They say love makes you stupid. At first it’ll be small things, like walking to the shelf and forgetting what you needed or going to the store for eggs and leaving with gluten-free peanut butter (it’s a thing), but after a while things will s l o o o w down. You’ll be back to kindergarten, a lunch box filled with carrots and a PB & J cut in half, learning how to tell time, laughing even when you don’t get the joke, laughing especially when you don’t get the joke. You’ll see eventually that the joke’s on you—everything will be turned down a beat, and the sepia filter will block any too-bright colors from your overdriven, over-colored mind.
It’s like this, you think.
It’s like this, Rebecca says, trailing a finger up & down your hipbone.
Be in the moment like that yoga teacher once told you. Breathe in. Breathe out. It tickles. Your fingers lock onto her shoulder.
You like that, she whispers. It’s a statement, not a question. For you, it is always a statement and never a question.
You shrug. It’s all a blur. It’s always a blur.
Growing up we had a house in the Hamptons. I didn’t know it was a cool thing to have; I just knew I loved the beach, the freedom I felt as soon as I dipped my toes in it, the shells I would bring home and paint each summer on the deck with my brothers. But I was always scared of the ocean. I couldn’t go more than toe-deep. It was too cloudy, too cold, too warm, too dirty, too seaweed-filled, too garbage-filled, too blue, too grey. The “too’s” stacked up like a kid’s building blocks—move one and they all tumble down, but move one carefully, manipulate it out, push and pull, hold your breath in (all of it), and you can prolong the tumbling for a bit. I couldn’t manipulate the ocean, though. I tried. But the ocean continued to take what it wanted, producing waves and currents when it felt the need, all while keeping hundreds of creatures alive within its depths. My mother tried to get me to take swim lessons, and my mother is a very stubborn woman so eventually it stuck and I learned to do the breaststroke. But every time we would arrive at the beach for the day, I would throw on a pair of sunglasses (I wore a purple and white checkered pair) and open a book, settling in a day of dry adventure.
What happened with Rebecca has taken me a long time to write about. I tend to turn to writing when I don’t understand things, particularly things that happen to me. I wrote about what happened with Rebecca from different points of view, without blame, with blame, with shame, and without it. It took me until now to write what happened with her exactly as it did—no more, no less.
I shouldn’t have met Rebecca at Pour House. It was already 10:00pm and a school night. I had class at 9:00am the next day and was already falling behind. But she was cute and she insisted she would buy me a beer. I can’t remember who found whom. We found a booth in the back. Rebecca ordered Angry Orchards. My first drink of the evening, but I wasn’t sure about hers. I was wearing a new button-down and I kept my focus on the sleeves, rolling them up, and then rolling them down. Our conversation stuck to safe topics. We talked about philosophy and books. At one point she went outside to smoke a cigarette and I cautiously followed her. At another point we were both hungry, but the kitchen had closed hours ago. I told her I had food at my place. I regret that probably the most. The suggestion was a genuine one, but the intentions I now see were misleading.
We walked, her grasping my arm for balance. We stopped and made out halfway down my block. Each time she kissed me, her lips kept their impression on mine for minutes after she backed away. Eventually we made it home. I picked out a jar of pickles from my almost empty fridge. “Here,” I offered. I couldn’t open them; she taught me by running hot water on the lid and hitting the top with a knife, they would open with ease. Pickles led to kissing (perhaps not a combination I would recommend). As the kissing became more intense I stammered, “I’m not going to sleep with you. I’ve never had sex.” I don’t remember if she made an indication she understood; it wouldn’t matter anyway.
We continued kissing. Her hands found my ankle. It felt so good. I didn’t understand how rubbing such an insignificant spot could produce so many feelings. I was happy. I went to change into sweatpants. More kissing and then sleep I figured. When I got back she began untying my sweatpants. I think she asked me if it was okay. I would like to think she did. Again I stammered, “I’ve never had sex.” Her reassurance came in the form of a slurred and almost silent sentence, “You may be saying no, but your body wants it.” Her hands finally undid the tie. Before I knew what to say, her head was in between my legs. I looked anywhere but down. It was 1:00, and then 1:15, and then 1:45. I watched the numbers change on my cable box. I looked out the window as the light shifted. Rebecca shifted positions sticking her finger in me. It hurt. I didn’t make any noise. Her shirt came off and she offered her breasts to me. I didn’t touch any of her that night. Her pelvis rubbed against mine, and her breath thickened. Her noises became louder. Her finger again went between my legs. I turned to face the window, away from her face. Eventually we went to sleep. In the morning she smoked on my fire escape and then left. It would be 6 months until we talked again. It would be 8 until a girl I had started seeing semi-seriously sat me down and told me what I had experienced wasn’t sex; it was rape.
I often wonder how much control I actually have over my body and my mind. My fork will hover absentmindedly over the last bite despite my already full tummy. There are times I won’t notice that I’ve finished the entire plate of food in front of me until I’m standing over the sink, sponge in hand, scrubbing. I wasn’t comfortable with what happened that night. I definitely wasn’t okay with it. I know I could feel “no” and “don’t” pulsating at the forefront of my mind, but I couldn’t talk. I know it is not my fault. But I also know that night a sense of freedom I had until then was taken from me. I will never have my virginity back. And although I had yearned many a time to lose my virginity, I wasn’t ready when it was taken from me.
This isn’t sexy writing. Writing about rape is unfamiliar territory for me. I keep thinking that much like my sexuality someone is going to appear and accuse me of lying. “You can’t call it that,” they’ll say as they jab a disappointed finger to a page in my book. I’ve experienced an encounter like that already. On Facebook I repost an article about a woman’s experience with rape. A peer from high school comments, “this is the problem with women, they always blame the man.” I am infuriated. My friends all come to my defense. Words fly around. I hesitate as to if I should take the post down or not. Later the same peer messages me, “your parents must be proud.” I am left with a bad taste in my mouth. I wonder if I will ever have “normal” sex again or sex whatsoever again. I am so fearful of losing my voice when I need it most, I either spend all my time talking or hanging out alone. When I am alone both girls’ words haunt my already overcrowded mind. Your body wants it. Your parents must be proud. Yourbodywantsit. Yourparentsmustbeproud.
In tarot class my teacher tells us to read cards as a whole. Don’t focus on one card, but rather on how all of the cards work together to form a narrative. I like to think that’s how I look at the pretty girls. I don’t focus on the one bad card, but instead how all the cards come together forming an experience wholly unique to me. I also avoid pulling for my future. I don’t need to know.
Almost two years later I find myself on another first date. It’s the first time I’ve forgotten to be scared in a while. There’s no beer, just coffee. We met online. I was giving online dating its last chance. At one point she finishes her book so she can lend it to me. Her eyes are so blue I find it difficult to look away. Grey in the dark I discover later. But right now, in this café, our voices are the only ones I hear.
Our knees accidently meet under the table. I wonder if she’ll kiss me later. I wonder exactly what it’s like to see the sun rise with her and how she feels when she is in unbearable pain. I wonder if I’ll have the chance to find out. Maybe, I think. But right now, this, her, here is enough. Right now, it’s more than enough.