Trigger warning: #MeToo, sexual assault, alcohol, consent
I don’t think a single woman will be surprised or shocked by the following story. They may be triggered because of their own experiences, but they won’t be surprised. Final trigger warning before we begin.
I had my first boyfriend in Kindergarten. His name was Steve and he was tall, dark, and handsome. I actually barely remember him. We rode the schoolbus together and he always saved a seat for me, helped me get on and off the bus, and always took tender care of me. I have the vaguest memory of how he looked, but I do know he had dark hair, a pleasant face and was at least 4 feet tall. When I mentioned him to Joyce as an adult, I told her I thought he was in a higher grade, just looking out for the little kid. But Joyce said he was in my kindergarten class. He was tall for his age and extraordinarily gentle with all the smaller kids around him. But he had a real soft spot for me, the smallest kid in class, and took good care of me. Neither of us could remember his last name.
My second boyfriend was Clark, in 5th grade. He was the cutest boy in our grade and I was completely startled when he asked me to go steady. I told him I would like a day to consider it and I’d answer tomorrow. The problem was: I didn’t know what ‘go steady’ meant. I couldn’t ask my parents. It seemed that ever since Jesse died last summer, everything I did or said was answered with laughter and merciless teasing from Joyce and Larry. It was as if, after the trial separation, they reunited and were there for each other, but against us kids.
Anyway, I looked up ‘go steady’ in the dictionary and told Clark yes. When I told Joyce I was going steady she scoffed and said I didn’t even know what it meant. I told her, I DID know; I’d looked it up in the dictionary. To this day, I have never heard the end of it: “only Michelle would be over-serious enough to look up ‘go steady’ in the dictionary! Can you believe this kid?” This wasn’t said in tones of admiration or pride; she thought it was hilariously stupid and told all her friends, who also laughed. I bet every friend she’s ever made since then has heard about her silly daughter looking up ‘go steady’ in the dictionary. I was confused (and still am). I had a question. I researched it and found an answer. What was so hilarious about that?
I broke up with Clark because he went to a boy/girl party I wasn’t allowed to go to and he ended up kissing my nemesis Lori. She let him touch her training bra. I wasn’t even wearing training bras yet. The next Monday at school, Lori made sure to let me know Clark had kissed her and touched her chest.
My third boyfriend was Sherman, a freckled, moon-faced boy a grade above me in junior high. He was the shortest boy in school. I was the shortest girl. It would be SO CUTE if we were boyfriend/girlfriend! I was not at all attracted to Sherman and I barely knew the boy. But the kids at school decided this was the thing they wanted and the campaign was incessant so I relented and said yes. Sherman immediately started holding my hand and putting his arms around me. I wasn’t attracted to him and shrugged away from these touches. When Sherman tried to kiss me, the faux relationship was over. Joyce and Larry told everyone I broke up with the boy because he tried to hold my hand–isn’t that hysterical? They knew I thought he was ugly and pushy, but the story is funnier if I’m such a prude I won’t hold hands. And that’s the story they’ve always told. Never let facts get in the way of mocking your children.
When I started attending Baker school, there was a boy who rode our bus, a junior or senior, and I, a freshman, immediately had the biggest crush on him. He looked like KC of KC and the Sunshine Band, who I thought was the hottest guy ever. It turned out Joe was the older half-brother of Baby Jerry and Bruce, who we had played with all summer, so I ended up seeing him besides just riding the bus. He started coming over to pick Baby Jerry and Bruce up from our place when it was dark and after a few weeks he asked me to go steady. I was over the moon!
I look back now and see the signs, but I was so very young and really naive then, that I didn’t stop to think how strange it might be for this 17 year-old boy to want to date me: a tiny, undeveloped late bloomer who played with his baby siblings. He dropped out of school before the first month was over. He told me it was because he’d been held back a grade and had turned 18 and found a job. I thought this was unbelievably grown up.
I told Larry and Nora I was going steady with Joe and Larry looked kind of proud of me I thought and Nora gave me a hug. But when I was in my room I heard her telling Larry he needed to tell me I couldn’t date that boy. He was too old for me, he had a car and I wasn’t old enough to be dating a boy with a car. She said Joe’s family was poor white trash and she’d heard from Tiny and her husband that Joe’s new job was working for a drug smuggler.
