But with only three hours to party, I decided to let my insecurities go. Everyone had to be out by 10:00 p.m. The only other rules my father insisted upon were that the lights needed to stay on and my bedroom door needed to remain unlocked. I'd thought it all through and was well prepared. We could still get a lot done within those limitations.
I wanted to get this party started, so I directed everyone into my room and told Jared to put on Van Halen. I ran back to the kitchen and collected my carefully prepared hors d'oeuvres. Salami, cheese, and crackers on one plate and Hostess Ho Hos (my favorite) on another. I balanced them together with two six-packs of Tab hanging from my fingers, and as I made my way back down the hallway, I heard the whir of the turntable, a slight hiss, and then David Lee Roth's voice open "Ice Cream Man . " Jared was a boy who dug the blues.
"Okay, I got the goods," I announced, placing the plates on my desk and discreetly adjusting the jeans that kept riding up my butt. "Now... Who would like a cocktail?" It was a line I'd prepared, knowing that it would give me instant clout. I knew what this little group wanted, and not only was I going to give it to them, I was going to give it to them with style.
The line worked. Everyone grinned. I told Jared to stand guard at the door as I turned up the music and poured the contents of the mason jar into plastic cups.
"Straight up or mixed?" I asked each guest in turn, diluting the booze with cola for those who chose the second option. I felt high, my heart pounding; I was on a roll. The party was on. The Binaca spray was close by, as was the food. If a parent came in and we had to cover for ourselves, we knew just what to do. With the drinks in hand, I surveyed the group and experienced a rush of accomplishment. It felt so good to belong.
Mitch turned off the overhead light, leaving only my desk lamp on to comply with my dad's rule. We drank the first drink together. "One, two, three, bull's-eye!" The first person to drain his or her glass got to start the game we all knew we were there to play: Truth or Dare. Mitch won, and dared Jared to French-kiss me. And off we all went.
The hours passed in a blur. We paired off quickly: Jared and I took the top bunk, Mitch and Cathy got cozy down below, and Tyler and Kara stayed on the floor. We moved from our places only to get fresh shots and to change the music. Hardly anyone spoke. After a while my face was raw from making out and my jaw hurt from keeping my mouth open for so long. It did not seem to matter. I loved lying next to Jared, feeling him against me. It was as if I'd thought about this forever and part of me could not believe that it was finally happening. Our clothes stayed on, of course. While we were wild kids on one level, we were all pretty innocent on another. I was barely thirteen.
A loud knock at the door startled me. "Carre? Carre! Open this door. Now." My father's voice rose above the sound of "Back in Black" on its third or fourth rotation.
I was disoriented. The room was dark, my skin was clammy, my hair was plastered to my neck and forehead. I felt vaguely nauseous. "Let's go, Carre," Jared whispered, helping me down from the top bunk. "Be cool," he said softly, deftly unwrapping and then popping a Ho Ho into my mouth. "Keep eating." And with a wink and an achingly sweet smile, Jared pushed me toward the increasingly impatient sound of my dad's voice. The boy was smooth. The light from the hallway flooded into the room as soon as I opened the door. I had this weird feeling of being under arrest. "Hey, Daddy," I managed. My father just looked at me, his brows furrowed again. I swallowed quickly and flashed him my best smile, letting him know I was so happy he'd let me throw this party. Though we'd never said it aloud, there seemed to be an unspoken understanding that this was his penance for things he failed to be or do while drinking. My smile was meant to remind him of that. But my grin was drunken, too, and my teeth were caked with chocolate Ho Hos. My father simply shook his head and reached his hand inside the room, flicking the light switch back on.
"I said lights on, Carre. Is that understood?" He was not trying to be mean, but it came out harsher than he probably intended. My father always seemed so uncertain of what role to play or what tone to take. Boys were in my room, it was dark, and it was obvious enough that we'd been drinking. So he was firm, but this time it felt like he was overcompensating for the increasingly frequent times when he had not been attentive to what was going on with me.
He turned on his heel and headed down the hall, staggering slightly. "Anyway," he muttered, "it's time for you all to go home. Party's over, kids." Grasping the handrail carefully, he made his way back down the stairs to the basement.
