This week I came across a handful of blog posts that turned my blood cold. They were uncomfortable to read and left me squirming in my chair, upset, confused, embarrassed. No longer sure what to think of experiences I made peace with years ago.
The rape article was the hardest to get through, but it was a line in Liz's post in her account of a sexual assault that brought me to the computer. A simple sentence, stripped of layers, absent of clever innuendo or metaphors, but powerful nonetheless.
I remember that at 17, the idea of waking parents seemed somehow worse than anything.
Let me be clear. I have never been raped. But as a young woman, GOD did that general sentiment ring true for me.
When I was 17, I landed a job at a laid-back mom-and-pop video store in my neighborhood, a job I chased after for an entire year because I loved the idea of getting paid to watch movies, do my homework, and hang out with friends twelve hours a week. The owner put me off until I was a senior in high school because the store had a...shall we say...robust adult section, and I was underage. But I was an ambitious 17-year-old, and I had excellent references, so it was only a matter of time before I was collecting late fees from local enthusiasts for titles like Hein*feld and Wednesday is Hump Day.
On one of my last nights there before leaving for college, I was closing with "Frank," a middle-aged guy with two kids and a day job as a paralegal. He was normally a pleasure to be around, very helpful and kind - he always gave me a ride when we closed, saving me a ten-minute walk home. On that night, we were talking and laughing as usual, but on this night Frank had a few beers on our shift. I don't know that this would have been discouraged by the owner, exactly, since he was known to have a can of something in plain sight of customers while balancing the books, but it was a first for Frank, and you could tell he was buzzing. As the night went on, he became looser with his tongue, and he kept saying how nice and pretty I was; next thing I knew, he was approaching me from the back and wrapping his arms around me in a close hug.
I was taken off guard; what the hell did I know about inappropriate? It's not like he was grabbing at the waistband of my pants or even trying to kiss me. And it was over as quickly as it began, so I don't remember how I acted in the moment aside from making some lame joke and sliding out of his arms. He was such a nice guy, after all, and not himself from the beer, and he still had to drive me home. Because of course I let him drive me home.
I reflect on this now, and I'm angry. I'm angry that a grown man thought it was okay to throw a few back, on the clock, in the presence of a teenager who thought she could work four hours without having someone's hands on her hips. But I'm also so sad for the girl who felt that she had to act like it didn't happen, who felt obligated to get in the car with him, EVEN THOUGH HE'D BEEN DRINKING, because she didn't want to be rude, and who made light of the whole thing when he called to apologize the next day. (See? Such a nice guy.)
Sometimes, Breain, it's okay to be impolite.
When I was 20, I had sex when I didn't want to. He was older, and I was intoxicated with the attention. In previous conversations, I had told him I wanted to wait, but in the moment, I never said no. When it was over, I didn't know how to react except roll over and cry. All he could do was apologize for misinterpreting my body language. I could see that he meant it. I knew he felt terrible.
If I would have pushed him off me, said WAIT, STOP, I'M NOT READY YET, I know he would've done it. But we'd been fooling around night after night for almost two weeks, and I sure did like him a lot, and I didn't know how to switch gears. How do you talk through such an intense situation when you're physically trying to recover from it? Literally catching your breath, pulling an arm through a shirt sleeve, waiting for your half-asleep eyes to adjust to the light? And that's the problem, I guess. I was more concerned with the awkwardness of the after, with the proverbial waking of the parents, than the hurt I would feel from the during.
He and I went on to date for almost a year, and nothing about our relationship was coersive or forced or any of the adjectives typically used to describe a violent situation. He is even someone I call a friend today. Looking at that one night, though, from the perspective of a grown woman with a daughter of her own, I wish I hadn't cared about the after. I wish I'd been strong enough to say no.
The posts I linked to at the start of this entry describe ecounters twenty times more heartbreaking and terrifying than mine. But that's what drew me to share. It's so easy to write off those experiences we believe to be less than someone else's. But not every incident is that black and white, and there is equal value in talking about the gray. I don't want the women in my life thinking they ever have to tolerate the less than. And I hope with all my heart Kara never gives a thought to waking me up.