Seeing all of the people that I missed over summer was never my favorite part of going back to school. I had play dates with all of the girls that I liked from June through August. I could take or leave the September through May set. To me, the best part about going back was shopping for school supplies.
I was absolutely in love with the crisp feeling that only a trip to Staples can provide. Since I went to school with the same 55 kids from kindergarten through eighth grade, school supplies were the only fresh start that I got each year. Crayons or colored pencils? Regular pencils or mechanical? Trying to predict what would be ‘in’ that year was a challenge I relished. My biggest personal dilemma was always what folders to get. They had bright, colorful pictures and set the tone for the entire year. I needed six – one for each subject – and since I was obsessive compulsive, they had to match. Was this the year to show my affinity for the Coca Cola polar bears? Was Garfield too third grade? Usually, I kept my head down and played it safe – puppies in baskets.
As I continued through school, the crisp feeling became less intense. In high school, they stopped providing books and my parents realized the importance of buying used. The crisp feeling began to fade. In college, after the initial thrill of buying new furnishings for my dorm, each semester became a test on how far I could stretch my shoddy resources. That crisp feeling was all but a memory – until my last semester of college, when one of the 55 returned, and everything was new once again.
Wherever I went, I saw everything as if for the first time. Large shrubs. Dimly lit sections of the parking lot. Enclosed staircases. All these things that had been there for years, probably decades, had fallen below my radar. Now, there were new realizations, new discoveries to be made. Classes were missed. Meetings were skipped. The possibility of unearthing a surprise was too much.
As a child, I remember time spent gazing at myself in the full-length mirror at the end of the hallway. Before going back to school, I always hoped to see changes from the previous year. A fully formed mouth of grown-up teeth. Breasts large enough to justify a training bra. Now, my body was covered in temporary/permanent changes. So, the pair of sweatpants that I was forced to buy for a high school P.E. class were fished out from the bottom of a drawer. A college sweatshirt hid the rest of my frame. Bangs weren’t cut and soon I was barely visible. At least, I hoped I was.
I was never hungry. My jaw still hurt like hell when I ate. But, I forced myself to eat. Since I was never hungry, I was never full. I had no gauge of when to stop. If I gained weight, maybe people would assume that was the reason for the sweat pants. If I gained weight, maybe men would leave me alone.
For the first time, I looked on the men in my life with suspicion. Hours were spent deliberating who could be trusted. I could not afford to be wrong. Although few ties were permanently severed, I forced myself to create distance with any possible threats. I clung closer to the men I believed could protect me – although I would never ask them to.
I have never been a feminist. I belong to no ethnicity and am merely a bland blend of Europe. Generic jokes hardly ever apply to me, and even more seldom do they offend me. But, there was that crispness again. Now I, or at least the category of person that I now fell into, was constantly the target of jokes and thoughtless comments. They were said on TV and by friends. But, it wasn’t fair to withhold what had happened from my friends then condemn them for acting as they normally would around me. So, I laughed – laughed and hoped that no one looked too close.
Despite the fact that I’ve grown up in a city with one of the worst police forces in the country, I had always been a fan of cops. Even during my teenage years when it’s basically a requirement to have a deep-seated problem with authority – I didn’t. I really thought that if I was good, they’d be there if I ever needed them. Now, I finally get it. Rodney King. The Rampart Scandal. Hell – the Bloody Christmas of 1951. The LAPD are the worst of the worst, and their detectives are the bottom of the barrel.
My life was and continues to be run on a need-to-know basis. If a friend catches me sobbing, I’ll give them the Reader’s Digest version. If an acquaintance catches me, I’ll say my cat died. Technically, I’m not lying, but I leave out the fact that Roy died in 1997. This essay marks the end of my need-to-know policy. If you’re a friend of mine who’s hearing about this for the first time, I’ve probably tried to tell you several times – I’m sorry I didn’t.
After a year of horrible crispness, it was over. While I have not become fearless, I am just no longer struck by the newness of small dangers I confront everyday. My sweatpants have found a new purpose – I’ve joined a gym. I’m doing my best to build up my upper body strength. Thoughtless comments have stopped hurting. Sometimes I make them.
The drawback to all of this is the realization that I will never feel crisp again. There will never be a newness to any aspect of my life. I was already too old for my age – now I feel ancient. I’m too weighed down by my past to experience a fresh present. When my boyfriend and I started dating, the excitement that comes with new love quickly vanished. I knew that soon I would have to tell him about my past, so that my erratic behavior would have context. While we love each other, I wish that we had been allowed to experience the joy that comes with a fresh relationship. But, considering the realities faced by many women who fall into the same category as I – I consider myself lucky.
If you are reading this – no, not you the reader – you, don’t worry. I won’t say your name. I won’t say your address. I won’t say where you went to school, what type of car you drive, or what profession you plan to go into. As of this moment, you are a nonentity to me. You are not worth the time or energy it would take to destroy you - to do to your life what you attempted to do to mine. You have no reason to be nervous. You said it yourself – it was consensual. Maybe it was even great. I just wish I had been conscious for it.