Yes, all women.

I don’t remember the first time I had sex. Not because I was drunk, or because it was such a throwaway experience. I don’t remember because my brain won’t let me.

I know the details, though – I know when it was, what I was wearing, all of that. Because four years later, I asked him. I told him I couldn’t remember and needed him to fill in the blanks, jump start my brain. It didn’t help, but I’m glad I asked.

I was 15. I was wearing my favorite green and yellow sundress, and it was in March, unseasonably warm. It was after school, when he was supposed to be tutoring me in chemistry. He was a senior, 18, so smart and for some reason he’d decided he liked me. He was my second boyfriend – I’d dated a guy for two whole weeks in 8th grade, and we’d kissed one time at the baseball fields. But this was different, this felt grown up and real, heady. Maybe also because it was a secret – no one knew, not my best friends, not his. He’d just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and she wasn’t handling it well. My brother was in his grade, and we knew he’d be pissed about it.

He told me he loved me while I was giving my very first blowjob, and I remember that I wanted to feel happy – he loves me! – but just felt kind of dirty. We talked all the time, about everything, up to and including sex – I told him I wasn’t ready, it was too much, too fast, and I was too young. He said that was just fine, that we could wait as long as I wanted, we had all the time in the world. But his words didn’t match up with his body, and he’d push and prod till we were way over the lines I’d set. I’d always say no, try to keep his hands up high, and I’d cry while it happened, but I never screamed. I never left.

It didn’t take long for everyone to find out we were together. I remember that day very clearly – the stares in the hallway at school, people whispering. My brother, angry and not talking to me. His ex-girlfriend’s mom worked for the school system, so even the teachers were paying attention. I eventually heard the gist of what people were saying: that he’d dumped her because she wouldn’t put out, and I would. I remember feeling like it was true – I felt like trash, like a slut. The only person saying something different was him.

I remember sobbing in the shower over spring break that year, because I was afraid I was pregnant. I’d only had my period for a few months before we started dating, and because we weren’t going to have sex ever, he wouldn’t do it again, don’t worry – because of all that, I wasn’t on birth control, and he wasn’t using condoms. I drove a few towns over to buy pregnancy tests. I bought a bunch of them, because I guess I knew on some level that he was full of shit.

I mostly remember three times, out of however many there were. I remember the two times I cried and cried, so much that afterwards he cried too, and said he felt like he’d raped me. That made me cry harder, and reassure him, no of course not. And I remember one other time, when he came on a ski trip with my family, but that one I don’t like to talk about yet. 14 years isn’t long enough, I guess.

I broke up with him for good when he was studying abroad in France, the summer before my senior year. I didn’t think too hard about any of it – studiously avoided doing so – until another year after that, and that wasn’t pretty. He was the kind of guy parents really like – smart, responsible. They were pretty confused when I followed him up with a long string of boys who didn’t seem to measure up. I mostly dated boys I knew I was smarter than, had more experience than, so I could be the one in control, I think.

I never told anyone, at the time. I thought about telling, but I was so afraid – I knew it would ruin his life, if they believed me. His bright, shiny future. I knew, if nothing else, the age difference was illegal. And I felt like it would have been ME ruining HIS life, plain and simple. I still feel that way, on some deep level – that his actions didn’t deserve the kind of repercussions available. I know that now he is married, he has two young daughters, and he seems happy. I’m glad, truly. I wonder all the time if he gets it, what he did to me, if he understands it was wrong, maybe now that he has daughters of his own to hope for. I don’t think he is a bad person, just that he made bad decisions.

But I do wish that our culture didn’t make 15 year old me feel culpable for his actions, or the effects of my response to them. That I’d be responsible for the outcome of HIS actions, if I chose to speak out. I wish our culture didn’t shame women for being victimized. I know so many women who have expressed relief to me, when I’ve shared this story, that they weren’t the only ones. Relief that a friend had been raped, too, because it made them feel less alone, less damaged. Relief that a friend had been abused, objectified, discriminated against, terrorized, or terrified, or the million other things that happen to ALL women, every day. The best I can do right now is talk about it, loud, without shame, because I know other women aren’t ready to do that, yet. I am.

