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.