Damaged

 

This story is ultra personal. It is a small event which changed the course of my life. I didn’t tell anyone until years later. I’m not one to “overshare”, however in light of recent events, I feel it’s warranted. With all of the clamor regarding old testimonies from “never mentioned” crimes, it’s easier to tune it out. But, the fact is that these things do happen. Humans are flawed, and they make mistakes. These incidents play forward until there is some sort of resolution, acceptance and forgiveness. I’ve done all three, but I can be honest enough to admit that what happened was real, and it did manifest in my life for many years after. For this reason, I believe women who come forward after the fact. And, I do believe it speaks to the character of the individual who perpetrated the incident, when they deny the fact that anything ever occurred. 

The first time it happened, I was 17. It was supposed to be the best time in my life. I was in New York City, studying fashion design at a prestigious art school. I had always dreamed of becoming a costume designer and working in the world of theater or film. Finally, I was on my way.

The first time it happened, I was 17. I thought I was so grown up and sophisticated, until I arrived on that campus in Manhattan. It was immediately apparent that I was way out of my league. Girls flitted by in the latest high fashion outfits, and the boys, well, they were just as stylish. I remember suddenly feeling very small and insecure in my Macys jumpsuit, wearing one of two pairs of shoes that I owned. I always had felt confident about being able to put together an outfit, until I saw my competition.

The first time it happened, I was 17. Sure, in my small town, I had gone out on occasion. I had my first drink, when I was 14, and I continued to drink because it helped to relieve painful shyness. Even so, it was only on occasion, to get bold enough to socialize, or cut loose on the dance floor. I guess I was pretty sheltered. This became clearly apparent within a week of arriving to college. My roommate, who was 2 years older, seemed so savvy and cool, I couldn’t believe she wanted to hang out with me. She invited me to go out, and I fell under the spell of the nightlife that was NYC at the time. Swirling lights, music, drugs, and plenty of them. I was underage, but there were plenty of girls out in the clubs that were far younger than me.

The first time it happened, I was 17. I had never had a real “boyfriend” during high school. You could say I was a loner. I guess the combination of shyness, coupled with the fact that I wore thick glasses up until 11th grade didn’t help. I was still a virgin, and I secretly longed to find that special someone to share the first experience with. I wished to find that “true love”. The first month passed quickly at college. The soft summer air chilled to a crisp. It was time to break out fall fashions. Sweaters, boots, scarves, hats and gloves.

The first time it happened, I was 17. My roommate coerced me into going out to one of the last standing monsterous clubs of the moment in midtown Manhattan. I wore a vintage 60’s hot pink fitted shift dress, with a black fake fur cropped jacket, fishnet tights and pointy patent leather pumps. My friend wore a black sharkskin fitted men’s suit, with nothing under the jacket, along with red shiny booties, and her trademark black beret. She styled my hair into a sexy tousled mess, added heavy black eyeliner and hot pink lipstick. As we headed downtown in a cab, drinking vodka from a bottle, the interior filled with a cloud of Aqua Net and cigarette smoke. I was already tipsy by the time we got there. Standing in line behind the velvet rope, we were immediately selected to enter. My friend was strikingly beautiful, with her wild curly black hair, green eyes, and androgynous style. As soon as we walked in, the music took me over, and I headed to the dance floor, as she went off on her own. The place was a vibrating cavernous, multi-level extravaganza. A sensory overload. I lost myself in the music and danced for what seemed like hours. Intermittently strangers would come up and dance with me. It was a different time. People used to dance, and it was all very sexually charged, mixed up, and fun.

The first time it happened, I was 17. It was 3 am in the club. The place was still going strong, but I was ready to leave. I walked over to sit in a banquet, and moments later, a handsome stranger sat down close to me. He was well dressed, in a Wall Street sort of way, but friendly enough with his sweaty bangs falling over crystal blue eyes. He asked if I wanted to party with him, and laid out a couple of lines of coke before I even had a chance to answer. He snorted it quickly, and asked if I wanted any. I had never done drugs, but I was curious and I thought, well, why not. I took the rolled up bill, and he held my hair as I leaned over and snorted a line. As I let the cool burn slide down my throat, I could sense a shift in my body. Now tingling and alert, I told the stranger that I wanted to dance again. He slid his arm around me and told me that he wanted to take me to an after hours club where we could dance till dawn.