Though my father and I were the serious drinkers in the family, we were not the only partiers. As she got into high school, Chrisse started to host some mixers of her own. One warm summer evening in 1982, she threw a party that changed my life. My parents were away on one of their weekend vacations, taking some time to work on their marriage as best they could and to have a break from us, too. We had the house to ourselves. And, of course, to anyone else my sister chose to invite.
It was a Saturday night. A warm wind gently rustled the old oak tree that sheltered our suburban home. I was out back on the redwood deck, listening to the sounds of laughter and shrieks coming from the downstairs room that had become my sister's sanctuary. Elvis Costello ballads poured from Chrisse's new stereo system, and the steady crack and fizz of beer cans being opened could be heard from where I was. I sat in the dusk, debating whether I could get away with joining the older crowd of high school students who had infiltrated my playroom. I let a few more minutes pass, and then on a dare to myself I ventured in.
I was not there to socialize. I was there to snag some beer from the coolers on the basement floor. Although I was not that far from their age group, this was not really my crowd. They knew it, and so did I.
I had on my favorite Ditto jeans and a purple alligator shirt. Purple was my color. On some days I dressed head to toe in it, mixing up the uniform with only a rainbow ribbon tied around my head to hold back my long brown hair. It was my fashion statement. I felt put together and special in it. It completed me, like carrying a lucky charm or a rabbit's foot.
Unnoticed, I waltzed over to the ice chest and pulled out a Michelob. I'll just enjoy this in my room, I told myself. At the time, I was too shy to move to the music the way the other girls did. Some danced with partners, some alone. They grooved and swayed with a freedom and ease I had yet to experience with my body. A part of me just wanted to sit and stare for a while, to be a fly on the wall and gather clues about how to be comfortable in my own skin. But the risk was too great. I could not chance my sister busting me for just hanging out at her party and publicly humiliating me. In all fairness, this was not my turf. Even living under the same roof, there were spots that were definitely off-limits. The basement-at least when Chrisse and her friends were there-was one of those places.
So I went back to my room and sat alone in the dim green light cast by my digital alarm clock. I raised the beer to my mouth and chugged. I was drinking not for the taste but for the delicious feeling that trickled down my neck and shoulders, relaxing every knot of tension along the way. As the beer flowed, I shuddered. It was like that divine moment when I'd stand over the heater in the early morning and the chill would give way to a sublime warmth. I took another swig, trying to lengthen my swallows. I'd been taught that I could get more down if I just loosened up my throat.
Two gulps in and my eyes fell onto my most prized possession, a ceramic unicorn that sat on a piece of purple velvet fabric on my shelf. I reached out to touch the cool arch of its back, the graceful point of its horn, and launched into a fantasy that took me far, far away to a place of willow trees and brooks, grassy knolls, and a tall blond knight in shining armor. I yawned dreamily. It was time to either sleep or make another risky trip downstairs for more beer. I crept back down the steps in the hope that I would remain unnoticed.
I would not be lucky twice.
Chrisse zeroed in on me, digging her nails into my arm as she pulled me aside. "Just what do you think you're doing? ' she hissed. "Get lost, Carre. Now! "
I was dismissed, as quickly as that. I could have been dying for all she knew, or have been delivering some important information to her, but she could not have cared less. I bit back the anger. I needed to stay cool.
"I'm going, I'm going. I just left some homework down here," I said expertly. I knew how to lie, even to a suspicious older sister. And I knew how to do it effectively. Especially if it meant I could get my hands on some more alcohol.
"Whatever... Just do it already and get lost!" With that she turned and hurried back to her hard-partying guests. That was my cue. I raced to the cooler and pulled out not one, not two, but three beers. Fast as lightning I slid them under my shirt and bolted back up the stairs, two at a time.
