I came late into my own sexuality, tumbling into it with all the confusion of a molested and battered child, and the shadowed blinders of a woman who thought her worth, even her ability to survive, was dependent upon making others, namely men, happy.
I never wanted to marry. While other girls were gracefully sashaying their Barbies down the suburban sidewalk aisle, I was dreaming the life of a writer, who had a small beach house overflowing with books, a mahogany desk littered with papers, a warm and tattered gray sweater, and two dogs named Holden and Phoebe. As I grew, so did the dream. I’d have friends, but not so many that they’d interfere with my writing – and I’d have a lover I’d see maybe two or three times a year – but they would be very passionate times, fueled by all the searing love letters we’d write to each other in-between writing Great American Novels.
Funny how things work out. I ended up pregnant and married in my late teens to someone who hated books, dogs, and romantic dreams. As I stood in the Justice of the Peace’s office, eight months pregnant, listening to the vows read by Mildred Pierce (yes, that really was her name), I had something of a breakdown. I began to laugh hysterically and couldn’t stop, a situation which only got worse when Mildred, in a sing-song whisper, sealed our vows with an “Indian blessing” that had something to do with the fruit of loins and a harmonious teepee.
Outside of the birth of my daughter, which was like a beautiful epiphany that reinvented and expanded my heart, the snapshots from 1981-1983 are sad and grainy – full of attempts that never hit the mark, and love that felt wrong and misplaced. I see me standing in the kitchen (wearing a skirt! I hated skirts!) making spring rolls and prime rib, neither of which he would enjoy because the first was too “ethnic” and the second was a waste of money. Me, hiding candy bars in my glove compartment because at 145 pounds, I was too “fat” for his liking. Me, constantly accused of infidelity and being checked on twenty times a day to ensure that I wasn’t fucking one of the neighbors in-between diaper changes, feedings, baths, housecleaning and cooking.
Me, in the midst of some cosmic accident where I ended up married to the enemy, feeling all at once adult and locked into a life of dread and spiritual poverty.
Of course, it ended quickly. The last pretenses were discarded the night he slapped me and threw my typewriter in the outdoor dumpster. I had one of my first freelance writing jobs, and an assignment that was due in the morning. He wanted me to put it away and watch television with him. When I said no, he lost it – and I lost the last of the love, or pretend love, that I had for him. I kept our daughter, and the son that I was two months pregnant with. He skipped out, never saw his daughter again, never met his son, and never paid child support.
It would only be after this, when I realized I was solely responsible for the outcomes of three lives – two of which were totally defenseless and dependent on me – that I was shaken into understanding that I had better learn who I was, and quickly. I could not afford to rent my dreams to the intentions of others, or to pretend my way through an existence with two children.
Sexuality was the reason I got pregnant, and the reason I had married a man I had nothing in common with, and in fact, sexuality had played a huge role in my life since I was first molested over the summer at age 10, when I was sent away by my mother to live with an ex-babysitter and her husband. It was a summer of horrifying and increasingly invasive moves (his) and increasingly creative, evasive tactics (mine), but like many children I stayed silent, fearing my mother would blame me, or that I would not be believed. I also took the molester at his word that he would kill my sisters if I told, so I didn’t. I swallowed the experience, and looked for answers elsewhere – which, in my case, meant books.
Being 10, I didn’t check out proper books on sex and sexuality from the public library – instead I stole them from the “free” book exchange that Washoe County offered in the library entrance. I scoured the jackets looking for any mention of sex, which is how I ended up reading “Last Tango in Paris” under the covers with a flashlight in my fourth grade year.
It’s how I learned that men were brutal and rough, and that women loved them despite, and maybe because of, their brutality. That, according to Harlequin and Harrold Robbins, fear was an aphrodisiac, and a bodice-ripping rape was an exciting and bloodless act that turned a faint-hearted girl into a swooning heroine.
When I was violently raped at 13, and left to lay in a puddle of blood, there was still nobody to talk to – I was alone in a repressive world where obedience to authority figures dominated any other consideration. I had already had my share of troubles earlier in the year for failing to tow the line, including a six-week stint at Wittenburg Hall Juvenile Detention Center, for possession of my sister’s boyfriend’s marijuana (I wouldn’t narc then, but I think it’s safe now). In my sixth week at Wittenburg, my jaw was broken in eighteen places and my teeth shattered by Dana Stevenson’s baseball bat. (She thought I stared at her boyfriend. I didn’t even know who he was, and was unlikely to be staring at boys in any case).
I bled for three days after I was raped. I took a lot of baths. I was afraid to look in the mirror. I was scared of what the wound might look like, and I was afraid it would never heal.
There was no one to talk to, but people talked to me.
Joy Pribyl and Marlene Cain were two girls Galen Miller told of his conquest, which is what the rape was in his 17 year-old mind. He was proud to have pinned me down to a boulder and taken my virginity, and he was proud of the blood, which he told them about, apparently with great relish and in detail.
“Like a stuck pig,” Joy chanted.
“Now you won’t think so much of yourself,” Marlene said.
“You deserved it.”
And I wondered, really, if I did. I wondered if reading all those books – seeking them out like I had and devouring their contents – led Galen to stalk and then rape me. Did having all those words and scenes in my head translate into some signal I was subconsciously emitting?
What was it Tom Jones sang? “A woman wears a certain look when she is on the move, and a man always knows what’s on her mind”. Was I that woman? Was I on the move in some way? Were men only reacting to what I had read and learned and had etched into my mind? Even before the age of 10, wasn’t I thinking about things I shouldn’t have been thinking of? What was wrong with me? What did I do to cause this?
I was thirteen then, but I would be tormented by this major mind-fuck until I was in my mid-twenties.
I thought I was alone. I was not, but it would take me — and so many other women of my generation — years to find each other, and in the process, find ourselves.