The first time it happened, I was 17. Riding in a cab through midtown, after midnight, with a stranger. High on cocaine, and giddy with nerves. The stranger was funny and charming. We made out in the cab. I asked him where the after hours club was. He told me we needed to go to his place to pick something up first. I was too out of it to protest. We headed over to the east side, and the cab stopped in front of a fancy brownstone. He took my hand to help me out. I followed him up the steps to the big wood entryway. Once inside the luxurious apartment, he invited me to sit down on the sofa, while he went into the kitchen to make drinks. He returned with two drinks on a tray, along with a pile of white powder. I took the drink, but declined the coke. He just laughed and said, “more for me.” I was starting to come down, and felt very tired and weak.

The first time it happened, I was 17. I was falling asleep on the sofa, and I told him I needed to go home. He had been yammering on and on about some deal he had made on Wall Street, and how much he was going to make during the next year. He reached over and grabbed me as I started to get up to leave. I told him I had class the next day. No, no, he said. I’ll send you home in a cab in the morning. Stay. Stay. I told him I couldn’t. He kept persisting, his sweat dampened hair dangling over wild looking, bloodshot blue eyes. As he tugged on my dress, he tried to slide his hand up my thigh. I firmly gripped his hand to stop him. I told him I couldn’t sleep with him because I was still a virgin. I told him I was saving it for that special someone. I told him I wanted to leave. He grabbed me, and kept kissing me, even though at this point, I was not reciprocating. He was in a coked up frenzy by now, and suddenly I was very sober. I pushed him away and told him to stop it. He pushed me back down on the sofa. Tears welled up in my eyes. He was so much stronger than me, as he pushed me down, I heard him unzipping his pants. Tearing at my stockings, he told me to lie still, and urgently forced himself upon me, heaving and breathing like an animal. Hot tears flowed down my cheeks, pooling at the side of my face, as it was crushed deeper and deeper into the velour pillow. Physical pain was dwarfed by my emotional agony. Then, suddenly, I felt myself floating upward and watching this event from above. I disconnected and became numb. Nothing could touch me now. I became smaller and smaller, fading away into the distance, until I finally disappeared completely.

The first time it happened, I was 17.

 

The Kiddie Pool

Mid July in the late 70’s. The family of four stood in the driveway of a run-down looking two family house, as they watched a giant moving truck slowly back out into the street. Tears welled up in the older daughter’s eyes. The younger child grabbed onto to her mother’s long linen skirt. She looked up to see the dark stains spreading beneath the underarms of her mom’s favorite olive shirt. Their father swiftly turned on his heels, walked into the house, letting the loose screen door slam loudly behind him.

The mother and two little girls stood for a few moments, frozen in time at the end of the driveway. They watched as the truck turned the corner, finally passing out of sight.

This was one of a series of moves. For reasons mysterious to the children, just as soon as they got settled in a new town and into a new school, it was time to move again. Usually something to do with their father’s job as a professor. Switching universities, better opportunities, or something of the sort.

This time they were going to move to a another state, but until the next house was ready, they would need to stay in temporary housing, at an apartment complex.

As the kids got into the back seat of the beige Volvo station wagon, they each hugged a teddy bear close, tears dampening the well-worn, faded fur.

Hours passed, and after dark, they arrived at their destination. It was a nondescript place. Dark russet brick, all one level. Basically a Motel 6, minus the sign. The family set up a temporary home here. Simply furnished, it served its purpose well enough.

Over the next few days, the girls ventured outside. It was during an era when kids were allowed to run around wild and free. Nobody really paid much attention, unless it was time to do homework, chores, walk a dog, or eat dinner. As they wandered around the complex, they noticed quite a few other kids around their age. The children seemed friendly enough, and one of the neighbors even had a plastic kiddie pool in front of her unit. It was blue, with bright green turtles and seahorses printed all around the outside. The little girl invited the sisters to play, and of course they were excited to meet a new friend. And, even more excited to be able to cool off in the bright blue plastic pool.