Safely in my own space again, I decided to put one of my records on to drown out the thumping noise below. My room felt like a cocoon now, completely detached from the rest of the house and its inhabitants. At the same time, I secretly longed to be part of the crowd downstairs, laughing and flirting and moving to the rhythm of the music as effortlessly as the others. I wished my name were not Carre, but something more common, like Jane or Linda. I wished that I had long blond hair and soft, pale skin. Sometimes I'd imagine what my life would be like if I'd been born somewhere else, to another family, with another sister and brother. I imagined a different set of parents, with a mom who stayed home and helped me with my homework and lovingly brushed my hair before bedtime and with a dad who did not drink. But I knew the odds of that happening were nil. The closest I would ever come to that existence was in my head.
Since I knew in my heart that I would never fit in with the crowd downstairs either, I dropped Sticky Fingers onto the turntable and cranked up the volume. That did the trick. I could not hear a thing. Another beer and I had completely disappeared into a strange, fuzzy world of my own, an ever-more-distant place. But one still defined by the simple desires of a not-so-simple thirteen-year-old girl.
An hour or so must have gone by. I slouched in my chair, drunkenly staring at the pile of stickers I had successfully divided into categories. There were the "scratch 'n' sniffs," the "glitters," and then my favorites, the "puffy" stickers. They were made of soft, padded plastic, and my collection of them was impressive. I had Hello Kitty, peace signs, rainbows, and moonbeams. I had unicorns, slogans, kissing lips, and I also had a cola bottle. But divvying them up and arranging them had gotten old quickly. I was tired and bored. I needed to move. The buzz from the beer had worn off, and I decided I needed more. Time for one last run.
As I shoved myself away from the desk, my chair toppled over behind me, and I giggled stupidly as I attempted to right it. "Ooops," I said, speaking to no one in particular. I knew I needed to get myself together before I tried my luck again at the coolers. But chances were that everyone else downstairs was getting as goofy as I was, and that meant that my success rate had potentially improved. I fumbled in my pocket for a piece of gum, I brushed my bangs out of my eyes, and I slowly opened my bedroom door.
Something felt different in the house. Things had quieted down, and there was a hush in the air. The music that came from below was now slower, moodier. The overpowering smell of cigarettes and pot hung in the air and clung to the walls, and I wondered to myself how the hell Chrisse would manage to explain that to our parents when they came home the next day. Standing in my doorway, I was suddenly aware how full my bladder was from all the beer I'd drunk. Deciding to use my parents 'bathroom, I closed my door carefully behind me and stepped out into the hall.
Their room was just a few steps away. I used my "superglide" to move along the floor silently. Once I reached their blue shag carpet, I tiptoed to the bathroom door. Why was I being so quiet? So on guard? Sneaking about made even the simplest tasks much more exciting. I felt as if I were fine-tuning some skill I might need later as an adult.
When I finally made it to my parents 'bathroom, I switched on the light and raced to the toilet, forgetting to close the door behind me. By this point I had to pee so badly that as soon as my butt hit porcelain, I let loose in a flood of ecstasy. Phew, I thought. That was close.
And then I saw him.
He was at the bathroom door, one hand on the knob, one foot still in my parents 'bedroom, staring at me with a strange, sheepish grin on his face. He was Chad, a senior at a neighboring school. He was popular, and he flaunted it. Lots of girls had the hots for him, my sister among them.
Seeing Chad standing there, I immediately stopped peeing. I wanted to die of embarrassment. I was frozen. My face must have blanched, because Chad quickly stepped all the way into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. His fingers found the lock in an instant, and I heard him jiggle the knob to test it.
"What... What the fuck are you doing?" I stammered. It was a huge effort to get these words out. They did not sound as tough as I wanted them to sound, but it was a strain to speak at all. I reached down to pull up my panties, trying to cover myself as quickly as possible.
I was not fast enough. Chad lunged toward me, grabbing my hand before I could yank up my underwear. "Do not," he said. "They're cute... You're cute."
What the hell does that mean? I wondered.
"No, I mean, just let me... Get them... Up!" I squawked. Part of me was furious with myself for not handling this better while another part of me was shocked that Chad, the boy so many girls wanted (including my sister), was after me. What more should I want? Terror and confusion mixed with the sense that this was some important opportunity I should not blow, and yet I did not know how not to blow it. My heart was pounding a million miles an hour, my stomach doing triple flips. I was frozen, my hands still on my panties, his hand on mine.
