After work, on the way home, I ran by the liquor store, the good one, to get some sake. We don’t expect what life often provides us. We don’t know what new in-your-faceness it’s got for us. This is a fact, you might say.
Checkout line, I moved to a shorter one. I saw a man I had not seen in many years, a man who had sex with me in 1999. He’s a lot older than I am. Was then, too. I must have been 25? Hardly seems right, but I was. He was in his forties.
Ned, we’ll call him, for the sake of shortness and anonymity. Ned Smith. Mr. Smith likes poems, songs, girls, and art. He likes beer and authenticity. He’s got a daughter my age, too. I imagine he likes her, but, last I heard, she did not like him very much. Things change, though.
Ned was kind of funny, kind of sweet, kind of smart. A leader in the group. I fell in with that group just because, hey, why not. I like poems and music and art.
One evening, a bunch of us were at Ned’s apartment. Small place, very, very small. He’d been joking that evening about moving in with me and letting me support him. I suppose that’s, what? Flirting? Yeah. Flirt with the young woman, the one who is SO MUCH younger than you, by saying she should support you, pay your rent. That is what girls like.
I stayed later. The conversation seemed good, I had few friends, I was alone in the city. I wanted company. Up to that night, I’d had four lovers. Four. They were all long-term relationship types, all but one.
It got later. Ned said I could stay over and "it won’t be weird or anything." Now, I’m no linguist, but one could infer that by that he meant he would not try to have sex with me. I thought that was a-ok. I did not want that.
He unrolled his hobo roll (did I mention this was a small apartment?) and made room for me with my own blanket and pillow. I tried to get comfortable. Not too long into the quiet, Ned decided he should make things weird.
Now, some people understand the word no. Some people need to hear it a couple of times. Other people disregard it and wait until you tire of saying no, and then do what they will. Ned is the third kind. But I was young and very sleepy. It was over before it began, but I remember every moment of it. In my memory of this event, there was no kissing. No hugs, no shared experience. It was not enjoyable. It was not traumatic. It was creepy. It was gross. It was cold. I felt shame. He felt good, and punctuated his experience with "Good golly, Miss Molly."
I have friends who have been dramatically, violently raped. And one friend in particular, she calls my experience "regrettable sex." I do not know what I call it. I’ve been parsing out the nomenclature for years. And it’s confounded by the fact that, two days later, Ned called me to see when I wanted to go out again. See, he apparently thought we were dating, in love. In the meantime I had gone out, found another man and bedded him.
An ex had told me of one of his old girlfriends, a world traveler, a French Woman. She had been raped at knife-point in Asia somewhere, and in answer to that indignity, she took a man to bed and kicked him out, naked, when she was done with him. Sounded like a strong, smart, womanly thing to do.
New count: 6.
Ned was surprised, flummoxed even. I pretended to be his "friend" for a few years. You know, not being a victim and all that. Not being a statistic.
Tough, am I.
But I wonder if I’m misunderstanding the concept of not being a "victim." I wonder if contemporary, strong, worldly women all over are misunderstanding this. I wonder if we are taking that thought and stretching it, like plastic wrap, over our bodies, our faces, our eyes, our mouths.
I heard later on, in college, that a girl, a minor, had publicly accused Ned of date rape. People were outraged and said the girl was clearly trying to gain something from this. I told some of those people that Ned was not so good with the word no. Still, they were unconvinced.
We learn "no" at the beginning, when we are very small. What do we call this? What does no mean? What do we mean when we stop saying no? What do we mean when we absorb that feeling and decide we made a bad judgment call? Did we? Did I? What do I do with this? Do I just go on, and on? What if I see him again and he tries to talk to me? How do I do this?
I can avoid this store. I can avoid the queasy stomach and the nervousness, the adrenaline and nausea. I can avoid him, as much as possible. But life often disallows this.
Life will send you back to the beginning, whether you want it or no.