Being that it was summer and there wasn’t much to do, having a new friend with the kiddie pool was a good start. At least they had somewhere to go. They didn’t like to stay inside the dark apartment, since their mother seemed to be unhappy, and the place felt oppressive in the stifling humidity.

One day, not long after moving in, the new friend told them, “hey, it’s time to go to Bobby’s place, his mom is doing her shower.” The girls had no idea what this meant, but of course they were curious. They followed her as she traipsed around the complex. As they followed her, she called out “shower time!” over and over. Gradually, a few other children, hearing the call, joined them in the parade towards Bobby’s place.

Finally, they arrived at the apartment. Number 19. The door was open. An older boy, maybe 9 or 10, poked his head out of the front door. “Hurry up! Mom’s just getting in the shower now!” All of the kids shuffled in through the door, crowding the hallway of the small unit. The sound of a shower could be heard, and a high-pitched voice called out “Hey you guys, wanna see my tits?” The group of kids, mostly boys, swiftly gravitated towards her voice.

The bathroom door was open, an intoxicating scent of strawberry shampoo filled the air, as a cloud of steam poured out. Rock music played on a transistor radio. Behind the sheer plastic French doors into the shower, a messy giant blonde head of hair bobbed up and down. Suddenly, the doors opened and Bobby’s mom leaned out, “see these!” she held up her enormous breasts shaking them at all of the children. The two new girls stood in shock. The older sister grabbed her younger sister by the hand, and dragged her through the cluster of kids, and out the front door in a hurry. They ran all the way back to their apartment, where they fell onto the air mattress in hysterical fits of giggles.

CVS Psychic

Hair dye, nail polish, crazy glue, birthday card and gum. I repeat these words over and over in my head like a song. Don’t want to forget anything. Without a list, I know I’ll wind up with a basket full of makeup I don’t need, along with random things like tiny stuffed teddy bears and jellybeans. Stick to the list. Focus.

Standing in the nail polish aisle, comparing two very similar colors, I host an internal debate regarding the difference between them, one too pale, the other too grey and corpse-like. I go back and forth, finally settling on the least expensive tiny bottle in a shade between the two.

It’s at that moment that I feel her stare. Looking up from the nail polish rack, I see a petite woman, with sharp darting eyes standing in front of me. Wearing a black wool coat, purple handbag on arm, she’s a throwback to 1968. Her dyed matte black hair is perfectly coifed into a modest bouffant. She wears a red faded lipstick. Cautiously stepping closer, she let’s me know that she’s a psychic. She tells me that I have a very strong aura. I think, oh no, here we go….the psychic scam. Been there, done that. However, I am curious as to what message she might have for me.

She tells me that there is someone I have unfinished business with, and that I need to let it go. I do a quick scan over the past and, of course, there’s a lot of unfinished business back there, but I can’t think of anything that critical. I nod and tell her I’m good, I think I’ve resolved those things. She continues to stare. Then she pauses to pick up a lipstick. Holding it up, she tells me, in a heavy Brooklyn accent, how these long wearing lipsticks always make her lips dry. I let her know I’m a makeup artist, and I offer some suggestions. She tells me I have a very creative aura.

I thank her, turning to head down the aisle, making my stealthy escape. Around the corner I pause, momentarily distracted by a row of mascaras. I feel it again, she’s in front of me now. She tells me I am going to need to make a decision very soon. In my head, I’m thinking, yeah, we all make decisions every day. Case in point,  I can’t even decide which nail color to buy. But, she emphasizes that I need to make the best decision for myself, and not to let others influence that choice. I thank her for the advice, and I carry on towards the hair dye section.

