I have struggled to write this poem for months.
I can’t explain why, what provoked it, but a memory flooded into my brain and refused to leave. It prodded at me, urging me to talk about it, share my story.
My story is not a special one. It’s not even a particularly tragic one. It is, unfortunately, not even a unique one. But it is a story that I have had to accept and one that might help someone else find the courage to tell their own.
I thought that putting it into verse would make it more palatable to people. It would be art rather than a dissertation, entertainment instead of testimony. No matter how I have tried, the rhythm is wrong, and the words are out of place. Or the words are flattened into the beat. If I rhyme, I am writing to a child. If I don’t, I lose my grip on making it poetry.
So, I will stop trying to force what does not want to be.
I will tell you this story that leaves me numb, like I wasn’t really there as it unfolded, but I will tell you in prose. I will tell you in sentences that offer subjects, objects, verbs, and predicates and I have to hope that you will stay until the end, even though it does not have a happy ending.
When I was nineteen, I was in college. It was my first year and I had gone far enough away from home that I couldn’t go home on the weekends. It was a special trip for holidays, and I was forced to leave my comfort zone and find myself.
But then I learned a boy I had grown up with had moved to the same town. He was not in college. He had lived in that town when he was younger and his father still did, so he moved back after high school. And we made an effort to spend some time together at the house where he lived alone.
This house was in a new and undeveloped part of the city. Dirt roads, newly constructed homes, and the closest neighbor one hundred or more yards away.
It was also a twenty-minute drive from the college, and I didn’t drive.
None of this was important—I would be spending the afternoon with an old friend. We had known each other since we were nine years old. Ten years is a long time when your brain and personality is constantly under construction. None of the information about where he lived or that I didn’t drive was important—until it was.
As we sat in his living room, he in a chair and I on the sofa, another friend called. He talked to the friend, another of the kids I graduated with, without leaving the room, while I sat quietly and listened, because what choice did I have?
But as I listened, he lied.
It began by him telling the friend I was there. Which was, of course, true. Followed immediately by the announcement we were “hooking up.”
“Hooking up” has always been a strange turn of phrase for me. Perhaps it is my social awkwardness, my inability to understand nuance, but it is ambiguous, in my mind. It almost always means something that happens between people who are more than friends—I can’t think of an instance where it doesn’t but I won’t say unequivocally that it never means anything platonic—but sometimes it means becoming a couple, sometimes it means sex.
Regardless of the meaning, it was a lie.
And he knew it. He gave me a sly wink and shushed me with his finger to his lips. Don’t let on to his friend that he’s not getting lucky.
He ended the call and apologized for lying. “He would have expected it, considering . . .”
“Considering, what?” I asked. It was at this point when he, one of the most sought-after boys in my high school, an okay student but a star athlete across the state, confessed to a long-standing crush on the self-proclaimed misfit, the high school weirdo. He worked hard to overcome a learning disability and be a good student, I skipped class to smoke on the football field and graffiti bathrooms. He was adored by all; I was feared by them. But, according to his version of the story, I was too good for him.
“But maybe now, we can put all of that behind us and get together.”
I told him he was my friend, a brother, and I didn’t, couldn’t see him in that light.
He told me it was my fault for the low-cut top and tight jeans I had worn to his house.
I don’t remember what happened after that. My memory jumps from mid-afternoon sun in his living room to full night in someone else’s house, where I found someone willing to take me back to the college.
I lost hours. I don’t know what happened. He was angry. He wouldn’t answer when I called again days later. He tried “hooking up” with another girl (in the house where it was nighttime) like it would change my mind.
But that’s not even the real story.
Because that story is one that practically any woman can tell you about an encounter with a man. “He told me he liked me—romantically, physically—and I told him I didn’t feel the same way, so he got angry.” It’s almost formulaic.
The real story is hours spent on school buses or partnering for school projects. The real story is the day we spent selling advertisements for the school newspaper, when the whole staff piled into a van, but we had to partner up every time we went into a business and he was always my partner.
The real story is that Pearl Jam makes me think of sharing headphones because we rode the same bus before we could drive to school but after his brother had graduated and we lived in a rural community so the bus ride to and from school lasted thirty minutes and Pearl Jam’s Ten was fifty-three minutes long, so we’d listen to half in the morning and half in the afternoon.
The real story is how it all started when I was eleven and he was twelve and he cornered me in not-quite-public, with no more than a curtain shielding us from our fifth-grade classmates who were rehearsing for Peter Pan, and he pinned me to the bed that had been borrowed from the nurse’s office to be used for the Darling children’s bedroom scene, and pushed my legs open so he could lay between them. And he was hot and smelled of sweat and wet cloth and he was so much heavier and stronger than I was, so I closed my eyes and turned away from him. But because he held my hands above my head in both of his, he had put himself at a disadvantage, and after a few long minutes, he stood up and left me alone with something I would soon bury beneath the next eight years of friendship until another day when the only thing keeping me safe was his choice. Because he didn’t assault me but did everything to make me understand that was his choice not to.
And I can’t face him. I don’t want to face him. He’s married, now, with kids, and I don’t want to face him alone, without backup of my own. Because I always wonder if those moments that mean so much to us—that stick with us or resurface without warning—if those moments mean the same thing to the other person.
No one who knows us both knows this story. People who know me have heard it but no one who knows us both. They’d never believe me. I was a weirdo. Still am. He was the high school heartthrob. He was Andrew; I was Allison. They’d never believe me.
And that’s just one of my 97% stories. Or is it two?