For fifteen years, I’ve been publicly writing about my life in a weekly newspaper column, but I’ve never shared this story. Only a handful of people know it happened, and only one knows the details that I am sharing here. It has always been a source of shame for me, particularly the events that took place in the aftermath. But thirty years have passed. It’s time to release myself from the shame, and tell the story so others will know they are not alone. I tried to cut it down to my usual 600-650 words, but this time, my story gets all the space it needs. I worried about publishing the “cringey” parts, but as my very wise, twenty-year-old daughter stated, “Rape is a cringey subject, but it needs to be talked about.”
I called my dad from a payphone, and asked if I could go with a boy to a church revival service. It was my very first date, and I was thrilled because dad agreed that since I was seventeen, he would lift the double-dating rule.
Corey was a beautiful specimen of a man, if you can call a nineteen-year-old boy a man. I first spotted him shortly after moving to the little Tennessee town where my dad had taken a new job. I was sitting in science class, still adjusting to the many differences between this large public high school and the small Christian school where I had grown up, when I noticed what appeared to be a Greek god walking down the hall.
It was the first time a boy had caught my eye merely for physical attributes, and I had never seen attributes quite like his. Especially not in my Christian school where all the boys wore dress pants and neckties, and played either the trumpet, trombone, or soccer. I wasn’t sure what to make of Corey in his tight, faded blue jeans, and fitted white tee. He seemed so comfortable with himself, sauntering down the hallway instead of rushing as one should when they are late to class.
He glanced into the room long enough to catch me staring. I could feel my cheeks burning as he smiled and nodded his head. Not a proper nod where one dips their forehead downward. Rather he tipped his head back slightly, thrusting his chin forward as he grinned. God, that was cute. My first taste of sexual attraction.
A few weeks later, I ran into him in the guidance office. While we waited, he struck up a conversation. I felt tongue-tied and inadequate, but I so enjoyed his attention. I’d always been a little boy crazy, but the boys never noticed me back.
On the last day of school, we gathered in the cafeteria, waiting for the final dismissal bell. I was surprised when Corey sat next to me. He asked about my plans for the summer, and then told me he would not be returning to school in the fall. He was dropping out and going to work for a construction company.
I didn’t see him again for nearly a year. I was leaving school one day, when I noticed his truck tooling through the parking lot. He waved me over, and offered a ride. I knew it was a risk, but didn’t think there was any way my parents would find out. So, I hopped into the truck, and directed him to my friend’s house where I would be staying until mom picked me up.
He parked in a wooded area at the end of the street, and leaned over to kiss me. I panicked. I had never been kissed, and certainly didn’t know how a French kiss was supposed to work. The moment I felt his tongue, I shoved him so hard that he hit his head on the window.
“What did you do that for?” he asked, rubbing the back of his head.
“I’m sorry. I’ve just never kissed anyone, and I wasn’t sure what to do.”
He eyed me carefully, “That was your first kiss?”
“Have you ever done anything?”
“Okay, let’s try again. I’ll go slower this time.”
So, I had a crash course in kissing. A nosy church lady happened to bear witness to my late arrival at my friend’s house, and dad knew about it before I got home. I was grounded for two weeks, but it was worth it.
A month later, Corey came into McDonald’s with the construction crew. He looked breathtakingly tan and muscular. I felt a bit dippy in my uniform and visor, taking lunch orders. Nevertheless, he invited me to attend a revival service that evening with his family.
I couldn’t believe I was finally going on my first date! I carefully chose a white skirt and pink sweater. When Corey arrived, my dad seated him on the couch for questioning. I sat across the room, holding my breath. After a lengthy grilling, dad reminded me to wear a seatbelt, and I was finally allowed to leave.
I felt so grown up…so free…two things I had never experienced.
We shared a pew with his parents and siblings, and afterwards went out for pizza. Soon, we were making the thirty-minute drive through the countryside, back to my rural home. Corey found a good parking place along the way, and this time I was determined to match his kiss. I dug my fingers into the edge of the seat and did not back down for the entire make out session. It never occurred to me to release my grip and actually touch him.
