[please note: there are mentions of rape, sexual encounters with a child, some graphic descriptions of sex, etc etc.]
There are things that remind me of that night. But in reality, it wasn’t just a night. It was two weeks. But there are things that I taste and smell that take me back to my fourteen year old body.
I have changed since then. My C cups are now DDs, at least I think. I cannot muster the courage to go into a Victoria’s Secret and have them measure me, sneer at my unshaven armpits, and bleach stained leggings that I bought on discount at Marshall’s. My hair is longer, and has been through the mill: pink purple blue green. My skin is cluttered with impurities thanks to my nicotine and caffeine addiction, supplemented by the musty and dusty New York air that permeates my pores. The clothes I wear are suited to fit snugly against my wide hips and thighs, parts of me that did not exist seven years ago, parts of me that I have loved and hated into fulfillment. I don’t have any photographs from when I was fourteen, because I couldn’t bare the sight of myself. I cannot compare myself, physically; I can only use my memory which has been blighted and overshadowed.
Back to the smells and tastes, though.
Sometimes, when I buy a certain type of weed and smoke it, I am transported to a shitty apartment balcony in southern California. It burns the back of my throat and tastes bitter; it tastes like it’s not really there, but I can feel it, so it must be. Every once and a while, I’ll smoke a Clove cigarette. The sweetness of the filter, and the thick heavy clouds that pour from my lips take me back to a beat up black faux leather couch, the piss-yellow stuffing and cushions pouring out, trying to escape their tight sweaty coverings.
Drug store shampoo reminds me of a pillow. I don’t know the scent or the brand, and I don’t buy it on purpose, because its artificial scent makes me nauseous and I have to dump the entire contents into the toilet. I couldn’t eat instant ramen for a long time, because all I could see was a dingy kitchen that was only lit by the fading California sun, the hard noddles sitting in a tupperware, softening in the tap water that he hoped was hot enough to make his dinner bearable.
It’s wild to me that all these memories and scents and tastes and feelings can go back to one singular person, a person I only knew for two weeks at that.
I met him in the gym of the apartment complex I lived in with my family. I had rejected all my friends, mainly because most of them belonged to my parents church, and the church itself was about an hour from our apartment and I was fourteen, and my friends were maybe sixteen, and no one had a car, and no one cared enough to drive to Moreno Valley to see me or pick me up. We moved there after we lost our house, got rid of our dogs, said goodbye to Redlands.
I was desperate for a friend. The fact that he was a boy, a relatively cute boy, didn’t faze me. Maybe it enthralled me. All the boys I knew only cared about shitty music and guitars and Jesus and proving everyone wrong.
My mother was there when we met. She disappeared into the locker room while we talked. He was with someone else, someone much older. At the time, I assumed he was thirty-five; looking back now, he was probably in his late twenties. He was introduced as his cousin.
I never understood why he wanted to talk to me. Why did he want to be my friend? Why did I stick out? I was wearing gym shorts, an old tee shirt, and a sweaty face.
He was nineteen. I was fourteen.
He asked my mother if I could hang out with him, that he’d have me home soon. I’m unsure if my mother realised the age difference. Maybe she did. Maybe she assumed I was responsible enough to handle a nineteen year old male friend. I was always assumed to be more mature. It was something I took pride in, but it was also something I grew to disdain.
The memories of that night are so foggy. Nothing happened. Nothing specifically. I don’t even remember if he kissed me. The only real thing, the only tangible thing, from the first night that we hung out that I remember, was sitting by one of those gazebos that I’m pretty sure you can only find in southern California apartment complexes. They’re surrounded by grass so painfully green it looks fake. The walls of the apartments, all of them, were made from this fake adobe looking plaster shit that peeled off if you played with it long enough. All the apartments in California were like this.
We just sat. I think I ran through the sprinklers at some point in an attempt to look like some sweet, free spirited girl that I hoped I was, but in reality didn’t come close to. He walked me home. We agreed to hang out more tomorrow.
I believe this was during the summer, but even if it wasn’t, I was homeschooled at the time. I couldn’t handle public school due to an anxiety disorder that didn’t fully formulate itself until sophomore year of high school. Back then, it merely lingered in the back of my mind. I was submerged in this angsty depression that I knew went deeper then teenage mood swings. I was being suffocated by loneliness. I had developed an eating disorder. I was at the gym every single night, and ate dinners of celery and carrots. If I ate something more, I tried to make myself throw up. I never fully accomplished that, however.
