[Content Warning: social/sexual grooming of an underage girl, details of sexual assault, mentions of childhood sexual assault, rape and murder.]
This is a true story. It’s a story of a summer night, long, long ago; a night that is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons, a night that taught me about survival, trust and sheer dumb luck.
I was a good girl. Well, so far as my parents knew. I got up to all sorts of things and took all sorts of risks that they never knew of. I was a clever liar and my strained relationship with my parents made it easy for me to be insincere, it also made it impossible to feel like I could ask for their help or confide in them. That lack of connection hardened me, it made me too independent for my own good and made me unable to see my own vulnerability. As a teenager, I rebelled, but silently. I did the things I wanted to do and never told them, never opened myself up. I never told them that I wanted structure and rules, that nothing would have made me feel more loved than a curfew and some vague interest from them. Looking back, I’m tremendously lucky that my brazen attitude and inability to be vulnerable with them didn’t get me hurt or killed. I took a lot of stupid risks, but few as stupid as the night I let a strange man drive me out of town to a secluded lake to fuck me.
I was sixteen and getting my first tastes of freedom – my parents were away for a two week vacation and I had the house to myself. I was both hurt at being left behind and ecstatic to have the time and space to myself, especially during summer holidays. I was also up to no good, ridiculously horny and really feeling my oats. I was somewhat sexually fluent thanks to a handful of disappointing experiences, so when a much older man flirted with me in a grocery store, my teenage brain said “Oooooh this could be fun!” and all my sound judgement left my mind.
His first comments were innocuous enough – a furtive smile followed by a “chance meeting” in the dairy section – he complimented the contents of my shopping basket, commenting that I must ‘take really good care of myself’ if I ate so well. I remember looking at the yogurt and microwave popcorn and hot dogs in the basket and wondering what he meant by that, but the smile that awaited me when I looked up again made me forget how lame a line it was.
He had to have been 30, at least. I don’t think that I recognised that for what it was, he was simply ‘older’ but also sort of seemed like a peer. Looking back, he was well beyond a peer, he was a grown-ass man, with a goatee and a massive “tribal” tattoo on his bicep. It was the 90’s and he had the mediocre bad boy vibes of Fred Durst: the backwards cap, board shorts, flip flops, a cheap chain necklace. He was absolutely average in every way, except that he was older, and oddly charming and made my underage pussy clench, right there in the chill of the refrigerator section. The whole exchange was mere moments. After commenting on my food choices, he said that I had pretty eyes, winked at me and walked away. I was confused, a bit dismayed, but I didn’t take the bait. I was in over my head. I finished my shopping and began the sweltering walk home, carrying my hot dogs and yogurt, thinking of that tattoo and wondering how his facial hair felt.
I was about two blocks from the store, approaching an intersection. The light turned yellow, then red, and I waited, impatiently punching at the walk button. My attention was pulled to the sound of a revving engine, the way someone revs before they peel out when the light turns green. I turned to look and there he was, revving his truck at me. When our eyes met, he turned on his turn signal and within moments he had turned the corner in front of me and pulled over. I should have been scared, or at the very least, wary. But it was broad daylight on a busy street, he had seemed nice enough in the store and he was now out of his truck and sauntering towards me. There was also the fact of the dampness between my legs and the way my mouth was going dry.
“Hey Blue Eyes,” without asking he took the grocery bags from my hands and stated, “Jump in, I’ll drive you home.” This is where I should have screamed. This is where I should have made a scene, this is where I should have had the courage to say no. But I didn’t. I nodded and got into a stranger’s truck instead. The cab of the truck was immaculate, and I remember justifying to myself that no psycho would have a vehicle this clean. I didn’t live far so it was a short drive, and I averted my eyes as we went past my high school. He stopped in front of my house, at my direction, and got out again, taking the groceries from the bed of the truck and followed me up the front stairs. We had hardly spoken on the short ride and there was even less to say now that he was on my front porch with my grocery bags in his hands. I stammered a thank you, and he set them down before he reached into his pocket and handed me a gas station receipt with his phone number on it. His number, and his name; “Jason” and seven digits. I took it, looking at it like it was the first time I’d held a scrap of paper before, and then, in a moment of inappropriate intimacy he touched my chin and gently pushed it up so I was looking at him, and said, “Call me.” I watched him descend the stairs, pass through the gate and close it behind him, slip into the drivers’ seat, wave, and drive off.
