I type my old email address into the text field: an embarrassing AOL email address that I’d prefer to forget. I remember the night I selected the username BSBToaster123 because I had spent a warm summer night rewatching a Backstreet Boys concert on VHS with my cousin, Megan. We sang along to all the songs and danced in my parents’ basement before sucking up all the bandwidth on my family’s phone line to create virtual boyfriends and talk to strangers in chat rooms on the internet.
Though it has been fifteen years since I’ve logged on to my MySpace account, I try desperately to remember my password. But no matter what phrase or arrangement of letters and numbers I type in, nothing will get me past the log-in screen. I need to log in. I need to remember how it all happened — how I let this happen. I need to find the original messages he sent me so I can build a case that I was raped when I was fourteen, not so much to convince a jury, but to convince myself.
I hate that word: rape. I hate the violent connotations and how definitive the statement is, “I was raped.” It makes you think that you’ll be sure if and when it happens to you. The truth is, I can’t say for sure whether what happened to me was rape. I am only aware of several inalienable truths: The first is that I lost my virginity at the age of fourteen to an older man that I met on the internet. The second is that I didn’t want to have sex. The third is that I was scared.
It was late spring in the year of 2005, and I was just completing the eighth grade. My friends and I were all boy-crazy, as most pre-teen girls are. We were also equally obsessed with the internet. MySpace and AOL Instant Messenger were part of our middle-school toolkits, an essential part of our social lives both within and without the boundaries of school. This is also around the time that teenagers started carrying Nokia 3310 cell phones with only fifty (one hundred if you were lucky) text messages to send and receive each month. Parents gave their children these phones and internet access blindly. What if we were stuck somewhere and needed a ride? What if we were sick at school? What if we were in danger? While I can see the logic behind giving a child a cell phone, I don’t think our parents really thought about what this kind of freedom meant.
No longer were we shackled to the land lines at home where family members could listen in to our conversations (as they often did). We were given the gift of privacy, and with that, we ran wild.
I remember when my best friend, Lauren, would come over after school and we would hole up in my parents’ basement and log into AOL. We were friends with lots of people at school and chatted with our peers there. But we longed for other, more adult relationships. We pined for men with muscular arms and hair on their chest, not scrawny boys who were just getting their first pubic hair.
Lauren and I were more developed than most of the other kids our age. I had been five-foot-seven since elementary school and had thick, tree trunk legs and round, firm buttocks. Lauren was even taller with double D breasts, a flat stomach, and brightly colored Victoria’s Secret thongs that peeked out of her low-rise jeans and her short polo shirts. By all accounts, we looked older than fourteen and had an attitude to match.
We used the internet to flirt with older boys, like the ones in the high school that my brother attended. There was Ian, the seventeen-year-old punk that we would follow around as he skateboarded around the neighborhood. There was Tyson, the sixteen year-old long-haired stoner that we got drunk with after school. And there was Cort, my older brother’s friend and neighbor down the street that I had kissed once. There were so many boys that we were baiting for, but most of them wouldn’t come near us — after all, we were only in middle school.
There were other boys, too. Men, I should say, that Lauren and I had talked to in chat rooms. Even the most innocent chat rooms were plagued by perverts, but we encouraged them because we liked the attention.
“A/S/L?” one chatter would post.
“14/F/Salt Lake City,” we’d reply.
“What are you wearing?”
“An orange tank top and a denim miniskirt,” I would type. But then Lauren would steal the keyboard from me and add, “And a red satin thong.”
She was only half lying. She was wearing a red thong. I could see it as she leaned forward in her chair. It wasn’t satin, though.
Soon enough, I was engaging in this kind of flirtatious behavior with other people on the internet when she wasn’t around, albeit much less comfortable with the entire charade. Still, I loved the attention. I loved being treated like an adult and not the naive child that I was. It felt good to be wanted, and I got a rush of dopamine to the brain every time someone expressed interest in me.