As I wait in line for the register, I realize it’s saturday night, and I’m in a CVS in Burbank. I feel a wave of self-pity sweep over me. Let it go, I tell myself, let it go. You’re free. You don’t have to answer to anyone. You can stay in this store all night if you want. Self-doubt creeps in. Insecurity takes over. The psychic’s comments float through my mind. “Need to let go of something, creative aura, make a decision.” Maybe I ought to heed her advice. As I make my way across the lonely parking lot, carrying the plastic bag with my hair dye, nail polish, crazy glue, birthday card and gum, I know that I do need to let go of some things from the past, and it is time to make some serious decisions regarding my future. I embrace my creative spirit, and quietly thank the CVS psychic for her advice.

Calzones

Rene had just turned 18, and was living on her own in Boston sharing a grimy one bedroom apartment with a mentally unstable roommate, but that’s another story altogether. It was the early 80’s, and although some people might have been benefiting from Reaganomics, Rene and her friends were definitely on the other end of the spectrum. They scraped by to pay a meager rent in the roach infested one-bedroom apartment. Not having much job experience, Rene set out to find herself a restaurant position. Maybe she could work as a waitress or hostess. Even a dishwasher. At this point, anything would do.

Someone recommended she try the North End, where there were plenty of small Italian cafes and restaurants. So, she decided to go check it out on foot. Walking through the quaint neighborhood, she saw a handwritten sign in the window of a small place called Café Pompeii. There were a couple of guys sitting at a small metal table in front, smoking and drinking espresso. They gave her the once over, and she looked down at the ground while walking in. She was very shy and awkward at 18, and extremely self-conscious. She forced herself to stick to the plan. Inside, the place was classic Italian, from the red and white checkered tablecloths, to the counter case with its shelves full of fresh pastries. The cafe also offered some of the best gelato in Boston. She quietly asked the girl at the register if she could apply for a job. The girl told her to have a seat, and she could get her an interview immediately for the waitress position.

Rene felt her heart beat faster, as she flushed with nervousness. Of course she would wait for the interview. She was excited and scared, since she had never actually waited a table in her life. But, she needed a job, and how hard could it be anyway?

A large masculine looking woman sauntered over. She introduced herself in a husky voice. Elena was the house manager. She asked Rene some brief questions about her experience. She seemed to understand that this was to be her first time waitressing, and told her she could have a day of training. She said that the job was pretty simple, and she was sure that Rene would catch on quickly, since she seemed to be such a smart girl. Not like the last girl, who was, according to Elena, a total dimwit.

Elena showed her the menu, and explained the system, pointing up the ceiling where there was a table number correlating with each table on the dining floor. Rene must have had a worried look on her face, because Elena quickly emphasized that after a while, the numbers would become second nature,  but until that time, you just needed to look up to make sure you had the right order. Rene was hired to start immediately.

The next day she got up extra early, put on her makeup, along with the requested black pants and top. She hopped on her bike and rode across town, taking side streets to avoid traffic, all the way to the North End. She locked her bike in front of the café, so that she could keep an eye on it. It was her only means of transportation, and she was fearful of ever losing it. Looking up, she noticed storm clouds rolling in. In her excitement about actually making some money, she had forgotten to check the weather report.

As she entered the café, the place was buzzing. There were already customers at tables, most of them men. Loud conversations overlapped. Mostly in Italian. Elena motioned her to hurry up and put her backpack behind the counter, since they were already backed up. As Elena briskly pushed by Rene, she told her go take an order from table #6. Panicking for a moment, she looked up to the ceiling to find the number #6 table location. She looked down to find a table shared by two older Italian men. They gave her the eye and smiled as she walked over. Caio bella, che carina. They chit chatted, but she had no clue what they were saying. They seemed to be ordering, but she still didn’t understand. They asked for “doo caltz” and she had no idea what this meant. Just as they were starting to get annoyed, Elena intercepted with a quick offering of fresh bread, and grabbed the order form to scribble down 2 calzones. Rene tried to breathe and just focus. Elena barked at her to get to table #3. She had to look up again to the ceiling, and as she searched for table #3, Elena yelled at her to follow-up with table #6, then go give bread to table #9. Rene started getting flustered. She felt dizzy from looking up and down. The place was loud and customers were glaring at her. Mostly men, with the occasional younger woman. One of the men started calling her stupid in Italian “stupida”…this she could understand. She felt the tears welling up in her eyes. No, no she didn’t want to cry! Her face turned red as she walked over to the counter to compose herself.

