Sunday, October 28, 2007

Joey

Of the things I've done in my life that I'm ashamed of, most involve drugs or alcohol and almost always a random guy at a bar. From every single one of those things, I can honestly say I've learned something. Like which alcoholic beverages (and in what quantity) you can safely consume in one night and successfully avoid projectile vomiting on your night stand while doing a simultaneous dive-bomb onto your bed fully clothed. Like the difference between wanting to have sex with someone and wanting a relationship with someone. And learning how I need to be treated by my friends, male and female.

The incident I'm most ashamed of is a little ironic in that not only did I not learn anything substantial from it, but it was committed in a state of complete lucidity. That is, if you don't count the schizoid mania and histrionics typical of puberty and loneliness. Fifteen years later, I still shudder to think of what might have happened had I bothered to follow through with my lie. No one, not even my closest friends, knows about this. And this may seem like a small story, but I've struggled internally with it for years, ashamed to admit that I'd ever done anything so incredibly stupid and childish, and horribly guilty for what might have happened.

At age fourteen, I was a mousy freshman at Larned High School in Larned, Kansas, a community of about 3,500 people where about 30 percent of the 45 girls I would have graduated with had given birth, or were about to, at graduation. You think the rate of teenage pregnancy is high in poor communities, but this was a middle class, white bread, small town. We were so bored, there was nothing to do but have sex, which most of my friends did prior to even entering high school. In the sexual sense, physically I bloomed really early, reaching a D-cup late in my sixth grade year, but mentally I was far behind all the rest. I had been put through a mini-hell in junior high because of my facial deformity, and because it was almost exclusively boys that caused the torment, I built the male sex in my mind up to be ugly, hateful, two-faced assholes. Once in high school, though, the tormentors became my friends, and boys in general gradually became something I could see myself associating with.

As a freshman at LHS, I had chosen to take a debate class, mainly because my mom said it would be good for me. She never knew how wrong she was. In that class, I met Joey, a very popular senior, class clown, and the only African American at the school. Joey was best friends with Keith, another senior, who was dating my friend Alexis, who was a co-freshman and a virgin. The night that Alexis chose to lose her virginity would be the night that could have ruined several lives and to this day, I have no idea why she and Keith chose to include Joey and I in their plan to deflower each other.

Keith and Alexis put it together as a double date, although I was clueless. The four of us hung out at the bowling alley as was typical for us to do, then decided to make our way back to Keith's house where he had a private "make-out room" in the cellar. There was a set of ratty old bench seats from an old pickup on one side of the room, and a musty smelling twin mattress in the corner. Throughout the room, there were candles scattered. We all sat around taking for a while, then Alexis and Keith decided to get busy, blew out the candles, and made themselves comfortable on the bench seats. Believe it or not, but all along, I had no idea what was going on.

Joey and I were relegated to the mattress, and he pretty much took over. His hands were all over, he was kissing me, my neck, my face. His tongue was in my mouth, a sensation that I had never experienced before and in my confused state, I decided that I never wanted to experience again. He took my hand and put it on his crotch. I remember feeling uncomfortable, like what the hell? My guard went up the second the lights went out, but when he started grabbing my breasts, squeezing them, my discomfort bubbled over and I freaked out. I made a lame excuse and stumbled out, crawling over the concrete floor in the pitch black, knocking over the extinguished candles. I remember Joey asking me if he'd done anything wrong, and I said no, I just have to get home. Alexis was perturbed by the disruption, and in all the confusion I slammed my forehead on the concrete wall by the staircase.

I cried all the way home, so confused about how I'd felt and for some reason, I felt like I'd been betrayed. Not by Joey, but by Alexis. I didn't realize at the time that Alexis didn't want to be the only girl losing her virginity that night. And she and I never talked again after that. My dad caught me on the way into the house (presumably to ask me if I'd been smoking as he always did) and asked me if everything was okay. He and I were never very close, so he accepted my garbled, "nothing" as gospel, preferring to stay as far removed from my teenage dramatics as possible. The next day he asked me what happened to my head and I made up some story about banging it on my locker door.