It was three days and countless hours of furious masturbation thinking about the way he’d touched my chin, the clean, chemical smell of his truck, the way my hand had shaken as I unlocked the door as he drove away, before I mustered the courage to call. I had told exactly no one about Jason and his aggressive approach. I was sixteen and deeply insecure despite not struggling at all socially, and I didn’t want my girlfriends to talk me out of calling. I must have known I shouldn’t. But I did.
I practised what I’d say on the call, all of which went out of my head as soon as he answered. I was primarily worried he wouldn’t remember me and I’d be embarrassed. It didn’t cross my mind that I was home alone for ten more days and a strange and aggressive man knew where I lived and clearly wanted to speak again. To my surprise and delight, he was keen to talk, and we did just that until the cordless phone I was on began to beep, indicating a quickly dying battery. He suggested I call again the next day, I said I would, and I was high on his good bye: a soft “Good night, Blue Eyes.” in little more than a husky whisper before the phone went dead in my hand.
We talked the next four nights and nothing about him set off alarm bells. He told me just enough to make me feel safe, as if he was confiding in me, but not so much that I was alerted to the very calculated way that he was grooming me. When he admitted that he had touched himself each night as we talked, I confessed to the desperate rubbing and moaning I had done in his name and it all just made so much sense to my hormone addled brain. The dye seemed cast, it felt inevitable that I should see him again, so when he suggested he come over (by now I’d also told him I was home alone) my only trepidation was him finding out I was so young. He arrived after dinner the next night, one single, crummy gas station rose in hand, and I remember swooning and blurting out that I had something to tell him. I told him, then and there, dramatically tear streaked and sobbing, that I was only sixteen and I would understand if he wanted to leave. His response was to pull me against his chest until I stopped crying. Then he kissed my forehead and said, “I don’t mind if you don’t.” I was so overwhelmed by his sweetness that I didn’t think to ask him his age or anything else of substance, I just turned my face up to his and let him kiss me. We kissed for a long time, or so it felt. He smelled better than any of the teenage riff raff I’d kissed before, and his mouth tasted like he’d just had a coffee and chased it with a mint. I was putty in his hands, standing on the front porch again, completely under this man’s spell. The kiss ended and he stepped down a step, tugging my hand.
“Let’s go for a drive, we can chase the sunset.”
Who was this romantic gentleman and how did I strike it so lucky? I barely remembered to lock up the house. It was before cell phones, no one knew where I was or who I was with, and we were losing daylight. I went with him. In that moment I would have followed him anywhere. I didn’t ask where we were headed, he turned up the music and rolled down the windows and it was like every summer teen movie ever, except that only one of us was a teenager. I felt powerful and out of control in an exciting way. The sun was behind us with less than half an hour until sunset. It wasn’t until we got onto the highway and left the city limits that something in the pit of my stomach stirred.
“Where are we going?”
“I have a place I want to show you. You’ll love it.”
“But where is it?”
“It’s a surprise. It’s not like anyone will know you were out late.”
He squeezed my knee and turned up the radio, a subtle signal that the conversation was over. I started to feel uneasy. I tried to be rational, or so I thought. He was so nice, and that kiss was so incredible, and the spontaneity of it all had me spellbound, except for the quiet itch of worry I kept swallowing down. It quickly became clear that we were not going to catch the sunset, as we drove east and into the mountains.
“What’s up, Blue Eyes?”
“I just don’t feel very well,” I said, “I get carsick.”
“We’re almost there.”
‘Almost there’ was not accurate at all. We drove another 20 minutes in silence. It was dusk in the mountains and the fading light draped the woods on either side of the road in the dim blue of nightfall in a forest. He turned off the highway and onto a gravel logging road. It was then that I sincerely began to believe I might not get out of this situation alive.
It was well and truly dark when we finally stopped on the shore of a lake. All I could think of was: how does he know this lake is here, up this logging road, well off any real road? How many girls has he brought here? How many are at the bottom of that lake? I asked why we were there, why we had driven so far. He said something about the moon and the lake and isn’t it romantic? and I felt like I could hardly hear him as he unbuckled his seat belt and slid across the bench seat to me. I let him kiss me and touch me but I was barely even there, I was stiff with fear and unease and the consequence of my blind adoration of this stranger began to press in on me from all sides. His hand was under my shirt, my shorts were being pulled down over my hips. If you’ve ever experienced dissociation you’ll know what I’m talking about; it was like watching a movie, being outside of my body. All I could think of, as his tongue snaked around in my mouth and his hard-on ground into my thigh: No one knew where I was. I didn’t even know where I was. Even if I could get out from under him, out of the truck, I could never out run him. He was bigger and stronger and I didn’t stand a chance. I didn’t want him to know I was afraid. I was torn between fighting him off and revealing my fear and revulsion, and risking him becoming angry and more aggressive, or complying and hoping if he got what he wanted it would all just be over. It was an impossible decision but I had no recourse, no plan B if I angered him. I chose compliance.
