“Please, please, please can I go?”
I pleaded with my mother on the phone. I was 14 years old, school was almost out, and it was a half-day. I wanted to go to my friend’s house — the “popular” girl, with the shiny black hair and perfect nose — and my mother didn’t like the idea.
My friend had a brother (the cool one, who all the girls loved) and he would be there that day. So would another boy from my class (a troublemaker, who was always in trouble) and a third boy, my friend’s boyfriend. I didn’t share any of those details with my mother.
Why did my friend — the one with the shiny black hair and perfect nose — get to do all of the cool things, like have a boyfriend, stay out late, and smoke cigarettes in her room? Why did my mother always have to be so strict? Why was I never allowed to do anything? I was desperate to go.
“Fine,” said my mother, followed by a long and exasperated sigh. She was at work, she was busy, and I had finally worn her down. I hung up the pay phone and headed to my friend’s house.
The boys were there, and they had a few bottles of booze they wanted us all to drink. I had never drunk alcohol before. Surely that little amount from the bottle taken straight wouldn’t be enough to hurt me, right?
That little amount I drank hit me quickly, before all 98 pounds of me could process what was happening. My friend — the one with the shiny black hair and perfect nose — had went to another room by now to go have sex with her boyfriend. I hadn’t had sex yet, so this fact alone blew my mind, and also, I couldn’t believe that she was so brazen to just go do it in her house. I couldn’t even talk on the phone past 10 p.m. at my house. I’d never dream of having a boy over. I mean, what if her parents came home?
My friend’s parents were in the midst of a messy divorce. It was just a year or so prior when her dad was still living in the family room, refusing to move out of the house. This scenario created not only a toxic and tense environment in the home, but also a monster in my friend. She had a manipulative streak in her already, and two parents vying for her affection to win her hand against the other only exacerbated this trait. My friend was drunk with power. I remember the day she sat there on her dad’s lap, with her shiny black hair and perfect nose, and the two of them together gave her mother the most vicious looks and loaded smiles I’d ever seen. Her mother’s cheeks burned red as she, and the family au pair looked on in disbelief, knowing that the odds had swayed in Daddy’s favor.
But none of that mattered when we were that age when you think you have it all under control and all you want to do is be cool. What’s not cool is when you start blacking out.
And here I was, alone with two boys, teetering in and out of consciousness. I have a vague image in my mind of being upstairs in her brother’s room — her brother, the cool one, who all the girls loved — sitting on his rug trying to make the room stop spinning. The other boy — the troublemaker, who was always in trouble — had gotten himself completely undressed except for a blanket wrapped around his waist. I remember him coming at me and laughing, opening the blanket and pushing himself toward my face.
My next memory was in the closet of that room, with my friend’s brother — the cool one, who all the girls loved — and hearing him ask me, “Do you suck dick?” while pushing the back of my head down with his hands. It was an interesting question. I hadn’t, actually; although I did recall my older sister’s friend, who said she had, once telling me about it. “It’s just like French kissing,” she had said. “But, you know, down there.”
I came to for a moment in an unfamiliar shower. The other boy — the troublemaker, who was always in trouble— popped his head in as I opened my eyes. He laughed, then left. I was slumped down on the floor, beads of water hitting my naked body. I remember being vaguely aware for the first time of the massive amount of pubic hair I had, hair that no one had seen until this point.
The next time I came to I was in a stranger’s bed in a room, alone. I learned later that my friend’s brother — the cool one, who all the girls loved — had dropped me off at the nearby home of a girlfriend of his because his mother was coming home soon. The girl was a known drug user as were most of her friends. This wasn’t right. I was a good kid. I had rules and bedtimes and people who cared about me. I heard the voices of the girl and her friends downstairs, and as I made my way down the staircase, head aching like never before, I remember reaching up and touching my hair.
Oh no, my hair.