Larry said he couldn’t be a very good drug smuggler if everyone in town was talking about it, so he didn’t believe it was true. He told her this was the first real boyfriend I’d ever had and he trusted my good sense. He told her not to worry; I was a good girl. I was a little put out that Nora would talk behind my back, but I decided she was just looking after me since Joyce wasn’t around. I wasn’t at all sure what poor white trash was and the only drugs I knew about were the ones given to you by a doctor. Seriously, I was just a naive little thing with her nose in a book and her head in the clouds.
Joe took me out riding in the woods in his muscle car. He told me his boss gave him the car because its owner had committed suicide in it by shooting himself in the head and Joe had cleaned the car up and fixed it. I thought that was a pretty gruesome story, but Joe was really brave to have cleaned all that blood and gore up. Not long before Joe showed up with his fancy new car, a dead man had been found on a dirt road up near the highway. Gossip said the man had been shot in the head and dumped out of a car. There were dark rumblings about drug dealers in the area.
Joe and I would visit old graveyards and abandoned houses out in the Florida woods. No matter where we went, we ended up making out in the car. Joe taught me to kiss, and how to french kiss. His penis was the first one I ever saw besides changing diapers while babysitting. He talked a lot about going all the way, but I really wasn’t sure what that entailed, and I was afraid to ask. The dictionary was no help this time. I just wasn’t ready for the next step, even if Joe was.
At Halloween, Joe took me, Tonia, Sean, Baby Jerry, and Bruce up into Holt to trick or treat. At 14 I felt I was too mature to dress up; Joe and I were the adults keeping the kids safe. We held hands and followed behind the kids as they ran from house to house. At some point, a group of Joe’s friends came around the corner. He dropped my hand and quickly moved up to talk to them. Being naturally timid and afraid of strangers, I didn’t move up to join him, instead standing by the side of the road and watching the kids. He never called me to him, never introduced me to his friends. When he dropped us back at our house, I asked why he didn’t introduce me to his friends and he said they were drinking and he didn’t want them harassing me.
A week after Halloween, Joe came and told Larry he was going to be out of town for Thanksgiving, so his mom had asked if I could come over and have an early holiday dinner with them. Larry was pleased with Joe for asking him personally. Joe came and got me on the big night. I was wearing a dress and low heels and pantyhose and feeling quite grown up. Joe’s house was dark when we arrived; he said his ma must’ve gone out to get something and Bruce and Baby Jerry were probably over at their dad’s. We’d just go in and wait for everyone to get back.
Inside, the house was dark and still; the only noise and light provided by the TV in the corner. It smelled of cigarettes and old food, not like a holiday dinner had been cooking. No food had been cooked in this house for a while. Joe lit a smoke and sat down on the couch without turning any lights on. He patted the couch beside him and said we could make out while we waited; if we kept the lights off, we’d be alerted by headlights pulling in the drive. I sat down. It was a vinyl couch and it was cracked. He finished his smoke and started kissing me. I could taste the cigarette. He laid us down on the couch and I could hear the vinyl creaking under us, I felt his weight as he rolled over on top of me and asked if tonight was the night. I laughed and reminded him his family could be back any minute. He laughed too and took my hand in his and then reached for the other one. Holding both my hands in one of his he brought them to his lips and kissed my fingertips. I was entranced, nearly swooning with the romance of it.
Then he pulled both my hands up over my head and pinned them against the arm of the couch. I felt all of his weight come down on my chest, cutting off my air. I tried to tell him I couldn’t breathe, but I had no air to form the words. His free hand was up under my dress, pulling at the waistband of the pantyhose. He dug his fingernails into them and I heard them ripping. Then my underpants were shoved to the side and I could feel him–it–pushing at me. I could feel my body tightening and pushing him away and then the sharp tearing pain as he pushed his way in. I lay there in the dark, hands pinned, unable to take a full breath, hearing the vinyl creaking. I could feel his chin digging into the top of my head and I felt full of something I didn’t want. And then for a moment he was still and even heavier. He pushed off and sat up, lit a cigarette. He affectionately rubbed my thigh and said, “I always wanted a virgin.”