I am ready for our culture to change.

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31 Responses to Yes, all women.

  1. Arwen says:

    Susie. There are no words, except I love you, and I’m so sorry. You are brave and incredible, friend.

  2. Tessa says:

    I lost my virginity at 15, while I was asleep, to a 19 year old guy who had made a bet his friends that he could sleep with me. I’m so sorry for what happened to you, and to me.

  3. Jonna says:

    Damn, I am the luckiest to have you. You hit it all here. All of it. This is important.

  4. Aliza says:

    Ooof. I’m so, so sorry that you had to go through this. You wrote about it beautifully, and what Arwen said — you are brave and incredible.

  5. Miranda says:

    You are so strong, Susie. I am 100% at your side as you tell your story, as you navigate the culture that is so resistant to change. xo

  6. EmilysHollow says:

    Ah, Susie. I so get it. The relief and the anger at the relief and all of it and it just SUCKS, doesn’t it? And in some ways, I’ve been so open with my story(s), too, and not raw and not new but yeah, there is that ONE. The one I keep secret. Because *I* am ashamed. And that’s bullshit. I want it to be easy for everyone to share. I want for us all to have nothing to share.

  7. Pseudostoops says:

    This is so powerfully said, and speaks so many importent truths. It’s not just “bad” guys. That if the girl tells, it’ll be on *her* for ruining *his* life. The fact that you were able to intuit that at 15 speaks volumes to how deeply this stuff is ingrained.

    xoxo, friend. You’re amazing.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing. xxxooo

  9. Robin says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Susie. Not only do I wish that our culture didn’t make 15-year-old you feel culpable, but I wish it did make the guys in these stories feel culpable and ashamed to the point that they didn’t push girls and women to do things they don’t want and aren’t ready for.

    During my delivery, my doula kept repeating to me, “Eres fuerte, eres valiente”(you are strong, you are brave), and I find that it is a mantra that I have repeated to myself many times since. So I say the same thing to you: Eres fuerte, eres valiente. Sending hugs.

  10. Jenny says:

    You are so brave to post this. I hope talking about it helps your healing process.

  11. Sarah in Ottawa says:

    Holy sh*t, Susie. I know that there is nothing I good I can say, so just know that you are loved and valued and so, so brave.

  12. ka - kate says:

    (PLEASE, if you know me on Twitter, please don’t @reply about or link me to this comment there. My profile is public, I have many professional contacts on twitter, and while I feel a strong need to share my story, I’d rather it not show up there – Thank you)

    Thank you for allowing me to share this here (I’m just not comfortable doing this on my own blog as half of my coworkers and my parents read it), but damn I just feel like I need to get this out. So much of what you’ve said rings true for me. I’ve only told three people this story – one was a girl I hardly knew but was a year younger and in study hall with me (she noticed I was really tired and anxious and asked what was wrong – I blurted it all out to her and she was awesome), one was my high school best friend, the other is my husband. Here goes…

    In high school I had a huge crush on my friend’s older brother. He was in the Marines and he was 22. I always had a thing for older guys and he was cute. For about a year and a half he usually hung out with us (his sister’s friends: all HS juniors/seniors) when he was home – he got beer for us on weekends. Anyway, he was home on leave over christmas/new year and us seniors on swim team were having a “formal” dinner on New Year’s Eve (oh, high school never change) so I asked him to come with me. He did, I was THRILLED, and I told him we could go to another party after – this was all the lifeguards I worked with in the summer… many were home from college and one was having a big party. The lifeguard group was a PAR-TY crowd and I had made sure we could spend the night there because I knew we’d be drinking. (Who knows what I told my parents – I lied my entire way through my senior year)

    Dinner was uneventful. All I really remember is what there are pictures of – mostly a bunch of 17 year olds in 1994 trying to look fancy and grown up. We move to the lifeguard party, which was also attended by my brother. I introduce the guy around and everyone is impressed he’s 1) a Marine 2) the step-son of a pretty well-know judge in town 3) his mom is a lawyer and is friends with a couple of the other lifeguard’s parents who are also lawyers. I remember this distinctly, thinking how awesome he was. Throughout the night I didn’t see a ton of him, we kind of split up and hung out with different groups at the party. I drank waaaay too much homemade Irish cream. I remember a few times of he and I kissing in the hallway as we passed each other, and some mutual groping as the night went on. And I remember my brother helping get my drunk self to the basement and into my sleeping bag when I was nearly too drunk to walk.

