I breathe in. One. I breathe out. Two. Britt waits until I get to seven before banging on the stall door. “C’mon, Mick! Talk to me.”
“No.” I want to scream, but it comes out a whisper. No.
“Mick.” She sighs. “You have to talk to me.”
“No,” I say louder. I don’t. I don’t have to talk to anyone.
Britt pounds on the stall door again. “Ignore those assholes.” She pauses. “Micky, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” Obviously. No one but me, Spence, and Britt knows what happened last weekend. But still I don’t respond aloud. I just want her to go away. After a moment, she sighs. “Mick…” She pauses. “Okay. I’m going.”
Her shoes retreat and I hear the door open then close again. Finally, I am alone. I put my head in my hands. I can’t do this. I can’t be here today. But if I call Mom to come get me she’ll for sure think something’s wrong. Sighing, I unlock my phone and click Twitter.
What…I click the hashtag.
I am overwhelmed by these women. Their courage. Can I do that? Can I add my voice to the outcry? I shake my head. I don’t think I could.
The bathroom door slams open, startling me into dropping my phone. Before I can grab it again, a hand snatches it from under the door.
My stomach drops. I recognize the voice.
“Me too?” Julia sneers again.
I force myself to stand and pull the stall door open. Julia is standing right in front of me, holding my phone between two fingers like it’s contagious.
“Really, Mick? Me too?” I grab for my phone, but she pulls it away. “Why, because you think Spence raped you?” She laughs. “Spence doesn’t need to rape you. Spence has me.” She drops my phone, flips her hair, and leaves the bathroom. I exhale heavily. Sighing, I grab my phone, shove it in my back pocket, and force myself to go to my first period class.
Five minutes into algebra, my phone starts buzzing and doesn’t stop. I pull it out of my pocket and hide it under my book, thankful Mr. Petrov is a million years old and can’t see or hear us.
There are more, but I can’t. As I’m about to turn my phone off, I get another text.
I close my eyes. Julia. Of course it was Julia. She was jealous of me when Spence and I dated, and now that she has him she has to keep her image. I don’t even know why I trusted Spence Friday.
“Mickaaaay!” Ruby shouts as Britt and I walk in. She’s already so drunk she has to hold on to Daniel to stay standing. “Ohemgee, Micky!” She stumbles over to us and gives me a sloppy hug. Britt grabs her beer before she spills it on me and downs it. She slams the cup down, looks around, then asks, “Want some beer?”
I’ve never been to a party like this before, so I follow Britt’s lead. I don’t really want a to drink, but that’s what this party is about, so I say, “Sure.” Besides, it’s only beer. One beer can’t hurt. Once we have our cups and are back in the living room, Britt starts moving her hips, dancing near Jason, who definitely notices.
“You girls look hot tonight,” he says. Britt giggles, strokes his arm, and keeps moving. I watch the others dance, trying to figure out how to mimic them. Britt sees, and laughs.
“Take a drink,” she says. “Relax.” I put my cup to my lips, intending to sip, but Britt nudges it up and I end up gulping. Coughing, I shoot her a glare. She laughs and pulls me in tight. We sway together for a few seconds until I hear Jason whistle.
“Ladies,” he says. I look up from Britt to find he’s directly in front of us. “Mind if I join?”
I kind of do, but she’s super into him, so I sway out of the way. They start dancing, grinding really, so I head back to the kitchen to get another beer. On the way, I feel someone come up behind me.
“You okay?” Spence’s whisper tickles the hair next to my ear and I shudder. I try to ignore the twitch in my stomach, try to just move away, but he stays with me. The kitchen is so crowded, full of seniors, so I veer off to the backyard instead. I flop down by the fire pit, hoping Spence didn’t follow me, but of course he did. He sits with me. He takes a swig of something then sets it down between us.
“Look, Mick,” he says. “I’m sorry how things happened.”
I choke out a laugh. He’s sorry. Sure. He hurt me, but he’s sorry. I grab the bottle and pour some in my mouth, forcing myself to swallow even as my stomach threatens to revolt.
The next thing I know, his hand is down my jeans and I can’t get away from it.
“C’mon, Mick,” he pants. “I thought you were my girl.”
I freeze. When we were dating, he’d say that right before he…hurt me. When I don’t respond, he pulls my jeans and panties down and pushes me onto my back. He wastes no time, lowering his jeans just far enough so he can push into me.
The bell rings, jarring me out of my memory. Of course, when Britt found me Saturday, I didn’t remember Spence…raping me. I knew he hurt me, like he used to, but I didn’t remember as much Saturday as I just did. Now that I remember…
I hide in a bathroom stall again, screw Chemistry. Once the bell rings and the bathroom empties, I open twitter.
