All children are curious about sex. But teenagers are downright thirsty for it. I’m 16, and I may be Mormon, with big glasses and ankle-length skirts and hair down to my waist. But I’m no different. At church, in my Young Women’s class, a teacher asks, “And why should we wait to have sex until we are married?”
One of my classmates, a confident and intelligent young woman named Rosene, raises her hand. She wants to be a physical therapist and is going away to college in two years. She always seems to know just what to say. The teacher calls on her. She answers, “Because that way, if our husband is really bad it, we’ll never know because we’ll have nothing else to compare it to.”
This seems like a really, really bad idea. What if you both strip off all your clothes, and he has a huge cyst that sticks out of his chest like a giant wart? What if he’s so embarrassed by the word “labia” that he can’t even say it, let alone touch me there? What if he’s just no good at it? Maybe sex with different people is like trying ice cream flavors. All you need is one of those little sample spoons, a curl of ice cream on its tip, and you just know. It doesn’t matter how many other flavors you’ve tried, or if it’s your very first. If you don’t like it, then you just don’t like it.
At this point, though, I’m still trying to be a good Mormon. I sing all the songs about getting married in the temple and doing what the prophet says and being a daughter of our heavenly father. But I’m starting to have serious doubts.
Truth is, I am one horny motherfucker. Everywhere I go, I secretly hope things will end with some hot boy ripping his pants off and me, riding him in the back of his car. When I see the Titanic sex scene where Rose and Jack get it on in the back of a 1912 Renault, fogging the windows with their youthful vigor, it is everything I want for myself. Unaware that teenage sex in an automobile backseat is as old as the automobile itself, I only marvel at the filmmakers: How did they know?
* * *
I am 16 years old, at my first and one of my only high school parties. It is mild, as parties go. There is no weed. No booze. Not even loud music or lowered lights. We are a half-dozen white kids, sitting in the living room of a girl I don’t even know, because another girl has decided that she is my best friend. Laura.
I go along with it. After all, I’ve always wanted a best friend. Laura is a tall, heavy-set girl with dark hair and a big laugh. She is demanding and talks only about herself and tells me what I’m supposed to do, and so—she assures me—my quiet goes along perfectly. I don’t quite trust her, but I have been well trained. I do what people tell me. From my experience so far, human relationships are predicated on obedience. And since I want friends, when she tells me to dance in the car, I dance. Awkwardly and stiffly. Which convinces her I’m too uptight. So she tells me to loosen up.
I have no idea what this means.
The deeper truth is that I don’t yet know how to say what I want. In my house, I am not allowed to want things. If I do want something, it is dangerous to say it aloud. I learned this from my father’s treatment of Kitty. The louder I insisted, the crueler he became.
The worst part is that it has made me incapable of rewarding relationships. I am an individual, with my own likes and dislikes, my own preferences. There is music I like and music I dislike. And there are times when I simply don’t want to dance.
But I have never been allowed to assert these things without consequences. Humiliation, yes. And denial. To ask for a thing has almost always guaranteed its being taken from me.
So Laura comes and goes from my life, never actually knowing the first thing about me. Never knowing me at all. Yes, she is overbearing and controlling and arrogant that she knows best. But she is only 18. She is grieving the recent death of her mother. She is in no position to help me come into my own, no more than I was capable of letting her into my life.
So when she tells me to come to a party at one of her friend’s houses, I do.
At the party, someone suggests a game.
I don’t remember the rules. Something about shutting off the lights and making the room completely dark and seeing how long before someone freaks out. I have been silent throughout the party, and I stay silent now. But I am pretty sure that person will be me.
Sure, my father hasn’t locked me in a darkened bathroom for a year or two now. But I don’t know how I will react to being shut into a room of people who are mostly strangers. In the dark. My breaths become shallow. My stomach wrenches. I worry I will seem pathetic if I pass out. If I scream. If I do anything at all.
I follow the others when they move downstairs to the girl’s bedroom in order to make total darkness more achievable. Laura is already helping the other girls stash fabric around the curtain rod and under the doorway.
I know this isn’t going to end well. But I don’t say anything. I hope I can put off the humiliation as long as possible. I hope maybe, just maybe, I suddenly won’t be afraid of the dark anymore.
Maybe everything will turn out fine.
This has been my mantra for a long time, and it has kept me alive with hope. It is how I have survived the dread between my father’s assaults and taunts and terrors. It has also made me passive. Maybe everything will turn out fine.
Someone could hold a knife to my throat, and I wouldn’t say anything. I would simply wait for it to be over. One way or another.
This group of half a dozen girls also contains one boy. Joe G. He is freckled and square-faced, and he smells like a beef hot dog. Like high school locker rooms, with dust heaped in the corners. He has a girlfriend, a beautiful black-haired girl who has always been kind. I have no idea why she is with him.
We sit in a circle on the carpet beside her bed, and everyone smiles. They seem so excited. I just blink, the fear probably showing. I wait to see what will happen and if I will be okay. One of the girls trots over to the light switch. “Okay, guys!” She shouts, like this is fun.
A couple girls squeal.
“Three, two, one!”
* * *
I have no idea how long we sat there in total darkness. I don’t remember if anyone said anything or made a sound. I don’t remember much of anything.
Except that, at some point, someone’s hands grabbed both of my breasts and squeezed. Hard. Honked them like they were bicycle horns.
I was paralyzed. I hoped that if I just didn’t move, it would stop. I knew that was how things like this ended. If you didn’t struggle, if you didn’t make a noise, the person hurting you would lose interest. They would move on.
The hands let go.
I was appalled. Humiliated. Disappointed.
Was this sex?
God. I hoped not.
I felt very small. Helpless. I felt repulsed–towards my own body or towards him, I couldn’t quite sort out. He had groped me. I knew that much. And I was sure the only way out of this moment, out of this house, out of this night was to keep quiet.
The light flicked on, and Joe sat across from me, grinning. The same grin my father had worn. The kind of grin that has always filled me with violent loathing.
“So,” Joe started to say. He was still grinning. “I feel like I should say that I just grabbed someone’s, ahem, and I feel I should say sorry. ”
His grin was lopsided now, like he thought this was cute. Like he thought he was being charming. He was clearly waiting for someone to speak.
None of the girls said anything. Not one.
Especially not me.
I knew he was just pretending to not know whom he sexually assaulted. But he seemed to think he had just done me a favor. He seemed to expect that I would jump up and down. “Ooh! Me! It was me!”
As if being sexually assaulted by a senior boy was, for a junior girl, like winning some kind of prize.