Imagine then my excitement when I received a message from a stranger named Brian on MySpace saying, “You’re beautiful.” When I clicked on the sender’s profile picture, I saw a man who looked just like a long-haired Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray. His shirt was off in his picture and he was flexing, showing off a titillating spectacle of biceps, forceps, pierced nipples, and abs. He didn’t look anything like the eighth-grade boys with whom I went to school. He occupied a much larger space, one covered in muscle and a chin beard.
“Thanks,” I replied, trying to hide my meek nature. “You’re not so bad yourself.”
I was impatient for his next reply. In the meantime, I perused his profile. He had a passion for cars, it seemed, and for mainstream rock music. Below his photo blinked the “I’m online!” icon. I knew I could expect a response from him soon.
When I refreshed the page, a new message was there, just as I had suspected. I eagerly clicked on it, mouth dripping with hunger.
We talked about many things over the next several days, like music and the weather, but mostly we talked about our attraction to one another.
“What would you do if we were alone?” Brian asked.
I thought about it, and honestly, I didn’t know. I could imagine kissing him. I had made out with boys before, but that’s where I drew the line. I wanted to kiss this man, though I wouldn’t say as much. I decided to play coy, uncomfortable with the art of dirty talk.
“I don’t know,” I said. “What would you do?”
“Kiss you and tell you you’re beautiful,” he replied with a winking face.
I was relieved by his response. I wasn’t ready to do anything more than that with a guy. My friends and I had talked about sex and wanting to have sex, but the way we talked about it made the entire prospect seem like a distant dream. I wanted to kiss boys though, lots of boys, and I liked the idea of someone kissing me and telling me I’m beautiful. It was a fantasy right out of a movie, one which would validate my entire existence. I was sick of being viewed as just an ugly, awkward child. I wanted to be an adult with autonomy, and to me, that included having sex appeal.
“You’re too kind,” I wrote back, thankful that the distance between two computers across the city could hide my blushing face.
“What’s your phone number?” Brian asked.
I thought about this for a brief moment. I knew I shouldn’t be giving my number to strangers. It’s not something that I had ever done before. I had only had my cell phone for several months, and I wouldn’t dream of giving him the number to my parents’ landline. But the fact of the matter was I had a cell phone. I had privacy. I wanted to talk to Brian more, and it would be nice not to be tethered to my family’s shared computer in the basement. So, I typed my number in and clicked “Send.”
Not long after that, I got a text notification on my phone. It was Brian. I didn’t have many text messages left for the month, so I wrote back and let him know that if he wanted to contact me, he’d have to call. So, he did. My phone vibrated and a mysterious number flashed on the screen. I answered.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he said on the other line.
“Hi,” I said, embarrassed and fiddling with a string on my pant leg.
We got to talking about this and that. He was a lot less focused on carnal desires when I spoke to him on the phone. It seemed like he actually wanted to get to know me.
“So, what school do you go to?” he asked.
“Wasatch Junior High…” I replied, slapping my palm against my forehead. He didn’t know my age. Not quite yet.
“Oh,” he said. Then he went silent for a moment. “How old are you?”
“Fourteen,” I said. “Why? How old are you?”
“Nineteen,” he said.
Nineteen, I thought to myself. I thought he was maybe in high school. I hadn’t anticipated him being a high school graduate. Yet, my perception of him didn’t change. If anything, it made him more alluring. He, a grown up, was interested in me, an eighth grader. It made me feel mature, superior to other people who were my age.
“Is that okay?” he asked after I didn’t reply.
“Yes, yes,” I stumbled over my words. “Is that okay with you?”
I gritted my teeth anticipating his response.
“Yes, I think that’s okay,” he said.
Suddenly, our call was interrupted by my mother opening the door to my room. I quickly hung up the phone and stuffed it under my pillow.
“Who are you talking to?” she asked.
“Nobody,” I lied. “Just Lauren.”
My mother took the bait and exited my room, closing the door behind her. My heart pounded. I knew I was doing something wrong. If she found out I was really talking to a nineteen year-old that I met on the internet, my life would be over. No more friends. No more internet. No more cell phone. Just me, alone in my room, with nothing but music and movies to console me. Once I had a taste of freedom, I couldn’t turn back to the way things used to be. I was a child then. But now, I was mature.
