The night before tugged at me. Already, the images were foggy and warped. Perhaps it wasn’t the way I remembered. But I knew from the hollowness in my stomach that it was.
I shuffled into class. As I took my seat, I was silent, wishing I could be as checked-out as the other seniors.
Darrin’s best friend shifted in his seat behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He tapped his fingers on the desk, and let out a soft sigh; his breath rustled my hair.
“Darrin says you have a nice pussy,” he whispered.
* * *
During lunch, hunched over my desk, I tried to read. My arms were hot and sticky, sore to the touch. His words were a loop in my mind: nice pussy, nice pussy, nice pussy.
If only I hadn’t had so much to drink; if only I hadn’t gotten a ride home from Darrin (whose name I’ve changed here). I wished I hadn’t let him use the bathroom. Why did I put on the robe? The fucking robe.
I had to tell someone, to have someone tell me that it wasn’t my fault. My friend Karen sat beside me, concerned. I’d known her since seventh grade. We played softball together and shared off-campus lunches when we were supposed to be in journalism class. If I asked Karen to keep it a secret, would she?
Karen told Lacy, who told Jessica, who went to the school counselor, who told the administration, the police, and my parents before speaking to me.
I was pulled from class. Two police officers stood in the counselor’s office. My crying stepmother was on the couch. “I knew something was wrong,” Lisa said, pulling me close. A shadow of worry passed over her face. Her body was still puffy from my half sister who was born the year before, and her light brown hair was tangled into a hurried clip. Stubborn flyaways hung loose down the back of her neck. I always loved how Lisa put little effort into her hair or make-up; her beauty was in the charisma that she wore like body armor. I laid my head against her chest and thought I’d like to rest there forever, buried in the cocoon of her breasts.
The officers stood over us taking my statement, a series of nods, glancing above their clipboards with raised, bushy eyebrows, and (did I imagine?) skeptical looks. There were two of them, but the taller one did most of the talking. “And then what happened?” he asked. “Did you say no?” His questions were gentle. I nodded.
“Why did you put the robe on?” the shorter one asked.
I shrugged. I shouldn’t have, I knew that. But did that mean it was my fault? I pressed harder into Lisa’s chest. I’d become a cliché. Drunken teen accuses a football player of rape.
Lisa took me home and went back to work. “Get some rest,” she said. I lay down, but I didn’t sleep – I couldn’t slough off the feeling that I was dirty.
A couple of hours later, a series of deafening bangs rattled our front door. School was out.
“Krissie! I know you’re fucking in there. Answer the door!”
I curled beneath my blanket.
“Who is banging down the front door?” My younger brother asked. He was fifteen, tall and lanky, already the spitting image of our father. He stared down at me, accusatory. “What did you do?”
“Tell him I’m not here,” I mumbled.
“He knows you’re here.” He turned, leaving my door ajar.
I darted after him into the hall. “Don’t let him in!”
When my brother slid the door open, fear shot through me. I pivoted into the bathroom doorway, hidden from Darrin’s view.
“Apparently she doesn’t want to talk to you, man,” my brother said, laughing. Actually laughing. How could my brother, my own flesh and blood, a man, a protector, betray me?
And then Darrin was right over me. I buried my head in my arms, trying to escape those eerie light blue eyes. I didn’t want them to notice me anymore.
I prepared for the blows that never came. Instead, Darrin’s yells carved away what little of me was left.
“You fucking whore, you lying bitch, tell them you wanted it.”
My knees were shaking. A metallic taste filled my mouth. The police had been to his house. “Do you know what they are accusing me of? Didn’t we have fun?”
* * *
Over the next couple of weeks, my family began tiptoeing around me like I was a frail bird. We neither discussed what happened that night nor that Darrin had shown up at our house.
Between classes, I rushed across the lawns from one shadowed breezeway to another with my head down, shuffling past those I didn’t want to see, those I hoped didn’t see me. I spent lunch in the library, paralyzed with dread that I would run into Darrin. Or that he’d seek me out.
I broke up with my boyfriend the following month. He was my first love. We used to hurry to each other’s houses, bursting with anticipation. I loved Jorell’s jet-black hair. But I didn’t feel worthy of his love anymore.
When I walked into classes, the gentle hum of gossip was replaced by silence. Everyone stared. I didn’t wonder what they said behind my back. I knew. They called me a slut. They said I’d encouraged it, questioned my account of events, and ruminated on why I didn’t beat the crap out of him. I was taller than him, after all. I knew that this was what they said because it was what I said to myself.
Darrin was innocent of rape, and I was guilty of lying.
Why hadn’t I beaten the crap out of him? I was so drunk. I never screamed. I didn’t want to wake up my parents or their new baby, which seemed ludicrous now. I told him no. But did that matter? Oh, God, the robe.
I had walked into the hallway in my pink robe, hoping that I looked cute. I missed Jorell and was lonely. But why was I so naïve?
The charges that we filed mysteriously went away. Someone must have dropped them – the police or my parents – and since I was a minor, I wasn’t notified. I didn’t ask. I was afraid that the feeling of shame would return, and they’d look at me with those accusatory eyes all over again. I wanted to forget too. But I was seventeen years old – a child – and longing for guidance. Protection. Everyone’s response led me to believe that it was my behavior – not Darrin’s – that had set the events of that night into motion. I had wanted him to want to have sex with me, to want to kiss me. As I relived it, it was clear whose fault it was: Mine.
I hid in the library for weeks. After school one day I heard screaming kids, their chanting unmistakable: “Fight, fight, fight!”
Teachers whistled. The crowd dispersed. Two boys were swaying in matched headlocks, one with blood clumped in his beautiful jet-black hair. I didn’t need to see the other boy to know that it was Darrin. I turned and ran.
Jorell, who was already in trouble for ditching and smoking weed on campus once, was kicked out. Darrin received no punishment.
For the last few weeks of high school, I decided that I wasn’t going to be a pariah. It had been months.
At a house party where I didn’t recognize many faces, I started to relax. I remembered what it felt like to belong. How nice it was to chat with boys comfortably, without feeling like I was the trashy slut with a nice pussy.
When Darrin walked in, my initial impulse was to run, but I stood, rooted in place.
He groped through the fridge for beer.
I wanted to tell him what a creep he was. I wanted to say, no means no, don’t you know that? Or, at the very least, go fuck yourself. But when his eyes met mine the words that tumbled out of me were, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry? What the fuck was that?
I spent fifteen years angry. I hated myself for that night, and was furious that I had apologized. At home, we never discussed it again, and each year, with the passing silence, came more confirmation of my guilt. Why was I accepting the blame?
But after years of self-loathing, contempt, fear and hatred, I have come to realize what nobody was telling me at the time: not only was it not my fault, but it’s ok to be sorry.
I am sorry. Sorry that I accepted a ride, sorry that I let him use my bathroom, that I put on the robe. But most of all, I am sorry that boys like Darrin aren’t taught to respect a girl; that they are led to believe they’re entitled to a woman’s body, even when she is inhibited, even when she is protesting.
I am sorry for a world in which people call what happened just sex, not rape; where he is innocent, and I am guilty.