    The next thing I remember is the guy waking me up in the morning. He was lying next to me in another sleeping bag. This was my first true hangover and as I gained my bearings I started to realize things… he and I were the only 2 in the basement (everyone was supposed to sleep down there – where were they?), I was really sore, and I was wearing only a shirt. As I asked him where my clothes were he handed me my bra and panties and this I’ll never forget: “I took your tampon out and threw it away”. Holy shit – what?!? Why? What the hell?

    I got dressed in the bathroom and threw up a few times. I was shaking… I had ZERO memory of the night. Had we had sex? I was a virgin before that night… what the hell happened? He took me home – a long, silent ride and I climbed in bed. As my mind cleared the fog I came to the conclusion we must have had sex, based on how I felt, but to this day I still don’t remember what happened. Later I asked my brother about the night (never letting on about my morning realization) and he said I had been super drunk, but I had passed out right after he got me downstairs. He didn’t spend the night but had checked on me before he left – and I was still passed out. Oh, and by the way the guy seems pretty cool.

    He called me later that day but I declined to talk to him. He left for base camp the next day. I was wrecked for a few weeks, stressed and not eating. Avoiding his sister – my swim teammate and friend. I was terrified I was pregnant (yes – I know now that it was highly unlikely that I would get pregnant while on my period, but I was 17 and scared). The girl in my study hall who I unloaded on took me to buy a pregnancy test and I got a 3 pack because I wanted to be sure. The most humiliating part: I had to write the guy and ask him for details of that night, I needed to know if he had used protection. It was horrible. He did write back saying that I was willing, that I had asked him to have sex with me, that I said didn’t want to be a virgin any more. He asked me to burn the letter after I read it. I did.

    Back then I thought nothing wrong had happened. I had let myself get drunk. I DID like him and I HAD kissed him and more. I couldn’t remember what I said so he must haven been telling the truth when he told me I was willing, even asking for it. I couldn’t remember the night so it was pretty easy to block it from my mind. It never occurred to me that I had been raped. Shortly before graduation, he told his sister I had slept with him. She was furious and told many of our mutual friends. I was branded a slut. Never mind most of them were regularly having sex with their boyfriends. I had a “one night stand” and with a 22 year old and so I was outcast. I wanted to shout “your brother is the terrible one! I was so out of it he removed my tampon before he screwed me” but since I couldn’t remember the night I just put my head down, blamed myself and got to graduation.

    He finished his time in the military that summer. He enrolled in the same university I did (not on purpose – nearly 20% of my HS went to this college) and even though he was traditional, as a veteran they let him live in the dorm. The university, in it’s great wisdom, but all the freshman students from our school in the same dorm. Luckily I didn’t see him too often but when I did I got tense and did everything I could to avoid him. If forced by circumstance to be around him I made quick small talk and tried to exit the situation. I still didn’t feel like he had raped me, but I felt such humiliation when I saw him. Sometime during the first semester he and I ended up at the same party, hosted by one of the older lifeguards who was a senior. I had been drinking but stopped when I saw him – this was MY group, MY friends – I wasn’t going to let him being there chase me away, so I stayed but avoided him and sobered up. As he drank, he tried to get friendly. I escaped him by ducking into a bedroom with one of my friends – she didn’t know the story, just that he was from home and I thought he was a jerk. She eventually had to pee and left and when she did he slipped into the room and locked the door. This time he was drunk, I was not. I tried to get out, but I was no match for a Marine, even a drunk one. I asked him to please, please not do this. I asked him to let me leave. I eventually just begged that he use protection and submitted. The next day he sent me flowers.