#metoo, I type, then pause, hovering over the post button. I want to join my voice with the others risen in protest, but I’m scared. Everyone already thinks I was with Spence consensually. And thanks to Julia this morning, any post I make will be tainted with whatever she’s telling people. I close my tweet and find the hashtag, looking for resolve.
Shocked, I look up, sitting back. She’s right. My first reaction to seeing Spence with Julia after we broke up was jealousy, and that’s ridiculous. I didn’t want him anymore, and she didn’t want me after I told her he was abusive. And when I knew they were in the hall today, somewhere behind my locker? I ran. I look back to my phone, hoping for one more empowering story before I have to go to class.
That…wasn’t at all what I wanted. But maybe she’s right. Maybe I need to toughen up. Julia isn’t the only reason I’m hesitant to post. I didn’t do anything two nights ago, I just let it happen. Hell, I didn’t do anything last year, didn’t say anything to anyone but Julia, and she didn’t believe me. I didn’t do or say anything then, but I can now. I can change things now. I can toughen up, like she said, and stand on my own.
Mind made up, I pocket my phone and leave the bathroom, head held high.
When I finally get to fourth period English, Britt is sitting in her usual seat in the back, as far from Mrs. Jansky’s desk as possible. Julia is in front, giggling with one of the twins. I can never tell which is Amy and which is Annie. As I pass, they giggle harder. Julia flicks her hair back, showing me the hickey. I stop, frozen, remembering the day our friendship began dying.
“OhMYgod, Mick!” Jules shrieks. “Is that a hickey?”
I frown. I didn’t realize he’d left a mark. I guess I should have. It hurt enough. I’m just glad Mom didn’t see it. I pull my hair together then drape it over my shoulder, hiding the bruise.
Julia squeals. “Tell me everything!” she demands.
I force a smile. “A lady never tells.”
“Michelle?” Mrs. Jansky says. “If you’d sit down, we can begin.”
I blush and hurry to the empty seat next to Britt.
“What a bitch,” Britt mutters to me, and I nod, not knowing or caring if she’s talking about Julia or Mrs. Jansky.
“I hope you did the reading,” Mrs. Jansky says. “Pop quiz!” I pull out a sheet of paper while she turns the projector on. “Ten minutes,” Mrs. Jansky says.
I write my name on my paper before looking at the question. Who is Mr. Freeman and how does he impact Maya’s life? Does their encounter differ from your expectations? If so, how? I stare at the board, shocked Mrs. J. would ask this in a pop quiz. I’m still staring when she walks in front of the projector, her hair distorting the words for a second. Blindly, I look down, then write, Mr Freeman is Maya’s mother’s boyfriend. In chapter 11, he rapes Maya, changing her life forever. I stare at what I’ve written. He raped Maya. Quickly, I write, Maya’s life is never the same. No rape victim’s life is. She doesn’t react like most people expect a rape victim to react, but that’s because this is a memoir of the real Maya’s life, not fiction. “Real victims” act however they want to act. Her story is real and special and necessary and
“Time,” Mrs. Jansky says. “Pass your papers forward.”
I look down at what I’ve written, seeing the word rape repeated over and over. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I just answer the question? What was I thinking? I can’t turn this in. I’m about to tuck the paper into my bag, willing to get a zero on the pop quiz, when Zach turns around and pulls it from my hands.
“Jeez, Mick,” he says, turning back around. I see him read what I’ve written before he passes it up to Chloe and I lean forward so my hair covers my burning face. Great.
“What did you all write?” Mrs. Jansky asks. “Who is Mr. Freeman?” she looks around for volunteers, but of course none of us meet her eye. Especially on this question.
Finally, a thirty second eternity later, Zach raises his hand. This isn’t going to be good. Zach isn’t a volunteer, raise-his-hand type of guy. Mrs. Jansky is thrilled. She motions to him, a giant grin on her face.
“Well,” Zach drawls, and my trepidation rises. “I thought Mr. Freeman was just Maya’s mom’s creepy boyfriend, but Mick thinks he raped her.” After a pause, he says, “Maya, I mean.”
The entire class turns to stare at me. Julia and AnnieAmy snicker, Zach smirks back at me. I’m afraid to look at anyone. Britt reaches over and squeezes my arm, but that only makes more people snicker.
“Well,” Mrs. Jansky says, trying to get the class to look her way again. “Mick is right. Mr. Freeman did rape Maya.”
“But she liked it,” AnnieAmy says.
“Maya was eight years old,” Mrs. Jansky says. “She couldn’t consent.”
“So if someone who wasn’t eight liked it, it wasn’t rape.” Julia tosses me a triumphant look.
