When I was nineteen, life handed me my first hard lesson.
His name was Rob. He lived in the apartment below mine in an old house that had been divided into five apartments, and he was everything I wanted in a man. Tall, handsome, and funny, with an interest in all things sci-fi and fantasy. We could talk about comic books, Doctor Who, Monty Python, and this new British writer who was making a splash with something about hitchhiking across the galaxy. We listened to Joe Jackson, REM, and vintage Who; he loved the group Love & Rockets while I fiercely defended the comic book by the same name.
He was perfect.
He was also taken.
He was one of those college boys with the girlfriend back home, and that meant he was strictly off-limits. No matter what.
I should admit here that I was pretty naive when it came to men. I had a lot of friends who were male, and I could tell a raunchy joke right up there with the best of them, but I’d only had a few boyfriends in high school. And I’d never gone farther than second base with any of them.
My self-confidence was non-existent. I had this mental picture of myself as someone who was too fat and ugly to be desirable, and so I decided that I was going to be okay with being the girl who was every guy’s buddy. The friend. One of the guys. In high school, I never thought I had to worry when I was alone with a group of males because none of them thought of me “that way.”
So that’s the type of relationship I fell into with Rob. We would hang out in his apartment or mine, drinking cheap wine and talking about everything from philosophy to which actor was the best Doctor (I still say Davison, although Rob was a big fan of Tom Baker). We’d read Elfquest and New Mutants together or compare notes on which parts of Restaurant at The End of The Universe were funnier. We even had deep, scientific discussions on the Theory of the Universal 7-11 and how it applied to life in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.
It was a great semester. I sold my first article to a real magazine and started working on my first novel with Rob’s encouragement. It was a pretentious little bit of literary fiction that wanted very badly to be an allegory based on Faustian legends, but it just ended up being very bad. Very very bad. Still, it was a great learning experience.
Even better, no one but Rob ever read it. Really, it was that bad.
We used to go for long walks through the woods and talk some more. He would tell me about his girlfriend, and I would tell him about whatever man I happened to be interested in that week. I never dated any of them, though; there just wasn’t time what with my class load, my writing, and all the time I was spending with Rob.
Who was taken.
“I want to show you the dams,” he told me one April night. It was cold and clear, with a full moon, and we filled the pockets of his battered Army jacket with bottles of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. We giggled and drank and talked as we made our way through the woods to a beautiful little spot where a fast-moving creek rushed over a series of stone dams. It was an isolated little cove, almost magical in the moonlight, and we sat on a ledge for hours, swinging our legs and talking about life.
When he kissed me the first time, I liked it. I admit it. We were a bit tipsy, and he was so cute. And we had become so close, after all. He was perfect, wasn’t he?
By the second kiss, however, I had sobered up enough to know it was wrong. He was taken. Off-limits. He belonged to another woman.
By the third kiss, I realized he wasn’t going to stop no matter how hard I fought.
He was very apologetic afterward and even sent me flowers the next day with a cute card that had a little frowny-face and the words “I’m sorry” pre-printed in puffy blue letters. He knocked on my door a few times over the next few weeks, but I pretended not to be home. Eventually, he stopped trying.
I don’t know where Rob is today, or if he ever married the girl he was with back then. I wonder sometimes if the rape was planned or if he just lost control after too many bottles of Bartles & Jaymes. I wonder if he took other girls to the dams before me or after me, and I wonder what would have happened if I had gone to the police.
I wonder if he realizes now what he did to me, or if he tells himself it was just sex. If he regrets it. I wonder if he even remembers me at all, and if he’s sorry.
I wonder how my life would have turned out if I hadn’t thought I was safe when I was nineteen.
This post has been part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the sentence starter “When I was nineteen. . . ” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Mimi at Mimi Time and Vidya at Coffee with Mi.
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