being female

Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me…
(feminine variation on Matthew 25:45)

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artist: Ericka Lugo

They grabbed Marcie’s breasts and buttocks in the hallways of the football stadium because she was easy. She was also my friend. We were 12. Marcie’s breasts came early.

In the wee hours of the night, Marcie confided in me. About her stepfather. I once watched Officer Conti slap her across the face in the bright lobby of the theater at West Point where he discovered us with boys. (Marcie wasn’t allowed to date.) But when her mother was grocery shopping, he fondled his stepdaughter on the couch, or put his tongue in her mouth, or brought her into the bathroom to unzip his pants.

“Tell your Mom,” I said; and finally, she did.

Mrs. Conti was an immigrant. She married the Captain when he was stationed abroad. Marcie was 5. “Do you want us to go back to nothing!” she said.

Between Marcie’s house and mine were the quarters of my parents’ best friends. We spent weekends and holidays and camping trips together. Major Aubrey, who I called Jim, played guitar around the campfire, and Mrs. Aubrey, who I called Ruth, was just pretty and kind and quiet. Years later she left Jim.

“I don’t hit your mother,” my father said, distinguishing himself from his peers. “Only once or twice when she was overly emotional.”

We were spanked as kids, and I still have the scars from the sound of his footsteps up the stairs; and my husband tells me that I flinch when he pulls off his belt.

My father only hit me in the face once. Well, it was three times, but it happened all at once when I was home from college.

He is tall, 6 foot 4, and I inherited my mother’s stature–just shy of 5 foot 2. But that didn’t stop me from standing up to him. Even when he knocked me to the floor.

My mother arrived down the stairs after it was over. Found me in the dark, in the kitchen, pouring myself a glass of water. Like Marcie’s mother, she scolded me. I grabbed my keys and headed to my boyfriend’s house.

Michael never hit me. He picked me up or dragged me a few times. Dropped me on my head on the concrete. Pushed me up against a wall outside a keg party.

“Are you okay?” some guys asked as they passed. Their concern sobered me up enough to wonder: Is this okay? (But only very quietly, to myself, where I wouldn’t hear it, until all these years later.)

Mike’s frat brothers were at the party too. One portly young man tipped me off to the dance that I should avoid. “It’s a contest,” he said. “To see who can dance with the ugliest girl.” (I danced with him.)

As a pretty girl from a prominent family with a popular boyfriend, I was privy to (and exempt from) what other girls faced. Mike’s older brother Tim hung out at a place called The Gyno Club. It was an apartment above a gynecologist’s office rented by his fellow lifeguards–where a written log was kept of each girl they brought there–and what they did with her.

Even some of my closest friends, without steady boyfriends, confided rapes. (Though we didn’t call it that then.)

Even our uncles left magazines of women’s spreads in the bathroom or beside the bed.

They commented on our developing bodies, our weight gain, our outfits, just as every man did, no matter their age, or position; though the wealthiest men were the worst.

They flirted with the daughters (and the granddaughters) of their colleagues. Bought them drinks. Took them to bed.

Young women shared these truths with one another, not as whispers, but as a matter of course. (Often holding back tears.)

“Hold your stomach in, Mommy. Smile,” my father said, each time he photographed our family.

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One comment

  1. I read this a few days ago and have been meaning to come back here to comment.

    The story of Marcie is heartbreaking. I have friends who I have been incredibly close to who didn’t confide in me their stories of rape or abuse until we’d been friends for decades. The bottom line is most people hold that information as a closely guarded secret.

    And this: “… confided rapes. (though we didn’t call it that then.)” YES. What some see as us trying to be victims or being overly dramatic, we are now viewing through adult eyes. Viewing as parents. And viewing with the knowledge that so many of our friends have experienced similar experiences. We didn’t call it rape. Or abuse. It just was. It was just “a thing that happened.” Growing up, I thought rape could only be at the hands of a stranger, in a dark alley with a knife at your throat. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that spousal rape was legal. So of course we are seeing that these things happened to so many girls and women and seeing that no, no it’s not ok.

    I suppose this could explain the people who continue to demean these experiences and continue to call us victims for writing and speaking about it. Every time I see someone like you write or speak about it, it gives me a little more strength to keep writing about it as well. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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