I was 19, and in college.
He was older, a lot older. He was my former camp counselor who lived in the town in which I grew up.
I was innocent – aware of my effect on guys and aware that my body was responding to guys in new and thrilling ways – but not quite ready for the consequences of my effect on guys or of my body’s responses to guys.
He was irrefutably not innocent. He was a former marine. He was married – not at the time, but once. He was tall, muscled, dashing, very self-assured, controlled, protective, and he knew what he wanted. To my surprise, he wanted me.
He courted me in ways that the 20-something college guys I had dated hadn’t, and I liked it. I liked the attention. I liked the wooing that was so new to me. I liked that he took charge, planned dates – I didn’t have to wait by the phone. He called. Often. I liked that he opened doors for me. I liked that my heart raced in his presence. I liked that he looked into my eyes so deeply and intensely in a way that could almost topple me, if I didn’t right then grab onto his strong arms. I liked that he could take me out – you know, out. Not to a diner or the campus café but to the fancy restaurant by the docks, to a concert at Woolsey Hall, to a picnic in the park with a proper picnic basket and a proper blanket.
With him I felt sexy – maybe for the first time. Somehow despite my innocence and limited experiences with men, in a strange and now, unnerving way, I knew he was desperate to have me. For the first time, I felt my own power, prowess to seduce. And, I used it. I relished it. I delighted in his wanting me. Some may feel, perhaps, that I was careless with my ‘power’.
One cool late summer evening we’d gone out to a nice dinner followed by a walk on the beach. Our bare feet squished in the wet sand, our hands intertwined as we walked. He’d stop and kiss me from time to time, slow, intense – heart-racing kisses that felt so right and so wrong. We flirted easily. However, as the evening progressed and the sun began to dip below the horizon, the expectation hovering in the air of how the night would end moved in close along with heavy clouds.
My parents were away, and he knew it. As always, he walked me to the passenger side of the car and we embraced. He whispered, “Stay over”. With my head still buried in his chest, I nodded – unsure, but I nodded. We were silent as we drove away from the shoreline and into the woods to his little home [yes, he owned a home!]. As the beach shrank out of view in the passenger-side window, I felt my stomach twist in knots and I tried to open my mouth to ask him to take me home instead. I said nothing. I was so anxious as the car pulled into his driveway I felt sure he could hear my thudding heart. Alas, the engine became quiet and I knew I had to get out of the car and face the music – I’d, thus far, created [right?]. My inner voice was screaming “bad idea”. I said nothing.
He took my hand and led me inside. Rain had started to fall, lightly at first but then it began to pour down forcefully on the tin roof. For a few moments I couldn’t hear my heart thudding, only the rain.
He lit candles and put on a CD of Jewel, stating he’d bought it especially for me since he knew I loved her music. Sweet. Not so much. I wanted to run out of there and down the road. I thought, “If I run through the woods I could get to my house in only a short time”. But, I froze. He moved in close – invading my personal space that was previously welcomed. I let him take my clothes off. He took his time. I’m not sure I moved except to step out of my skirt and then again, to step out of my underwear. Methodically, he took his clothes off without averting his gaze from me. I could feel his eyes piercing but I looked down. I remained frozen. I felt his hands on my body and I started to shake. His eyes met mine for an instant but I could feel his intensity. His grip tightened around my waist and he lifted me in the air and gently placed me on the bed. In my mind, I was screaming ‘this doesn’t feel right!’ He heard nothing.
Fast forward. . .
We did it. We had sex – after weeks of courting that made me feel special and making out that sent tingles down my spine – to Jewel; with candles; after he took me to a lovely restaurant; after a romantic stroll on the beach; with rain beating down on the tin roof. Seems like a perfect ‘first time’? I focused on the rain.
He knew what he was doing – he was a lot older and he had been married – remember? He wasn’t forceful exactly – deliberate, powerful, strong, heavy on top of me. Some of it felt good and I felt my body responding to his at times gentle – yet unrelenting and hungry – touch. Maybe I would have enjoyed all of it if I could have stopped my heart from thudding so loudly, if I could have stopped my thoughts from screaming “this doesn’t feel right!” “This isn’t right!” “Hear me!” But, I didn’t enjoy it. And, I didn’t scream out loud and I didn’t say, “No”. I said nothing.
18 years later after some very gratifying relationships in which the only screaming that has occurred has been the good kind of screaming, I still wonder about my first time and at times, I won’t lie, it haunts me. Should I have expected a much older, previously married, former marine to have “listened” to my silence and stopped? After weeks of dating and very consensual messing around?
But, why didn’t he listen?
I wonder why I didn’t listen to my inner voice – which was actually screaming well before going into his bedroom. I wonder if I got exactly what I somehow asked for. I wonder why I felt I had to meet his needs and ignore mine. To please him. Not to let him down. Did I lead him on? Did I owe him?
Our gendered culture is riddled with these types of messages to young women – it is hard to silence these messages.
I wonder why he didn’t hear me even though I didn’t verbalize ‘no’ – what was he taught, culturally, to ignore my body language – to see right through it and to only acknowledge his own desires?
I wish I could have owned that experience as a fun, curiosity-filled, exploration of my burgeoning sexuality and sexual prowess. And, thankfully those experiences came later – an equally important notion to explore and honor. Why couldn’t I give myself permission to enjoy that experience? Was it because I was taught that sex before marriage is wrong, even a sin? Was I taught that as a young woman, I was not to show – even to have – a sexual side? Maybe? But, for me, at that time, with that man, in that house with the tin roof and the unrelenting rain, I wasn’t ready and it would have been OK to have said something.
~ A.S.K. ~