I remember when I was about 6 years old, sitting on the kitchen floor of our house in Colorado Springs, painting my toenails (with a brown paper bag under my feet) deciding that I would not "sleep with men" before I got married. I remember this choice so clearly. Isn't that odd? This evolved (at a later age when I actually understood what that meant) into knowing that I wanted to be a virgin when I got married.
Why is it that they call it "losing" your virginity? Why couldn't we call it passage into womanhood? The start of something precious and new? Crossing over into your new life...
1. A person who has not experienced sexual intercourse.
2. A chaste or unmarried woman; a maiden.
3. An unmarried woman who has taken religious vows of chastity.
4. Virgin The Virgin Mary.
5. The state of being pure, unsullied, or untouched.
6. Zoology A female insect or other arthropod that produces fertile eggs without copulating.
1. Of, relating to, or being a virgin; chaste.
2. Being in a pure or natural state; unsullied: virgin snow.
3. Unused, uncultivated, or unexplored: virgin territory.
4. Existing in native or raw form; not processed or refined.
5. Happening for the first time; initial.
6. Obtained directly from the first pressing: virgin olive oil.
7. Zoology Producing fertile eggs without copulating.
I was 17, it was the summer after high school graduation, 1990.
My best friend Kelli's parents were out of town and we were throwing a party. Miller Genuine Draft, in bottles, was our beer of choice. And yes, stupid as we were, we had to go around the next day collecting all those stupid bottlecaps from all those odd places they land (under the couch, etc.).
I was so excited, hyper, because Kevin Hawkins, a freshman football player from UC Davis, was coming to the party. He and I had gone out on two double "dates" with Kelli and her boyfriend Mike. Looking back on those dates, what I most remember is my body's intuition... the first kiss outside his truck was a shoving tongue, a roughness. The second date was him laying on top of me, his big heavy body, feeling suffocated, wondering what that hardness was in his pocket(oh...). Both these times made my heart race and I felt scared but I thought it was because the only other time I had kissed a boy was when I was 14 (Deanna's cousin!).
My brother Matt was there with some of his friends and some of our other high school friends and we started drinking. We weren't one of those crowds that did that heavily, no drugs ever. Kevin arrived. Drinking drinking drinking that cold foreign bitter liquid, nervous. More nervous. Flirting heavily with him throughout the night, towards the end rather obnoxiously... then into the hottub then ohmygod I'm going upstairs to bed. Stumble. Up to the master bedroom.
In door came Kevin. Happy blur. Black bikini coming off. Kissing.
Whoa too fast. Slow down. He's heavy.
"NO KEVIN NO"
NO. I can hear them outside in the hottub. Can't they hear me?
Kelli standing above me. "I thought you were going to wait?". It wasn't even until she said this that I knew I wasn't a virgin anymore. Shock. I went into shock. No processing, no computing. Blood all over the sheets, need to get these out. Downstairs to shower (feeling myself, walking around dazed). Working in my green & white stripes that day at Lady Footlocker, fading in between an awareness of that area of my body being raw, tender... confused. My palms sweating. Not understanding. This can't be really. That didn't just happen. I shouldn't have flirted with him like that. I don't even like him anymore. Yuck. I don't like this.
I will forever be grateful to my friend Pam. She was the sane one in the situation. She was outraged. She wanted to report Kevin to the police. She would look me in the eye, hold onto my shoulders and say HE RAPED YOU. DATE RAPE. I would say no, no, no. Don’t call it that. I just lost my virginity, sooner than I wanted to, sooner than I meant to. But that’s not rape.
Later on Kelli asked Mike what Kevin said about it... "I wanted to get it over with for her so she could have fun in college". You fucking asshole. You pompous and arrogant human being with no awareness. God, there were so many things I look back on and wonder if one little piece of that night had gone differently, wow where would I be in my life today? One of the biggest thoughts I have is that if I had just been able to scream out loud, my brother was outside. I imagine him hearing me and tearing upstairs to protect me. Why didn’t I call out? Oh, wait. Because I was wasted drunk and probably couldn’t even lift my arm, let alone speak.