    This time I thought I knew… he raped me, right? I said no but then I stopped saying no so what does that mean? Did he or didn’t he? I was still only 18 and his mom was a lawyer and his step-dad a judge and who would believe me? After all, most of the people at the second party were at the first and saw me making out with him. Plus, god help me… this is what I thought: he was a cute 23 year old ex-Marine, with girls falling all over him. I was an 18 year old kind of awkward college freshman. Everyone would think “of course she wanted to screw him”. And if I did speak up then both his and my college careers would likely be ruined… and he deserved to be in school – he had served in the Marines! I couldn’t stop that! I was a freshman – my entire college career and my family’s name would be haunted by this if I spoke up. I could do that to him, or to me or my family so I didn’t tell anyone. If I told my parents I would have had to tell them about the new year’s party and my drinking and lying. Plus they were in the same social circle as his parents back in small town and his father was our dentist. It was just too tangled, I just couldn’t do that to them.

    I eventually told my BFF from high school who was at another university but who had been there for the fancy new year’s dinner. She of course knew I had slept with him, as the sister had told everyone. But she was horrified to learn of the details of both nights. However, she was in agreement that he had everything on his side, including a judge and a lawyer, and age; and neither of us really knew if what happened was a “true” rape. It was kind of maybe date rape (which, of course, is still rape). I was so new at university that I didn’t know of services offered and it never even crossed my mind to seek them out. Oh how I want to go shake my 18 year old self and get her help. I just did my best to avoid him all all costs. No more polite small talk, if I saw him I walked in the other direction. And, truthfully, for a long time I blamed myself and I got to a point where I successfully blocked the second rape from my memory.

    Here’s the kicker… I recently held up my hand when asked “raise your hand if you were not sexually assaulted in college” … In my mind the 2nd time was so pushed back that it didn’t even register when the question was asked. Oh man, 19 years later and it’s still a mind game that messes with me.

    I did eventually confront him, after I graduated. I told him he raped me twice. He, of course, didn’t agree and said I was lucky to have slept with him. I told him he was sick and needed help and that he was not a gift to woman as he thought. This was nearly 15 years ago. Because of some common friends his mug sometimes pops up in my FB feed and it hits me like a brick every time. He’s married and has a daughter and I wonder if now he can look back to see what he did to me was horrible. I wonder if he can see that what he did to me would crush him if it happened to his daughter.

    (THANK YOU, Susie. Thank you for a safe space to put this out there. I’m ready to talk about it, but I’m not yet ready to do so in such a public fashion)

    • snoozical says:

      Oh, Kate. Oh. I’m so sorry. What a shitty club we are in.

    • Jennie says:

      Thinking of you today. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    • Miranda says:

      I keep thinking about this. My heart just aches for you. What a burden to carry around, alone, for so long. I’m glad you found a safe space- both in yourself to decide to share and also here for the words to spill out.
      We’re all here, ready when you are. xo

  13. Jenna says:

    Kate and Susie, thank you so much for being brave enough to share your stories. I’m so sorry you even have stories like these, but you’re helping more women than you know by speaking out.

  14. Holly says:

    Eff. This kind of crap makes me angry. You ladies and your bravery. I can’t imagine why so many (myself included) believe the guy will be believed while the girl accused. And then I remember even my own (female) roommate accused me of being to blame. The real shame is even after the police were involved, “friends” pointed out all the reasons I’d lose in court and I ended up dropping the charges.

    I’m so sorry for your experiences and now I’m really wondering how to empower my own daughters because this is obviously a huge cultural problem. Thank you for bravely sharing your stories.

  15. Thank you for sharing your stories, both Susie and everyone in the comments. I’m so proud to know you.

  16. Lara says:

    I’m so sorry Snooze. I love you. This is not how it’s supposed to be. It’s not. I rage at the unfairness of this happening to you, especially when you were so young.

    Thank you for sharing. You inspired me to type up one of my stories tonight too. It’s on my blog now, I’m too lazy to grab the exact link.

    Kate, I’m so sorry too. This shouldn’t have happened to you, or to any of us.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Your story, and all of our stories, should have been different. We should not live in a culture where our sexual experiences are not our own, can’t/don’t want to be remembered, and are taken by someone else. I’m so sorry. Thank you for being brave enough to share your experience.

  18. Elissa says:

    I’m so sorry, and thank you for sharing your story. I can’t stop thinking about your story and wishing there were something I could do. I’m sending all my best wishes.