I quickly called Brian back and explained what had happened.
“That’s okay. Maybe it would be better if we met in person,” he said.
I was taken aback, though maybe I shouldn’t have been. All of our conversations had been leading up to this, after all. I’m not sure why but part of me trusted him, and so I suppose I wanted to see what would happen.
“Sure,” I replied. “I’d need to sneak away from my house, though. When and where were you thinking?”
“Tomorrow? I can pick you up close to your house so your parents don’t see.”
I thought of my junior high school and its vast parking lot just a few blocks from my house. He could pick me up after school, and I could lie about going to a friend’s house. I told him about my perfect plan.
“Cool, I’ll see you then. Do me a favor, will you?” he asked.
“Anything,” I said.
“Wear a mini skirt tomorrow. You know, the one from your picture?”
I knew the exact picture to which he was referring. In my profile photo online, I wore a pink tank top and a matching frilly pink mini skirt as I straddled one of my best friends who was lying on the ground. When I think of the photo now, I just cringe.
I waited near the alley in the school parking lot after school, trying to hold my skirt down as a heavy breeze blasted against my bare legs. I removed my jacket to reveal the same pink tank top from my picture, with thin white stripes and a lace trim, as I kept a lookout for Brian’s car. The parking lot was mostly empty now, with only a few faculty cars scattered between spaces. In the distance, I heard the roar of an oversized exhaust pipe as a red coupe ascended the hill. It was a 1997 Pontiac Grand Prix, just like Brian told me to watch for.
The Pontiac approached me slowly and pulled into a narrow space. He poked his head out of the window, recognizing me immediately, and retorted with a “Hello, cutie! Need a ride?”
I hopped into the front seat and immediately became conscious of my bare legs. I could feel his eyes caressing them, up and down, and it was only when I had come this far that I realized I had made a huge mistake.
I remember he drove fast, faster than I had ever been in a car, and the sensation of him accelerating made my hands sweat and stomach queasy. I wiped my palms on my skirt and began wringing my hands. Brian could tell I was nervous and set his hand on my knee. I never imagined that an older man would touch me like this. I was scared for what was to come when we were alone, but at the same time, I felt unmistakably desired and that was all I really wanted.
We drove to a part of town I didn’t recognize, to some neighborhood in the suburbs I had never seen. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to where we were driving, so when things went bad I could figure out a way home. In retrospect, I never should have met this man at all, but there we were, in the driveway of a mysterious home. I had no idea where I was.
He held my hand and walked me to the gate that wrapped around the back of the house. He opened the gate and led me through, and suddenly, I could hear boisterous laughter nearby.
“If anyone asks, you are sixteen,” he said, pushing me around the corner and onto the back patio.
“Hey!” a group of three men shouted, all about Brian’s age.
“Who is this?” one of them asked, looking me up and down, licking his teeth like a ravenous wolf.
“This is Sara,” Brian said, introducing me. I waved shyly. “We’re going to go downstairs for a bit and then I’ll meet you back out here.”
I turned my head to look at Brian and saw him wink at the other men as he drove me down a flight of stairs that led to a squeaky white metal door. I entered the doorway and followed Brian down a dimly lit hallway and into a bedroom. His bedroom. He closed the door behind me.
I stood still. I felt like I was going to be sick. I’d never been in a boy’s bedroom before, but I was smart enough to know what happened there.
“Have a seat,” he said as he sat down on the corner of the bed.
I sat down obediently. He was staring at me, and I tried not to look at him, because I knew if I looked at him, he would kiss me. I wasn’t ready for that. It dawned on me how little I knew about him. It felt wrong to kiss a person I didn’t really know.
He grabbed my chin and turned my head toward him. I looked straight into his brown eyes and out the back of his skull. He leaned in and kissed me, first soft and then hard, as he reclined me against the length of his bed. He crawled on top of me. I gasped a little, but as we kissed, I kept my eyes open, transfixed on the window through which I could see the shoes of the men outside.