“I-I didn’t say that,” Mrs. Jansky says, clearly flustered. “You guys, any unwanted sexual conduct is assault.” She looks around, but no one responds. Finally, she says, “Why don’t we do some silent reading?”
Everyone pulls out I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, still whispering and giggling my name. Mrs. Jansky sits at her desk to read our quiz responses, apparently forgetting whatever else she planned for us to do today. I open my book to chapter twelve, staring at the words without reading them. Why did I have to write all that on my quiz? I knew someone else would see. I’m so stupid. And after Julia told everyone about my twitter this morning…Jesus christ.
I sit in the back of the room, willing the tears filling my eyes to stay put, until the lunch bell rings. While everyone else bustles to get to the cafeteria as quickly as possible, I take my time, carefully folding down my page and zipping my book into my bag. As I make my way up the aisle of desks, Mrs. Jansky asks me to wait.
“Mick will meet you in the caf,” she tells Britt. I roll my eyes to Britt over Mrs. J calling it the caf and nod for her to go.
I turn back to Mrs. Jansky, lifting my chin. “Yes?”
She studies my face for a moment. “Do you need to speak with Dr. Mark?” she finally asks, referring to our school shrink.
I quickly shake my head. “No.”
“Mick—” she begins, but I cut her off.
“I’m fine. Just…tear that quiz up, okay?”
I turn and walk as calmly as I can from the room, knowing Mrs. Jansky is watching for any sign of trauma she needs to bring to Dr. Mark. As soon as I’m sure she can’t see me, I bolt towards the bathroom, almost running into Spence and Julia making out against some lockers. She meets my eyes as I slip into the bathroom, slamming the stall door behind me. My chest heaves, the tears I was fighting breaking free. I gulp in my sobs, trying to force the tears back. Why did I have to write that stupid answer? It doesn’t matter if it’s true. No one believes me. I just need to keep to myself, make sure nothing triggers Mrs. Jansky’s need to help someone. I definitely do not want to have to see Dr. Mark. With that in mind, I stand, scrub my eyes, and leave the bathroom, intent on ignoring everything for the rest of the day.
I pop my headphones in the second I leave the school building, sighing at the merciful silence as I head to my bus. Somehow I managed to avoid everyone I know, though I know I’ll have to talk to at least Britt later. She’s probably already texting, but so is everyone else. I turn my phone on but instead of checking texts, I open spotify and press play, grateful to spend the bus ride home lost in Kesha’s new album.
“I’m a motherfucking woman, baby,” I’m singing as I let myself into the house. “I don’t need a man to—Jesus!” I stop in the doorway to my room. My little sister is sitting on my bed amidst a pile of Barbies she must have carted into my room from hers. I pull my headphones out. “Ava, you scared me.”
“You said a naughty,” she says, not looking up from the dolls she’s making kiss.
“Sorry, kid.” I’m about to tell her to scram when she looks up, eyes wide in that way she knows gets to me. To hell with algebra homework. I set my bag down, plug my phone in, and settle on my bed to play with my little sister.
“How was school, Mick?” Mom asks over her (in)famous tuna noodle “surprise.”
“Fine.” I shove as big a bite as I can tolerate into my mouth, knowing she won’t ask a question when my mouth is full. She gives me a look but lets my answer slide, turning instead to Ava, who will talk about kindergarten to anyone and anything. I make it through the rest of dinner using this strategy, but my luck runs out when it’s time to do the dishes.
“I’ll wash, you dry?” Mom asks-slash-demands.
“Sure,” I mumble. There’s no way around this. I need to come up with a strategy. I grab the drying towel, twisting it through my hands, trying to think of something, anything, until she hands me the first bowl.
“Soo,” Mom says in that tell-me-so-I-don’t-have-to-ask Mom way she has.
I decide to go with the tried and true annoyed teenager strategy. “It was fine, Mom, jeez.”
She shoots me a look and says, “Tone, Michelle.”
Sighing, I say, “I went to school. I did some school. I came home from school.”
Mom hmmphs, then asks, “And how is Spence?”
I roll my eyes. “I don’t know.”
At this, Mom stops scrubbing the orange Pyrex and turns to look at me. My tone must have alerted her Mom-sense. She doesn’t even turn the water off, so I know she’s really paying attention. “Are you okay?”
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes again, I say, “Yeah.”
Mom squints and purses her lips before turning back to the soapy casserole dish. “You know,” she tells the dish, “you can tell me anything.”
Oh jeez, here we go. Another Mom’s-feeling-guilty-for-working-so-much-so-I-have-to-listen-to-her-pretend-to-be-Mother-of-the-Year speech.
“I know, Mom.”
