I was seventeen. I’m not sure that’s true, but I’ve decided I was seventeen because it seems like it makes sense when I think back on those halcyon last days of high school. I was a girl, not even almost a woman, but I didn’t know that yet.
Nor did he. Or maybe he didn’t care.
The next part of my life was mapped out. I was the class president. I was graduating with honors. I was heading to my dream school, far away from my hometown. I was in love with a boy, the way you are in love with a boy in high school, when it’s all dizzying and tingly and heady in the way childhood allows. I had made it. All I had to do was coast. I was almost out.
I didn’t make it.
I remember the skirt I wore. It was my favorite- red and black plaid, probably two inches shorter than it should have been on my long legs, topped with a black shirt probably a little too tight across my full breasts. I remembered feeling pretty that day, my makeup perfect, new hair cut bouncy and shiny. I strutted through school in that way you do when you know you look great and you get to watch everyone else watching you look great. It was so shallow. It was so happy. It was so innocent.
Did he ask me to come to his classroom? Or did I go there of my own accord? I can’t remember. In the story I’ve told myself about it, I tell me I went on my own. Why did you do that? I asked me then. I ask me the same now. Because I blame myself. Always myself.
School was over and I was killing time between the last bell and the millions of school activities I’d thrown myself into, being all tightly wound and type A as I was. I think I sat on a desk. That probably made my already too little skirt ride up a bit higher on my thighs.
We were talking about Life After. I was almost to college, almost to everything that came next, and I was so ready to fling myself free of the life I’d been living.
“You’re so pretty,” he said out of the blue, gazing at me in a way he never had before. But I recognized it immediately; the soft, intimate tone accessorized with urgent eyes sweeping over my body. It had been a constant companion since I started sprouting breasts around 5th grade, and even more persistent as my body became a winding road in my teenage years.
No, I remember thinking inside myself. Not him too.
“Come here,” he commanded and I don’t know why I went. Except that it didn’t occur to me not to go. He took my hand gently and slotted me onto his lap. He touched my face. He smelled of patchouli.
“You’re so pretty. You know that?”
I no longer knew words.
“I’ve watched you for so long. Watched you grow into such a lovely young woman.”
His arm was around me. His fingers had snaked underneath the thin material of my shirt and pressed gently against the bare skin of my waist. Sense memory made me remember the time a boy I was in love with did the same and I was so confused by the jolt of electricity that shot up my spine, making me involuntarily arch my back.
I was so ashamed.
“I think about you…”
And I don’t remember the rest. I am almost certain it’s there somewhere, in some dusty corner of the attic of my mind, the rest of what he said. I’ve packed it away back there, underneath advanced trigonometry and chemistry equations and other things I’ll never touch again.
But the rest is static.
No. Not him too.
I’d told him my secrets. Confided in him. Vented and cried and laughed. For years.
And I’d come here alone in a skirt too short and a shirt too tight and I’d come when he called and sat here in his lap.
Why did you do that?
He leaned in to kiss me. I honestly don’t remember if he did. I don’t remember what finally propelled my legs to stand. I remember straightening my clothes, muttering some excuse about why I had to leave, stumbling out the door. I missed the clubs I was supposed to be going to after. I’ve lost the time that followed that.
Some hours later, a boy I was in love with found me sitting on my front steps. Staring. It had grown darker and cooler, and my skirt no armor against the elements. Against anything really.
I was so in love with him then, his soft, deep voice and his big calloused hands. I had been for so long. But that day he called my name and I knew he’d never know me again. I wasn’t ready for Life After. And he couldn’t handle it.
“Home,” I said. I think that’s what I said. He pulled me up from the steps and escorted me to his car. We rode the entire way to his house in silence, him stroking his thumb over the back of my hand, me curled hard into the door of the car, my legs trembling an anxious tempo.
He sat next to me on the couch later, and I could feel how afraid he was of touching me. How confused he was by my silence. Without warning I draped myself across his lap, kissing the lips that always tasted mildly waxy like the chapstick he wore.
Where we were usually all smiles and laughter and the comfort that comes from years together, we were quiet, intense. Or I was, and he followed suit. When he came, I watched how anguished he was about it. How he didn’t understand what was happening but his body was responding anyway.
I knew that feeling now.
Later he curled me up in a tiny ball and cloaked himself around me. Gentle, always so gentle with me.
“Are you okay?”
I decided then I would be okay. Barely anything happened. It coulda been worse. It’s not like he raped you. And didn’t you go there on your own accord, in that little ass skirt and tight ass shirt, strutting all day and sitting on his lap and not saying anything? You should know better. You really did this to yourself.
He drove me home. He kissed someone at the front door. But I wasn’t there.
I did so many things in the following weeks I’ve never breathed a word of. Private things. Emotional things. Violent things. Reckless things. Trying to make my skin forget.
I almost made it.
But I didn’t.