Before, During, After

[CW: sexual assault, rape, allusion to molestation]

DURING

You think it’s odd, the moan, the one he utters when you stroke his arm as the two of you sit watching Wayne’s World in the dark, the light from the television illuminating your faces and making ghastly shadows that flicker behind you. You hold your breath for a second, alarm bells going off in your 22 year-old brain. Am I that sexy? you wonder. Is he that turned on by me? You’ve barely gotten to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene five minutes in when he takes your hand and stands up, leaning his body toward the direction of your bedroom. You’re not sure if he knows exactly which room it is, but he has a 50/50 chance to guess correctly.

You’re thinking pretty highly of yourself at this point, tbh. You’ve never had someone like him be so into you. Tall, cute, smart. Loaded, too. Popular in the way high school kids from the movies are popular. Although you’ve had boyfriends, guys like him usually either ignore you or secretly harbor crushes on you but are too scared to do anything about it in public (behind closed doors is fair game though) because of the kinds of kids you hang with — which is to say, not them. He flops onto your bed with a grin and motions for you to do the same. You do, hesitantly. You swallow hard and hope this is gonna be just a hot make-out sesh, maybe some light grinding. You’re not sure yet. You glance back at the bedroom door, which you left open a smidge; you feel somehow safer with Wayne and Garth close by.

BEFORE

If it were really up to me I would’ve said no, but I’d just turned 17 and my best friend was about to turn 17 and she’d been with her boyfriend for a while, and there was no way I was going to let her be the first one to say, “I did it.” Besides, [REDACTED] and I had been together for a while now. On the television screen, Bette and Johnny reminisced about how she’d been working in Hell’s Kitchen when she first auditioned for The Tonight Show and agreed that she’s still just as outrageous as ever thirty years later and oh, whatever will Johnny do after tonight, when he’s officially retired? [REDACTED] turned to me during a commercial break and asked if I wanted to go into the other room, and I said sure even though I didn’t know what other room he was talking about, really, but I could pretty much guess since his friend had disappeared over twenty minutes ago with his girlfriend and we both know what they were doing back in the other “other room” and ohmigod — it was finally happening. Ha!

It was so not like Brenda’s first time with Dylan on 90210 — more like Stacy’s experience in the dugout with that older guy in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. By that I mean it hurt, it hurt so badly and I kept thinking I must be bleeding, there must be blood all over these sheets, and I thought back to that conversation I overheard in Algebra II a few weeks earlier where that kid was bragging about how he screwed that girl so hard that blood spattered all over the walls, Man, and I thought, it must’ve been her first time, too and I could hear Bette serenading Johnny with “One More for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” through the thin plaster walls and I was so happy that I’d always remember this night exactly because it was Johnny Carson’s last night hosting The Tonight Show and there really wasn’t anything more iconic than that and hoo boy, wait until my best friend found out [REDACTED] and I had finally done it.

DURING

It hurts. It hurts so badly because he’s pressing so hard into you and you both have jeans on, and yours are button-fly, for God’s sake. Will there be bruising later? You hope not. He’s kissing you all over; your neck, your ears, right on that part of your jawline that makes you shiver with pleasure, and then at one point he starts to pull your hair, hard. You tell him “Ow,” in a little kitten voice and he laughs and whispers, Too much? in your ear. You laugh because it’s impolite not to. I’m not sure… you say. What? he whispers, because he really doesn’t know. I’m not sure this is a good idea, you whisper back.

C’mon, he says, unbuttoning your jeans and pulling them down as he buries his face into your neck, your hair. You reach down and can feel skin now, not denim, for sure. How did he manage that without you noticing? Stop, you say, panicking, a tear forming in the corner of your eye. Skin! What? he says, because he really doesn’t know. You want to be my girlfriend or something? he chuckles.

You squeeze your eyes shut and listen to “Dream Weaver” play in the next room and decide you never want to hear that goddamn song again in your life, not ever. You think about what it’d be like to be his girlfriend. It’s hard to think clearly, though, because you feel like you’re going to vomit and everything down there is practically on fire (Skin!) by now because of all the grinding. You can feel him start to penetrate and you panic and push against his shoulders and say, Okay. Okay what? he says roughly, because he really doesn’t know. Okay I’ll be your girlfriend, you whisper. The tears are really streaming hard now. Oh-oh, Dream Weaver…I believe you can get me through the ni-ghiiight….