He was intensely into what he was doing, breathing heavily, leaning onto me hard. I followed along, biting my tongue to stop from crying as his hand dug around roughly between my legs and his other hand crushed my breast. His fingers were inside me and I started to feel faint – how long had this been happening? – as he began to talk into my ear. His words were vile and patronizing; all semblance of the sweet man I’d been getting to know were gone, there was no trace of romantic sunset or moonlit lake in his words. I began to resign myself to the fact that I was being assaulted and that he was going to rape me, and that if he had taken me to such a secluded place to rape me, he was definitely going to kill me. I recognized the numbness in my body and the way his voice and face began to blur. I had been violated and raped as a child, I was familiar with what was happening. I remember him putting my foot up on the dashboard to get more access to between my legs. I remember the sound of his belt jangling and his zipper. I remember closing my eyes and praying to a God I didn’t believe in to just let me get out of this alive.
And then something amazing happened.
I puked all over him; his face, his chest, his dick, everywhere. I heaved the entire contents of my stomach – more than was even imaginable – onto him. His response was panic and revulsion, but thankfully not anger. He extricated himself from the tangle of our limbs and the deluge of vomit and awkwardly half climbed, half fell out of the passenger door of the truck, shaking off the mess like a dog shakes a wet coat. It was then that the tears came. I cried and sobbed and broke down into complete hysterics. In an unexpected act of gentleness he leaned back into the truck and opened the glove compartment and pulled out a wad of fast food restaurant napkins, handing them to me. I sat and wiped my face as he crouched at the edge of the lake and washed himself off. He returned, shirtless, and solemn and dug around in the lock box in the back of the truck, producing a bottle of water. It was still sealed, so I drank it, spitting out the taste of vomit and the taste of him. He circled the front of the truck and got back into the driver’s seat.
“Let’s get you home.”
I recall so clearly, the swathes of yellow light from the headlights on the lake as he backed the truck out of the dirt and gravel road we’d come in on. It looked dark and ghostly at the edges of the light, and I closed my eyes and started to breathe again. We didn’t speak, I didn’t turn my head to look at him, he didn’t put on the radio. We drove in silence the hour or so back into the city, back into my neighbourhood, and he finally stopped in front of my house. He cut the engine and sat there silently. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I opened the door and slid out of the truck, legs weak with relief as my feet touched the ground. I closed the door and only when that barrier of steel was between us did I look at him. He looked back at me. There was no malice, no anger. His eyes were scared. He was suddenly this small thing, hunched over the steering wheel, with his regrettable tattoo and his douchebag goatee. He looked so weak and pitiable, but pity was not what I felt. The window of the passenger door was rolled down, leaving three or so feet between us. I looked at him, at his smallness, at his crushed ego, at his entitlement, at his stupid rapist face and I grabbed the door of the truck, leaned back and then launched forward with all my might and spat into his face. He recoiled and cringed as it hit his cheek. I didn’t look away, not until I saw shame flicker across his eyes. Then I turned away and walked, even though I wanted to run, up the stairs, unlocked the door with shaking hands and closed it behind me. He drove away before I had slid down the door to the floor.
I woke up the next morning still in the hallway, stiff and covered in vomit. I showered and changed, and made coffee. I moved through the day silently, stunned and distant from the whole experience. Maybe I should have been afraid he’d come back, afraid it wasn’t over. Maybe I should have called the police, or my parents, my brother, anyone, but I didn’t. I sat with the fear and the emptiness and the shame. I played it out in my mind over and over, looking for the red flags I’d missed. I drifted through the next few days and feigned normalcy when my parents returned. I held that story under my tongue for years, eventually swallowing it, ingesting it, until it became a part of the greater tapestry of abuse and assault and objectification that most women know all too well.
Today he’s just another story, another example of an abuse of power, another vomit stain in my memory. For too long I felt that situation was my fault because I had allowed him in, I had willingly gone with him. I made mistakes, yes, but he committed a crime. I never made him pay for that crime, I never told, not until today, not until these words you’re reading. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that when that lightning strike of shame crossed his face as my rage and fear and saliva dripped down his cheek, he knew what he’d done. He knew, I saw it in his face. He knew, and that is his burden to carry. Not mine.