Thinking of you is like touching a dead bird: I know it can’t hurt me but I recoil for fear that somehow it might touch me back.
I want to get the details right. I can’t remember the timing exactly so I scroll through our Facebook chats. The latest message is from back in tenth grade. When I read it I get that instantaneous icky feeling like the second I bite into meat gristle and the back of my mouth just spasms. I swallow my bile and scroll backwards in time.
It happened on a Monday. March 23rd, 2009. I was fifteen and getting very close to sixteen and still had never been kissed. So when you led me to the trees behind the school, at first I didn’t even realize what you were up to. I naïvely thought you just wanted to smoke cigarettes. And then you stepped really close to me. I thought I should play along, even though I didn’t even think you were cute: at least you wanted me, and it was about time someone did.
Without even kissing me, you reached into my jeans. I was too surprised to react. Your fingers felt like clothespins that shoved my underwear down and thrust around inside me. I remember my underwear was white and its elastic dark blue. I still wear that pair sometimes without thinking of that day. I shrank away from you and you said, “Don’t be lame,” as if having to resort to that line didn’t make you the lamest human being ever, but it worked. I held still. Finally I asked you to kiss me, and you did. Your kiss was just a mouthful of your wet mouth. You wanted to have sex but you didn’t have a condom, so you said you would just pull out. I knew enough to know that would be really bad. I refused multiple times until you gave up on it. So you had me jerk you off and then told me to look away when you came on some dead leaves.
The next day was a fog. I felt nothing. I remember sitting in class mutely staring at my paper and reading it over and over without understanding what I was reading. That night you messaged me: “Don’t tell I won’t. Let’s forget and not do it again.” I never forgot. But I still don’t know if you know what you did.
I didn’t really know it either. Not consciously at least. It had never been spelled out to me that a non-consensual sexual act was inherently wrong, that it was a form of violence. But when I learned that fact during freshman orientation, it didn’t come as a surprise. It just felt like learning there was a word for something I had felt before without knowing it had a name. I’d always known somehow that what had happened was more than just awkward and strange. Maybe that means you should have known, too.
The way I knew it wasn’t normal was that I was too paralyzed and ashamed to tell anyone about it. When I turned sixteen I remember not feeling excited about getting older: I already felt older because everything was duller and less thrilling, and I knew it was because of you. For the rest of high school, I wasn’t scared of you exactly but I did my best to never be alone with you. The following time someone kissed me I silently panicked and I just wanted it to end, even though I had initially been excited about it happening. I remember other times when I kissed someone and felt cold and empty because the taste of his mouth was too much like yours, and no matter how much I told myself I ought to be glad to be wanted I began to hate him for wanting me. But maybe that’s just the way another person’s mouth tastes and you soured it for me. If that is true that is the worst thing about what you did.
I have tried so many times to say this. I thought if I told the story exactly right I could get it off my chest. But even if I could tell the whole thing without misremembering, without altering my memory of events by the very act of putting them into words, it would not undo anything. If I had ingested something toxic, pulling the trigger in my throat and spilling it all out would make me feel better, but the remembered taste of your mouth cannot be rinsed out of my mouth. It’s been almost six years. My parents still mention you sometimes because they are friends with your parents. I have seen pictures of you recently. Your face has gotten rounder and you have a double chin. You have a girlfriend who has blond curly hair and a shyly sweet smile. I wonder if she has ever said no to you, and if you listened.