It was three years before I started calling this date rape (instead of my first time I had sex). Thank god for the summer training to be a Resident Assistant. They covered all kinds of college situations we needed to understand and know how to handle. Sexual assault was one of them. I remember sitting there and it was like a film playing up on the screen. The words were coming in my ears and I re-wound the strips. I played them forward, rewind, play, rewind, play. Quietly, the picture re-arranged itself. I was “dated raped”. And I still swallowed it. I would pull it out at times and “tell the story”, but as I look back, the story telling only gave the snapshot of that night. I didn’t deal with how I felt robbed. I didn’t deal with how I wasn’t in my body. I was a body, but my body was closed. My body was numb. My body was afraid.
Isn't there a statistic that one in three women have in some way survived sexual trauma? Why is that? What the hell? I've talked to women who are among the other 2/3 who have a beautiful and pleasurable sex life. Their "first time" may not have been bells ringing and angels singing, but nonetheless there was no force, there were no yucky feelings; there was choice.
I didn’t have sex again until my sophomore year in college. I met this sweet boy, and he looked back at me with sadness and compassion as I told him my story. I longed to have a good experience, and I thought maybe if I could do it over it would make it all okay. So he offered his services (although it was so obviously uncomfortable for him) and off we went. Oh god. Awkward! You would think that awkward experience would teach me that having sex with someone that a) you’re not in love with b) you hardly know IS NOT FULFILLING.
So I tried “make-it-better” boy #2. Awkward! It was around then that I began to notice that I didn’t feel much in my body. I wasn’t “turned on”. My attention was on all that flesh and my eyes bugged out of my head. Mind you, I never made out with a boy, you know, that whole sitting on the couch with sweaty palms and awkward lips. I went from total innocence to thinking that I could just get naked and woosh the whole movie fantasy sex would be natural and feel good. NOT!
Boy # 3. Awkward! Not much feeling. But, wait, there was some. At boy #3 I decided to stop trying. I gave up. Years and years went by before I tried again.
At that time I didn’t have much awareness about female orgasm. In fact mostly I remember this sense that it’s “over” when the guy comes. Somehow or another I was graced to have found the formal introduction to sex that I think every young person should have, through my Human Sexuality course in college. The textbook was huge and the coursework quite, um, thorough. One of the best parts of the course was the film (yes, that’s right, a full size screen) of a woman masturbating. Though it was graphic, by my definition it wasn’t a pornographic film, it was more of a scientific perspective. They taught us all of the physical indicators of each phase the woman would go through as she went from arousal to the peak of the crest, then came down. And oh, it was graphic! They literally measured the sizes of her parts, pointed out the color, etc. While it’s slightly embarrassing for me to write about, I was glued to the screen. I was fascinated! It was instruction that I needed. It was freedom to masturbate. Oh god, that word! It gave me a new and secret little haven for myself. I felt freedom when I was alone. I felt open and safe and it was good.
What year was it? 2003? I'm on my indoor bike, sweating it up. It's a Saturday afternoon and I had just gotten back from a little girls outing with Leslie & Jessica, pedicures and lunch at Cheesecake. The phone rang and I almost didn't answer it. It was Leslie and for some reason I did. And it went like this:
I need to talk to you about something, and I need you to never tell anyone.
Oh shit. I stop pedaling. I'm a little confused because I had just spent all morning with her.
Last night [she starts sobbing] I had sex with someone, I cheated on Allen and I don't know what to do. I don't know what happened, I don't understand what happened.
Oh god. Oh god. I stand up and start pacing.
Back up to the night before. Wait, I'm confused, I was there last night.
I got really drunk and passed out. I woke up and Mark was having sex with me.
Jessica, Leslie's best friend, had just gotten back from her honeymoon and invited some couples over to look at their wedding pictures from the photographer. It was so fun... some wine, some girls. The guys of course were in the other room watching sports or having shots or something. I was there with my boyfriend Ryan, and there were a few couples (maybe two?) that I didn't know.
[Leslie sobbing uncontrollably and I can't even understand her]
I'm so confused and stunned that I don't know what to do. I tell Leslie to come over. Meanwhile, I start realizing that my counseling skills may not be enough here. I look up counseling in the phonebook and find a hotline for emergency family assistance, or a woman's shelter, I can't remember which.
I'm waiting outside when Leslie pulls up. She steps out of the car, no shoes, hair disheveled, and is still crying. I yelled at her to stop because I heard a car coming and she obviously was in a different world and didn't hear it. I scoop her up in my arms and we go downstairs into my basement apartment. On my bed, me holding her hand, she tells me more of the story.