The following Monday in my debate class Joey said nothing to me, but appeared unaffected by the previous Friday's events. Meanwhile, I was a wreck. I knew that something wrong had happened, but I just didn't know what it was. On his way out, he tossed me a note. It said that he was sorry, that he didn't intend on using me just that one night, that he and his ex-girlfriend Shannon had gotten back together the next day. Then he scratched a giant, sloppy smiley face on the bottom. If memory serves me, it also asked if we could still be friends.

Had I truly understood the consequences and what could potentially have happened, I would have been furious. If I had gone along with the plan and slept with him that night, would he still have reconciled with Shannon? Moreover, where would I be today? And, did he reconcile with her because I wasn't ready to put out? I didn't really understand what had happened, but what I did understand was that Alexis was telling people that I'd gotten busy with Joey and hatefully leaving it ambiguous. Like, I don't know exactly what happened but I do know something happened [wink, wink]. Convenient since ambiguity only allows people to formulate their own hypothesis on exactly what occurred, which is never good, especially in high school.

A month later my family and I moved to a town about 30 miles away, Great Bend. I was in dire need of friends, and in the heat of my anger towards Alexis and Joey I wallowed in my self-pity, and my mind created another version of the story that was ultimately going to change the way I thought about lying, especially to my family.

One day I received a letter from one of my friends from LHS. She asked me what had really happened that night with Joey. And, I don't know why - maybe because I had few friends in Great Bend and wanted the sympathy and support of my friends at my old school (most of which I'd lost due to another really stupid thing I'd done), maybe because I was angry at my parents, or just maybe because I was temporarily psychotic - I wrote back to my friend that Joey had raped me. I am still asking myself why I did this.

This next part is ironic. My mom was never a snooper. Either that, or she was really good about covering her tracks. But she found that note I had written. She found it and she told my dad. The night she found it, I came home from skating with some acquaintances to my dad, dark and brooding, sitting on the couch in front of the TV which was off. He immediately confronted me and demanded to know what had happened. He was angry. I don't really know why. He was just an angry dude and always has been. I felt that he was angry at me, which made me clam up. I've analyzed the reasons why I reacted to his anger in the way I did many times in my life since, and I'm convinced that although I didn't realize at the time what the consequences would have been, had I continued with the lie, elaborating the lie, embellishing the lie, I knew that I should never have lied begin with. I don't know why I didn't just tell my dad that night that I had lied to my friend and would never do so again. That would have been easiest and would have resulted in much less guilt than I have put myself through in the last fifteen years. But I told Dad that yeah, I think I know what happened, but I don't really know, or remember. I remember him moving my hands down to his pants and I remember pain and I remember him saying he was sorry and I remember some blood and doing these things I didn't want to do. I weaved truths with non-truths in a very deceptive, non-Christian way, and he was furious at Joey, at the situation. He was still brooding, angry, and felt that some part of this deserved to be vindicated. The next part was the most horrifying - Dad told me that Joey's mom worked for him in the hospital cafeteria. He said he would have a word with her. I begged him not to, just leave it alone, Dad. It's no big deal, as if I would have been one to blow off a rape. He did leave it alone, safely, probably skeptically, and wisely.

Because what would have happened to Joey - an 18-year-old African American raping a 14-year-old white girl from the good side of town? My dad was president of the chamber of commerce, a city councilor, a deacon at our local Methodist church, and a member of the local Rotary chapter. In small town America, it doesn't take much to get your name in the paper, and dad was in it at least once a week. I am lucky the horrifying things that could have come from this didn't happen, especially to Joey's family. But I often wonder why they didn't. Maybe Dad knew that if he brought the law into our home, that they would have seen things in our family that he didn't want them to see. Things that would make it known that we were a less-than-perfect family. And those things would have easily turned him into a social pariah.

Maybe Dad thought about those things. But I doubt it. I think that my dad was smarter than I thought. I think he saw through my sad story and vague details. I think he knew what a wonderful woman Joey's mom was and knew she could never have raised a predator. He knew I was a lonely teenager caught up in my own act. I think he saved me from myself, probably the only time he would do that. He saved Joey from me too.