In the winter of 1997, I met a boy. I was 14, and he was one year, one month and one week older than me. We met at an afternoon showing of Scream 2, and were saying, “I love you” within a week, just like any normal teenagers would do. I was in 8th grade, and he was a freshman at a nearby private high school. High school! He played football! He wrestled! He would be driving soon! He grabbed my arm a little too hard sometimes, but it’s only because of how much he loved me! He was perfect.
Our relationship followed the path of the centuries of hormone-crazed teenagers before us; a lot of kissing, a lot of talk about how we’re going to grow up and get married, a lot of third base, a lot of “no, you hang up first,” and inevitably falling asleep on the phone together, much to the displeasure of our parents. He sang “What I Got” by Sublime to me, and bought me Celine Dion’s “Let’s Talk About Love” with the first paycheck he ever received. I tried to break up with him around Valentine’s Day because he felt stronger about me than I did him (something I still do to this day), but that only lasted for a week or so. I loved him. I really, really loved him. Even more so when he said that he understood that I wanted to wait until I was older to have sex for the first time. I was in 8th grade in the 90’s after all, and back then, kids weren’t in such a hurry. I told him that we’d talk about it again once I started high school, like that would magically make me more mature, and ready for such a step. He said that he would wait for as long as it took for me to be ready, and talked about how special he would make it. He said that he would steal some of his mom’s candles from the living room, and that we could listen to Boys II Men. He said that I was worth the wait, because we had the rest of our lives together. Then he said that I “owed him” oral sex.
One afternoon in the spring of 1998, we were left alone at his house. His mom had to leave to go pick up his sister, but would be right back. We typically weren’t left alone, but it was daytime, and I think his mom thought that teenagers wouldn’t have sex in the afternoon. And, until that afternoon, I guess I didn’t think that they would…we would, either. Almost immediately after their van pulled out of the driveway, we started fooling around. It seemed well within the normal range of things we did, but was a little more intense, somehow. He didn’t support as much of his own body weight when he was on top of me. He was quick to pull down my pants; he was quicker to unbutton his. It took me a minute to realize what he thought was going to happen, but once I did, I told him that I didn’t want to. I reminded him that we were going to wait. I told him no. He said that it would be okay, that it wasn’t that big of a deal. “Let’s just get it over with.” I told him again that I didn’t want to, and offered up other things that I could do, but he could no longer hear me. The boy I loved was gone. There was now a stranger on top of me, who looked a lot like my boyfriend, but surely couldn’t be. My boyfriend wouldn’t do this. The stranger held my shoulders down, and his right knee pressed into my left thigh. I kicked with my right leg, but that was quickly controlled. Football and wrestling. He forced himself inside of me, and my thoughts raced between “I can’t believe this is happening” to “I’m not a virgin anymore. This is how I’m losing my virginity.” I was crying, but no longer screaming. I was just staring at the ceiling, barely even fighting. “It’s already happening,” I thought, “no point in continuing to fight.” Luckily, he didn’t last very long, as you’d expect from a 15-year-old boy, having sex for the first time. He peeled himself off of me, and said, “that wasn’t so bad, was it” while he was pulling his pants back up.
His mom came home shortly after, and could probably tell something was wrong when I asked to be taken home, but didn’t question me. I remember that she shot a look at her son, but didn’t say anything. The short ride home was silent, except for the sound of my controlled breathing, though I felt like she could hear my heart beating. She dropped me off to my empty house, where I immediately ran to my room and cried harder than I ever had before. What had just happened to me? What do I do now? Did he…rape me, or is this how it’s supposed to be? Rape. Alone in my bedroom, I thought of that word for the first time, and it stopped me in my tracks. It pierced my brain, and made me think of all of the terrible Lifetime movies I had seen, and the health class discussions that were had. Rape. Initially, I couldn’t comprehend that that’s what happened, because rape isn’t something that happens to 14-year-old girls from middle class neighborhoods. It isn’t something that happens in real life. It was too much. I got in the shower to clear my head.
I didn’t tell anyone about what happened for a few days, but I ended up writing a note to my best friend. It started off normally, but at the bottom of the page, in all caps, I wrote “HE RAPED ME,” and asked her not to tell anyone. I still hadn’t figured out how I wanted to handle this, but knew I had to tell someone. I hadn’t slept for more than a few fitful hours at a time since it happened, and needed to get it off of my chest. What happened next becomes sort of blurry for me. You see, being raped was pretty bad, but it wasn’t the worst thing to come of this.
Understandably, my best friend told our school counselor about what I had told her. I was mad at the time, but now know that I didn’t give her any other choice. I was called down to his office one day, and my parents, my aunt and my uncle were all there. Oh no. There was some discussion about what had happened, and lots of crying. My mom kept asking me if it really happened, or if this was some sort of attention-seeking stunt. I had never been the type of person to demand attention, so I was confused as to why no one seemed to fully believe me. I went home early that day, and continued to be questioned for the next several days.
