude. After all I was in high school so what’s the big deal right? Girls and boys had been doing what we did for centuries and we girls understood that boys couldn’t control themselves and if we let it get farther than we were comfortable with, well wasn’t that our fault after all?
I could have kneed him in the groin or screamed bloody murder when I saw those boys I knew. I could have asked Mrs. Miriani to let me in when she spotted us from the school and opened a door to tell us to leave. I could have done a lot of things I didn’t do so didn’t that make me responsible for the outcome? Some of you even now are nodding your heads as you read this saying “shame on her”.
Here’s the thing though. He wasn’t a boy with no control over his body and I wasn’t responsible for his behavior. I said no. Not just once but multiple times and he pushed himself on me and forced me. Do you know that even as I write this thirty years later I still hesitate?
What happened to the boy? Exactly what you’d expect. He stayed my lab partner and acted as though the awkward situation had never occurred. He went on with his life ignoring me. I accepted that though because … High School … I went on with my life and wasn’t traumatized or anything I don’t think. I was pretty reticent and moved a bit slower than a lot of my friends when it came to relationships but I don’t know if that experience or that boy had anything to do with that. I mean I didn’t even have my first real kiss until my sixteenth birthday (sorry Craig hehe) Mostly though my hesitation to go down that path was probably due to my lack of maturity, fear of reprisal from my parents and maybe wanting to stay a kid for just a little bit longer.
So I skipped my water aerobics class today to write this in a parking lot before I lost my nerve. I cracked open that box for just a moment. I don’t know if it feels good. Right now I just have a lump in my throat and my stomach is one big knot. Exposing myself like this is not easy and I don’t know whether it’s therapeutic or whatever because I reconciled myself to the bad shit in my life a long time ago. I guess maybe this is an exercise in bravery.
Writing is among many other things a chance to share a piece of ourselves. It’s a way to be relevant, to feel alive or discover the meaning of things. Writing is a way to open up dialogue and maybe change the world or maybe just one person’s mind. We are a product of everything that ever happened to us and we can allow it to destroy us or make us stronger. Most days I choose the latter although it must be said that some days I feel the former. So this is all part of my journey I guess. Maybe I will share something else personal another time soon. Or maybe not.