Leslie had partied and partied, and at some point (she had no idea what time) she knew she was wasted and went upstairs to pass out. She went to the guest room and was shocked to walk into two people having sex on that bed. So she went into the newlywed's room and laid down in their king size bed. Jessica woke her up at some point and she moved to the end of the bed, turning herself so she was sleeping at Jess's feet.
She wakes up and she is face down, and someone is having sex with her from behind, but she has no idea who. She looks up and sees Jessica sleeping. She turns around and sees it is Jess's husband Mark, moving slowly and silently. She remembers hitting the bed and jumping up, running out of the room. She lies down on the couch and is disoriented. Mark follows her down with a sheet, and tries to continue touching her. She yanks his hand off and he goes back to the bedroom, returning with her underwear. The rest of the night she lays in shock, with her underwear in her hand, trying to backtrack to the step by step of the night. Wait, she had gone to bed? She remembers that much for sure.
I'm watching her go from trying to compose herself to crumpling into a ball. Oh, god I felt her deep pain, twisting up from inside some dark and nasty place. As she unfolds what happened, more and more I'm so overwhelmed I'm unsure of what to do. I hand her the phone and dial the hotline phone number for her.
Leslie had been trying to get pregnant, so she hadn't been drinking for weeks, maybe a month? Her husband Allen wasn't feeling well that night so he didn't come to the party. Ryan and I left the party maybe around midnight, and by that time the shots had come out, and the party was in an upswing. Someone was passing around a pipe and we were getting high. I remember asking Leslie how she was going to get home, because it was clear there was no sign of her stopping the party. She obviously hadn't thought about it and said maybe Allen would pick her up, maybe a taxi, maybe she'd stay there. I reacted to a taxi picking her up, I had just heard about a woman in San Francisco getting killed by a taxi driver. I figured she would probably stay there in the guest room.
She tells her story to the crisis counselor, and almost immediately they tell her to call the Rape Crisis hotline. I remember her getting a piece of paper and writing the # down, with a look of confusion on her face. When she got off the phone, it was clear that "sexual assault" was now on the table. As everything sank in, it seemed clear to me that this is what had happened.
The word rape stung in my ears. Rape.
Conduct of a sexual or indecent nature toward another person that is accompanied by actual or threatened physical force or that induces fear, shame, or mental suffering.
At this point we just kept looking at each other in shock. She had written down several things on that paper, and as they suggested some options, she would stop writing and look back up at me. She hung up and said "sexual assault". They advised me to report this. The most I can remember about this is how she just kept saying but what about Jessica?. What am I going to do about Jessica?
Somewhere around then Ryan came whistling down the stairs, wondering why he found Leslie there because we were supposed to go to a movie. I said "something bad has happened and I can't go, I need to take care of Leslie". She motioned him to come sit with us and she told him what happened. He came unglued. He wanted to go over and kick Mark's ass. He was outraged and held her as she sobbed. The next step was what should she do and how was she going to tell Allen?
When I was telling this story during the trial, I remember being asked about that first phone call I got from Leslie, and specifically when the word "rape" or "sexual assault" was first spoken. I am not entirely sure, but I think it was the crisis hotline operator. Personally I think in Leslie's state of shock (and mine), the process of sorting out what happened in the timeline of the night did not lend itself to "seeing" what happened in the bigger picture.
I think that while framing information through a timeline in snapshots is important, it's not relevant that she didn't call it "rape" right away. She had never been sexually assaulted, nor had she ever in her mind (I'm speaking for her) intended to have sex with her best friend's husband. Specifically, a few months earlier, when some of us were questioning why Jess was getting married to this person, Leslie had voiced that she was physically "repulsed" by him. I feel badly putting that down in writing, but it was such a strong statement that I remembered it clearly in my mind.
After Leslie told Ryan everything, she quickly shifted to how was she going to tell Allen. And what action was she going to take... should she call Jessica and tell her what happened? She mostly was worried that when she told Allen he would get his gun and go after Jessica's husband. She was worried that he wouldn't believe her. She was worried he would think she cheated on him.
A million thoughts of course were racing through my head, but there was never any doubt in my mind that this was WRONG and Leslie was not given a CHOICE by this man. This man betrayed her and took advantage of her. I felt it in my bones and I never doubted her. I know Leslie very well, in fact, for many years, and I could feel what was true. Because I had experienced something similar in my past, I knew just how difficult it can be to call it what it is (rape).