I hadn’t yet fully come to terms with what actually happened to me, and craved normalcy. I was 14 years old; I didn’t know how to deal with both the stress of being raped, and that of all but being called a liar. So…I said that I made it up. That I lied. Can we please all just go back to normal now? I learned my lesson. Can we please just stop talking about this? Can you leave me alone? I don’t know what I thought would happen, really. Did I think that everyone would just forget about it? That they’d chalk this up to being young, and maybe make me do some extra chores? I didn’t care anymore; I just wanted to move on. Something bad happened to me, and I wanted to stop reliving it every second of every day. Well, no one just forgot about it, and it became an even bigger issue. “You could have ruined this poor boy’s life” was a favorite phrase around my house.
What happened to me was all over school at this point. I had guys on the football team offering to fight for me, and teachers giving me squeezes on the shoulder, and letting me know that I could talk to them, if I needed to. So when my mom told me to invite my friends over, so I could tell them that I made everything up, I knew that this already life-changing event was going to become even more so.
I don’t remember whom I invited over, other than a few people. I don’t remember what I said, or what they said, or the looks on their faces. I don’t remember any of it, except the way that I felt. Perhaps if I were a gifted writer, I could eloquently explain how I wanted nothing more than for God Himself to take me, right there in that moment. I wanted to cease to exist, as the words were coming out of my mouth. I wanted to run to the kitchen, slit my wrists open, and bleed in front of all of them. I wanted to die. And truth be told, 17 years later, that feeling still hasn’t completely left my body. I hold onto the feeling like a scar from the train wreck that my life had become.
The news that I “lied” got around school quickly, and I was alone. No one would look at me. The only things that people ever said to my face were along the lines of “why would you do that,” and name-calling, and I’m sure that whatever was said behind my back was much worse. I thought about telling everyone the truth. That it had really happened. That I just wanted everything to go back to normal, and that’s why I said that I made it up. That I was shamed so deeply that I didn’t know what else to do, other than agree with the doubters. That I was still struggling with what had actually happened, and that I didn’t want to be alone. That I wanted to kill myself, and was afraid that no one would care. But there wasn’t anyone to tell, because everyone was gone.
I hadn’t spoken to my boyfriend in the months that followed what he did to me, but the need for human contact was so severe that I reached out to him. I told him that I forgave him, and that I know that he didn’t mean to do it. He cried, and said that he was sorry, just as I knew he would. I didn’t want him, but I wanted to be alone even less.
There were several occasions over the next seven years that we dated that I almost told him about what happened, but he never found out. To this day, to the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t know how intensely I suffered due to him. He doesn’t know that I told anyone, or that I recanted my story, or about being shunned at school. He doesn’t know about the bottle of pills that I swallowed, about the scars I have from starting to cut myself, or about the crippling panic disorder that I developed, and still suffer from. He doesn’t know that I screamed at the sky, begging God to take me, that I still have difficulties being intimate, that I run whenever someone gets too close, or that I don’t think that I’ll ever find anyone to love me, because I don’t think that I deserve it. He doesn’t know that, when he hit me, I felt like I deserved it, that I became friends with people who were terrible for me, because at least they didn’t know about what happened, or that I turned to drugs as a way to fit in. He doesn’t know any of that. He doesn’t know that I’m 31 years old, but am an emotionally stunted teenager inside. Nor does my family.
My relationship with my mom never recovered, and she often wonders why we aren’t closer. I didn’t speak to my uncle for years. I only recently told someone the truth about what happened, and it took alcohol and Xanax to get it out of me. I’m friends with one person from those days, and while she is one of my closest friends now, and is the only person who knows the truth, I can’t help but try extra hard to make sure that she still likes me, because I’m always afraid that people will leave me (which is often why I leave first). I’ve had two serious relationships since I finally got the courage to leave after too many years of being with someone who made me hate myself. The last one was the first and last time I ever felt worthwhile, and like someone could actually love me. When he left, so did that feeling.
So. Where does that leave me? As I write this, I live in a charming century home, in a city I love, am three days away from starting a great new job, and am planning on going to therapy as soon as my health insurance begins. Better late than never, right? I am aware of the statue of limitations on rape in my state, but am not interested in pressing charges. Honestly, having to relive what happened isn’t worth him being punished. He’s married now, has a couple kids, and, last I saw, was working at a gas station. I’ve been relatively happy and successful since I got myself together around age 25, and have great friends now. My life is fine, and I am hopeful for the future…but then I hear a Celine Dion song on Spotify, and am momentarily sent back to being the girl who lied about lying about being raped.