That’s a pretty awkward title, eh?
There’s going to be a lot of awkward here, so maybe that’s a good introduction.
So, a prologue to a prologue, what’s that about?
I mentioned a few times that I was sexually assaulted or raped by a high school teacher of mine. Those words are completely inadequate to describe what happened there. And that experience doesn’t entirely make sense unless learned in context to what came before.
What came before was how I lost my virginity. No, it wasn’t an assault. Or, maybe some people would argue that it was an assault of some sort. I’ve never felt that way about it, though it’s a damn peculiar story, quite possibly the oddest (and most fraught, without being outright rape) loss of virginity story I know.
To set the stage, I’ll point out a few things from my childhood that I’ve mentioned before. I grew up in the Midwest, in a very rural, Christian area. We weren’t taught abstinence only sex-ed. But sex-ed was handled as though sex was a very, very distasteful thing to do if you weren’t married, and if you must do it, then condoms and birth control were a must, because getting and STD was gross and made you a bad person, as did teen pregnancy. When I grew up, there were no pregnant teens in my school. I’m not sure if that’s because no one got pregnant, anybody who got pregnant got an abortion, or if anybody who became pregnant got pulled out of school. I don’t remember any rumors of pregnancy during high school happening in my small school. I do remember that there were some pregnant teens in a nearby small town school, and most people in my area seemed to view that as proof that the people in that town were immoral and bad.
Being Christian, I was very much in the “saving myself until marriage” bandwagon. As a teen, my basic assumption was that I’d go to college, meet a guy there who I’d want to marry, get married shortly after college, and then build a life with that guy. I assumed I’d settle down somewhere near where I grew up. There was a particular run-down Victoria home on a huge tract of land about a half an hour from where I was raised that perpetually had a “for sale” sign on it. I had this fantasy that me and my husband would buy this home and fix it up into a gorgeous old-fashioned sprawling home (very different to the McMansions that were popping up in housing plans all over my area).
It’s really weird to think back to all this. Semi-nostalgic and nice, but also weird. Who was that girl I remember so clearly? Me? Really?
I shouldn’t be surprised, really. I still have a big space in my heart for painted ladies.
This was my teenaged dream: college, marriage, quirky old house, lots of pets. No children, even then.
But definitely a traditional white wedding. Losing my virginity to my husband. Because I’d been raised to believe that virginity was a prize to be given to someone. A rare and precious gift that is only given once. And of course we’re talking about vaginal virginity here. Blow jobs were never mentioned. And anal sex? I didn’t even know that existed as an actual act that people did. Which is hilarious in a way, given that I’d been masturbating and anally stimulating myself since my early teens, maybe even earlier. But with another person?!
The thought never entered my mind.
I was in no “danger” of losing my virginity in my mid teens. Half the time, I was still playing dress up in my mom’s old clothes or playing with my collection of unicorn figurines. I actually had a boyfriend for a few months when I was 14, but the raciest thing we did was hold hands. It was a weird relationship, and half-hearted at best. Also a product of patriarchal bullshit, in hindsight. My friends found out that a boy (Marcus) liked me. I didn’t know Marcus and didn’t particular care to know him. But because Marcus liked me and a boy liking a girl was such a big deal, Marcus, his friends, and my “friends” all badgered me until I would “go steady” with Marcus. Which, as far as I remember, involved sometimes talking on the phone after school, and eating lunch together in the cafeteria.
The first time he came up beyond me and put his arms around me, I turned around, shoved him away, and kicked him in the balls. I got into a lot of trouble for that, but refused to apologize. He shouldn’t have touched me, I said. He didn’t hurt you, the school principal said back. It’s mean to kick someone who just wants to give you a hug.
No mention of consent here. No concept of consent.
Girls are for touching, aren’t they?
Anyways, though Marcus and I did end up “going together”, he quickly learned that touching me without asking first was a bad idea. Kept getting kicked in the balls. Or kneed. Or punched. I got better at being sneakier about it, since I was only one who kept getting into trouble for it.