I’m unsure how many days we hung out together before things started to happen.
The apartment he shared with his cousin was shitty. It was smaller then mine, as it was only a one bedroom. But it barely had anything in it. My parents had attempted to make ours feel homey. We had nice comfortable couches, and some furniture. Probably some department store art on the walls. His apartment had a long fake leather couch that looked like it had been passed through three or four families before landing here. There was no TV. Maybe there was some sort of table. The balcony had mismatched chairs and ashtrays all over. I don’t recall ever venturing farther then the living room area. The only rooms I occupied were the living room, the balcony, and once, the bedroom, for a brief period of time.
It smelled like cigarette smoke, and something fruity that I couldn’t place at the time. Their electricity had been shut off because they didn’t pay the bill for three months. I heard them throw around the word eviction a few times.
One of the first nights, I sat around a hookah with him and his cousin. The clouds of smoke were beautiful and fragrant. I loved it immediately. I didn’t fully understand the concept of smoking tobacco, or anything. I only held it in my mouth before releasing it. No inhalation. I didn’t find out I was doing this until I was eighteen when this guy I was sleeping with for a few weeks told me I smoked cigarettes wrong.
I don’t remember the conversation. I don’t think I was involved. They mainly talked between themselves, but looked at me as they spoke as if to include me. I remember excusing myself at some point, saying I needed to get home.
The first time I smoked weed was in this apartment. The three of us sat on the balcony. They started me off with a bong. I am now an experienced smoker, and understand that this is not the way to go. When it’s your first time smoking weed, you shouldn’t burden yourself with the concept of a bong. They basically did everything for me, except smoke. It would have been better to start with a joint, even a simple piece. Whatever. I smoked it.
Of course, I didn’t actually get high. Most smokers know that the first time they smoked weed, they didn’t get high. I felt something, maybe. I felt hazy. I watched the leaves, crispy from the sun. “Everything is moving… so slow…”
They took me to the mall across the street from the apartments. “We are going to make sure you don’t turn into a lazy stoner. You need to make sure you get out and do things.”
I did not want to go out and do things. My legs felt heavy. My head felt full of cotton. I am still like this. I am not the type of stoner to go out and do things when I’m high, to my partner’s dismay.
I remember how white the mall was. We went through the entrance of the JC Penny first. The comforters on the display bed looked cool and fresh and clean. The linoleum floors glinted and winked up at me.
That’s all I can remember from that day.
At this point, we had definitely kissed. Possibly made out. I don’t know anymore.
Sometimes, when I look back at this period, this two week period, I feel like all that happened was we met, we fucked, he left. I forget that there are instances in between. There are tangible things that I have reduced to dust. I am stretching my memory in hopes of revisiting this. Why? It doesn’t feel good. I am sitting at my desk right now, shivering even though it’s humid out, my stomach lurching from nerves and anxiety. The need for a cigarette is making it hard to find the words and the story and the pieces of this puzzle that I have to assemble. Why must it be assembled? Why can it not lay in broken pieces in the shoe box in the closet? I am a nostalgic person, but reliving this time feels as if someone is skinning me alive, with precision and skill, peeling me like an orange, so smoothly that I don’t feel it at first, but then the shock of it all hits me like a stone wall.
The thing that really kills me sometimes is the fact that I legitimately cannot remember the first time we had sex. I cannot remember the first time I had sex. All the days blur together, thanks to the weed, thanks to the confusion. It was as if I had been living in a dark cave for months and months, and all of a sudden someone put a flashlight in my face. I am pleased and happy for the warmth and light, but it is staggering, and I cannot adjust, and all those days in the cave suddenly become one, one long day that I cannot discern, I cannot plot out on a timeline. It all becomes one.
I remember sitting on his couch, that fucking couch that I always hated because my thighs would stick to the pleather, my skin slick with sweat from the summer heat. My ability to get wet was at its prime. I was a jumble of sexual emotions. The slightest thing set me off. I had never explored this before, never knew I could get wet, didn’t realise that was a function my body could produce. This I remember vividly. The feeling of his finger being swallowed by my cunt. Then multiple fingers. The rocking back and forth. I don’t remember if I enjoyed it. I don’t remember moaning or sighing, just that his hand was dripping, and it was because of me.
