Another Sunday Story, but on a Monday.
“Hey,” I say breathlessly, sitting down across from my friend.
She looks up at me. Her eyes are red. I notice that her coffee is untouched.
“Julie,” I say softly. “What’s up?”
I see her swallow something back before she meets my eyes.
“Oh it’s nothing really. I think I’m just hung over. You know I get anxious when I'm hung over.”
I look at my friend. She looks away. I think back to an hour ago, at seven in the morning, when she called me crying and said she really needed to talk.
“Jules,” I push. “What is going on?”
Now she begins to cry again. I reach across the table for my friend, but as I tuck my fingers inside her hands that are so tightly gripping her coffee mug, my heart begins to beat too fast. My own hands feel unsteady. Fear closes my throat. I think I know something.
“Julie. Talk to me,” I finally manage.
She closes her eyes.
Why did I leave her last night? Why did I leave?
“It wasn’t rape,” she finally says.
It wasn’t rape. Is that what she just said? I do not understand. But I do.
“Julie,” I say again. “What do you mean it wasn’t rape? What the hell does that mean? Who are we talking about?”
My heart is beating so fast now. I can hardly breathe. I will never forgive myself.
“Joel” she says to me. “I had sex with him last night.”
“Willingly?” I ask quickly.
Her mouth gets tight and she closes her eyes again and bows her head and I think of how many times I’ve had to cry with my friends over men. Why do we let them make us cry so much?
“That’s the thing,” she tells me. “It was willingly. I mean, if you recorded it and watched it on film, it was willingly. I didn’t say no. I mean, I did at first, but he persisted, but not in an aggressive way. He didn’t force me. I could have left at any time. But I . . .”
I wait for her to continue, but I already know what she will say. I already know every single word. They are my words too. I begin to cry. For my friend. For me.
“I just didn’t know how.”
And then we are both silent for many moments and it is as if we are not in a noisy coffee shop in the middle of downtown at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, as if we are not grown women in our junior years of college. Instead, it is as if we are little girls in the tree house my dad made for me when I was seven. We have skinned knees and dirty hands because the boys we were playing with were too rough and we didn’t know how to tell them and they didn’t know that just because someone is smaller and quieter doesn’t mean that you can chase them.
Just because someone is smaller and quieter does not mean that you can chase them!
“I really did lead him on. I mean, I liked the attention. I needed it. Will’s been gone for five months and he’s too busy for visits and even when I’m with him it’s like he’s somewhere else and Joel has been really interested for a while now and I’ve let him be. It’s my fault. I gave him the wrong idea.”
I take deep breaths. She continues.
“I mean, if you don’t want to have sex then you don’t end up drunk in a guy’s bedroom right?”
I open my mouth to answer her but at first nothing comes out. Nothing comes out because I think for a moment that I do not know. I think for a moment that I do not know the answer.
If you don’t want to have sex then you don’t end up drunk in a guy’s bedroom right?
And then suddenly I do know. I do.
“No Julie. That’s not right. You can say no at any point. Any.”
“I know. I guess. It’s just . . .”
“You said he wasn’t forcing you right? I mean are you sure? Was he?”
“No,” she interjects. “He wasn’t. Really. But it just seemed so rude to turn him down once things got started. Like he’d see me as a tease you know? And I had talked to him about Will and he’d listened and told me I deserved better than that.” She pauses.
She is trying to make sense of why she would give her body to a guy she didn’t want to have it. She is trying to make sense.
“I just felt like I owed him something,” she says softly.
And then we are both quiet. We are both forced into the most desperate and lonely silence there is, a place where we can see all of the ways in which we were groomed for this, but still we don't know how to speak about it. We do not know how to speak.
And I wonder then if this is why my dad made that tree house for me. I wonder if he knew that I would need a place up off the ground where I could not be reached, a place that could fit my friends too.
“I don’t know how I’ve let something like this happen again,” she says softly then.
“I know,” I whisper back.
And then we are quiet some more. The loneliness and the desperation continue to swirl around us but we reach out and hold hands and it gets better. It gets a lot better.
Then finally my friend speaks. And I am stunned when she says what I have always, always, always felt. She says exactly what is in my heart, what I have just never heard out loud before.
“I wish I knew how to worry about myself as much as I worry about pleasing men,” she tells me.
And there it is. There it is right there. In the silence we fell on this thing and it is the thing.
It is the very thing.
I wish I knew how to worry about myself as much as I worry about pleasing men.
“Me too,” I tell her. “Me too.”