Things You Can’t Forget
Miscarry. See a doctor. See a shrink. See your mom’s priest and decide that you fundamentally oppose marriage. Sign a twenty-year mortgage with Seth and refuse to answer when your mother asks if you are sleeping together.
Dream about Jake sometimes and be surprised that these dreams don’t terrify you. Wake up considering the possibility of meeting up again, finding out that he’s a decent person. Think that maybe you’ve forgiven him; you’ve forgiven all of them. Panic when you see someone that looks like him in line at the DMV. Read the obits and the police notes on Sundays with a hopeful eye: the bastards have to die eventually.
Wonder where Jake lives now, if he tells whomever he’s fucking about his crazy bitch of an ex that is you. Wonder where Richard lives now and get that sick feeling. Don’t think about Donnie. Bring extra work home, then when you’ve finished it, vacuum every room of your apartment, arrange your dishes by size, clean behind the oven so you don’t have to get in bed, close your eyes, try to fall asleep and start thinking about things you don’t want to think about instead. Wear Seth out because sex is the only thing you can do without thinking. Argue about kids; decide to wait a few more years. It’s a moot point all ready. Join the 8% of women who get pregnant on oral contraceptives.
Saddam Hussein is sentenced to death. Your family celebrates, but you can’t bring yourself to be happy about the end of someone’s life, even someone like him.
Keep living. Flinch when men get too close. Hear breathing in your ear, thick and wet, when you’re sitting at your desk or walking at sunrise or any time at all. Seth tells you that you shudder in your sleep sometimes, but you don’t cry any more. Panic comes out of you unexpectedly now, like demon possession, like hose water through your fingers when the pressure’s too high. Control it around your mom, who still asks, “You sleep on the couch when you visit Seth, right?” in the way that’s the answer, not the question. You give the right answer.
You mention your early morning walking to your family at Thanksgiving, when your mom asks when you got so skinny. They ask if you carry pepper spray, if you carry a gun, if it wouldn’t be better to walk during the day when there are people around, or in a gym. If you shouldn’t get a dog. Your uncle tells you to take self-defense classes. You want to tell them that that isn’t how it works, that you’re more likely to be raped in your own apartment then when walking outside, but there’s a lump in your throat that keeps you from getting the words out.
You have nightmares that you can’t wake up from and wish they had a way to erase your memories. At the same time, you don’t want to forget, you want to never forget, so that you don’t make the same mistakes again.
Have moments that you can’t predict when, even though you’re standing in the pasta aisle or riding your bike or sitting at your desk, you’re really pressed against a cinderblock wall, feeling a hand pulling you up by the hair, moist breath on your skin, your self-ness clawing its way out of your body as you try to hold it together.
Wonder what you did wrong, or if you’re just unlucky.
Hear from a friend of a friend at a Halloween party that Richard is getting married, to the girl he was with when you knew him. Talk to Laura about it, then write a letter to the girlfriend, no emotion, just the facts of what happened. It reads clinically, when you’re finished, like the briefs you compile at work, but it’s better that way: you don’t want it to sound like you’re whining, like you’re vengeful. It doesn’t matter, now, if she thinks that you’re a slut; she deserves to know who she is marrying. Hear nothing, wonder if she got it. Wonder if Richard knew what he was doing when he did it. Wonder if you will ever stop wondering.
Have your first orgasm with someone other than yourself, and wonder when you got serious about Seth. Get a real job doing paperwork in a law firm. Go out for margaritas with Laura when you go home and laugh your ass off at her imitation of the message Jake left on her phone: “You LIED to me! I can’t believe you did that, I was so good for her!” Ask each other how it took him a whole year to figure that out. Wish that you could take her back with you.
Meet boys who think they understand you; sleep with them even though you never finish, because you can’t stand to be alone and you’re horny and it’s all you’re good for anyway and you feel guilty when someone buys you a drink; break it off when they start getting too serious or too rough or too weird. Graduate and go home for a visit – your parents want you to move back. Your hometown is a cesspool of memories, and when you stay too long you start feeling like you’re drowning.