Without ever letting go of me, Chad pulled me up off the toilet and backed me into the corner. I could smell the alcohol on him. For the first time, I realized how drunk he was. "You have little titties, do not you?" he said, laughing softly to himself. I cringed. "I bet you do not even have any hair down there. Come on, baby, let Chad take a little look." With that, he pulled up my shirt, forcing my hand away, defeating my best attempt to block his view. Chad studied me.
"Oooh, baby, a bald eagle!" He whooped and slapped his thigh, as if this were the funniest discovery he'd ever made. I felt light-headed and queasy. I wondered if I were about to be sick. Despite my efforts, tears of shame started rolling down my cheeks. I could taste the salt.
"Well... Let's see how you like this. A taste of the goods to come." Then he pushed his hand between my thighs and gave me the finger. I froze. Next, he raised his hand to his mouth, taking one long, slow, dramatic suck of what had just been inside me. "Nice and easy, little girl," he said as his hand disappeared again and I felt it poking, groping between my legs.
"Spread those legs open a little more, soldier." He kicked my left leg open wider; I nearly fell to one side. Soldier? Off balance and unprotected, I had nothing with which to stop him as he made his move again, pushing more of his fingers inside me. I felt a sharp pain ripping through my center.
A screeching gasp of breath escaped my mouth, my head banging back against the wall as I furiously tried to move my feet and body away from his. But Chad's big shoes were on my feet, and the crushing weight pinned me in place. At the same time, his hand nearly lifted me off the ground from the sheer force he used as he shoved it deeper into me. He panted and groaned as he pushed himself against me.
"You like it, baby girl. You like it, little slut," he repeated over and over.
The tears were now rolling, big and salty as they hit my lips. But I made no more noise. I refused to speak. It actually never even occurred to me that I could, and not once did I say no or stop.
Chad rubbed his jeans against me, pushing and jerking and grunting, until, finally, he gave a long, groaning exhale. I felt a shudder go through him, and he dropped away from me. Just like that, his hand was out and I could feel a place where my insides were torn.
Without looking me once in the eye Chad lifted his hand and once again took a long sniff. "Now, that stinks like a baby's butt, little girl. Did not your mama teach you how to wash?" Before his laughter died, he turned and walked back out of the bathroom.
And I collapsed onto the open toilet, my favorite purple panties still down around my ankles. I was numb. I was silent. I could feel my mouth drawn in a tight little line, and I did not want to let it go for fear I would make a sound. . . and that once I did, the sounds that erupted would not stop.
I tried to relax my bladder to finish my pee. I could feel a searing pain burning inside me. And that's when I began to cry. Throwing my arms around my knees and falling forward, I rested my chest against my legs. My whole body shuddered with the pain, the despair, the terror.
Wiping myself carefully, I lifted my panties back up. I felt how much this hurt, too, having them there against my skin. I pulled up my cords and, leaving the zipper undone, moved silently back down the hall to my room. Locking the door behind me, I found the ladder of my bunk bed in the dark and climbed up, into the safe arms of my stuffed animals, the soft, feathery down of my pillows and their familiar sweet scent. I did not wipe the tears from my eyes or the snot from my nose, even though it made big booger bubbles with each breath I choked out.
It is here I finally let go, and between my moans and coughs and shame, I fitfully fell asleep.
What happened to me with Chad would shape my sexual relationships for years to come. Like so many other victims of sexual abuse, I blamed and second-guessed myself. I had lost my voice when I needed it most and been unable to protect myself from what happened. That pattern of voicelessness would return again and again, as would the victimization at the hands of men. It would take me nearly twenty-five years to heal from the cycle that began that night in my parents 'bathroom.
But this "voicelessness" with men did not mean I turned into a silent girl in every other area of ??my life. In the aftermath of my assault, my anger and pain over that and other issues began to manifest outwardly in bursts of unpredictable behavior. My acting out took place mostly at school. I soon became very familiar with the yellow walls and the woven earth-toned tapestries that decorated the small office of the school counselor, Ms. Tinder.
