Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Is that a yes or no?

One in 3 women will be raped in her lifetime. My first girlfriend was that one. I had no idea until we’d been together a few months. We were fooling around, wrestling on the floor. We’d done it dozens of times before, but this time I had a good angle and managed to flip her onto her belly and pin her down. She fucking spazzed out. One minute she was laughing and giggling and the next she was frantic and screaming. It scared the shit out of me.

I pushed up and she flipped over beneath me and started whipping my ass as if we’d never met before, both fists and feet all at once. I’ve never seen anyone cry like that before, not to this day. I didn’t know what I’d done to her but it must have been fatal by the way she was acting.

I remember it took her what seemed like hours to calm down. She finally confided in me what had happened to her. Apparently, up until the very moment I pinned her down, she’d convinced herself she wanted it and that it was a big mistake afterwards. I guess it was easier to swallow from that perspective. She said the position I held her down in was the same, face down with me on her back, and she suddenly recalled fighting and screaming ‘no.’ There were two of them and they each had a turn while the other held her in place. They were her neighbors, young men she knew and obviously trusted. She’d snuck out of her parents’ house and gone to hang out at their place. I never asked her what possessed her to do that. I felt that would add insult to injury. It didn’t matter anyway. She didn’t consent.

It affected her in many ways. I could never walk up behind her and wrap my arms around her. There was no spooning allowed with me in the back. She was usually on top during sex and I could never put my weight on her when I was on top. She seldom left her house after dark, which made dating pretty tough to do. In a crowd she was fine, but if she was alone with a man, such as one day after class when she asked our English professor for help on her paper, she’d have a panic attack, hyperventilating, frantic, the whole nine yards.

She and I dated for many years and in the end simply realized we had different goals. She never wanted to leave the small town we grew up in, I was seduced by the city lights and buzz of the metropolis. She wanted kids right away and a husband to take care of her, I wanted a partner and a friend and eventually kids. We never argued. Just grew apart. I believe we would have split sooner but I had a hard time leaving her. The vulnerability just never went away.

I like wrestling with my girlfriends. More so now than before because I want to know the other person isn’t helpless. And I don’t ever do it without thinking of that November day in 1990 when I witnessed the emotional scar another man had left after a fun night went too far.

I’m of the opinion that a woman has the right to walk naked before me if she so pleases. Yeah, I’ll look. Hell, who wouldn’t? But I don’t touch, ever, without explicit consent. Sure, no means no. But I’ve heard no mean yes before. And silence means yes sometimes, but it also means no at other times. Women bat their eyes and stare and touch and hell, that chic at the pool hall a few weeks ago patted my crotch right in front of everyone 10 seconds after we met. Don’t care. I don’t make a move until I get it in plain English. Usually, that’s in the form of “Are you sure you want to do this?” It’s a yes or no question and has generated a surprising no a couple of times that put things into perspective, for both of us.

Lizzie works as a counselor at a high school now. I saw her at my high school reunion a few years ago and she said she volunteers for the Rape & Suicide Prevention hotline. In light of all the people she helps now I asked her if she would undo it if she could. She told me no, which surprised me. That’s when she told me the 1 out of 3 statistic.

“Because of me, it’ll never happen to those other 2 women.”

Admirable, but I can’t say that I could be that selfless if it were me. If the twins are boys, I’ll teach them to know better and always ask the same question I do before initiating something with someone new. If they’re girls, I’ll teach them the proper response to that very same question is to say no, kick him in the nuts, and run like hell before he catches his breath. I may or may not teach my boys to wear a cup before asking. We’ll see. There’s a lot to be learned from a good, swift kick in the nuts sometimes.