CW: sexual trauma
You are fifteen. There is a group of kids who hang out in the schoolyard in your neighborhood. You don’t go to school with these kids—you go to a specialized high school in the city—but you want them to accept you. The kids here are raw, tough, angry. You never talk to them about your life at school. You only talk about things you think will make them like you. These kids are not your friends and you know it, but you are desperate to be raw, tough, and angry too. Whenever your mother lets you, you go to the schoolyard. You want to belong.
One of the boys in the group comes from the next town over. He is a year older than you and tall, with black hair and freckles. His name isn’t Conor, but it could be. You think Conor’s freckles are cute, but he is into some other girl, so you mostly ignore him. Practically all the kids who hang out in the schoolyard are into punk and hardcore music, and Conor is too, but he’s also into ska. You don’t know what ska is. You roll your eyes every time Conor mentions The Specials or some other band with a name you don’t know because that’s what everyone else does. You have learned to be skeptical of everyone else’s music, until you have a reason not to be.
One night in the schoolyard, Conor thrusts his Sony Walkman into your hands. He puts his lit cigarette in his mouth and it dangles there, between his lips, while he puts the foam headphones on your head. “Listen,” he commands. You do. This little bit of attention is all you need. You don’t care about The Specials, but you pretend you do. He has noticed you. You are smitten, or at least you think you are.
A week later you are in his basement bedroom. He lives in a two-family house half a block from the above-ground subway station. His parents are at work and you and he are alone. It’s clear to you why you are there. His parents don’t care if he smokes, he tells you, and holds out a pack of Marlboro reds. You are a Newport Lights 100s girl, but you say nothing. You tuck your open pack of Newports out of sight as he leans over and flips open his metal Zippo to offer you a light. Marlboros gross you out, but this one is a gift from a boy. That is all you need. He exhales smoke in your face as he leans in to kiss you, and you breathe it in. There is no foreplay. Within moments he is inside you and you are in pain. You lie there. This is what you do. This is what you have always done, since the first time you let someone touch you. You grit your teeth and wait for it to be over. The clock on Conor’s bedside table is digital but mechanical. Watching it, you notice its strange, motorized grinding noise every time a number flips over. The silence in between the flips is eternal.
Conor stops moving for a moment and looks at you. You are surprised to be acknowledged. In your experience, the boys are always too self-involved to even notice that you are there. You are just a box. Or a hole. Until it’s over and then you go pee because the books say you’re supposed to. And then you’re supposed to light cigarettes and say how awesome it felt and then you wait for him to say he can’t wait to do it again and as you leave you extract a hug or some other indication that he means it. But that is not what is happening with Conor.
“Could you kiss me?” he asks. “You are just lying there like you’re dead. You haven’t even moved.” You are so surprised that he asked you anything at all that you almost answer honestly. Almost. You don’t want to upset him or make him think he is doing anything wrong. “It’s starting to hurt a little,” you respond. You’re lying. It’s been hurting for fifteen minutes, since it started. You know this because he’s right; you haven’t moved. You’ve been too occupied with the clock.
“Why?” he demands. “Are you okay?”
“Oh,” you say casually, apologetically. “It always hurts after a while. I can do it for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then it feels raw. Can you maybe hurry up?” He blinks at you, then turns his attention to pounding into you, harder and harder. You throw an arm around his shoulder, trying to appear lively. You force a sigh. Is this what people are supposed to do when they are enjoying this? Do people really enjoy this?
Moments later, he is zipping up his jeans. You pee bright red blood. You swallow hard, tell yourself you’re fine and just need to drink some water. You feel ripped open from the inside, but you set your jaw and you don’t let on that you are in pain. You tell yourself that everything is fine, that this must be how you are supposed to feel, and you grin and tell him how awesome that was. Back on the street, you light a Marlboro red and turn up the volume on your Walkman. The Specials. You feel like maybe you did well, like maybe you could be loved.
Aimee Christian is an introverted oversharer and a freelance writer published in The New York Times and The Washington Post, on Romper.com, Uncomfortable Revolution magazine, and Popsugar Family. She is an adoptee, a parent, and a disability advocate who writes personal essay and memoir. She has just completed a middle grade novel about an eleven-year-old girl with an unusual disability who is faced with a difficult choice. Aimee is a native New Yorker now living in semi-rural New England with her family, two cats, and very friendly chickens. Find more about Aimee at aimeechristian.net.
Artwork by: Kdwk Leung