When you are twelve and you are running away from rape, and you are dazzling drunk from drinking out of a red SOLO cup, the world spins and the floor comes up to greet you, gritting it’s sandpaper teeth against your ruddied cheek. You remember the way the fence feels that you lean against, when you’re thoughts aren’t connecting, when you can’t make tangible, this thing that just happened to you, because your mind is too young to agree with it.
All of the boys think you’re easy, they know that you have no mother, your brothers run wild in the streets, your father is always working, so there’s no one to monitor you, discipline you. All the boys have to do is show you attention because they’ve heard it’s an easy in.
You don’t know this because you’re twelve, because your mind doesn’t work that way, because you’ve just learned the benefits of having friends, of feeling a sense of belonging.
He invites you to his house while no one is home- come to my lair type stuff, and you accept, little trouble maker that you are. It’s the summer between six and seventh grade, you are free and deliciously alone and you walk as fast as your chucks will carry you. He lives only blocks from where you do, half way down the street on the left side.
The house is unremarkable, quite like your own. This is a blue collar city, everyone works hard for what little they have, kids are rarely supervised.
The house is quiet and dark. Muted monochrome colors surround you, the shades are drawn, making everything a violet bathed twilight.
Except for the red cup, the one that squeaks in your hand when you squeeze it, which you have to do as your drink because alcohol tastes so greasy and thick.
“Let’s go to the basement” he says, no hint of malice in his voice and you do because you don’t want to make waves, because you want everyone to see you as fun and agreeable.
With each stair you take, you are less and less able to keep your balance
“woah girl” he says and you become an untamed horse, one you can’t strap a saddle on.
Dirty clothes are everywhere. It smells cool and wet, like deep earth. It is quiet like the rest of the house. Little light filters through cheese cloth curtains, stained and hanging dead against cinderblock sills.
There is a mattress, hardly discernible from the sea of laundry, bare and waiting on the basement floor.
Somehow you end up on it, sitting with your knobby knees pulled close to your chest. Somehow he ends up next to you, but still you never suspect danger.
Squeak Squeak goes the cup, your head is really swimming now.
He is kissing you, this young boy, he is so pretty with long lashes and chestnut hair. But you have a boyfriend and he lives two blocks from here. He’s the rugged type, does construction with his dad on weekends. Has rough hands, is from the east.
Things start to dissolve, its real alice in wonderland shit. You’re falling and falling and the room is dissolving, everything is becoming blurry, it’s as if you’ve wrapped yourself up in a fur coat.
You fall asleep and wake. You cannot recall how much time has passed. He is there on top of you, kissing you hard, groping your breasts, kneading them with spindly fingers. You fall asleep and wake. It’s like breathing through glue. He is between your legs, you can feel him moving. His mouth is against your neck, but you cant feel it. You feel Nothing. You fall asleep and you wake.
“We had sex” he says.
You know this is wrong. Somehow your clothes are back on. You get up and falter, fall back to your butt and try again. You picture in your head a giraffes first attempt to walk. You think of your best friend, if she is on the computer right now. You think of the dog you had when you were four. You think of paper weights. You get up without saying anything and leave.
By the time you reach the front door you are running. Your underwear is wet and you feel like you’re disappearing, but you keep going. You run until you hit this fence. It’s made of rough cut wood and has black eyed susans growing all along its base. You hang onto it and you know. You know what has happened but you don’t say the words to yourself. You bat the idea around, a kitten with a ball of yarn, but you never name it. You run on.
You do not tell your father. He works so hard, and is so tired. You protect him from harm. You know he will go with a shotgun, he will not hesitate to kill. You do not tell your brothers, could not face the embarrassment, the possibility of getting into trouble worries you.
The few friends you do tell, tell their friends, and soon word spreads like wild fire. Kids divide up into two groups: the ones that see you as a liar looking for attention and the ones that see him as a predator, as a wolf among sheep.
It never occurred to you that so many people would know, that so many people would doubt you, leave you to feel more alone than you ever thought you could.
A month or so passes. It’s the start of something new. Your dad is gone, your brothers gone. It’s you and the house. You turn on the lights in the kitchen, you watch tv alone in the den. The cramping starts and continues, it’s as if someone has turned the dial from one to ten. You crawl from the couch to the kitchen floor. The gnawing is unbearable and you twist your legs together tight looking for some relief from the pain. You press your forehead against the yellow and brown linoleum and wait and stare until your eyes cross and the floor becomes the surface of the moon. Thousands of dark craters filled with dust.
It’s wet between your legs again, but this time it’s a cool wetness. Your thighs slip and slide against each other and turn your black stretch pants sheer. Right there on that floor you pull your pants down and the world falls out. A bloody jelly pools out and under your naked butt. On auto pilot you start to clean. You wipe and wipe and wipe away between sobs.
You have no idea to this day what happened because you never went to the doctor, never told anyone.
This is the weight you bare. This is the memory that comes back anytime there’s a little twitch in your belly, a small difference in your period.
Twelve turns to twenty eight and most days you forget that summer, forget the stares, the rumors, the dirty looks. You forget about seeing this boy every summer after that at the city fair. Everyone else goes to his families pierogi stand except for you. No one sticks by your side.
Twelve turns to twenty eight and you are fortunate you cannot remember more. Feel lucky when you hear other women’s stories about rape. Silently empathize when you meet other survivors. You begin to understand what rape costs you.
How it doesn’t surface right away, but eventually comes back to haunt you.
You have coffee with a girlfriend. She is eight months pregnant, the first you know to have come full circle. So much time has passed. You have grown, you have travelled and come back home. You have married and settled in. You chew your cheek and your thoughts trail. You’ve never been good with vulnerability. It makes you squirm.
She mentions his name. It is careless and calm. You panic. You think to yourself, does she not know? Did she forget? You smile a thin smile and say nothing. You are right back there, to that lonely, sinking feeling. The coffee shop feels like an ocean, and you don’t know how to swim. It feels so funny after all this time to surrender. You thought you might have become strong and solid. But just one mention and you are the little girl with sparkly bracelets and bellbottoms and secrets.
It’s one of those things you tend to. Some days, some years you forget. Other times it finds you, brings itself back to you by way of a name, or a picture. Who you are, what you have become will always partly be defined by that summer between sixth and seventh grade. Life with rape just becomes a balance of not catering to, but not forgetting the day where everything you were before, somehow shifted.