Truth be told, as wrong as it felt, I was okay with kissing Brian. That was never the issue. It was when he ran his hands up the inside of my thigh and thrust his hand up my skirt and under my underwear that I left my body and focused on the men’s shoes.
Brian took off his shirt and flexed his chest. I wasn’t impressed anymore. Not like I had been before. He tried to take off my skirt, but my hands caught his.
“No,” I said.
“What’s wrong? I thought we were having fun?” he said.
I thought of the men outside. If I screamed for help, would they save me, or would they join in? There was no way to know, and I preferred not to chance it. There was also the matter of getting home. If I tried to fight him and run away, I had no idea where I was and there was no way I was going to call my mother and tell her what I had done. And most of all, despite my discomfort, part of me didn’t want to disappoint Brian.
“I’ve never done this before,” I said nervously.
“I know,” Brian said, and kissed me softly on the cheek.
“I don’t think I’m ready,” I said.
“We’ll take it slow,” he said, and unsure what he meant, I relaxed my grip.
He slid my skirt down to my ankles and tossed it on the floor. Then he peeled off my tank top and threw it against the wall. His hands reached behind my back and expertly snapped off my bra. I lay there exposed. Still, I watched the men’s feet, ignoring Brian’s piercing gaze as he kissed my chest and ran his tongue down my belly before biting down on my underwear and tearing it off with his teeth. Next, he took off his pants and underwear, straddling me stark naked. When I looked at his penis, I was horrified. It stood erect and menacing between my legs.
He licked his hand and rubbed it against my genitals, and then he inserted his manhood where I most dreaded it would go.
It didn’t last long. It was hard to tell because as soon as he plunged into me, a horrible pain echoed through my body, and I shouted out in pain. He took a pillow and covered my face as I screamed and moaned in agony. There is no doubt that the men outside heard all of it, which made it all the more embarrassing when Brian walked me back outside, my hair a mess and blood seeping into my underwear.
“Haha! Did you two have fun?” one of the men asked Brian, punching him in the shoulder and flicking a cigarette.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Brian laughed.
I made eye contact with one of the men, pleading with my eyes, but he looked away, refusing to acknowledge my pain.
“I should go home,” I said in a low whisper.
Brian nodded and guided me back to his red car.
On the drive home, I was silent. Brian kept running his hand up and down my thigh, but I squeezed my knees tightly together. I shuddered at his touch. Brian didn’t seem to mind my silence; he just turned up the rock music and sped down the highway, his exhaust howling in the background.
He dropped me off in the parking lot of my junior high school. It was early evening, and the sun had not yet dropped behind the mountains in the west. I walked down the alley adjacent to the lot, turned the corner, and walked straight to my house, all the while combing my hair with my fingers and pulling my jacket back over my shoulders.
When I walked through the door, I could smell the aroma of chicken stir-fry wafting through the house. My mother poked her head out of the kitchen.
“Oh, you’re back. Did Lauren’s dad give you a ride home?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, my voice breaking as the words escaped my lips.
“Did you have fun?”
“Yeah,” I said once more.
“Well, dinner is almost ready if you want to come eat,” she said. She was always proud of her stir-fry.
I went to my room and collapsed on the bed. I did not cry. I just sat there in the silence. I couldn’t wrap my head around what had just happened. It didn’t even occur to me that I had just been raped. In fact, to this day, I still struggle to admit it. I got into that car. I went into the bedroom. I didn’t call out for help. I didn’t fight him off. Sometimes, I can’t even remember if I really said the irrefutable word, “No,” or if I just imagined it. The entire thing seemed like my fault.
I give up on trying to log into my MySpace account. The email address associated with it doesn’t appear to be active anymore anyway, so the chances of recovering my password are impossible. Perhaps that is for the best. I was there when it happened. I know what happened wasn’t right. Sometimes, I just need to trust my memory so the healing can begin.