I kicked him in the balls when he broke up with me too. I do actually feel a little bad for that one. He didn’t deserve that.
So that was my first boyfriend.
My second boyfriend, Jonas, I actually liked. He was a year older than me. But he kissed really weirdly. His idea of french kissing felt like he was using his tongue as a spear to gently-ish stab me in the mouth repeatedly. It didn’t hurt at all, but it felt weird and intrusive and I broke up with him after a couple of months.
I think he’s the only boyfriend I had in high school who I actually really liked. There were a handful more, each for a few months, each because the guy had expressed an interest in me, and it’d be “rude” not to be his girlfriend. Also, both my “friends” and my family thought having boyfriends would be a good idea for me, since I was such a loner and so weird. I think having a boyfriend was supposed to make me more normal, somehow.
I think having all these boyfriends who I didn’t particularly like put me firmly into the path of starting to dissociate when physical intimacy began. It definitely sculpted my psyche to accept the idea that what I wanted didn’t matter. Happily, all of these boyfriends…well, I don’t think they liked me all that much. We kissed. There was some “above the belt” fonlding, which involved asking no permission. It just happened. Nothing further happened, probably because the guys in question didn’t want to go farther, for whatever reason.
I can hope that my obvious signs of completely indifference contributed to that, but who knows?
Things changed a lot when I met Elias. Elias was my best friend. My gay best friend. My gay best friend before gay best friends had become a trope.
Elias transferred in with a small group of students when a nearby tiny school closed down. I met him my sophomore year. He was a freshman.
Meeting him was the first time that I really clicked with someone. You know, that feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and then blink and it’s six hours later and you’ve been gabbing back and forth like old friends the entire time? That was Elias for me. I didn’t even know people could have relationships like that. All my friendships were difficult and stilted and even my few friends often made it clear how weird I was and hard to be around.
Elias was weird the way that I was weird.
Elias was also weird in ways that were darker than I was, but that I’d been heading towards.
He told me that he’d been cutting himself shortly after the first time I cut myself.
My first time was accidental. I was outside, at a table that was situation just below our kitchen window. I was cutting up tomatoes from my mom’s garden, and putting the chunks through a tomato press. My mom was inside, turning the resulting pulp into sauce. And we were arguing. I forget what we were fighting about, but I remember it was an ugly argument. One of those ones where she was truly being unreasonable. It might have been something like the fight we had over me doing pottery and mixed media arts instead of chorus and theater stuff like she wanted. My mom had always wanted to do chorus and theater, but her mom wouldn’t let her. So she wouldn’t let me not do theater and chorus. It completely escaped her that she was doing exactly the same controlling, shitty thing her mom did, just with different subjects.
Anyways, we were having this ugly fight. I remember that I felt cornered. If I stopped fighting and agreed with her, then I’d be agreeing to do something that I had zero interest in, and giving up my own interests. But I couldn’t do things that did interest me without hours of screaming fights with my mom. Which option was the least miserable one? Why did every option hurt me?
At some point, when I was fighting and crying I slipped with the serrated knife I was using. Instead of making a slice into the skin of the tomato I was holding in my hand, I sliced across my own skin. It was the base of my left hand; I still have the fainted puckered scar. The teeth of the blade snagged into my skin. Pain flared skippingly in my hand. As it worked through my brain that I’d slipped and cut myself, I stopped. The pain stopped.
I froze. I remember being stunned. This was pain that I caused. That I started. And then stopped. It was something I could control. The endorphin rush felt amazing. I didn’t know what that was at the time, but I was suddenly suffused with an intense pleasure that generated feelings of comfort and lassitude. I was depleted in a way that felt wonderful. The fight didn’t matter anymore.