Call up Laura to go out, but she asks you to come see her first because there’s something that she has to tell you. She starts with, “I understand if you don’t ever want to talk to me again after this, but I can’t keep it a secret from you any more,” which makes you wonder if she’s going to say that she’s in love with you, but what she says is, “I got Jake to dump you. I told him you were sleeping with other guys and doing crack and planning on dropping him anyway, and I’m sorry that it hurt but I’m not sorry that I did it.” Then she starts crying and you start crying and you’re both crying on each other but it’s the best you’ve felt in a long time.
Meet a guy named Seth, who isn’t freaked because you cry in your sleep, and slowly stop screwing other people.
Fuck everything that moves. Worry about finding a job when you graduate, but not too much. Start talking to your mom, carefully. She doesn’t know the questions to ask. You wouldn’t be able to answer if she did ask.
Take a road trip with Laura over the summer, from Key West to Niagara Falls. Sleep on the grass next to your car at picnic spots because you’re both too broke for hotels. Hold hands in the dark with your sleeping bag liners sticking to you and watch the pink city glow flicker off the underbellies of the clouds, or the stars slowly turn and the moon sail in and out of mare’s tails. Remember what it was like when you were aged in the single digits and your mothers let you sleep in bedsheet tents in each other’s back yards. Make a pact that, if men are still idiots in twenty more years, you’ll move in together with a bunch of cats and rabbits, learnt to target shoot, and make a place for yourselves in the history books if anyone with a Y chromosome tries to bother you.
Terrorists attack the World Trade Center again, and for a week your family isn’t sure where all of your cousins are. For a while after your mom calls you every day, even though you live in Maryland, just to hear you breathing on the other end of the line.
Jake still sends you messages, wants to ‘catch up,’ some times, other times demands that you apologize because “you know what you did, don’t pretend that you don’t.” Every time you get one you start shaking and your heart races. You don’t know what you’d do if he showed up in your doorway. He says that if you keep ignoring him he’ll tell your parents all the filthy things you’ve done for him, and for once you call his bluff. You tell your dad that he’s acting crazy, won’t leave you alone. Your dad calls him, talks to him once – you don’t want to know what they said, don’t want to know if Jake outed you – and the calls and messages stop. The nightmares don’t.
Richard calls, wants to know who the fuck you told that you had slept with him, and again you are confused, because the only person that knows is Laura, and Laura doesn’t tell. A few weeks later he calls again, to apologize – people had seen you going to his apartment, had assumed that you’d been doing things, had told his girlfriend, but it’s been cleared up and he isn’t mad at you. He starts being friendly again, wants to know if you want to go back to studying together. Talking to him gives you a weird feeling in your stomach, and you take longer and longer to answer, until the calls and messages gradually peter out.
Think about the time you spent with Jake, at first with longing. If he asked you to get back together you would, in a heartbeat.
After a few months, the memories change. Wonder why his friends never said anything when he hit you in front of them. Wonder why your friends never said anything, when they saw your bruises in the locker room. Remember the times in your parents’ house, after dark in the back seat of a car, behind some evergreens at the local park, all the places that you said no, tried to push him off, and he threatened to tell, threatened to hurt you, threatened to fuck someone else, if you didn’t let him do what he wanted. Realize, suddenly, that you’re afraid of him, more afraid of him then you’ve ever been of any one, of any thing.
You can’t sleep in your own room, you’re scared to close your eyes, so you bring your books over to your friend Richard’s, flop on his bed while he sits at the computer, do your work while he does his and cat nap to the sound of his typing. He knows about Donnie, and he has a girlfriend, back home, that he wants to marry. You think you’re safe until you wake up on your back with all of your clothes off. He’s on top of you and his breath in your ear is thick and wet and slimy, and you try and push him off, say you don’t want to. Afterwards he says that it never happened, that no one can know, and you walk back to your dorm with semen running down your leg.
