It Could Have Been Worse.....

Originally Published - September 2, 2016

The first hard, turned on penis I ever felt was that of my 70-something year old neighbor.   

I grew up in a small town where we didn’t lock our doors, everyone knew each other and everyone knew what you did about 5 seconds after you did it.  I learned to respect everybody; that you don’t quit something you started and that simply being genuinely nice could help you a lot in life.  

Brock Turner got released from jail today.  He is the Stanford swimmer who could not own up to the actions of what happened the night two students found him humping an unconscious woman by a dumpster. As the victim stated if he had owned up to his actions and taken responsibility for what he did, maybe this whole thing would sound or be different.  But it seems that because his penis did not insert her vagina, because she (and he) had been drinking,  it could have been worse…..

I remember the awkward conversation that got brought up amongst my friends when we were just kids.  This was before most of us had grown breasts, started our periods or had our first kiss - but something we had in common was we had all been in a situation where we felt physically unsafe.  Some things had actually happened, others had just felt that awful insecure, terrified, uncomfortable feeling that something terrible could happen and as children we had no idea how to handle that feeling.  We of course didn't know the term(s) for this at the time and most of us hadn’t really told anyone else anyway.  The details of those encounters, the specifics, well, we didn’t talk about because we were too embarrassed to say the words associated with what had happened.  It’s possible we didn’t know the words to describe it. No matter what it was, we all thought it was our fault and we all knew it could have been worse….

The first time I felt that terrible, uncomfortable, something-is-amiss feeling I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.  I remember some specifics but mostly I remember suddenly being aware I was very much alone in a place with someone I didn’t realize I was terribly uncomfortable with for reasons I didn’t understand.  I did know that I “should” have been comfortable so I tried to be nice and then made an excuse to get out.  I had never experienced that feeling before and had no idea how to communicate it to anyone.  I felt like it was my fault, I was stupid for feeling that way, nothing had actually happened…. It could have been worse…..    

The first thrusting I felt against me was when I was 15.  It was not from a boyfriend (I hadn’t had one at that point)...instead it was from our neighbor who was somewhere in his 70s.  It was the first time I was made to feel dirty, nauseated, helpless and angry at myself for letting it happen.  The FIRST time it happened I didn’t tell anyone.  This was a man I had known since I was 5, I must have been misinterpreting things, surely he was just being nice.  He was just giving me a hug, I didn’t feel anything. It was fine - I rationalized.  No matter what, I knew I would not go walking or jogging around the block again and would keep myself away from him, so problem solved, nothing to worry about.

But then he showed up. On my doorstep. When my parents and my brother were gone.  He was holding my dog’s leash.  How it got in his yard (as he claimed) I have no idea.  I just remember hearing the knock, walking towards the door, and when I saw him - my stomach dropped.  I didn’t know what to do.   

This was over 15 years ago and as I type this my stomach still turns into knots, my breath quickens and chest tightens - anxiety still grips me.  I have to remember that I’m an adult now, I wouldn’t allow this, I would KNOW what to do. Or at least I think I do.

This was the first erect penis I ever felt.  It was that of a 70 something year old man as he squeezed my 90lb body into his.  This guy was 6’2” and in great shape, I wasn’t even 5’0” yet. I knew I couldn’t get away strength wise if I wanted to - all I had going for me was speed.   As he stood in my living room and pulled me in close, he thrust himself into me, holding me tight….I don’t think I breathed. I tried to squirm away and he whispered between sighs & moans “It’s alright” “it’s fine” “just aahhhh”.  I made up excuse after excuse as to why I had to leave and he needed to let me go….please, I asked, please let me go, I had...volleyball practice, I made up.  Finally, he did….and I ran...I literally ran to the closest house of a friend, but man, I knew it could have been worse....

Almost 10 years later I was there again, frozen in fear, knowing something really terrible could happen - getting my ass grabbed and groped with a “I’ll walk you to the car” fatherly figure that other people trusted.  Once again, I counted myself lucky - just because he wouldn’t let go or loosen his grip, just because I felt his hard dick against me as he pulled me in and moaned quietly, telling me how great I was, just because all he did was grip my ass, reach for my vagina, feel my body, grab my face and shove his tongue in my mouth I was lucky.  I was fine, I would see him at work the following week.  He was my father’s age.  I was ok, it could have been worse.   