She sniffed, and looked up to see a tall dark-haired, handsome man standing behind the counter reaching for her hand. He told her he wanted to talk to her and she needed to follow him. His name was Arturo. He was the owner’s son. As she walked with him, he told her he knew that the first day would be hard, it always was. He led her by the hand through the small café, past the mural of Naples on the wall, to the far left side, where just below the painting of Mount Vesuvius, was a door. He opened the door, waited for her to go in front of him, then slammed it shut and locked it. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She looked around a dark large room painted black. There were two pool tables where a few young men were arguing over whose turn it was. The air was laden with smoke and smelled musty. There was music playing from a juke box in the corner, and a few guys sat around on leather sofas deep in conversation. She couldn’t understand a word, since it was all in Italian. Arturo led her through this room. As they walked through, 2 large dobermanns ran around them once, pausing momentarily to sniff her leg, and continuing their rounds. Arturo opened another door, this time he entered first. She looked inside to see a large 1960s painting of a naked woman on the wall. The woman had a huge blonde bouffant hair-do and was barely covered with a fur wrap. She forced a come hither stare under baby blue lids, along with her parted hot pink lips.

As her eyes shifted down from the painting, she saw an older man with thick grey hair and a mustache, easily over 70, seated at a large elaborately carved wooden desk. He smiled at her and told them to come in. He dismissed Arturo with a hand gesture, and Rene felt a twinge of fear come over her, as she was left alone with this stranger. His name was Joe. He told her to come over to sit by him. She obliged. He pulled her close to him on a chair and put his arm around her in a fatherly way. He proceeded to tell her that if she wanted to stay here, she would want for nothing. If she ever had a problem, he would take care of it. If she needed any money, all she had to do was ask. He offered her full protection. She was really not sure how this all happened so fast, since she had been such an epic failure as a waitress. But, he seemed sincere and very convincing that she was worth it to him.

She got quiet, and really didn’t know what to say. She was young 18. Naive. Maybe another girl would have jumped at this opportunity, but Rene felt uncomfortable with it. He told her to think about it and let him know. She said ok. He pressed a 100 dollar bill into her hand and closed her fingers around it. He then picked up his phone and called Arturo, who reappeared to take her back to the restaurant. By this time, it was getting late. She continued to try to wait tables, and actually began to get the hang of it. The kitchen staff began to leave, since the place was closing now. Elena told her she just needed to help reset the tables for the next day. As she set up the last table, she realized that everyone had left, and she was suddenly all alone in the dining area. She could hear the rain coming down and she looked out to see her bike being pelted with raindrops. The street looked black and slick.

Music was still playing. It was classic Italian romantic music, which she hadn’t really noticed until after the crowd had died down. The soft mandolin and vocals were a relief to her ears. Her mind drifted as she laid down the last utensils and straightened the tablecloths.

Finally, it was time to go. She took her backpack from behind the front counter, and set it on a chair. Pulling out a rumpled jacket, she put it on. As she brushed her long hair into a ponytail, she heard the back door opening. A man cleared his throat and she looked up to see Joe heading in her direction. Tesora? Where you go?  Why was she leaving him, he wanted to know. She told him she needed to ride her bike home, and it was getting late. He was carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses. He told her he wanted her to stay and have a toast with him. She started to feel trapped. No, she said, she had to go. He insisted and came closer to her. He touched her arm and told her he needed her to stay. She reached for the door, and looked out into the rainstorm. He asked her why she was going to leave him. He just wanted to spend time together. Something propelled her to rush out the door to her bike. He stood in the doorway, watching her fumble with her bike lock. The rain was torrential, and within minutes, she was drenched. Wiping the water from her face, she pulled up the hood of her jacket, awkwardly glanced at Joe, then hopped onto the bike and rode away in the downpour into the dark streets of Boston.

Occasionally,  Rene looks back at that moment as a missed opportunity, but ultimately, she knows in her heart that she probably dodged a bullet.