We quickly became a couple. My first boyfriend. It was a constant cat and mouse game. He wanted to take my virginity, and I was determined to keep it until my wedding night. He asked me to marry him, but I told him that first I had to finish high school and go to college. Two goals he never shared.
Finally, on the fourth of July, a full three months had passed since our first date. He couldn’t handle the abstinence, so while I was on break at McDonald’s, he broke up with me. I held my head high as I walked past him sitting with another girl, and didn’t cry until I was safely behind the kitchen door. Of all the things I didn’t know about boys, I did know I never wanted to let one see my heart break.
Two months later, at the start of my senior year, I took a job waiting tables at Shoney’s. Because I was enrolled in the school marketing program, I earned graduation credits for working. This allowed me to get out of school at 11:00, and work daytime hours instead of evening and weekend shifts like most teenagers.
As a result, I became entangled in a world of grown-ups that did not have my best interest at heart. The women I worked with were much older, and were amused by the fact that I was nearly eighteen and still a virgin. I never thought about it though, and didn’t realize it was information I should keep to myself.
They teased and taunted, and once even made an ice sculpture of a penis, leaving it in on top of the ice cream tub. When I opened the freezer, I didn’t know what it was, so I simply moved it aside. I looked up to see several waitresses waiting for my reaction, and then laughing hysterically when I didn’t recognize a penis.
The only coworker who was truly kind to me was Penny. She was a Christian, and was pleased with my commitment to purity. One day, she arranged for her son to meet me. She had high hopes that he would find a good Christian girl, and she thought I was a perfect match. I was honored that she thought so highly of me.
There were a number of men who came in each day to drink coffee. One in particular stood out. His name was Mitch, and he reminded me a bit of Patrick Swayze. Dirty Dancing had just come out, and I managed to watch it at the movie theater without my parents knowing. I was intrigued with the idea of the innocent character Baby being swept up by an older, wiser man and losing her virginity.
Mitch seemed to take a liking to me right away. We flirted a bit as I poured his coffee, but I never spoke to him sexually, and as far as I knew, he had no knowledge of my sexual status.
On Friday evening, November 13th, 1987, he was waiting for me outside when I got off work. He asked if I would like to “go riding” with him. It was a popular past time for the young people to drive back and forth along “the strip.”
I didn’t hesitate until I saw that he wanted us to ride in the backseat while his buddy drove. The driver was a cook at Shoney’s, and seemed nice enough, so I agreed. Before we got in the car, Mitch asked to see my driver’s license. He wanted to verify that I was eighteen. Apparently, being only a month from my eighteenth birthday was sufficient. It never occurred to me that this was a red flag.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, Mitch produced what he said was a homemade cigarette. I had not spent a lot of time around smokers, and had never been exposed to marijuana, so I didn’t know the difference. It was irritating that he kept blowing the smoke in my face, and I waved it away with my hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said, kissing me gently on the forehead. “See? I’m really a nice guy. Why don’t you have a drink of my Sun Drop?”
I took the bottled soft drink. It felt cool to drink after someone and not care about germs. He encouraged me to drink the rest as I had just gotten off work and was very thirsty.
After a short time, I realized we were no longer on the strip, but had started driving into the country side. I asked where we were going, and he said his wife had recently left him, and he was excited to show me his new place.
We drove outside of town, and into the woods, stopping in front of a secluded trailer. I wasn’t thinking very clearly anymore, and Mitch had “proven” he was a nice guy, so I let him lead me inside. His buddy drove away, leaving me alone in the woods with a man I didn’t know. Mitch left the room, and it briefly occurred me to that there was no telephone, and no one knew I was there. But the moment he came back, my concerns diminished.
He looked at me with a desire I had never seen, except maybe in Dirty Dancing, and led me into the dark bedroom. I told him it would be better if we just made out on the couch, where the lights were on, but he laughed. We sat in the dark on the edge of the bed and kissed. I was in a dreamlike state where nothing felt real, and I couldn’t quite grasp what was happening.
I remember that he took my jeans off, and there was pain. “You really are a virgin, aren’t you?” he said as he continued to finger me.
