He had a reputation, but it would be different with me. Isn’t that how it usually works? Every bad boy just needs to find the right girl to turn things around. And a girl I was — 14 years old, to be exact. A child.
Statutory rape, date rape, sexual assault — call it what you will. I called it my fault and sent the memory to the darkest corner of my mind for years in the name of self-preservation. Twenty years later we find ourselves at the height of rape culture, and I finally bring to terms the events of that night.
He was a predator. In hindsight, the calculation he employed to lull me into a sense of security is evident. Encouraged me to sneak out. Coaxed me to drink alcohol and mocked me when I coughed as my inaugural sip of Milwaukee’s Best burned my throat. Chose a secluded location for a seemingly harmless “campfire.” I was inexperienced and naive, the very definition of late bloomer. While I envisioned cuddling by the campfire, maybe a kiss, and perhaps the decision to make our “courtship” official, he had other intentions.
Clad in a dingy training bra that elicited a snicker from him and subsequently, my searing embarrassment, I was clumsy and afraid. You see, my dear friends? We aren’t to blame for dressing provocatively — the only message my clothing relayed was that it was cold and muddy. I can’t imagine anything less alluring than my damp jeans, graying bra, and Columbia jacket, and yet there I was. I wasn’t even aware women should cloak themselves in lacy undergarments for the enjoyment of men at the tender age of 14, and stand firmly that 14-year-old children should not go forth into the world armed with this knowledge.
He moved quickly, as if checking items off a to-do list, while I lay frozen beneath him. I’d not so much as kissed a boy and here he was, stripping me methodically while I squirmed under his weight. As I tried to reconcile what I imagined intimacy to be with what was happening between us, I felt the situation slip out of my control. I foolishly thought I couldn’t change my mind, given how quickly he had escalated the situation. But my goodness, that isn’t how consent works. Regardless of where or how or with whom you came to your current situation, you always have the freedom to change your mind.
His hands were everywhere, while mine lay clenched at my side. I pulled my shirt down in effort to cover myself, but he pushed it up around my neck, rendering me exposed. My hesitation was met with more groping, my apprehension with him yanking my pants to my ankles. His response to my refusal? “You have to do this sometime, so just get it over with now.” I was chastised, humiliated. The pain took my breath away, but in a tender act of mercy, it was over in seconds. I dressed and rolled away, ashamed, and as women do, assumed it was my fault. Why do we do that? We must stop.
Another lesson, dear ones: We owe it to our daughters to teach our sweet boys that when she stops having fun, the game is over no matter what base you’re about to round. If you need to use predatory language to persuade her to continue, you’ve lost your consent. Teach this lesson early, and teach it well.
He never spoke to me again, and I never told a soul. I loved my parents, but was frightened to talk to them about anything that scratched the superficial layer. The following year, he issued me a public, though cryptic, apology in his senior will. By now, I had suppressed the night’s events so deeply that even I pondered the grounds for his apology. I tossed my bleach-blond (thank you, Sun-In) hair over my shoulder and brushed off the questions from friends.
The years passed. I married the wrong man for the wrong reasons, but owned up to my mistakes. Shortly after, I met the right man and was blessed with two beautiful children. I thought he was history, our sordid affair old news.
But then social media suggested we might consider pursuing an online “friendship” based upon mutual friends. Facebook tells me he has a wife and a daughter. I wonder if they know what happened in the woods on that fall evening? I looked at his bloated face and realized I’d been keeping his secret for almost 20 years. I told my husband. I confided in a friend over a bottle of wine. Why after all these years was I suddenly compelled to divulge the details to my tribe?
It was, as it always is when you’re a mother, in the interest of those beautiful, innocent babies. The responsibility of protecting my precious babies in our terrifying world is the greatest I’ve ever known. The onus is on me to protect and guide them safely to adulthood and beyond, and you’d better believe I take it seriously.
Every life is peppered with experiences that shape who we are, and mine is no exception. While I’d give anything to rewrite this piece of my history, I have chosen to acknowledge the sliver of a silver lining. Because of him, I vow to raise my children to understand consent and boundaries in order to equip them with the knowledge that may prevent them from being victimized.
In my house, boys will not be boys. Aggression and rough-housing that causes discomfort to females will not be dismissed as typical boy behavior. His gender does not grant him a free pass to cause harm to others. Nope.
I don’t force my children to hug or kiss anyone. That goes for you too, grandparents. They need to learn their bodies are their own. Teaching them about consent at an early age may keep them safe in the future.
I assure my daughter she has every right to defend herself against unwanted comments or touches. I promise her I will NEVER be angry with measures she deems necessary to stop someone from touching her in an unwanted way.
I praise them for sharing their stories with me. I listen carefully and let them know them I’m honored when they chose to share their concerns with me. I vow we will fix it together.
I’ve taught my son from a young age that if she stops having fun, the game is over. It is my responsibility to drive this point home: He never gets to continue with an activity when she says she has had enough. Period.
I allow my daughter to dress in a manner in which she feels beautiful and confident as long as it is situationally appropriate. Quite frankly, the responsibility lies with our sons to learn not to interpret a pair of leggings or a plunging neckline as a green light.
When they fight — and they do fight, I ensure I’ve heard the entire story before blame is assigned. I need them to know I will always listen, will always value their version of the events.
Above all, I spend my days showing them how fiercely they are loved and how very valuable they are. That no matter what life brings them, my love will be unwavering. Nothing they can do and nothing done to them can ever change my devotion.