At the end of the day, I had no idea what an orgasm was. I think I asked him. “It feels like you’re going up and up and up and then you fall down.” That clarified nothing. Looking back now, I know I didn’t come. I didn’t comprehend the idea of the female orgasm until years later.
I remember him pulling away from me, smirking. “That was just with my hand.”
What was he going to use next? I remember furrowing my brow, not understanding that. Not comprehending why he would use his hand, or anything else.
For background purposes, I attended public school in a pretty conservative town. We had health class in middle school, but nothing remotely close to sex ed. I think my first sex ed class was my freshman year of high school, when I was homeschooled. I had to read a few pages of awkward bodily functions and condoms. I rushed through the lesson because I didn’t care. My parents never had the sex talk with me. Sometimes I wonder if that is because I lost my virginity so young, and they felt it wasn’t necessary.
Again. I don’t remember what happened after that. I don’t remember the FIRST time. I do remember him asking me to come back the next day, and I did. I asked where his cousin was. “He went back to the beach today. He said I needed to finish what I started, so he gave us the place for the night.”
What did you start? I found myself thinking.
That must have been the night.
I have collective memories of the multiple times we had sex. Some happened on this little spot on the floor where he slept, where he laid out a pad of blankets and pillows. Some were on his cousins bed. Some on the couch. Sometimes it was pitch black due to the inability to turn on any lights. Some was when the sun was streaming in, pale and pink, late evening.
I have other memories, too. Ones that aren’t about sex or the physical aspect of our relationship. He loaned me a Saul Williams book. I finished reading it in a day, was obsessed. I couldn’t comprehend someone like that existed and wrote like that. A few weeks later, when he was gone, he sent me an email with a poem he wrote about me, in that same format. He talked about me running through the sprinklers. That’s how I remembered that moment by the gazebo.
I remember showing him my music, the songs and albums that I liked.
I remember laying on my bedroom floor, and he traced my hipbones. I only remember this because he said, “Look at those hipbones.” And I was flattered because I couldn’t believe my hipbones were even visible. (That’s really not the case anymore.)
I remember how he told me about other girls. I remember him telling me about the girl he lost his virginity to.
I remember going to my apartment after getting really stoned. I gave him my leftover pasta, and watched him inhale it, as he hadn’t eaten anything that wasn’t ramen in two months.
It was confirmed that they were going to evicted from their apartment. I don’t think either of them had jobs. It was inevitable.
He stayed until the morning the security office came and kicked him out. His cousin had left the night before.
He had found a place to stay in Costa Mesa. My mother agreed to drive him out there. He showed up at my apartment really early in the morning, when it was still dark out. He had dragged all his belongings across the apartment complex. I stored it in my room. We climbed up my loft bed. I told him I couldn’t have sex with him in my parents house. Never. I would never do that. My conception of sex was that it was inherently dirty. I knew that my parents would never agree with me. I had felt no shame in what I had done, but I couldn’t bring it into my parents house. We fell asleep together.
We drove him out. We briefly said goodbye. He didn’t kiss me. I was unsure why. Maybe it was because my mother was in the car and could potentially see us. Either way, it was a disappointing farewell.
That night, and the following three days, I barely left my room. I cried constantly. I smelled his shampoo on my pillow, and fell asleep with my face pressed into it until the smell lingered off and was replaced with my own scent.
I waited for him to call. He finally did. He had been kicked out of his friends apartment for what he said were “ridiculous fucking reasons”. He had moved into a halfway home, I guess.
After that first conversation, I felt every bit of my being melt into the floor. I felt hot and feverish. Lightheaded. I didn’t know why.
Looking back, I understand why. A fourteen year old girl should not have a nineteen year old boyfriend that lives in a halfway house. I couldn’t fully articulate that feeling or comprehend why that felt wrong. It is only in retrospect that I see the imbalance.
A few weeks went by. At least I think it was weeks. It may have been days.
All the same. Word got out that I had slept with this boy. My parents had no clue. My mother had warned me against it, which is why one night, when she had to go find me at two in the morning, she screamed “I don’t want you having SEX.” I had laughed her off. “Ma, come on.” At that point, we had had sex multiple times.
