A Memoir by LZ Michelle
We pull up to the house with the chipped-paint sideboard and cracked basketball hoop. Four guys. Different school. One for each. Take your pick. We swallow rum in the car, let it burn, become lighter. We nervously share a cigarette and then go in.
As my friend promised, we see four guys, along with two other girls. We knew one girl would be there, but we didn’t expect the second. The tension rises, and we’re all wondering who won’t get picked to put out.
“Ladies, want a shot?” our host asks. He’s tall and thin. He’s wearing basketball shorts. He isn’t trying to impress us. “Let’s go in the pool. We’ll take some shots and get in.”
“We don’t have bathing suits,” I tell him.
“Neither do we,” he says.
I was eight the first time a boy called me ugly. A bunch of us were playing chicken at my brother’s little league game. We dared each other to lick the garbage can, run laps with untied shoes, make loud farting sounds underneath the bleachers. I was laughing so hard it hurt, one of those moments missing from my adulthood, and an older boy looked square at me and said “You’re ugly” in a matter-of-fact voice. That night, I peered into the bathroom mirror at least twenty different times, trying to discover what he’d seen. Eyes, nose, mouth, beauty mark. I didn’t understand the composition of ugly.
I watch my skinny friends doing naked back flips. I am shielded in the shallow end. The water flows over my shoulders, a blanket of wet silk, and I keep my arms crossed over my breasts.
Our host swims up from behind, and the mixture of heat and liquid and soft skin feels nice. He kisses my neck, and I turn to face him. His stubble feels rough against my cheek. I don’t know his name. I want to kiss him forever, just kiss him, but he grabs at my breasts and I know what’s expected.
“You’re so sexy,” he says. I don’t want to be sexy. I want to be beautiful.
I remember that young girl rolling up her shorts and pulling down her shirt, trying to look older, praying for breasts, hoping to get asked to dance, loving it when a guy says, “You’re cute. Has anyone ever told you that?” Loving it more when she gets asked to dance, and then feeling special because, out of all the girls, he chose her. She was chosen. She is not alone amidst the swaying bodies and three-minute ballads. Enviable, though she is the girl I pity most—the one in that blissful moment before everything changes.
I like the first few seconds of his touch. His hands are soft from the pool, and for a moment I convince myself it’s a good idea, great even. He looks at me like I’m special. I want to give him what he wants, but his softness doesn’t last. Before I comprehend what’s happening, he is digging into my skin, clawing at my body, slamming his torso against mine. My friends continue to take shots and do naked flips. I want their laughter to rescue me, but I am too ashamed of my body to get out. The other two girls sit smoking on patio chairs. The guys are having a splash war in the deep end. I am standing still, in shock, unable to produce the word no.
Thick eye-liner—smokey eyes are so in. I never go anywhere without eyeliner. Thin clothing—no guy likes a prude. Shots of Bacardi Dragon Berry—seven shots before we go out. No guy likes a prude. Eyelash curlers, push up bras, lacey thongs, the smell of burnt hair—the things we do to feel good enough.
“Let’s go somewhere else. Somewhere more private,” he tells me.
He takes my hand and leads me out of the pool. My friends have just started a round of naked chicken fights. I grab my towel as my feet hit the rough cement. I wrap it around my body, and he puts his shorts on. I struggle to slip my dress over my head without letting go of the cloth that’s shielding me. We each take another shot and head to his car. It’s a four door. Silver. I can’t make out the model. The leather interior creates bumps along my exposed flesh. He turns the radio on. The drive is short. We almost start talking. It’s almost peaceful. He parks.
Seventh grade. Boys notice my breasts. They ask on the school bus if they can feel me up. I let them—I want to be liked, I want to be cool, I want friends. It feels good when they touch me. They’re excited, and this makes me feel happy, like I can share something important. I am desired. Then one day a boy spits on the window and slams my face into the glass. Blood runs from my upper lip, and his saliva drips into my eye. I look at him, and he shakes his head. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m so sorry. It was supposed to be funny. It was supposed to be a joke.”