  19. Purdy Bird says:

    You are so strong and we support you both. I wish I could reach across the internet and give you a hug.

  20. Bean says:

    Like Kate, I’m going to keep this separate from Twitter & my blog because this isn’t something I’ve ever gone public with. Even semi-annonimity is freaking me out. But… maybe it’s time?

    I knew it was happening in real life. A friend was raped at my going away party while I slept in the next room. Bystander guilt. I should have known. I should have heard. I should have stopped it. I should have been able to know the difference between the making out that we were politely ignoring & the assault. I still can’t listen to DMB Crash Into Me without getting queasy.

    It took a lot longer to realize that it had happened to me. It wasn’t rape because I didn’t remember actually having sex, just lots of *things* before & passing out in a shower after. And it wasn’t even assault because I wanted to be making out with him. I went to his house HOPING to make out with him. He was the drinking kind and I wanted to fit in, so it was my fault that I got drunk, so drunk I lost control of my bladder, which just made me feel even worse. I didn’t understand that being drunk meant that I couldn’t really give informed consent. I wasn’t a victim of anything other than my own stupidity. It was my fault for being in the situation in the first place.

    I still hesitate to even share my story because “it’s not as bad as it could have been.” I’m “lucky it wasn’t worse.” No one hit me. No one held me down.

    And the WORST part is that I still can’t shake those lies. I still can’t own the truth, as though being a victim is worse than being “stupid & slutty.”

    I have a daughter and a son. I hate that I have to teach them how to be safe from people who would take advantage of their innocence and weakness. But I will teach them to both protect themselves & respect others. I heard someone say “Don’t just settle for consent. Hold out for enthusiasm.” Which is great, but consent isn’t negotiable. It’s mandatory, necessary, essential, critical. And if you aren’t in your right mind, you can’t give consent. And if the other person isn’t fully aware, that can’t give their consent either. I want to make sure my kids know that better than I did. That rape (or assault or abuse) doesn’t just happen by physical force. That coercion is a weapon too.

    I’m rambling. I don’t know where I’m going with this.

    I hate how common these stories are. And for every one we hear, there are so many more we don’t. Sucks.

    • snoozical says:

      “As if being a victim is worse than being stupid and slutty.” “Coercion is a weapon too.” Oh, L. Lady. That resonates so much. I’m so sorry.

    • kate says:

      “I wasn’t a victim of anything other than my own stupidity. It was my fault for being in the situation in the first place.” It took me YEARS to get over this. Well over a decade. And I still sometimes slip back into “well if I had just…” I’m so sorry that you have felt this way, too.

    • Lara says:

      Hugs to you, friend.

    • Miranda says:

      Oh, L. So many hugs.

  21. Jennie says:

    Thank you for creating this safe space for women to share these stories. I’m not quite ready to share my own yet, which makes me angry at myself. Why can’t I be as brave? But I’m just not. Not yet.

    I will say, Susie, that your own experience reminds me of something that happened to a friend in h.s., with her first boyfriend, and I wasn’t there for her the way I should have been. I owe her an apology, albeit 15 years too late (and small compared to the apology she actually deserves), so thank you for showing me that.

  22. HereWeGoAJen says:

    I hate that you had this story to share and I hate that anyone does. And thank you for sharing and making a safe places for others to do so. I am hopeful that we are all making the world a better and safer place for the future. Because there are some parts now that suck and need to change.

  23. Alexa says:

    This was such a brave and important post, and so thoughtful and well-written. I hate, too, that it feels as “brave” as it does, because certainly YOU have nothing to be ashamed of, and yet it does take a tremendous amount of courage to post this for reasons that go beyond the usual “posting something intensely personal is difficult” reasons. (That wasn’t very articulate, but hopefully you know what I mean.)

    I am so sad and angry for you, and for all of the others who have shared their stories. I hate the way the stories all sound familiar because we have heard them so many times. I am sorry this happened to you, and I wish I felt confident that it would STOP happening to people at some point. Or even–and this seems like such a small thing!–that we would be able to discuss it without eye rolling and “yes, BUT” and “Feminists Be Crazy!” rhetoric as an inevitable response.

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