I grab the last dish from the drying rack and run the towel over it on my way to the cupboard where it belongs. Definitely ready to get out of here.
“Algebra homework,” I say on my way down the hall.
Fifteen minutes later, I realize algebra isn’t going to happen right now. I grab my phone, turn on some music, and check my texts. After deleting the twenty slurs and hate-filled messages, I swipe to send Britt a text, then see the last anonymous message.
I stare at that text, focusing until my eyes blur on the last word. Too. He raped her too. Oh, fuck. Too. Too. Jesus.
“Mmmmh,” Spence groans into my hair as he pounds his body into mine. “Fuck yeah, baby.”
Fuck. What am I going to do? This morning people only knew what Spence bragged about to his buddies. Now…everyone knows. Everyone.
I shove away from my desk, too agitated to sit. I haven’t even made a full pace-circuit of my room when my door pops open and Mom comes in. She turns the knob as she pushes the door closed again, so it closes silently. Ava must be asleep.
“Knock much?” I hiss at Mom. She stays by the door for a second then nods at the bed.
“Let’s sit,” she says quietly. After I comply, she sits next to me, angled so she can see my face. She takes out her iPad and suddenly I know she knows. Heat rushes through my body and my thoughts race. Should I tell her? Internally, I scoff. “Hey Mom, remember Spence, the guy you hated, especially after you found out he hurt me? Remember how I wouldn’t let you press charges because I wasn’t going to see him again? About that…” As if.
“You’re not alone, Mick.” I stiffen, ready to deny, when she continues. “Honey, when I was your age…” she trails off, then sighs and pulls back. “I never wanted to tell you, but maybe that was wrong.” She pushes my hair over my shoulder. “Baby, when I was your age I was raped.”
I gape at my Mom, my lovely, put-together mother who has always seemed like the ideal woman. How can this woman, my mother…no. I can’t even think it.
I try to ask what she thinks happened to me, but all I get out is “Mom, what—” when she interrupts.
“I dated an older boy,” she says in a rush. “He—he wasn’t nice.” We stare at each other for another minute, then Mom says, “I’m not really sure how to talk to you about this.”
Startled, I laugh. “Me either.”
“All I know to do is tell you you’re not alone.” Mom sighs and unlocks her iPad. She shows me the page she was looking at last.
“One in six women,” my mom says. “Me included. And—and you?” she asks. “Are you one in six?”
Slowly, I nod. Mom exhales loudly but doesn’t look away. She makes a point of keping her eyes fixed on mine.
“Me, too, Mickybean.”
I almost cry then, at the emotion in her voice, at the childhood nickname, but I keep it together.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks.
I shake my head, then frown and say, “Kind of.” Mom raises an eyebrow. “No one will believe me.”
Mom puts her eyebrow down. “Yes they will,” she says.
“No!” I cry. “You don’t understand. I tried—” I look away, at the posters on my wall, at the books on my shelves, anywhere but at Mom.
“You tried?” she prompts softly.
Heaving a sigh, I tell my iPod dock, “Julia didn’t believe me.”
“Oh, honey. I thought—it doesn’t matter what I thought. Julia should have believed you.”
I shrug, tears in my eyes again. It’s not like Julia’s going to believe me, her ex-friend, over her boyfriend. Mom tugs my chin until I’m looking at her.
“Julia,” she says slowly, “should have believed you.” She pauses. “I believe you.”
“Thank you,” I whisper.
Mom reaches out and pulls me into a tight hug. She cups the back of my neck, wrapping her other arm around my shoulders. Tears spring to my eyes again, and my throat feels full, but I put my arms hesitantly around her back. She squeezes then runs her hand up and down my back, the way she did when I was ten and baby Ava broke my favorite Barbie. I find myself tightening my hold, not wanting to let her go. We sit like that for a long time, until Mom whispers, “Remember, baby. You’re not alone.”
Mom rubs my back once more then leaves me to do my homework. Once she’s gone, I sit at my desk and open Twitter on my laptop. I stare at the first story I see.
He’s right. Like Mom said, she was silent. She didn’t tell me. Maybe if she had…I don’t know what would have happened, but if I stay silent, too, am I part of the problem? The next tweet makes up my mind.
To hell with Julia. I deserve better. And so do the other people who are too afraid to speak up. Mom tried to help, Britt tried to help, even weird old Mrs. Jansky tried to help. It’s time I let them.
#MeToo, I type. Because when I told someone, she didn’t believe me. Because she told my whole school I’m a liar. Because she’s dating my rapist now. But I’m not lying. He raped me. I am #1in6. But I am not staying silent any longer.
Without hesitation, I push “post.”
** All tweets and names have been created by the author