You’re sitting on your parents’ bedroom floor, a plastic laundry hamper next to you, folding your dad’s t-shirts while crying.
Upstairs, in your bedroom, a man is sleeping soundly. He came here last night, bringing a Dominos pizza and a bottle of Goldschlager, for what was theoretically your second date.
On your first date, you went to see G.I. Jane at the mall, and afterward made out ferociously in his car. Sitting in the dark, all hot breath and hands, you told him you were cool with fooling around, but didn’t want to have sex — you were going away to college soon, and you wanted to keep things from getting too serious. “I just want us to have fun together,” you’d told him, and he’d been surprised, but agreed to your terms. You felt very mature, having expressed yourself so directly and without nuance.
But that feeling is gone now. You feel very stupid, and also like you now exist in millions of little pieces instead of one, and never have you wished so desperately to wind back a clock.
You’re wearing one of your old middle-school basketball jerseys and nothing else, because you don’t know what happened to your underwear. The jersey is black, with the number 14 in white block letters — your lucky number — and it’s been your favorite piece of clothing for years, because you feel badass when you wear it, a tough girl with sass.
After today, you’ll never see that shirt again. You won’t have a memory of discarding it or hiding it … it’ll just be gone, a thing that existed only for the girl you’ll never be again.
As you fold that clean laundry over and over, you’ll think that you should have known better, that what happened — what exactly did happen? — is your fault. He knew you weren’t a virgin. He didn’t hurt you. He was just … bigger … that’s mostly what you remember, the crushing weight of his body, the lack of air in your lungs. But you’ll feel that the reason you’re sitting there, aching and feeling dirty, is because you put yourself in a bad situation.
Self, that’s true, but making yourself vulnerable does not give someone else license to harm you.
Right now, you don’t have the word ‘rape,’ only a deep sense of guilt and a frantic desire to change what has happened, to conjure something of beauty from this ugly event. So for nearly ten months, you’ll be the girlfriend of the man still sleeping upstairs. He’s 24, and you’re 17, and gradually you’ll recede from your high school life … fading away from friendships, quitting the basketball team, skipping classes and eventually your entire graduation. You’ll pour every ounce of yourself into trying to love him, believing that if you can find a happy ending, the beginning will no longer matter.
Going away to college will save you from this madness. Surrounded by new people, and living at a safe distance, you’ll eventually act with rash determination, dialing him one evening from your dorm phone and blurting that it’s over, you never want to see him again. He’ll cry.
You’ll throw away the rest of your birth control pills, sobbing and feeling strange, but relieved that it’s over.
Self, I’m sorry, but it’ll never really be over.
You’ll be in your 20s and your boyfriend will throw up his hands in frustration when you can’t relax during sex. He’ll know the back story, but still feel resentful that he has to deal with the fallout.
And you’ll agree with him, because the guilt from that night will still be with you. The ‘what if I just hadn’t asked him over…’ ‘what if I just had less to drink…’ Even when you’re 24, and you see 17-year-olds and realize just how young they are, you’ll still think ‘what if I just hadn’t …’
You’ll be 28, and the memory of yourself in that stupid basketball jersey folding the same laundry hundreds of times, then sitting on the floor of your shower, drenched and hollow, will be as fresh and raw as the day it happened. And even though by this time there will be ‘No means No’ campaigns, you still won’t feel comfortable describing it as a ‘rape.’
In your 30s, you’ll think time has finally done its healing work. Other things have happened to you, bad and good, and 17 will feel so long ago. But then that man from so long ago will get in touch with you through Facebook and tell you that he’s a woman now, with the breasts and lingerie and makeup to prove it, and you’ll be back on the floor of that shower again with not enough breath moving in and out of your lungs.
She’ll tell you she’s had a very hard time, and you’ll know that’s true.
You don’t come from a place that will be naturally kind to trans people — if such a place like that exists anywhere — and you will have trans friends who you’ve watched transform into happier, more fulfilled versions of themselves. And although you’ll never have cared or wondered about their genitalia, you won’t be able to help wondering about hers. You’ll watch the raging battle between some trans women and ‘TERFs’ and generally feel tired, because neither group seems to want solidarity as much as they want to be able to own the definition of ‘woman.’
And the longer you’ll think about it, still able to feel that cotton between your fingers, the soaked fabric of your uniform against your back, the more you’ll think that you and the person who raped you are caught in a system much bigger than your individual choices.
Society has been forcing identities onto both of you, infusing your desires with its expectations, soaking your conscience with its crimes. These things collided traumatically for you, and continue to for countless others, and ultimately you will all grapple with these for the rest of your lives.
Self, the man who raped you is a woman now, and time does heal, but scars do stay.