I don’t know what place this has in my ‘infertility blog’ (if I must label it) but I took a little time this morning to catch up on the really disturbing reality of what happened in Santa Barbara last weekend, having gotten lost in the whirlwind of family wedding, birthday, and beach festivities that consumed my holiday. Catching up has also meant taking stock of the ample commentary that followed–in solidarity, in defense, the gamut–and I just want a chance to chime because, yeah, all women have the kinds of experiences appearing in the #YesAllWomen feed. Here’s mine.
When I hit puberty, I was not reading the same handbook as my friends. I mean, technically, when I landed in middle school and all my peers were spring flowers in sexual bloom, I was still waiting impatiently for ‘my friend’ to show up in hopes that boobs would follow. I was hopelessly awkward to boot. My household was such a quagmire of dysfunction, it never occurred to me in the midst of my survival to place such heavy consideration on lip gloss and shoes. I was sensitive, painfully shy, prone to secret crushes, not to mention so thoroughly bookish and nerdy that, if a popular kid talked to me, I just assumed they wanted my homework. I was invisible, and for that reason, I retained, perhaps, a developmentally inappropriate proportion of my innocence. When I saw other seventh graders french kissing in the hallway, it seemed so sordid and bizarre, akin to gaping at the masturbating ape in the primate section of the zoo: (Gasp!) I can’t believe they’re doing that!
My best friend, on the other hand, in coping with a similarly insane family situation, had opened up the throttle on boys, sex, drugs, smoking and every other high-risk behavior you hope your teenager will avoid until they accumulate the judgment and life experience to endeavor responsibly. She was a wild-child with no parental supervision, and she quickly embarked on a mission to make me ‘cool’ so our friendship could continue to make sense. The backdrop for this process was her father’s house, where she would spend alternate weekends to escape a mother with unmedicated bipolar disorder. This was an adolescent Shangri-la because the only adult chaperone in the household was too busy pounding six-packs of Rolling Rock to give a shit what the kids were doing, and it was situated in a neighborhood brimming with rough-and-tumble high school boys with cars, who shaved and smelled like cologne and had ways of buying beer. Add to this magical cocktail an acre of undeveloped woods behind her house, and anything was possible!
In the late fall of seventh grade I went for my first weekend sleepover, and she couldn’t wait to introduce me to “the crew.” Having heard her wild stories, I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified, like being auditioned into some forbidden sorority. At the time, the colloquial terminology for “hooking up” was “being together.” Oh, he wants to be with you. Do you want to be with him? ‘Being’ with one of these older boys seemed to be an initiation of sorts. Problem was that my lingering elementary school sensibilities screamed from my pores, and I was quickly nicknamed “the girl with her pants pulled up to her mosquito bites,” a most un-sexy and inauspicious moniker. They teased me relentlessly for the rest of the night while my lipsticked girlfriends were slinking into backseats to drink liquor and give handjobs. We were twelve.
The following morning the teen-triumvirate convened over bowls of no-frills lucky charms to determine that a makeover was warranted to salvage the weekend. That evening I sat stunned inside a blur of teasing, thick mascara, hairspray, and push-up bras filled with tissues, emerging as a barely recognizable version of myself. They were so proud to debut their glam-project that night to the same batch of 17-year-old boys, who responded to the new collection of signals my appearance seemed to send. There was a red-headed guy–I don’t remember his name–who was shipping out for the Army, literally, the next morning, and his friends were bent on making sure his last night in town included all of the amenities; they were focused on me as part of that package. We were all drinking in the driveway of her house, and he was sitting inside the backseat of one of the cars, door open, chatting, flirting. Then his hands were on my hips, and he was pulling me into his lap. Inside of this painted and shellacked exterior, though, I was still the same wallflower who couldn’t look a boy my own age in the eye to say hello, and the panic started to swell in my chest and throat.
And then I could feel it: his erect penis pressing the vulnerable flesh of my 12-year-old behind. It took a minute for the recognition of the hard lump and what it meant until, that is, he started pressing with his hips, his body, kissing my neck, and the unnerving reality of what would happen if I didn’t flee settled into my bones. An excuse, mumbled, a tearing myself away, a futile attempt to locate my friend until I realized she was in a different car with a different boy’s penis in her mouth. I ultimately sought shelter indoors, her bedroom, my pajamas, Nick at Nite, my innocence still intact.
Certainly this is not the tale of violence and victimization that (sadly) so many women could tell. I’m lucky that way because it could have gone very differently had I unknowingly (stupidly, naively as I did) placed myself in the hands of a guy less willing to let me escape his advances. I choose to tell this story now because I often think about it as I stare out into my classroom at dozens of girls who are as young now as I was then–how little they are, how gangly and undeveloped with braces and chin pimples and baby fat–and I ask myself what 18-year-old man would see one of them as an object of sexual pursuit to hump and penetrate. I wonder if the red-headed guy has a daughter now and how he would respond if she started dating a college freshman while she was in seventh grade. I tell this story because it’s commonplace for girls to become sexualized so young, especially now, in a media-rich, uncensored world that exposes them to adult themes so much sooner than I was. I tell this story because, looking back as an adult and an aspiring parent, it’s appalling how many of those boys placed such a priority on their own ejaculation that they would achieve it at any cost, even if it meant getting a blowjob from a child.