“That really hurts,” I told him.
“It’s okay, baby, I’ll be gentle.”
“I don’t want to have sex. I can’t have sex.”
“We’re not going to have sex, we’re just having fun.”
“Please don’t break my hymen. Just please don’t do that.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
He commented that he hadn’t expected my body temperature to rise so much, and that I felt hot to the touch. I assumed it was related to the “heat of passion,” but I wasn’t being passionate at all. I could only lie there and let him do whatever it was he felt compelled to do.
“I’m going to blow your mind,” he said as he began performing oral sex.
“Just please don’t take my virginity,” I begged again, feeling helpless.
He straddled my face and forced his cock into my mouth. He said it would help him not take my virginity, but he took it anyway.
I said over and over that I didn’t want it. He said he was just going to “run it around the rim.” I didn’t know what that meant.
“Does it feel good?” he wanted to know.
When it was done, his buddy returned in a pick-up truck. I didn’t know what time it was, but as we pulled into the mall parking lot, I could see it was closed. It seemed impossible that many hours had passed. I began to worry about missing curfew and being grounded.
They drove to the back of the mall, and told me to get out. It was dark and deserted, and my car was parked two miles away. I walked. And then I drove thirty minutes home, where I fell into bed and slept hard.
The next morning, I couldn’t remember much of what had happened. I went to take a shower and noticed blood in my underwear. I was confused as I knew it wasn’t time to start my period. And then it hit me…I wasn’t a virgin anymore.
I was overcome with guilt and shock. I had held firm to my values for the entire time I dated Corey, so why would I have sex with someone I didn’t even know?
I tried to ignore the confusion and sense of impending doom by being light-hearted. I told the women at work that I wasn’t a virgin anymore. When they asked the details, Jessica said, “I’m glad you finally made the decision, but you sure chose a real asshole to do it with.”
Penny gave me a sad look. Her words caused me to feel deeply ashamed, “You aren’t really the Christian girl I thought you were. I can’t encourage my son to see you.”
Tears stung my eyes. Being a good Christian was everything to me, and now I was “damaged goods.” It was highly unlikely that I would ever find a nice, Christian boy who was willing to marry me. The beautiful wedding night I had always dreamed of, where I would ceremoniously offer my virginity to my husband, would never happen.
After work, I walked slowly through the rain to my car. My entire life and perception of myself had changed. I couldn’t comprehend it. It had happened so quickly and unexpectedly.
My thoughts were interrupted by something laying on the hood of the car. Soaking up the rain was a pair of panties, covered in blood, and wrapped with a bow. I didn’t know who might be watching, but once again, I refused to give anyone the satisfaction of my tears. I knocked the underwear to the ground, and drove away in the most dignified manner possible. It was much later that night, in the safety of my bedroom, that I broke down and cried. Cried over my lost virginity. Cried over my own stupidity. And cried over the shame of finding those panties on my car.
The next night when I got off work, I found my entire car plastered with maxi pads that had been smeared with a red substance. Strawberry jam, I think. One by one, I pulled them off and stashed them in a bag in the back seat. Once again, I refused to let anyone see that I was upset. I stopped for gas on the way home, and as I walked out of the station, I saw that I had missed a pad. It taunted me from the grill of the car. I quickly looked around. People were smirking and shaking their heads. I pulled it off, and drove home in humiliation.
Mitch continued coming into Shoney’s. He would nod his head and smile, acting like nothing had ever happened. It made no sense to me. We had shared the most intimate thing two people could share, and he acted like it was no big deal.
The following Friday evening, I was sitting in McDonald’s with friends when Corey approached our table.
“I heard you finally gave it up.”
I was too ashamed to make eye contact.
“I waited three months, and you ended up doing it on the first date.”
I still couldn’t look up.
Suddenly, there was a cigarette in my face. I turned my head, but he grabbed my chin and forced me to look at him.
“You weren’t worth those three months,” he hissed as he brought the burning cigarette close to my cheek. I knocked it away. In anger, he wrapped his hands around my neck and popped my head back. My “friends” quickly exited, and the employees couldn’t see us.