Work a lot and read a lot and try not to throw up when you get messages from Jake, by IM or e-mail, since you’ve changed your phone number.
Go home for the summer. Your mom talks to you the same way she talks to your 14-year-old sister, which is like you’re both eight. You roll your eyes at each other.
Laura says it wasn’t your fault, what happened. You don’t believe her. You don’t tell her that you still talk to Richard. She wants you to do something about it, to stand up for yourself. You don’t think it’s worth ruining someone’s life over a misunderstanding. You think of it as a misunderstanding, because you don’t want to consider the other possibilities. You know what your parents would say, if they found out that you were in a boy’s bedroom alone.
You’ve forgotten how to talk to your mother.
You answer your phone one day in September and Jake’s voice on the other end says, “Happy birthday, bitch,” and your throat closes up and you can’t move. Afterwards you try to laugh because he called you on Laura’s birthday, not yours, but you can’t.
John Paul II apologizes for the wrongdoings of the Catholic Church. This feels like too little, too late to you. You and Laura debate whether the point is the apology itself, or the fact that the Church has acknowledged that wrong has been done. The debate is inconclusive, and ends with a pillow fight, rum raisin ice cream, and John Hughes movies.
Self-medicate with scotch and weed, just enough to get through the nights. Get an internship and don’t go home for the summer. This pisses Jake off. He says that if you love him you’ll move in with him, and you’re glad that you can’t, even though you want to. Miss him so much it makes your teeth hurt. All day you’re sick nervous, wondering what he’s doing while you do your work, if he’s angry at you, if he’s in bed with someone else because you aren’t there. When your phone rings at half past five you have a moment of lightness, knowing it’s him, but the conversation itself quickly squashes that. Most evenings end with him screaming at you. When he’s really pissed off he describes the other girls he’s sleeping with, how fantastic they are in bed.
You ask all the girls you know well enough to talk about that sort of thing how to give good head. Then you borrow a car and drive eight hours to see him. He leaves you locked on the front step in the rain for half an hour. You try your damndest when he lets you in, take it slow and leave him breathless with his eyes rolled back in his head when you’re done. He stops telling you that you suck in bed, and instead tells you that you suck for holding out on him.
Laura wants to know what’s wrong, and you don’t tell her all of it, but you tell her that you want out, you want out but you don’t think you have it in you to do it, you’re scared of what he’ll do if you tell him that you’ve had enough.
School starts again. See Donnie around, have nightmares while awake, self-medicate more. Decide to go pre-law, wonder why you’re so miserable. Get a call from Jake at midnight the Sunday before midterms: it’s over. You’re over. He can’t believe that you’d lie to him like that, that you’d use him like that, after all he’s done for you. The line goes dead without you saying anything, and all you can think is, what the fuck is he talking about? The world ends, for you, a few weeks ahead of schedule.
Start sleeping around to make the Jake-hurt feel better. He starts calling again, wants to stay friends but still isn’t going to forgive you for ‘what you did.’ Every time you ask him to spell it out for you, he gets angry that you’re playing innocent and hangs up.
For the first six months of the year your mother starts crying every time she looks at you, and you’re glad that you’ll be leaving soon. Your Nonna doesn’t say anything, acts like nothing has changed; the rest of your family comforts your mother with the fact that you’ll come to your senses eventually.
Go to a high school graduation party with Jake, one that your parents don’t know about, one where someone’s older brother smuggled in beer. Afterwards go back to Jake’s house with him and a girl that you almost know, and watch while he starts kissing her, then strips her naked so they can have sex on the basement couch. This makes you sick every time you think about it afterwards. He tells you to get used to it – he’ll stay with you while you’re at school but you can’t expect him to say no to other girls.