I sat up, feeling broken and empty. I asked where the bathroom was and nearly fell over when I stood up. One of my shoes had fallen off. In the harsh light of the bathroom mirror I saw my mouth was red and raw from his shirt rubbing against it. The waistband of my pantyhose was barely attached to the hose part. One side seam of my underwear was ripped and they were bloody. I used toilet paper and water to clean myself up and try to ease my chafed mouth. I smoothed my hair and went back into the living room. The TV was still on and he was smoking another cigarette, with a beer settled between his legs. He motioned for me to sit down beside him, but I said I had to go. He offered to drive me home, but I told him to watch his show; it was only 2-3 blocks, and I let myself out.
I stopped right before I got back to Nora and Richie’s property and pulled off my torn hose and underclothes. I wiped the last bit of blood away with them, and in the dark, I dug a shallow hole with my heels. I buried my torn clothes and walked home barefoot. Just before stepping on the porch, I put my shoes back on and made sure I was smiling. Once inside I told Nora and Richie I’d had a good time, but I had homework so I was going to do that and go on to bed. In my room, I put on my PJs and wondered how I’d know if I was pregnant–I’d never even started having my period yet.
Joe called the next day and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I told him I was busy and when he pushed for information I told him I was probably going to be busy for the rest of my life. He seemed stunned that I’d break up with him. I never saw him again. When I had Nick and visited Holt for the last time, Nora told me she’d heard that Joe had gone to jail and I hoped it was true. I finally started my period the next summer, almost a year later. I never told anybody what happened, not even Tonia. Who could I have told? I could hear Joyce and Larry in my head, laughing as they told their friends. “Guess what Michelle did THIS time? She thought she was going to a holiday dinner and instead lost her virginity! Only Michelle could pull that off!” Telling them was out of the question. And I DID feel ashamed and stupid. I felt damaged, destroyed. And I felt that sex really hurt and I was not interested in ever doing it again.
I’m very short–any shorter and I’d be considered a ‘little person.’ I know I’m short but I usually don’t really grasp how small I am unless I see a picture of me with someone else. I always think I’m a little on the short side and when I see a picture I think, “Holy crap! You’re REALLY short! No wonder people have to comment on it all the time.” I tell people I’m kid-sized and refer to small things as me-sized. I’ve always been this small. I remember in kindergarten being lifted up by a classmate so I could reach the classroom water fountain. School desks never fit me. I learned to drive while sitting on pillows.
I understood by the time I was in 1st grade that my body is not my own. As a small person, I’ve been picked up by people all my life, by both friends and strangers. It HURTS. People try to pick me up like you do a toddler, under the armpits. What people don’t seem to realize is that no one actually picks up toddlers by their armpits. That’s where your hands end up, sure, but really you’re placing your hands around their chest and lifting there. When you pick someone up by the armpits, all the weight of their body hangs by that point. I’ll say it again: it fucking HURTS. Don’t do this. Actually you know what? Don’t pick up any person without their permission.
One time two boys in high school picked me up (thankfully they cradled me) and then tossed me back and forth between them in a game of catch that was both humiliating and terrifying. Another danger of being picked up is getting dropped. Kids want to pick me up, not realizing they’re not as strong as they think they are, or I’m heavier than I look. Larry taught me to punch people who touch me but um… I have short arms too. So my punches don’t land most of the time. I DO know how to not punch ‘like a girl,’ but I just can’t reach. The defense that works for me is to go completely slack and deadweight when someone picks me up. This usually results in me slithering through their arms to the ground. Not a winning situation but miles better than being held against my will.
Tall people will prop their arms on me like I’m a fence post and lean on me. But not only are these people NOT funny, they aren’t too smart either. You’re leaning on me because I’m small, so why the eff are you leaning on me with all your weight? When I’m angry– justifiably or not–I’m rarely taken seriously. I’m apparently “so cute” when I’m angry. Joyce claims my first sentence was “I’m NOT cute.” This is a completely believable claim to me. I have been patted on the head, chucked under the chin. People have lifted my feet to exclaim over how small they are.