On my last day at MCDS, my mother had dropped me off as usual. I'd begged her not to step out of the car and expose her too-short miniskirt, knee-high socks, and Birkenstocks to my world, and on that day at least she gave in to my pleas. Having narrowly escaped embarrassment in front of my friends, I grabbed my backpack, said a quick good-bye, and instead of going to homeroom I snuck around to the back of the auditorium and waited for some of the older girls to arrive.
Jennifer and Tracy were eighth-graders and outcasts, too. They were the first and last friends I would make at MCDS. I saw in them the kind of potential that I sensed in myself. They were rebels eager to buck the system, troublemakers, and oddballs. They found the same ways as I did to carve a niche for themselves within that privileged environment. We all knew that quietly flying under the radar would get us by. We shared a lack of interest in school and an awareness of what little we had in common with our popular, promising, praiseworthy classmates. Jennifer, Tracy, and I also shared a smoking habit. And after waiting for the first bell to ring, we slipped into the upper school's bathroom, pulled out a few cigarettes, and lit up.
We were asking for trouble. Tracy swore that the smoke would be gone before anyone else came in, but I think we all knew we were taking a huge risk. Predictably, we were busted. Caught puffing away by the headmaster himself. Within minutes I was back in the familiar confines of the counselor's office. In trouble again.
Ms. Tinder turned to face me. Her pretty brown hair was swept away from her face, and a light coat of mauve lipstick had just been applied to her lips. She was impeccably dressed as always.
"What have we gotten ourselves into, Carre?" she inquired with a steady but calm look in her eyes. It was not the first time she'd asked that question. As on previous occasions, I could only gaze at the floor, my cheeks slowly reddening. The truth was, I did not know why I kept getting into trouble. I had no answer for her, only a strange and terrible mix of regret and fear. I was desperately sad, and I truly wanted to communicate that to her. But today, like so many other times, the words would not come. What's the point? I asked myself. This woman is not going to understand. My walls stood tall.
But I had to say or do something. I could feel Ms. Tinder's expec-tant patience wearing thin. I took a deep breath. This one's for you, I thought, silently addressing myself to no one and everyone all at once. A nasty smile spread across my face as I lifted my right hand and boldly went where no student in the history of MCDS had dared to go before. My middle finger shot up, and with it I raised a defiant gaze to meet Ms. Tinder's shocked expression. She froze for a moment, then tilted her head to one side, studying me. With a sigh of both exasperation and decisiveness, she picked up the phone, never once breaking eye contact, and pressed the button for her secretary.
"Please call Carre's parents immediately. She is expelled and must be promptly escorted off campus." And with that, the receiver was gently placed back on its cradle and I was dismissed to sit in the hall.
My mother said nothing to me. I had nothing to say to her either. We just rode in silence side by side back to Greenbrae. As soon as we got home, I raced once more to the safety of my room and listened for the sound of my father's old Plymouth rolling up the driveway. I heard my mother talking on the phone to someone, hysteria in her voice. I caught every few words. "Expelled... Out of control... I can no longer..." I was numb to it all.
Chrisse opened my door and stuck her head in. "You stupid thing, Carre! You really fucked it all up, did not you?" Then she slammed the door without waiting for a reply. I rolled to face the wall and pulled the blankets over my head. I wish I were dead, I thought. The anxiety about what would happen next was making me drowsy, as if by going to sleep I could slip away from the consequences of what I'd done.
When my father arrived, I listened for what his footsteps might reveal. Had he been drinking? Had he heard the news yet? And as soon as the front door slammed, I decided upon both. He knew. And he had been drinking. I heard him shout, "Get her out of her room! In the kitchen-now!"
I did not even wait for the messenger to deliver his words. I flung myself over my bunk, using the rail for leverage, and landed with a thump on the rug. I left the door to my room open behind me and tried to stand up straight and tall as I walked down the stairs and entered the kitchen.
They were both standing there, Mom leaning against the counter and Dad with a beer in hand, one arm raised to loosen the tie around his neck. That tie had been a gift from me a few years back. By now it had faded in color from a rich fern green to a hue that no longer flattered him, especially on that night.