So when I sobbed all the way home, when I showered till I ran out of hot water, when I couldn’t sleep, when I cried for days, when I swallowed fear of seeing him or interacting with him at all, when I was beating myself up for putting myself in that situation -I knew no one needed details, I could fake it - My feelings weren’t valid because I was “lucky” - I was overreacting.  After all it wasn’t that bad, I wasn't raped.  It could have been worse....

I never realized the aftermath of those incidents (and unfortunately many others) until I was several years into being an adult.  When I felt like I had to tell my brother who had just had a little girl that this had happened with our neighbor we all trusted, I knew I needed him to know those things happen where you might not expect and once I started talking about it I realized it wasn’t just me and suddenly I could begin to acknowledge the points in my life these incidents affected (and continue to affect).  

I read an amazing blog post by a woman who stated it didn’t matter if you had been undressed by a strangers eyes on the bus or raped in an alley - that feeling of being seen, felt, etc against your will is unsettling, unnerving and is never OK.  

I was lucky, my first college “hook up” with a guy (who had been drinking) could have been worse.  He tried, multiple times to go further than I wanted with me refusing his advances, followed by me leaving - he didn’t force it, he just tried.  The next day he apologized to me, to my face, for continuing to pursue when I had said no. He felt terrible for putting me in an awkward place, I respected him for that and I learned a valuable lesson.   

I was lucky, my first real consensual sexual experiences came with my first real boyfriend (in college) who was so patient and never forced anything.  He always asked me if I was ready for the next physical step, always leaving me to initiate that step, and always confirming that I was ready.  I learned comfort, safety and what a real respectful relationship involving sex should be.  (Shout out to his parents and to him!)

I am lucky.  I’m a wanderer and love talking to strangers.  It’s part of what makes me, me.  But thankfully I’ve never been separated from friends when I’ve gotten too drunk to remember parts of the night.  

I am lucky, I have had wonderful, extraordinary men in my life.  I have grown to know my limits and boundaries, I follow my gut and am still learning to do so without apology.  All of this has helped me heal, but it doesn’t guarantee I’ll always be so lucky.  

I am lucky, I’m pretty normal (whatever that means). I have control issues, commitment issues, anxiety and fear that is sometimes irrational, hindering in relationships and I’m sure a whole other host of issues former boyfriends, dating partners and friends would be able to point out....but it could be worse.

The experiences I’ve had have changed me forever.  I am lucky in so many ways.  But then I got to thinking.... how is it luck that I only got felt up? How am I lucky that I only had a man try to force his fingers between my legs, that I only got dry humped and felt up by my elderly neighbor when I was still a child, that I’ve only had multiple tongues shoved into my mouth with unwanted force, that sometimes I don’t feel like my body is my own but property of others to feel and do to as they wish, that because people are in a position of power over me that it is ok they take advantage of me?  How am I lucky that I get yelled at from across the street as I am walking to meet friends-about my body, that I should smile, that my ass is good, that we could have “fun” together? They don’t rape me, so it’s fine.  I’m lucky-It could be worse....

But that’s not lucky - that’s bullshit.  

I don’t want my five year old niece to just be “lucky” because she doesn’t get raped. 

This culture of victim blaming, assuming boys will be boys, of girls who show skin or smile or who are generally being friendly is code for “asking for it” - This is the big deal.  How we talk to our daughters, sons, nieces, nephews and friends about those gut feelings, about the fear of people calling them a prude, being ostracized, made fun of for standing up to the cat-callers, the gropers, the inappropriate huggers, etc. for being strong enough to rock the boat and knowing that true friends will stand with them, is more than important - it’s necessary.  But mostly to know that just because it could be worse, doesn’t mean it’s ok, it doesn’t mean it’s not life-altering.  I was quiet for so long because it could have been worse.  

Just because it could be worse does not mean it’s ok.