I did not have shiny black hair. I’ve always had thick, unruly hair, and I’d spend hours straightening it after a shower. I envied the girls who could let their hair dry naturally without frizz. For me, even the slightest hint of humidity in a nearby state would have me go from zero to chia pet in less than 30 seconds, and I never would have imagined going out without drying it. When you are 14, even in a situation like this. You care desperately about things like what your hair looks like and not getting made fun of. I didn’t know which was worse: the embarrassment I felt about hair while in the shower earlier, or how I felt now, while about to do my worst walk of shame past several of the cool kids looking like Bob Ross without his paint brush.
I don’t think I spoke to anyone as I shuffled past them and out the front door, crossing my fingers that they’d never realize it was me. But of course, they knew it was me.
While piecing together the events of that day in the aftermath, I don’t believe anything physical actually happened. I believe that when my friend’s brother — the cool one, who all the girls loved — tried to get me to perform oral sex, I gagged and then started throwing up, which sparked the idea to throw me in the shower. I don’t believe there was any intercourse because I hadn’t had intercourse yet, and when I finally did just a couple of years later (with consent), my body knew about it for days afterward. But the scariest thing for me is how quickly and unintentionally I had found myself in a situation where I had to wonder what happened to my body.
Somehow, by the grace of the middle school gods, this episode flew under the radar for me on a social level. Maybe it was because school was about to let out for summer, maybe it was because they felt bad for me after seeing my horrible hair, but I escaped the incident without much rumor or ridicule. I was so thankful I was OK physically — although I was embarrassed on so many levels and wanted nothing more than to wish it away — so I put it behind me. It never occurred to me that this could have been a form of rape because as far as I knew nothing really happened, and all of us were under the age of 18 so they didn’t know any better, right? I didn’t look back much, curiously, until later as an adult. When I heard about Brock Turner, I immediately felt sick.
And lately, I wonder and imagine all sorts of things.
Imagine I didn’t get sick at that moment, and instead I simply passed out? Imagine if my friend’s mom hadn’t been coming home soon, and they didn’t quickly need to put me in the shower and get me out of there? Imagine if I had drunk just a little bit more and went beyond just blacking out? Imagine if there were others there that day who were just as mischievous? None of the actions taken by my so-called friends were done to take care of me — they were taken simply so no one got caught.
These are the things, when I think of my little girl, that keep me up at night. That the one day when I’m caught off-guard, or busy at work and in the middle of something, or just plain tired of arguing, that something like this will happen. I don’t blame my mother because now as a mother myself I can see how quickly one can tire from the incessant pushing of a child, and who really could have known I’d find myself in such a situation?
It scares me because when I think back to that day, I knew it was a bad idea. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that these people were bad news, but I thought I had myself and the situation under control. You think things like that when you are young and want so desperately to have control.
I will work to teach my daughter to trust her gut, to listen to that voice in her head that says, maybe this isn’t a good idea. That she doesn’t need the approval of anyone else, and what to look for in a true friend — that someone who will have her believe she needs to put herself in situations that could hurt her just to prove she is cool is not really a friend at all. I will work to instill in her the ways of being a good friend to others, and the importance of looking out for each other.
And my son – oh, my sweet son – he will learn what I know he already knows in his heart: that you do not ever, under any circumstance, take advantage of another person. That if you are in a situation where you see it happening, you do something immediately to stop it. And he will learn, even from a very young age, to respect the bodies of others as well as his own, and that he will always be accountable for his actions.
I lost touch with my friend over the years — the one with the shiny black hair, and perfect nose. I don’t know what became of her brother — the cool one, that all the girls loved — but the last I had heard, all the girls didn’t love him so much anymore. I don’t know if he remembers that day, but if he does, I hope his one takeaway is that the sight of his penis made me throw up.
I heard that the other boy — the troublemaker, who was always in trouble — was recently spotted loitering around the front steps of our childhood elementary school, during school hours, apparently intoxicated, incoherent, and refusing to leave. I have visions of myself tackling him and pushing him down those steps, but that’s neither here nor there. What sits with me today is that an event I thought I had shaken long ago still resurfaces for me, can still make my skin crawl and my stomach turn, can still keep me up at night. What it taught me is that I was very lucky that day that it didn’t go any further, and that sometimes, almost does count.