Warning: strong language ahead.
This story does not define me or my life.
This experience is integrated into the fabric of my being, a bend in the road of my sexuality.
I am more than a survivor. I am resilient. I thrive in my life.
This event, being raped at 12 years old, was one turn in the long and winding road back to myself.
This is the story of how I lost my virginity against my will.
I was 12 years old, the summer before I turned 13.
I had recently moved in with my father, after years of conflict with my mother. It was early summer, nice enough to be outside but not oppressively hot. There was no camp or summer vacation for me that year. The summer was spent hanging out in the neighborhood, around the basketball court.
I was not particularly interested in making girlfriends in this new neighborhood. I was looking for thrills, excitement, cigarettes, attention—anything to keep me away from the pain of being me, of being alive. The intoxication of intrigue and sexual desire had already become a drug for me. I hadn’t had sex yet (other than a few kisses and childhood sex play with peers). The euphoria that I felt from obsessing about boys, fantasizing about sex, and being in love was satisfying my need to escape reality.
When this boy/man (let’s call him “Dicky”) talked to me and showed interest in me, the sensations in my body felt good. I felt good about being alive in that moment. He had never really paid attention to me before. He was older and sexy with his beautiful skin, thin, muscular body, and big lips. He had no heart, he was cold as ice, and this may have been the most attractive part of him.
I wanted to be that—cool and hard and invulnerable.
His attention gave me a little cred with the other kids at the basketball court because of his tough-guy reputation and his criminal enterprise. This attention and cred was giving me everything I thought I needed in life: the euphoria of attention and a place to belong.
My father was new to parenting, but he knew enough to give me a curfew (maybe 9 p.m.). As my curfew approached, I knew I wanted more of this good feeling—the perfect weather, the cigarettes and pot, the feeling of belonging and being special. I decided to ask my dad if I could stay out later.
I went in to find my dad and his friends sitting around on the floor playing cards. I asked him if I could go back out, and he said yes. One more hour.
I went back to the basketball court for more Marlboros and more of the good feelings. Too soon, my hour was up and it was time to go home again.
This time, Dicky walked home with me; my house was just a few blocks from the basketball court. My front door was actually a gate to an alleyway that led to a back apartment.
He kissed me at this gate. I woke up inside. I didn’t really like how wet his kisses were, but I liked being physically close to him and feeling his desire for me. I decided to ask for more time so I could get more of this. He waited at the gate for me while I went in to ask.
My dad and his friends were still sitting around on the floor playing cards. The apartment was filled with smoke. There were beer bottles, money, ashtrays, and cards arranged neatly around the circle.
My dad knew what I wanted. He was always seemed to know what was in my head. He said I could have one more hour.
As soon as I came back out, Dicky had his mouth on me. He was more forceful now, pushing me against the wall next to the gate. I felt the bricks pushing into my back.
I started to feel more conflicted now, not liking the way he pushed into me or his wet kisses that now felt almost like he was drooling on me. I was still enjoying the feeling of being touched in a way and feeling his desire for me. (I am not making a euphemism for his erection. I mean I enjoyed the energetic feeling of his desire for me.)
He whispered in my ear, “Do you want to get fucked?”
I liked the feeling of his hot breath in my ear, but I froze with fear, because I did not like the tone of his voice. I thought I liked sex (from my imagination, masturbation, and the games I had played as a little girl with my peers) and looked forward to playing with someone whom I loved.
I was pretty sure that’s not what he meant when he asked if I wanted to get fucked. I was pretty sure he wasn’t asking, either. I couldn’t speak.
He whispered, “Have you ever been fucked? I think you want to get fucked.”
Still I couldn’t answer. I was frozen with fear inside.
I know now that when the nervous system detects a life threat, there are three possible reactions: fight, flight, freeze, or some combination. At 12 years old, my nervous system had been habituated to freeze in the face of danger.
He was not really asking anyway; he didn’t need an answer. He had decided that he was going to fuck me no matter what my response was.
He started to lead me across the street, heading for a patch of grass behind the I-95. Moving my body snapped my mind back, and I knew I did not want to go with him. I turned to walk away from him, back to my apartment.
He grabbed my arm and yanked me back to him. He easily picked me up, holding my arms against my body and carrying me like a baby. I squirmed and kicked. Now my words came back.
“I don’t want to.”
“Yes, you do,” he said.
The fear and the guilt and confusion set in, the defeat. The certainty that I had made a mistake and now I was going to pay for it. I once again froze.
He carried me to the hill behind the I-95. The highway was across from our house in Queen’s Village. We were literally four lanes away from where my father was winning at poker on our living room floor.
I don’t think I tried to run before he put me down the grass. I had surrendered to the guilt and defeat and was now in freeze-survival mode. He held me down with the weight of his body and his hands.
Then the panic returned, and I struggled to get free. He was crushing me with his body. He pulled my underwear down enough to get access and so that they became a restraint, holding my legs together so that I couldn’t kick him.
As he tried to push inside of me, it hurt and I felt as if I was suffocating from the inside out. I held him away with one hand I had free, but he was stronger than me. He just kept pushing into me.
I wasn’t strong enough to hold him back.
This is the part that remained the clearest in my memory. I have seen this memory from many angles over the last 34 years—sometimes crystal clear, sometimes opaque. The memory of my hand on his hip pushing him away, the feeling that my greatest effort was useless, has always been crystal clear. I prevented him from crushing me and from fully entering me, but not from penetrating me and totally overpowering me.
Eventually, it was over. He came on my belly. It was the most disgusting thing I had ever seen in my life.
I made my way home, stunned, dazed, crushed. Full of guilt, remorse, shame. I walked into my house to find it empty.
This empty house was and has been a defining moment in my life. My father and I were close emotionally. I believe that if he had been home that he would have known something was wrong, and he would have been my father. Dicky would be dead or in jail. Probably dead.
As it was, I was left alone to integrate this experience in such a way that I could survive and go on. I took a shower and went to bed.
By the time I woke up, my guilt, shame, and fear were buried. I convinced myself that I had not been raped, that I had sex willingly, and I now thought of myself as an adult who was going to pursue sex at every opportunity.
I buried the parts where I was afraid and had resisted. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had made a mistake that I had to pay for. That feeling haunted me through a life-threatening drug addiction, into a life of recovery, and sometimes still does. I survived by making sense of this experience in a way that allowed me to feel in control of my life and sexuality and move on.
The twists and turns back to the full experience of that night are another story.
Today, a little over 34 years later, I am thriving.
I have embraced vulnerability, authenticity, and life. I do not live or think of myself as a victim or even a survivor.
I think of myself as a human being living my life.