Sophomore year of high school, I was on my way to the locker room in my dance team uniform after a football game we'd lost. I turned the corner into the hallway and saw Patrick,* who was a couple years older, storming towards me. Still in his football gear, his jaw was clenched and he was tearing the pep rally "Go team!" posters off the walls. I froze as he passed by and continued down the hallway ripping signs. Being by myself and seeing him like this was terrifying, but also electrifying.
Over Christmas break that year, I was at a house party after a basketball game that Patrick had played in, drinking Bartles & Jaymes Very Berry wine coolers.
"Are you going to the diner?" he asked, and I had to stop myself from saying, "Are you talking to me?"
"A bunch of us are going, are you gonna go?"
Gulping, I nodded yes.
Inside the diner, there was a Christmas tree next to the door, and Patrick grabbed a candy cane that was hanging off it as he walked by. He led me to a table near the back, by the smoking section, and slid into the booth across from me. I ordered a hot chocolate and he offered me some of his cheese fries, and gave me the candy cane he'd stolen. I kept it in the wrapper and tucked it into my purse, and when I got home I hid it underneath my bottom desk drawer, next to my diary with the tiny gold lock.
At school I hoped to pass him in the hallways and at parties I prayed he'd talk to me. Neither happened very often but when they did, I was so excited about these brief glimpses and conversations.
One weekend in May I heard that there was going to be a keg party in the woods by the pond on Sunday night since we had Monday off from school. My best friend couldn't go but I had a feeling that Patrick would be there so I decided to go by myself. I wore a white Champion t-shirt, red Umbro shorts, a GAP jeans jacket, bunchy socks, and Keds. I went to my best friend's house before the party and she did my hair, putting it half-up in a clip and blow-drying and hairspraying my bangs.
Walking up to the clearing by the pond where the party was, I saw right away that Patrick was there and my stomach did flip-flops. He made his way over and talked to me, and at the end of the night he said he would walk me home.
Maybe he'll kiss me! I thought, walking down the dirt path next to him, and popping a Wint-O-Green Lifesaver in my mouth just in case.
"Did you know that Wint-O-Green Lifesavers spark in the dark?" I asked, biting the Lifesaver to do my favorite party trick.
"Hmm," he said, looking at me, and I could tell that he was going to kiss me. Covering my mouth with my hand, I tried to subtly spit out my Lifesaver so I'd be ready for the kiss, and dropped it on the ground.
A second later, he leaned down and started kissing me. I couldn't believe this was actually happening! But then he took my clothes off really quickly and all of a sudden I was lying on the ground and he was on top of me. His hands were all over me and dried leaves scratched against my back and legs and my mind couldn't keep up with what was going on. I was trying to decide if I liked it or not and leaning towards not when he told me to give him a blow job.
"I can't," I stammered. I'd never done that before and also I'd just gotten braces and I thought I might have TMJ, but I knew I couldn't explain all that so I just gulped and nodded no. "I... can't."
"You're just a tease," he said, getting up and walking away. "Just a f**cking tease."
"Wait!" I yelled after him. "Where are you going, what are you..."
He said if I didn't do it he'd leave me alone in the woods, and kept walking towards the road. I scrambled to gather my clothes and put them back on, and ran after him.
"OK," I said. "I'll... I'll do it."
"What?" he asked, stopping and turning around to face me. "What will you do?"
"That," I said. "What you said, what you wanted."
"Say it," he said. "Tell me what you'll do."
Standing completely still, my breath caught in my chest. I didn't want to say it but I did, and he led me to the top of hill with a stream trickling by below. Then he dropped his shorts to his ankles, put his hands on my shoulders, and pushed me down. He was tall and the hill was steep so it was hard to balance and I was afraid I was going to fall backwards, but I didn't.
Afterwards, he walked me home like he'd promised. But he walked fast and was a few steps ahead of me, so I took double steps, stumbling to keep up with him.
"This doesn't mean anything," he said, looking straight ahead. "This doesn't mean I'm going to talk to you at school or anything."
I nodded in the dark, understanding what it did and didn't mean, what I was worth and did and didn't deserve.
When I got to my house, I walked up the front steps and through the door, shutting it quietly behind me. Leaning back against the door, I slid to the ground. Feeling the cool tile against my face, I curled up into a ball on the entryway floor, wrapped my arms around my knees, and cried.
I told some of my friends about that night, but as if it had just been normal hooking-up. Then more people found out and teased me about it, as if I was promiscuous, slutty.
At 15 years old, I didn't understand what had happened. I'd had a crush on Patrick for so long and all I'd wanted was for him to notice me, to kiss me, and he finally did, only something had gone wrong. There was no label for what he did so it became a violation I couldn't name, and I could convince myself that it wasn't a big deal. I made one appointment with the school counselor to talk about it, but I never told my friends how scared I felt in the woods, or how sad I felt afterwards. It wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I told my therapist about it, and I was in my 30s before I ever told the full story to friends. But I've learned that the more I talk about it, the less power it has.
Sex has never felt safe to me; it feels like a precursor to being hurt, abandoned, and rejected, which is what it's turned out to be again and again. Looking back, I can't say that this one incident is solely responsible for damaging my sexuality and destroying my ability to trust. But I sometimes wonder if my first sexual experience had been different, kinder, I would have been able to make better choices about the men I got involved with, could have gone down a different path.
More than 20 years later, I don't often think about what happened on that spring night. But it's stayed with me anyway and comes back in my dreams, especially when I start to date someone. A few months ago, the night before my first date with a guy I'd known for a while and really liked, I had the dream again. It's almost always the same. I'm back in those woods, and Patrick's there, too, a few steps ahead of me as I wind down the dirt path, stumbling in the dark.
*Name has been changed