Finally, he released his grip and began to walk away. Mustering my strength, I stood up, and like the kids I’d seen fighting in the school parking lot, I jumped on his back. He knocked me to the floor, and for good measure, turned and delivered a swift kick to my side. I stayed on the floor until he was gone, and then slowly made my way to the car.
My neck and head hurt terribly, and I could feel a bruise forming on my ribs, so I took myself to the emergency room. They called my dad, and put me in a neck brace. He and I went to the police station to file a report, but they all knew Corey. It was a small town with a coalition of good ol’ boys, and the men in his family had been members for generations. Nothing ever came of the report, but my dad found him and extracted an apology. A long time later, he called me to genuinely apologize. I accepted, and choose to remember him with fondness, but his part in this story remains pertinent.
After a few days, I started to feel an itch. Soon, it felt like my entire pubic area was on fire. I only had one friend at school who talked honestly with me about sex, so I asked her if she thought I should be worried. She took me to a clinic where they determined that I had pubic lice.
I had never heard of crabs, and unfortunately, they didn’t tell me there was a stigma associated with it. So, the next day, I informed the school, and my boss, that I would be absent for a couple of days due to the condition. I used the shampoo and nit comb exactly as they had told me, and just like they told me, I saved the remaining shampoo for my partner.
When I went back to work, I was greeted with a sign on the door of the employee restroom that read, “Do not use! Crabs!” I was still oblivious to the stigma.
When my “partner” came in that afternoon, he sat in a booth with several friends. I went to his table and nonchalantly pulled the bottle of lice shampoo from my apron pocket.
“The nurse at the clinic said I should give this to you,” I stated sincerely.
Anger flared in his eyes as his friends began laughing. “You didn’t get those from me. My roommate had them, but I didn’t.”
That night, as I drove through the deserted countryside to my home, I was blinded by the bright headlights of a pickup truck that had suddenly appeared behind me. I slowed so it could pass, but it pulled alongside instead. No matter my speed, they matched it, getting closer and closer to the side of my car before finally cutting so close that I ran off the road. The truck roared away into the night.
The next morning, I drove cautiously to school. I was becoming more fearful all the time, but I couldn’t tell my parents. It was bad enough that I’d had to wear a neck brace for three days due to a crazy ex-boyfriend. I couldn’t imagine how they would feel if they knew the rest. We were a good Christian family, with a good home, and a good name. These things didn’t happen to people like us.
That afternoon at work, one of the waitresses who had always minded her own business, said we needed to talk. “I’m going to tell you something upsetting, but I need you to keep looking straight ahead while we roll silverware.”
As we stood next to each other, rolling silverware and looking out over our stations, she revealed that her husband, who was a cousin to Corey, had invited several buddies over to play cards. One of the men was Mitch. She said my name came up, so she listened carefully.
He told them that he’d wanted to prove to Corey that he could convince me to have sex on the first try. He said I was “resistant at first,” but that once the drug he’d put into the Sun Drop kicked in, I was “putty in his hands,” and my “cherry was a worthy prize.”
I didn’t understand the magnitude of what she was saying.
“Did you want to have sex?” she asked.
“No. I told him no over and over, but I did it anyway.”
“He drugged you. Do you understand that?”
I only understood that I was no longer a virgin, and my value was diminished. I wasn’t sure it mattered how it had happened, but in a twisted way, I felt a slight ray of hope.
After a few weeks, I finally got up the nerve to talk to my mom. I told her some of what had happened, and that I thought maybe it wasn’t really my fault.
“Did you flirt with him?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “but I’m friendly with all of my customers.”
“If you flirted with him, then you led him on, and he’s not responsible for what happened.”
I don’t think mom meant any harm. She was only teaching me what she herself had been taught, but the ray of hope was gone. Everything I thought about myself changed. I stopped dating for a period of time. I stopped flirting. I took a different job. I changed churches. I felt dirty, and worth less than the sweet, innocent, Christian girls I knew. Every single thing about my future was altered because of that night. College was no longer a priority. I ignored the acceptance letters, and didn’t take advantage of a full scholarship. Nothing mattered because I couldn’t see a future where I had any worth.