"Jesus Christ! What the hell have you done?" he demanded, a wild look in his eye as if I had humiliated him in front of the world. He did not want an explanation, and drunk as he was, he was beyond reasoning with. I felt betrayed. I wanted to break him, tear at him, make him stop judging me and become the ally who'd been missing since the day we moved into this horrible house. The day he started withdrawing deeper and deeper into that wretched basement liquor cabinet of his. If anyone in the world could understand why I had done what I'd done, it should have been him. But my father was lost to me at that moment and at so many others before then. Lost in his own pain and rage-a rage that unintentionally fueled mine, too. "What the fuck, Daddy?" I shrieked. "What the fuck is your problem?"
And with that, he slapped me. Hard. My father had never laid a hand on me before, but I had goaded him beyond his limit. As angry as we both were, the blow was shatteringly unexpected. I fell back, landing in a heap at the base of the stove. I remember my sister racing to my side, gently reaching out her hand to help me up, and softly pushing me down the hall and into the abyss of my room.
As I lay in bed, a hand to my swollen, tear-streaked face, a memory came to me. It was from a few years earlier, not long after I'd been diagnosed with dyslexia. I was nine, perhaps ten.
It was December, almost time for winter break. The days were getting darker earlier and earlier. As the sun began to set in the cold blue sky, slipping behind the western ridge of Mount Tamalpais, I'd raced from school, up the long hill and into the warmth of home. As I passed the Landons 'house, I saw my father's car in our driveway and felt a sudden rush of excitement. I knew well by then that if it was early enough in the day, I'd have some time with the "old Dad," the one who existed before the booze, the one who was-and still sometimes could be-present in the moment. The Daddy I needed and longed for so desperately.
I was led to him by the sounds of crumpling newspaper in the living room, as he rolled pieces of the Marin Independent Journal to stoke a fire. His back was to me as I walked in, and I watched him quietly for a moment as he reached first for a poker and then for a small broom to sweep away stray ash. I walked up behind him, stretching my arms their full length so I could place them around his burly shoulders. He turned halfway toward me and smiled, placing a free hand to meet mine, patting it lovingly. He was still sober. My body tingled with relief.
Although still in his work clothes, he was rumpled from his day and his long commute home. His hair, the subject of our incessant teasing, rose up in what he called his "Jewfro," an unruly and wildly dark, thick halo. His familiar Dad smell mixed wonderfully with the scent of wood smoke. It was comforting beyond words.
I stepped back, and as I plopped onto our old couch, Draco, our dog, shimmied up to me, wagged his big butt, and nuzzled in for a scratch. Crackling pops and hisses escaped from the fire. Satisfied that it would burn for hours, my father stood and turned toward the records lining the wooden shelves beside him, reading their labels aloud as he scanned the selection. "What will it be?" he asked. "The Beatles? Simon & Garfunkel? Carly Simon?" This was a rare but familiar moment, and I beamed at him, knowing immediately what he wanted me to say.
"Beatles, Papa. Let's have the Beatles!" I was up on my feet now, skipping toward him, ready and eager for what I knew was coming. Daddy slipped the shiny black disc from between the covers, then carefully held the edges with his thumbs and forefingers as he ceremoniously blew on one side, then expertly flipped it to blow on the other. Of course there was no dust, since no one was permitted to touch his records but him, and he treated all of them like gold.
He positioned the record on the turntable, gently dropped the needle into place on the third track. I waited, eyes shut, counting down for the crackle that always preceded the music by an instant.
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
My father motioned for me, holding his arms up and out as an invitation for me to come closer to him, to place my feet atop his and begin our waltz around the living room, which for the moment was our very own magical dance floor.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly.
My eyes locked onto his, trying to impress upon him the deep love and need I had for these very moments. How I tried to hold their gaze. How they were like the flavors of my favorite dessert. It was far better even than Mom's chocolate mousse. I would have given anything to be suspended forever in that moment. For time to stand still. As he lifted his feet and mine, we waltzed back and forth, in sync with each other and the music. He held me firmly in the safe arms of a father, and I let my eyes close and my head fall back in absolute trust. Remember this, I thought. Burn this memory forever in your heart.
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