Jake comes to see you the night before you leave, comes in the back door around one a.m., kisses you, then puts his hands down your pants. You don’t want to, not with your parents asleep upstairs. He says that if you don’t be good he’ll wake everyone up and tell them all the things you’ve done with him, how you’re always desperate for him to fuck you. You do what he wants. It’s not the first time.
Start college, not at the place you wanted to go but the place you can afford. You tell your parents that you’re staying at school for fall break, borrow a car, and go see Jake. In the parking lot before you leave he takes your toll money; you try to get it back and he grabs you by your hair, and suddenly cops are pulling you apart. You tell them it’s nothing, he’s never hurt you, you were joking, and they let you both go. You get back to school an hour before your first class, go to take a shower and see just how bruised you are under your shirt. You are relieved that it was dark and the police couldn’t see.
Go to a party, drink too much, make out with a guy named Donnie. Wind up in your bedroom with him, still making out; try to leave when he takes your shirt off, but he’s stronger than you are. Ask yourself afterwards why you didn’t scream, why you didn’t fight harder. Jake cries when you tell him, then sleeps with another girl. Stay drunk for a week, sober up to take antibiotics for the infection Donnie gave you and find yourself screaming on your bedroom floor. Try to tell Laura about it and find that there are words that you cannot say.
Ramzi Yousef is sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Jake leaves for school in Pennsylvania a year before you do, and even though you mope around for the first two weeks you’re a bit glad, because you won’t be running so many risks, because it’s less likely that you’ll get caught. He tells you about the girls he meets, but all of them have boyfriends, or are stuck up bitches, or fat whales, so you take the phone to your bedroom and talk dirty to him while he jacks himself off. He still thinks Laura is hot, wants to know if you’ve ever done things together, if you’ve ever had any fantasies about her, if she would be down for a three-way, and you’re glad to be able to say, straight up and truthfully, no, she wouldn’t. Laura thinks he’s a bit of a creep, but you don’t tell him that. You do tell him that she’s not into him, that she has a boyfriend, but that doesn’t keep him from telling you all the things that he would do to her if he had the chance. You put your hand over the phone to muffle his voice, and tell your sister it’s a girl from school when she asks who you’re talking to all the time. At first you’re worried that your parents will notice the phone bill, but you have cousins in Pennsylvania, and New York, and New Jersey, and your calls get lost in all of the calls your mom and nonna make to your aunties.
When he comes home to visit you get into a fight, and he throws you into a wall for the first time.
Just before Christmas one of your aunts sees you kissing, down town near the river where you were sure no one you knew would see you. When you come home your mother is crying, how could you do this to her, she raised you better. She asks, “Oh my God, you two aren’t having sex, are you?” in the way that’s the answer, not the question. You give the right answer. Your grandmother asks, “Che cosa?” over and over, and your dad tells you to explain to Nonna why your mother is crying.
They tell you to break up with him, so now you have to stick it out.
Laura asks about the bruises on your arms. You tell her that they’re from gym, from wrestling with your sister, from everywhere other than where you actually got them.
You and your best friend Laura skip Saturday Mass to go get ice cream; a guy named Jake stops to talk. He wants to get with Laura but Laura isn’t interested, so he starts talking to you. You start meeting up on the regular, in out of the way places where no one you know will be, because you’re not supposed to go with boys. He starts to touch you while he kisses you; you move his hands away and he says he’s sorry, but after a little while they slide back into place. After a few weeks he’s touching you under your clothes and you’re touching him under his clothes, without really knowing how it happened, even though you told him that you didn’t want to do that kind of thing.
He tells you that no one will want a virgin, that you should lose it when you have the chance, and one day when you’re in his house and his parents are out he pulls your clothes aside and you put them back until you’re too tired to say no any more, and then you’re not a virgin any more and there’s blood on his jeans. You think about confessing to the priest, but worry that he will tell your mother because you’re only sixteen. Decide that it won’t technically be a sin, if you stick it out and get married, if Jake is the only man you ever have sex with. Hope that you aren’t pregnant. Hope that you aren’t going to hell.