When people aren’t examining me like I’m a freak show participant, they often mistake me for a child, and adults do NOT treat children well. I’ve been shoved, cut in front of, chastised for walking too fast, urged to walk faster, told I ‘don’t belong in here, sweetie, this is for adults.’ Ignored, lied to, lied about. I have been bodily moved against my will. Kids don’t own their own bodies. Women don’t own their own bodies. Female kids are really screwed.
I started dating Robert the fall after we returned to Minot. I was a sophomore in high school. He lived in Harvey and we met when Jerome took us there for a wedding. I don’t remember whose wedding, but it may’ve been Brenda’s. Harvey girls got married right out of high school. Robert would drive to Minot to see me or I would take a bus to see him. The drive was about an hour and a half.
One time when I took the bus to Harvey, Robert took me to a house party. That was the first time I ever drank alcohol. There was a group of girls taking shots of peppermint schnapps and they included me. The very idea of peppermint schnapps makes me gag now. I’d never been to a house party before either. It was very crowded and loud and I didn’t know anyone except Robert. He got to drinking with his friends and disappeared so I was happy the girls decided to be friendly. Of course the owners of the house weren’t home–no one in their right mind would allow that many teenagers to come drink illegally in their home. I went to the bathroom at some point and the shower curtain rod and the towel rods had been pulled out of the wall. Someone put their fist through the drywall in the basement. Dishes and glassware were broken all over the house. It was truly horrifying and I wonder if the kid who threw the party is off restriction yet.
I was staying with Robert’s married sister. On the way back to her house after the party, Robert pulled into a ‘proach’ for a little alone time. A proach is really just what it sounds like; it’s an approach to a field. Usually a dirt road over a culvert out in the country. No streetlights, and often trees have been planted somewhere close to protect the crop from the eternal North Dakota wind. Country teenagers in North Dakota use proaches for parking. You are afforded some privacy with the remote location and the trees, and since it’s so dark out in the country, you’ll see car lights long before the car reaches you.
So Robert pulls into this proach and we start kissing. Robert was a believer in hickeys and up to this point he’d given me quite a few. We’d done a lot of kissing and petting, but I was still anti-sex, so that was where it stood until that night. As I said I’d never had a drink before and I’d lost count of how many shots I’d had. I was drunk to the point of numbness. Robert absolutely should not have been driving. His eyes couldn’t seem to focus on me and he was slurring his words or drifting away in the middle of sentences. When he leaned my seat back and climbed into it with me, he didn’t seem to hear me telling him he was heavy and he needed to get off. He just kept moving his hands across my body, under my clothes, unstrapping my bra.
When he began unsnapping my jeans I protested again and he stopped. But the session didn’t stop. I was drunkenly numb and just really wasn’t into this, so I started trying to wriggle out from under him. I think Robert misunderstood my wriggling. I hope that was why he took off my jeans, because he was drunk and misunderstood me. When he pushed himself inside me, I didn’t even fight because of course this was happening to me again. It didn’t matter whether I had put myself in a bad spot or not; it didn’t matter that I trusted someone who I actually liked and had real conversations with. Boys want to have sex and they are bigger than me, so that’s what happens.
I understood that my body is not my own. Women are shamed for having sex, whether they wanted to have it or not. We’re shamed for wanting sex, for enjoying sex. For myself, I didn’t care for or hate sex for a very long time. My body was not my own. If a person wanted to push for sex with me? It literally did not matter. My body didn’t belong to me so I went away. Never understood what the big deal was. It was long after my children were born that I was able to reclaim my body.
My first husband asked me if I wanted to join a key club while we were stationed in Germany. I physically shuddered away from the question; the idea of volunteering to sleep with someone you didn’t choose was abhorrent to me. I couldn’t believe my husband would think this was something to even consider asking me. I clearly and tersely told him NO. Then I went and slept with a random airman to prove who was in charge of my body. Hint: it still wasn’t me.
I am extremely averse to being touched. And I will punch you. Not in the face, but in a delicate place that’s right within my reach.