***This is autobiographical, but names have been changed. The narrative elements, like the repetition, are intentional, as it is creative non-fiction. The phone number is obviously fake.
“You can go if you really have to, but just leave this part of your body here,” Michael said. He held his hands parallel to each other, one cutting across my abdomen and the other across my upper thighs, then gestured to the area between them.
I felt cut up, as if his hands were knives that had actually sliced my flesh, but also stunned into silence.
That part of me doesn’t talk, I wanted to say. That part of me can’t have a conversation with you or keep you company. That part of me doesn’t know how to read or write or do math or play lacrosse or earn a 4.0 GPA.
Of course, that’s not what Michael wanted. He wanted parts of my body to receive parts of his body. He thought he was a gentleman about it because he always tried to ensure that I got off too, to ensure that he was “giving me pleasure.” He thought he was a good guy because he put effort into making me orgasm, failing to take into account that I wanted to be listened to rather than gotten off. Failing to take into account that I wanted to be seen as a person, not as a sex organ with a brain and heart as accessories.
I shouldn’t have been so stunned. When we were in middle school, I was, shall we say, undeveloped. I was thin all around, and flat chested at an age when girls feel like having boobs is crucial to existence. One sultry summer day, a mutual friend of ours arranged for us to go over Michael’s house to go swimming in his pool. I was excited since I had a colossal crush on him and hoped he might be noticing me too. I found out later, from the friend who accompanied me, that Michael had said that my gut poked out farther than my boobs after seeing me in a bathing suit. My friend looked at me mournfully, like it pained her to relay such information when I’d just told her that I had a crush on Michael.
I shouldn’t have been so stunned. When I got to high school, Michael and I dated for a six weeks. After those six weeks, he got frustrated that I wasn’t willing to lose my virginity yet and remarked to the same friend who accompanied me to his pool two summers earlier, who relayed it to me, that he “only dated her [me] to get some, and I [he] didn’t get enough, so there’s not point in us being together.” My friend looked at me mournfully again.
I shouldn’t have been so stunned. After one promising day together my junior year of high school, I thought that Michael and I might end up dating again. I was still holding on to hope, walking around with a picture of us in my binder at school and that I looked at between classes. Michael had fractured his leg, so I baked him peanut butter cookies and brought them to his house as a get well gesture. We spent a an hour talking, and he thanked me for them twice. So when I saw his name on my caller I.D. (finally!) one night a few weeks later, adrenaline pumped through me. I thought he was calling me to invite me over, or to tell me that he was already on the way to my house. I willed myself to stay cool, calm and collected as I picked up the phone to avoid sounding overeager.
“Hey.” I sounded cool, calm.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Not much, what are you up to?”
“Yeah, not much. I was just wondering if you could give me Megan Smith’s phone number. You guys are friends, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, hold on, I have to look at my contacts. I don’t have it memorized. Give me a second.”
“Oh yeah, take your time.”
“Ok, it’s 555-555-5555.” I didn’t even miss a beat. I was pretty sure my voice gave nothing away. Megan and I were good friends, almost best friends, and I vowed not to let Michael liking her get in the way of our friendship if it turned out she liked him back. Megan was gorgeous, and she had a big chest. I refused to let myself feel jealous, and I didn’t. I knew it wasn’t her fault.
“Oh yeah, no problem.”
“I’ll talk to you soon.”
I shouldn’t have been so stunned. When I was home for Christmas break my freshman year of college, Michael and I ran into each other outside the A&P in town. We were both running errands for our families as they prepared dinner. I liked that Michael did whatever his parents asked of him without arguing. I had recently dyed my hair dark. He’d always had a thing for blue eyes, and he stood outside my car and gazed at me while we talked even though it was cold outside. I had finished shopping and was on my way home, seated inside my car with the heat on, but he was waiting to go into the store.
He was in no hurry though. He asked me about college, and if I had been back home at all before that day, and when I thought I’d be back in town next. He’s falling for me, I thought to myself. I can see it in how he won’t look away. I hadn’t been thinking about him or our failed high school love since I had been away focusing on school. Still though, his next words had an effect on me:
“Your eyes are so blue. I like your hair dark. It makes your eyes look even bluer.”
I forgot about college. I forgot about my classes and the papers had written and the final exams that I had aced. I was back home and the boy from back home was as important as he was back in high school. All he had to do was say three sentences.
“I should get going. I need to get these groceries home to my mom, and you look cold,” I said. I can’t tell you why, because I didn’t want the moment to end, but I guess I was trying to end the conversation first so as not to appear needy.
“Yeah, when do you leave again?”
“January 20th. They give you a whole month off for Christmas break at college!” I smiled brightly.
“Ok, have a good night.” He kissed my on the cheek. That as his custom, because his family is European, but it always made me feel special.
A week later, his name was lettered against the glow of my caller I.D. Finally!