Our hair is still wet, and it’s cold in his car. I smell chlorine and Axe body spray. We kiss, and it’s almost enjoyable, but then he grabs and grabs. I am naked before I know it. We move to the backseat. He is inside me. It’s rough and unpleasant. I count backwards from a hundred, wanting it to be over. Everything hurts. I don’t know this person. I’ve only had sex once before. He throws my body around, and a part of me levitates above the car, watches my body doing something I don’t want to be doing. I don’t say stop. I don’t say stop because I know that he won’t, and I don’t want to have to live with that designation, victim. I count and I count and I count until he’s finally done.
Now, when I take my niece to the beach, she lies on the sand near the ocean and allows her body to be carried by the tide, ever so gently. Each time she shimmies away, I pull her in. “I’m scared,” I say. “I need you on this side.”
Then, I remember that she is five; when I was five, I used to pretend the waves were a magic carpet that could carry me anywhere I wanted. But as the waves climb, and her small body gets pushed and pulled, I cling to her with all of my strength. “I can’t let you fall beneath the surface,” I tell her. “You have to stay up here so I can see you.”
I am looking at the chipped interiors of his car, feeling nauseated and empty. I notice him smiling, a smile of achievement, and it’s hard to believe that our bodies were just united when our minds are reeling in different orbits. I wrap the towel around myself. My skin smells like him.
In an instant his face shifts from accomplishment to rage. He rips my towel off and starts searching the back seat. He lifts up the mats and shakes the seatbelts and ducks his head underneath the front seats.
“Where is it? Where the fuck is it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say.
“The condom! Where the fuck is the condom? It fell off! It’s not on my dick. It’s not here!”
I am confused and shocked and drunk. I hesitate for a moment.
“What the fuck? Look for it, bitch! Look for it!”
I get on my knees and search the areas he’s already searched. The towel is on the seat, and I am naked and cold.
He keeps yelling bitch and telling me to look. I have not yet learned to fight back. I look, but the condom is nowhere to be found, and he keeps screaming “What the fuck? What the fuck?”And then I realize it’s likely still in my body. I feel betrayed by my womanhood. I want to yell at my body for putting me in this position: naked and freezing and empty and ashamed with a stranger screaming orders, cursing at me.
The following categories were etched into a stall in a boys’ restroom at my high school: Largest Boobs, Smallest Boobs, Best Ass, Butterface, Nicest Pussy, Loosest, Best BJ, Takes it in the Ass. Girls’ names appeared under each category.
He keeps yelling at me and calling me a bitch even as I search my body for the condom. I can feel the condom, but it’s hard to get out. I can’t get it out. He tells me to get it the fuck out. His screaming is making everything more difficult. Finally I pinch the latex between my thumb and middle finger and pull. It snaps free and whips out. Later I will learn that this happens most often when the woman cannot lubricate.
Parts of us are all youth, stitched together by pasts that have not yet caught up to us, by the futures we will spend lifetimes trying to make right.
When we get back, the front door is locked. We decide to climb through a house window to look for our friends, and he boosts me up. While I’m climbing through the opening, half in, half out, he says, “I can totally go again right now if you want to. You’re so damn sexy.”
I should yell, curse, maybe slap him. I don’t say anything. We do not do it again.
Before I leave, he takes my number and tells me he’ll take me to Planned Parenthood the next day to get Plan B. I give him my number, thinking that is the quickest way to get away from him.
The next day, I don’t wait for his phone call. I drive myself.
Note to our mothers: It wasn’t you. It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have done better. We weren’t babies. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we thought we did. We lied, and then we lied some more. You couldn’t have stopped us. These are different times. We all grow out of it. We attempt to move on. We try to forget. It could have been worse. Don’t blame yourself. It wasn’t you. It wasn’t your fault.
When I was eleven I did cartwheels in my front yard wearing a cherry-dotted bikini. Cars kept honking, and I didn’t know why. My mother came out and said, “You can’t do that anymore. Your body is different now.” I’ve dreamed in cartwheels ever since.