People from my parent’s church found out. I had confessed to a woman that I was really close to in confidence. She started sobbing. She was 22 and married. She was pure, she was clean. She was so sad for my loss of innocence.
She had called me and let me know that a pastor found out. How? She had told him. She didn’t admit that. But I now know she went to him. He had to report it to my parents.
I figured I may as well come clean before someone else made it known to them. May as well avoid the few in between days of sneaking around in a guilty shadow around the apartment.
I asked my mother to come into my room, and I confessed. I began sobbing. I thought it was because I was truly hurt, because I had truly messed up.
Retrospect is a bitch, but she’s been helping me get this story together. I was not upset with myself. I was guilty at being caught. In my mind, I still didn’t see that I had done anything wrong.
The conversation I had with my mother still sticks out pretty vividly in my mind, but I don’t feel it pertinent to discuss with anyone. Somethings should stay between mother and daughter. She didn’t cry, and she didn’t yell. She advised me to break up with him, and soon.
So I did.
There are a few things that happened during those two weeks that I haven’t touched upon. The biggest one being that he didn’t use a condom once. I lied and told my mother he did. But he didn’t. He let me know that due to a biking accident when he was younger, it was impossible for him to produce sperm that could result in pregnancy; he was infertile. I believed him. And you know, maybe it was true. And in reality, I had never seen a condom in my life, didn’t understand how they worked, and definitely didn’t know that they not only protect you from unwanted pregnancy, but diseases as well.
When I sat on the phone with him, I told him this. “You didn’t even use a condom… You could have used a condom…”
The conversation was brief. He didn’t have long to talk, as it was a shared phone. He begged me to call him back in an hour. “Please. We need to keep talking. Please. Call me back.” He was crying, I could hear it. I was stone. “Okay,” I assured him, my voice flat and smooth.
I never called him back.
Things faltered out after this. I slept on the couch for a week because I couldn’t stand the emptiness and bareness of my room. I kept the TV on as I slept, or as I tried to. I remember my dad coming out one night, stroking my hair, kissing my forehead. That was the most he had ever addressed about this matter, even to this day.
We moved away shortly after this. My younger brother had been getting into trouble in the neighbourhood, and I couldn’t drive past his apartment without feeling nauseous.
Back in Redlands, I started going to church. I didn’t convert back to Christianity by any means, but this was my only social outlet. I had abandoned the religious aspect of church around 13, and never turned back. I was lighter and happier. I can only imagine the heavy wool of guilt that would have consumed me had I been an active Christian after this whole ordeal.
Within two months, after we had moved into a lovely two story house, gotten a cat and a dog, started moving back into the normality of what our life was before moving to Moreno Valley, I rarely thought about him.
The only thing that had really changed was the acceptance I found with my body. I understood a little bit more about what that “naughty bit” down below did. I explored, and read, and educated myself, because I knew no one else would. I was still clueless about sex. I wouldn’t truly begin to understand my sexual organs until I was sixteen, and began dating girls. By the time I was eighteen, I felt pretty liberated and comfortable.
This feels like the story of some poor fourteen year old girl who allowed herself to be seduced by a nineteen year old.
I am here to tell you it is not.
A few days after people found out, my mother had a talk with me, in the darkness of her bedroom, probably late at night, because I had stopped sleeping. She told me I needed to tell her his last name and where he lived. She said the pastor from her church who knew needed to report this.
This was the first time I heard the phrase statutory rape.
(in some jurisdictions) sexual intercourse with a minor.
I remember sobbing into a pillow, but it felt like a scream. I couldn’t believe the word rape was being used to describe this whole situation. I thought it was foolish. I wasn’t raped. I wasn’t. I wanted it. I wanted it? Did I want it? Was I even asked? But did I say no? I didn’t say no. It wasn’t rape. Was it?
Because I didn’t know his last name, because I didn’t have his address, or even a permanent phone number, nothing ever came of this. I remember finding a business card for a police station in my mother’s purse sometime after that. I never knew if it was because of this, or because my brother had gotten into trouble again.
I pushed that term, that disgusting and irrelevant term, far from my mind. I blocked it out.