“Hey, Stacey, what are you up to?”
“Not much, just hanging around the house,” I said.
“Yeah, I was kind of bored. My car’s been at the shop for the past few days. I thought you might be bored too. Do you want to go to Walmart?”
(Now, I know this part of the story may sound incredible, but they’d just built a Walmart about a half hour from where we lived. It was actually exciting because it was 1) nice. I had no idea most Walmarts were hood until I saw other ones when I got older and 2) it was a thing to do. We lived in an extremely rural town, so as unbelievable as it seems, having a Walmart nearby provided a place where teenagers actually went for their leisure time).
“Yeah, what time?” I agreed immediately. I was in pajamas and calculating how fast I could pull together an outfit and put on makeup. I was already putting on lip gloss.
“As soon as you’re ready.”
Ok, he wants to go ASAP. I can rush, I can rush!
“Ok, I’ll pick you up in about twenty minutes.” I focused ons ounding calm so as not to betray my excitement.
“See you soon.”
I found my tight jeans, put on makeup, and sprayed myself with CK1, the perfumed I’d been wearing since 5th grade. This was it. I knew this was finally it. He wanted to hang out and really do something together. It was almost like a date.
It was already 9 pm, and cold since it was December, but there were lots of stars out. How fortuitous! How romantic!
I had my phone out on my lap, prepared to call Michael when I pulled up to his house, but he was already outside, ready to get into the passenger seat. I took it to mean that he was as excited to see me as I was to see him.
“Hey!” I could smell his cologne as we hugged. I could make out his dark lashes and caramel skin in the moonlight. I forced myself to back out of the hug even though I wanted to cling to him. I focused on remaining cool, calm and collected.
“You’re driving stick smooth as hell!” he exclaimed approvingly as we pulled out onto the road.
“Ha, thanks! I’ve been driving stick for over a year now since I got my license. I guess you haven’t been in my car in a long time.”
“The last time I was in your car was right when you first got your license.”
“Oh yeah, I was a little rough on the clutch then. After two weeks of having it, I was fine. I just had to get over being nervous. I was driving like this by January of last year.”
“January. So your birthday is in January? Did I miss your birthday?”
“Well yeah, but it’s December, not January. It was the day after Christmas.”
“I’m sorry. You know how I am. I just can’t ever remember people’s birthdays. And they always remember mine.”
“April 4th,” I replied automatically, taking my hand off the wheel and turning my hand upward to make a sweeping gesture as if I were presenting something. Michael’s birthday was blazed into my memory. Apparently forever, since I still somehow remember it.
“Your memory is amazing.”
“Ha, not really.”
“Hey, Stacey, on the way back from Walmart, can you drop me off somewhere? It’s right down the road from Walmart. You don’t have to drive out of the way or anything.”
“It’s right on the same road as Walmart, on the way back. My girlfriend’s house.”
“Oh, she doesn’t have a car?” What kind of person our age doesn’t have a car? She lives near Walmart? That’s the trashy part of town, I thought. I could hear my voice drop a few octaves, giving away my feeling of having been used.
“No, it’s not that. I mean, yeah, she doesn’t have a car right now. But I wanted to see you.”
“I can drop you off there.”
“Ok, but you know I did want to see you, right?” He actually seemed a little nervous, anxious to smooth over any negative feelings I may have.
I never wanted to make it hard on Michael by being honest. I smiled. “Yeah, it’s no problem.”
When we got to the store, I pretended to look around at things. Fortunately, Michael wasn’t paying too much attention to me, so I didn’t have to work hard to hide my feeling of despondency. He needed something for his car, so that was his other reason for suggesting our late night trip.
“Have you been snowboarding at all since you’ve been home?” Michael asked when we got back in my car.
“Yeah, but only once. My muscles were really sore after because I haven’t been working out like that and so-”
“Can you take a right here? It’s right here.”
“Oh yeah, which house is it?”
“The one in the corner.”
I pulled up. “Here you are.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”
I won’t see you soon. I won’t see you until you need something else from me. Instead of saying what I thought: “Yeah, see ya.”
I thought I couldn’t call Michael out for using me because I thought it would make me look suspicious. I believed that if I said directly, “Hey, you only called me so that I could give you a ride to your girlfriend’s house because your car is at the shop,” the situation would be uncomfortable. I thought that acknowledging the truth would reflect poorly on me, and make me look pathetic or needy or clingy.
I held off from crying until I parked safely at home. Then I sat in the car and let it out. The tears felt hot coming out but got cold immediately in the freezing temperatures. I sat and sat until I was sure my parents had gone to bed because I was embarrassed to be seen crying. The funny thing is, I like the color of my eyes when I cry because their color gets more intense. I looked at myself in the visor mirror for a moment. My eyes were bloodshot, yes, but also extremely blue. But Michael wasn’t there to appreciate them.
I shouldn’t have been so stunned.