Leslie asked us to come to the house and help her tell Allen. First she hid his gun. Second we went downstairs and I felt the nervousness settle in the room. Allen smelled the fear and Leslie started tumbling out the story. Ryan and I filled in some of the story when she was crying too much, and pretty soon they both said they would like some alone time. After a while they came upstairs and said they were choosing to go to the hospital and report this. All four of us were in a state of shock but there was no doubt that what happened was wrong. Not right. Not okay.
During the trial he surprised all of us by getting up on the stand. I was not allowed to be in the room since I was a witness, but I heard that the District Attorney was pacing the length of the room, back and forth, like a predator. A few things stand out.
First, since the moment he was arrested, his story was that yes, they did have sex and yes, he did "cheat" on his wife. What astounds me about this is that was his reality. He genuinely thought it was consensual sex. For me, equally tragic about all of this was the loss of my friend Jessica. Less than 12 hours from when her new husband was arrested, she stood by his story that he had cheated on her, he had an affair. While there is one part of me that completely honors people's choices, and I do understand that he didn't think he raped her, this was a hard one to swallow. Very hard.
Second, while Mark was testifying, the DA slowed him down, moment by moment, in snapshots, as to the sequence of his thoughts and behavior that night. He said went to bed perhaps around 4am (remember Jess had gone to bed at 3am with Leslie already dead passed out and now laying perpendicular to them at the foot of the bed). He was restless and he sort of "nudged" her arm and she looked at him and she thought he smiled which meant she wanted to have sex. The DA was relentless at this point, she said so wait a minute, if a girl walking down the street looks at you and smile, this means she is inviting you to have sex with you. And moreso, your wife's best friend, passed out drunk and high, just because she is in your bed and you "think" she smiled at you, this gave you permission to have sex with her?
All these years later I still return to this one thought... there is not ONE of my girlfriend's husbands or boyfriends, no matter how drunk, how stoned, how horny, there is not ONE of them who would ever slide a woman halfway off the bed, pull down her underwear and have sex with her while she was passed out. Is it possible that Leslie still felt it and was responsive? Entirely possible. When the DA interviewed Leslie, she did the same slow motion snapshot interview. What Leslie realized, in slow frames, is that he was moving slowly and quietly SO THAT HIS WIFE DIDN'T WAKE UP.
I'll never forget when my girls at work said to me, during the trial, "you know this will be the worst thing that ever happens to you?". Looking back, I can see that. There have been a lot of awful things in the past, but this one ranks as one of the worst. I can't imagine how this must be for you to read, is it as hard as it was for me to live through it and now be writing about it?
There's so many other threads to add, the regrets, the pain, the sadness.... how I cut Jessica out of my life and how this broke my community; the divisions, the sides people took, the sense of betrayal and confusion, the sense of loss. After it was all "over" I decided to become a rape crisis counselor and did this for a year. I sat on guard for the night shift, wondering if that pager would go off, wondering what would be on the other end of the line. The worst was a woman who apparently (found out after) had called many times before, and though her story was a tragic tale of repeat trauma throughout her life, when she talked about losing her eye during the rape I realized I just couldn't do it. I couldn't rub myself up against my own wound that hadn't healed.
I found a six week sexual assault group and wanted to throw up at the start of the first session. It was led by an amazing, gentle and beautiful psychotherapist named Faith. Isn't that a lovely name. Each one of us had a different story to tell. One was a battered wife who was on the run and so traumatized that she lived in an apartment with blacked out windows and hardly left her home. One was raped by her previously loving and gentle ex-boyfriend after she refused to get back together with him (she was such a quiet and gentle little bird, I couldn't imagine how this cracked her inside). Another was young, brave and firey, and had been dragged down the streets of a market in India screaming I DON'T KNOW THIS MAN, SOMEBODY HELP! Again, is this hard to read? It sure is hard to write.
I'm not really sure what broke through for me during the group, if anything at all. I told my story and came to realize there were even older roots buried down into the crevices of my childhood. And although by the age of 30 I was in an amazing and loving relationship with a great man, I knew my history still affected me "in the bedroom". I need to and want to write more about the aftermath of these experiences because there are other women out there suffering as I did, who were or are stuck as I am and desperate to heal this thing.
I was a ceramic plate, beautiful, pure and whole... then this man came and dropped me, slow motion, onto the floor. I broke. I shattered into pieces. I can never be glued back into that same piece. I broke. I did. And I don't want to be glued back together. I want to make art of myself. A mosaic.