I was fourteen when I first felt fingers forced inside of me.
The night was warm.
We went for a walk.
He wasn’t someone that I would have been interested in at first glance. He didn’t have a face that an adolescent girl would swoon over. I had experienced the lightheadedness of a crush, stared at boys with soft pretty faces and felt whirlpools of intense emotions swallow me in a lovesick maelstrom. I felt nothing like that when I looked at the scruffy hairs that dirtied the face of this nineteen year old and the long nose that met his too-wide jaw. Some girls may have been taken with his high yellow skin and wavy black hair but to me he just looked odd.
Going for a walk was my aunt’s idea, the same aunt who had touched me inappropriately when she was sixteen and I was nine.
Five years after the summer she crept into my bed and let her fingers crawl on me like a spidery hunter, I followed this older, light-skinned, preppy-looking boy down a shadowy street at her insistence. When I looked back at my then twenty-one-year-old aunt, sitting on my grandmother’s front stoop, she waved her hand at me. “Go!” she mouthed in the white-blue glow of the street light before turning to gaze into the eyes of a tall brown-skinned boy who leaned in a masculine pose.
Maybe she thought I’d be safe with her friend, (I’ve always assumed it was her friend, our town was small enough that everyone knew everyone, but it’s possible that she didn’t know him well). Maybe she thought that a walk, a conversation with an older boy, was a right of passage. Or maybe she just wanted me out of the way so she could be alone with a young lady charmer who made her smile like Catwoman’s Eartha Kitt.
I don’t know why she sent me off with a stranger but I do remember what I had on that night because it was the first outfit I bought with money from my first summer job. I was excited to show it off. I ironed the short sleeved white cotton blouse with pearl buttons and my new sixty dollar Guess jeans with so much starch that when I moved, the outfit stayed perfectly straight. A new pair of white canvas boat shoes and ankle socks with ruffled lace completed the look. My long straightened hair was pulled back neat in two barrets.
The women in my family encouraged me to work. “Make your own money” they each said in their own way. “Then you can buy what you like.” For them money meant freedom, the freedom to live without depending on a man, freedom from someone else’s control, the freedom to be yourself. And while no one ever explicitly said “money is freedom,” I had watched my mother fight for ten years to break free from an abusive relationship with my father, one where he had all the money.
I walked with the older, light-skinned, preppy-looking boy down a small side street that led to the elementary school my aunt went to as a child wearing my new symbols of freedom, trying to psych myself out of my innate shyness. Small talk didn’t come easy for me. I kept thinking of something interesting to say and so said nothing.
The boy wasn’t very tall, maybe 5’9 or 5’10” but I was tiny, barely the height of his shoulders. He held my hand in his, perhaps sensing my nervousness, a tender twinning of palms. And it was nice, until nerves made my hand sweat and I ripped it away to wipe it dry on my new jeans.
“Let’s go over here,” he said pointing to the dark area by the school doors. “I wanna talk to you, okay?”
I walked ahead of him up a concrete ramp. To my right was a brick wall where students and kids who smoked in the corners wrote their names in thick markers, and a red painted metal door, one of the entrances to the school’s auditorium.
As I continued up the walkway he tugged at my arm, signalling for me to stop. “Have you ever been kissed before?” he asked, in a slight whisper.
Before I could boast about the two dry kisses I received from elementary school boys or all the practicing I had done on my own hand, he moved in close and wedged me into the corner of the doorway. I stumbled back. He pressed his slight body against me, shoved his knee between my legs. His mouth had a foul smell like Brut cologne and summer garbage.
When I turned my head to breathe, he grabbed my face, yanked it towards him, forced his tongue into my mouth. I couldn’t get out of the corner. I tried to push him off but he didn’t budge. He moved in closer, planted his feet like a gate around me, used his upper body to keep me trapped in the dark where no one could see. Finally I managed to yell, “No!” As he covered my mouth with his hand, his excitement grew. Hot breath in my ear. “Don’t ruin it,” he whispered. “Don’t be a little girl.”
I didn’t want to be a little girl but I didn’t want this either.
As he tugged at the waist of my jeans, each click of my zipper told me that my time was running out. His hand was warm, thin, like the rest of his body. He jammed two of his boney fingers between my legs, then rubbed his hard bulge against me. He replaced the hand on my mouth with his tongue. I squirmed like a fish on a hook trying to get free. He grabbed my wrist, shoved my hand inside his pants. I felt his erection, the heat of his skin. It frightened me. I pulled my hand out of his jeans but my fight was gone. My mind went someplace else, a place where I could only half listen to the filthy things he said in my ear and half feel the hand he kept jamming into my body. The place I went to was quiet like the pages in a book. It was like meditation before I knew what that meant.