I don’t remember how long that lasted, but I remember feeling confused and scared the next day. Cutting myself was wrong, wasn’t it? But it felt so good. It stopped me from hurting for awhile. And besides, that time had been an accident.
But if I wanted to feel that way again, I’d have to do it again, on purpose this time.
Did the end, did that feeling, justify the means? Did it make cutting myself OK? I was in knots over this.
A few days later, Elias told me that he’d been cutting himself. And he felt absolutely no guilt or conflict about it. He had enough misery in his life; he was gay, certain his parents would hate it if they knew, weird the way I was weird, but also…stunningly handsome and frighteningly smart. Neither of those are exaggerations, Elias was enormously naturally gifted. One of those straight A students that never had to crack a book. Nearly an eidetic memory. Incredibly charismatic. Teachers loved and were awed by his brilliant and adored him. Most male students detested him. Many of the female students threw themselves at him. And he hated mostly of them, because he felt like they didn’t see him. They saw his handsome face, they saw how smart he was, they thought he was going to go places. But when he talked about things he was passionate about, things that he was really interested in, people usually thought he was being weird or overthinking things and tried to steer him back into more “normal” subjects.
But when we talked, I liked hearing what he had to say, what he focused on. Both of us were curious about psychology and the inner workings of the mind. I’d say both of us loved the idea of philosophy and debating morality. These were some of our “weird” interests. Most people around us were happy with the laws that were in place and though debating the inner workings of the mind was weird and boring and that those inner workings didn’t matter anyway, as long as people followed the Bible and the law.
So two weird kids separately start cutting themselves to get away from their daily pains. One feels fine doing it, the other conflicted. They talk, and the one who thinks it’s a good idea convinces the other that yes, it’s a good idea. Or maybe not exactly a “good” idea, but a method of making life more bearable. So where do they go from there?
Well, it became a special game of ours. We both wore a lot of long sleeves, and we were both comfortable touching each other. It was a kind of competition, for us to hug or for one of us to put a hand on the other person’s arm, and see if they flinched in pain. It was also a kind of training, to help both of us learn not to flinch if someone else touched us. We didn’t want to give away our game to anybody else.
In time, we had another special game. We started fooling around. Experimenting with kissing. And blow jobs. I honestly forgot who came up with the idea. I do remember us cuddling together once on the couch, and he got a hard-on. He was apologetic, but unabashed. I was curious. And he wasn’t…he wasn’t trying to fuck me. He didn’t like me like that. I asked if I could touch him. He said OK. He really like it. I like watching the reactions I could provoke by touching him in different ways. I actually like that I could touch him and he wasn’t trying to touch me. For me, this felt good. As time went on, we progressed to me giving him blowjobs. Again, this was something I did willingly (to this day, I really like giving blowjobs). It was really fun to tease him, to see his reactions, and to not worry about him wanting to touch me back, because I had the wrong genitals for him to be attracted to. Experimenting with him felt like a safe way to explore at least one part of sexuality.
Looking back, I can see myself trying to make the best of a bad situation here. Elias was the first person I felt like I clicked with. I was in a lot of pain. My own mother was regularly brutalizing my self of self, trying to relive her childhood by pushing me in the directions she had wanted to go. The message I got from my people in my life was that I was strange, uncomfortable to be around, too smart for my own (female) good. I questioned the Bible too much. When guys expressed an interest in me, I wasn’t interested in them; what was wrong with me? Did I think I was too good for them? Was I some sort of fucked-up lezzie? (I didn’t learn the actual word “lesbian” until either the end of high school or early college. Everybody said lezzie and it was clear that lezzies were sick people, almost as sick as fags. Sometimes I really hate people). Didn’t I realize if I just knocked it off and tried to fit in, I’d be a lot happier.
Is it any wonder I was a loner and came to really love keeping my own company until I met Elias?
Unfortunately, there was further harm to be had with Elias too, and in a way that I couldn’t have imagined before it happened. Truth is much stranger than fiction. I’ll get to that in the next part.