A year later, I went out with a much older man named Mark. He pressured me to have sex, but took no for an answer. It felt safe. One night, we were leaving the grocery store when I came face to face with Mitch. I began hyperventilating, and quickly got into the car.
Mark repeatedly asked me to tell him what was wrong. Finally, through tears, I told him parts of the story.
“When was that?” he asked.
“That’s just a few days away. How about if we make that date a good memory for you? We can have sex for the first time that night, and then it will be special!”
I nodded in agreement. I wasn’t really interested in having sex with him, but he made it sound so logical. If I had sex with someone I liked, then maybe it would erase the memory of having had sex with someone deplorable.
Nothing about the experience was positive. We were on a bare mattress in the spare room of a co-worker’s mobile home. I said I had changed my mind, but he told me that even though my mouth was saying no, my body was saying yes. I didn’t know how to argue with that so, I just let it happen. It was over quickly, and while he dressed, I cried.
“I don’t ever want to do this again.”
Angrily, he responded, “Fine. Do whatever you want. It makes no difference to me now.”
I told him I was sorry, and that of course I wanted to be with him again. I assumed we would get married, and that would be my life. We dated five more weeks, and then he disappeared without warning. We’d had a pleasant lunch together, and then I simply never saw him again.
My self-worth was nil, and it stayed that way for twenty-eight years. Using the word “rape” was difficult. Sometimes, it’s still difficult for me to remember that what happened was not my fault. Maybe it was foolish to get in the car, but I was extremely naïve and sheltered from the world. I didn’t know the smoke he was blowing in my face was pot. I didn’t know the drink he was pushing on me had been drugged. I didn’t know he knew my ex-boyfriend, and had a point to prove. I trusted him because I am a person who trusts. I should have walked/run away from both situations, but I didn’t know I had that power. And in the first instance, I’m not sure I did have the power.
It has taken nearly three decades for me to get to the place where I can walk away from situations that make me uncomfortable. It is still a struggle sometimes because I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings. But now, I realize that no matter how far things have gotten, or how much I have verbally agreed to, I have the right to say no at any point in time. I am in charge of my body, and I am the one who has to live with what happens to it. It is okay to protect myself, even at the risk of hurting other’s feelings, or being ridiculed, or never seeing the person again. I don’t have to give anyone else power just because they decide that my body and my mouth are saying two different things. Not even in marriage.
My body is mine, and mine alone. I will share it only with those whom I choose, and who are respectful enough to stop if I change my mind. It’s a lesson I wish my mother had taught me. Or my school. Or my church. It would have been nice if someone had said, “You don’t have to share your body no matter how much someone else believes they have a right to it.”
I think the message is coming through a little louder in this day and age, but I know there are many young women and men who still do not understand. So, I’m going to say it, and hopefully, someone will hear me.
Your body is your BODY. It is what encases your spirit and soul. It belongs to you, and you alone. At ANY POINT IN TIME, you have the right to say no. It doesn’t matter if you flirted, or led them on, or allowed them to kiss you and touch you. Your sexuality is to be explored and enjoyed on YOUR timeline, not theirs. And if you need to stop, then stop. You get to decide where to draw the line. If they don’t understand, or they get angry, then they are not a person with whom you want to share the place that houses your spirit and soul; the very essence of your being.
If you’ve already had regrettable sex, or been raped, you need to know that this does NOT diminish your worth. You are valuable simply because you are you! You are not tarnished. You are an amazing, beautiful, bright being with boundless potential. Your mind, spirit, and energy are of great value to this world. We need you to be here. There is no such thing as “damaged goods” when it comes to the human race. We are all on this earth together, and our collective experiences will benefit one another whether we quietly show compassion, or publicly proclaim our story.
If you have been sexually assaulted, and are not sure where to turn, please visit: www.rainn.org or call 1-800-656- HOPE (4673).
Also, read this article: 28 Things People Don’t Tell You After You’ve Been Raped
Thank you for being here to witness my release of the shame. It has been a long time coming. <3