Something in him knew I was defeated. It made him stop. It was as if the struggle had turned him on, my fear. The fingers that invaded me left my new panties twisted and wet. He rezipped his jeans, straightened the sweater he had wrapped around his shoulders. Then he looked at me, still in the corner, my pants undone, my shirt wrinkled with his summer sweat, my hair tangled. “Little girl,” he hissed. Then he turned and walked away.
In the dark, alone, I fixed myself and started to walk back. I looked up to the sky and I saw moths buzzing around the one streetlight that brightened the road. They bumped into the hot glass, circled about in confusion. I took a breath, plodded my way back the three minutes it took to get to my grandmother’s house.
My aunt was no longer on the stoop. There was no sign of her toothy friend. In a way I was grateful that only the night and a mess of bugs knew what had happened, grateful that I didn’t have to explain why I looked as if I had been attacked.
A numbness that wasn’t there before followed me from the schoolyard that night. It was like a ghost in one of the stories my parents told on weekends when we we’re all together and a few drinks put them in a garrulous mood. My brother, my young aunt, who often spent the night, and I would gather round the kitchen table, wrap ourselves in their good mood, and listen to creepy tales we heard over and over with wide eyes and unbridled enthusiam. “Tell us the one about the dog with the man’s face,” we’d squeal.
The dog with the man’s face followed my parents home from a dance one night when they were teenagers.
“When we stopped, the dog stopped,” my father explained, pulling his chair closer to where we sat.
“And it each time we turned around to look,” my mother said, changing the pitch in her voice to make it sound ominous, “it got closer…and closer.”
We shuddered in frightful delight at the idea of a four-legged phantom.
Once the dog got near enough, my parents saw that it had a human face, that of a wrinkled old white man, attached to its dog body. “It was the ghost of my dead father,” my mother would add.
They ran the rest of the way home they said screaming and then laughing but never did they walk down that street again without looking over their shoulder to see if something was following them.
The attack by the older, light-skinned, preppy-looking boy haunted me for weeks like some kind of half human ghost dog. An ugly stain on my mind that has never fully gone away, it blotted out my memory of me. I forgot what I looked like before the attack. I forgot how I loved the way a sudden breeze felt against my skin. I forgot what it felt like to be an innocent girl untouched by hungry hands.
After I walked home from the school yard that night, I crawled on to my bed fully clothed, no longer caring about getting my new outfit wrinkled, and pulled the blankets over my head. I slept for two days, feigned some physical ailment with symptoms I can no longer recall.
I learned to pretend that I was the same person I was before the attack. Laughed on cue at jokes that were no longer funny. No one noticed the panic on my face when an innocent gesture or word triggered memories of that night. No one could tell that I was different.
At fourteen, I didn’t weigh up all the risks and possible scenarios that would come with telling or staying silent. Silence was my only option. The idea of people knowing what I had experenced was as terrifying as the attack. Maybe because he was a stranger, our only encounter was him raping me with his hand, he loomed like a threatening spectre. Or maybe because I learned his father was a cop in my city and was known to be an intimidating figure, I was afraid to tell. Afraid to say the words out loud.
There was no maybein my parent’s reaction, my mother, especially, would’ve flooded every public space with demands of justice like an outraged storm. Everyone would know. I would be married to the attack, bonded to him, to the scandal of it all. The initial kind or angry words of friends, teachers, and family would become the whispered gossip that narrated awkward stares.My closest friends would no longer know or understand me. I’d be an outlier, someone that made others uncomfortable. I’d seen it happen to other kids for lesser offenses than being a victim of sexual assault. I didn’t want that, any of it, I didn’t want to live my mother’s life and be associated with abuse, I wanted to be free like the women in my family promised I could be, soI kept the rape to myself, carried it back home with me that night and have been carrying it ever since.
But even now, over thirty years later, I feel sick to my stomach whenever I visit my hometown and hear someone close to me mention him. Even as I describe the violation with such detail on these pages, I still cannot bring myself to write his name. The upset to my family, the drama created by breathing new life into this old wound is something I still fear, something that follows me closely in the dark.