I don’t think that’s gonna work out, he whispers to my ear. You know, ’cause of everything…. But no, you don’t know. He keeps pushing it onto you, into you, but it’s so dry down there and you’re not sure how far it’s going in but you know it’s going in. For sure it’s going in. He kisses you hard and bites your lip and you yelp a little and now is your chance. Stop! you say, and you push against his shoulders again, hard. He’s heavy, though. Muscular. He pushes back. You’re hurting me! you scream, pushing him one more time, pushing him off of you. Get off!

What? he says, but you realize now that he does know, he knows goddamn well what. Get the FUCK OUT OF HERE, you scream, the adrenaline really pumping now, and you continue to scream and push, and the lights from the television keep flickering and he hikes up his jeans and practically leaps off the bed and yells, Jesus! But you continue to scream and scream to scare him off, and it works because he gets out of there in, like, 4.5 seconds and slams the apartment door shut behind him. Crazy bitch! he shouts. You keep screaming.

BEFORE

I spent most of my time between the ages of three and five there because my mom and dad worked long hours, and it was easier for them to have us sleep over most nights. I slept in the attic, and my brother slept downstairs, in the guest room.

I didn’t find out until four summers ago what my grandfather had done to my mom and her sisters throughout their childhood. I’m not sure if my grandmother knew.

BEFORE

I thought I loved him, but really I loved the idea of him. By that I mean I loved his strong eyebrows and his cornflower blue eyes and the dusty rose color of his lips. I loved that he’d chosen me of all the girls in my dorm, girls who were so much hotter than me, and cooler, and here we were in his hometown over Spring Break, at the same movie theater where he’d taken all of his high school girlfriends. I felt so lucky.

It went unsaid, but was completely understood, that the plan was this: we would head to his parent’s house after the movie and have sex. I didn’t want to — the thought of it made my stomach turn — but God, we’d been together for three weeks now, and it was time. I felt relieved that I at least had an hour and forty-three minutes to relax while we watched While You Were Sleeping before driving over there. During the whole movie, I thought about how much I envied Sandra Bullock’s character Lucy — not because I loved her name (I always named my fictional characters Lucy) but because she had the perfect romance going with the brother of the guy in a coma, and they laughed and kissed and gazed longingly at each other in the moonlight and throughout the entire movie never had sex, not once. By the time the credits started rolling I was crying so hard and he thought it was because I was really touched by the love story, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t that at all.

After the movie I drove us to his parent’s house and he turned on the living room lights but we didn’t even get a chance to sit down before he took my hand and led me to his bedroom. and the whole time I just concentrated on the water stains on the ceiling and I tried super-hard not to cry (even though it didn’t hurt at all, not one bit) and when he finished he grunted so loudly I thought I was going to vomit all over him but I didn’t, thank God, and afterward he rolled over, grabbed the phone, and called his older brother, and I remember hearing his brother say, “You fucking dog,” which made him laugh. He had the cutest laugh. I still think about it sometimes.

NOW

When she thinks back to that night, she wonders if she’s remembering it correctly, if the details add up. What she does remember for sure: 1) The movie. 2) The flickering television. 3) The moan. 4) The bite. 5) The hair pulling. 6) The screaming. 7) “Dream Weaver.” 8) The blood stains in her underwear. 9) How it hurt to pee for two days afterward. 10) How she wanted to call in sick, but was afraid of losing her new job. 11) How he returned the next night and leaned on the buzzer at the front of her apartment, over and over and over again. 12) How she hid in the bathroom behind the shower curtain. 11) How he came around to her back window, shouting her name. 12) How she shook and cried under the shower head until he finally gave up and left. 13) How she called home a week later, begging her parents to help her break her lease. 14) Her quitting her first salaried job. 15) Her dropping out of grad school. 16) Her thinking she imagined everything. 17) Her hating herself. 18) Her never being able to scroll past that movie on TV or hear that song on the radio without wanting to either throw up or scream. 19) Her meeting her husband years later and acting like a tart the whole time so he’d have no choice but to fall in love with her. 20) Her bearing their two children. 21) Her teaching her daughters about consent at age three and then again at age fourteen. 22) Her explaining to them how to pleasure themselves, if they want to, so they at least know what it feels like, so they’re not afraid of it. So the feeling doesn’t make them want to puke. So they know what it’s like to be in control. 23) Her harming herself so frequently, for so many years, that pleasure and pain are forever intertwined. 24) Her remaining alive, despite [REDACTED]. 25) Her finally having the courage to tell her story.

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Shawna Coppola🏳️‍🌈

I am an educator, a writer, an artist, & a troublemaker. Website: https://shawnacoppola.com/ Twitter: @shawnacoppola #blacklivesmatter She/Her/Hers