Again, life went on. This didn’t hold me back. I wasn’t “loose” or “wild” once I returned to public school my sophomore year. I had started dating a girl that I loved very much for a few months. I had crushes on boys. I was infatuated with my now husband who lived in New York then.
Once I turned 18, I did become free with who I slept with. I made out with boys in gas station parking lots. I started dating a girl who is still a good friend today. We made out in her car, after driving around and passing a piece back and forth. I was sleeping with a guy that worked at my favourite coffee shop. After I moved to New York, and my boyfriend and I broke up, I had many sexual encounters with tourists that passed through the hostel I was temporarily living and working in.
I felt no shame, no regret. I had made the conscious decision that I wanted this. I was saying yes.
A few weeks, maybe a few months ago, my husband and I were walking down the street. I forget what we were talking about. I’ll assume it was some new law, or something ridiculous a male politician had said about rape. I was ranting and raving about it. Then I said it. “I mean, I was technically raped. But that’s a box I don’t really want to open right now.” I felt my heart stop, my breath catch. The moment passed. My husband shifted in his step. I saw the desire to press further, but he held back. “Hmm.” That contemplative noise he makes when something bothers him, but he knows he shouldn’t say anything.
Again, I forgot about this moment completely. This whole situation comes back in waves, painful and harsh and crushing. But then the sea becomes placid and I am unconcerned. When the storm began again, sex became very difficult for me, even with someone I trusted. For years, and still today, I can’t handle being fingered. It made me nauseous. But I didn’t realise why until I’d talked it out with my husband.
I do not believe in the concept of virginity. I believe it is a societal construct placed upon young people, especially women, to keep them in line. If you lose that piece of you, you are dirty. I remember my mother telling me, “you will just have to learn how to deal with that loss of innocence.” I was fourteen, and I should not have had to grow up because I’d unknowingly and unwillingly lost my virginity. I have heard stories of rape victims being told they were used up, like they were a piece of gum, or tape that no longer was sticky enough to serve a purpose. I didn’t lose anything. No one took anything from me. Why must women give away pieces of themselves? Why is this expected of us?
A few weeks ago, social media was bursting with photos and articles of Kylie Jenner with Tyga. A seventeen year old with a twenty five year old. It shook me to my core.
This cannot be a normalized thing.
Teenage girls do not need to be subjected to the lustful gazes and demands of grown men. Teenage girls should not feel the need to grow up fast and suck dick. They should not be in a situation where they need to sexually please an adult. There is an imbalance of power. Adults need to know better then to engage children in relationships. I don’t care how old they are. I shouldn’t have to say this.
It is not a teenage girl’s responsibility to say no to sex with a grown man. They won’t always say no. But that doesn’t mean it is okay.
I didn’t understand anything about sex beyond what I had seen on television. I should not have been in that situation. I was fourteen years old. Why would you expect me to know what sex was?
I do not feel like I lost a piece of me.
I feel anger. I feel angry that a grown man felt it was okay to violate the body of a child, of a teenage girl, because they didn’t understand the concept of sex.
The word rape rattles me to my core. I feel my bones tremble and shake.
I am not dirty. I am not unlovable. I am not worthless. I am still important. I was important the minute after my first time, and I am important after the thousandth time.
Stop shaming girls for grown men not being able to control themselves. Stop assuming that teenage girls have the autonomy to make that decision. Stop making them grow up faster then they need to. And for the love of the Goddess, do not shame them for being taken advantage of. They are still allowed to value their childhoods and teenage years. They are still allowed to make mistakes. They are not suddenly adults because someone felt it was okay to violate them.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’ll wake up, and I’ll suddenly have a new memory from those two weeks. It will disorient and confuse me. I suddenly do not see my apartment, but I see that bare and sad apartment I was once stripped down in, opened up, and eaten from like I was a buffet. I will reach over and touch my husband’s back, feel his cool skin, stabilizing myself. I’ll walk around the apartment, find each of my cats, say their names, and kiss their heads. I will sit on the kitchen floor, and count the pots and pans. I will run hot water over myself in the bathtub and scrub every inch of me.
I will crawl back into bed. He will roll over, heavy arm draped around my waist, and he subconsciously kisses my forehead, not feeling my disappearance, but knowing that I’ve returned.
Sometimes I have to go somewhere else, and it takes me a minute to find home.