Browsing Tag

sexual abuse

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Truth or Dare

April 23, 2017
dare

CW: This essay discusses sexual abuse.

By Galla Peled

“Truth or dare?” Russell, our babysitter for the night, demanded. Russell was the oldest cousin. He was 17, and deemed responsible enough to babysit. Every Saturday night my parents dropped me off at my cousin’s split level home in suburban Detroit, while they went out for dinner and maybe a show with my aunt and uncle. Every Sunday morning they came to pick me up, and we would all have breakfast together before we went home. My mom made tomato sauce for my Aunt’s scrambled eggs and we kids took turns shaking cinnamon sugar out of a plastic bear dispenser onto our toast.

Shortly after the adults went out, we gathered on the brown shag carpet of the master bedroom and closed the door.  Playing there with the door closed felt clandestine and was a little bit exciting. “Truth or dare?” Russell pressed his sister, Lizzie. She and I were both six, and Neil, Lizzie’s other brother was eight. Lizzie had lost a hand at Blackjack and the rules were that if you lost, you had to choose a truth or a dare. Since Russell was the oldest, he always got to deal and make up the rules. For some reason he almost always won; Neil, Lizzie, and I took turns losing. With each loss we removed an article of clothing. Once we were naked, when one of us lost a hand, we had to choose a truth or a dare. Our choice could be overruled by the dealer, so essentially we were always dared to fulfill his fantasy. It was a punishment for losing.

TRUTH: Childhood sexual abuse can be defined as any activity that engages a child in sexual activities that are developmentally inappropriate.

DARE:  Lizzie was flat chested and hairless. The veins that stood out on her skin were as blue as her eyes, her six-year-old body a stretched-out version of a toddler. She instinctively used one arm to cover her nipples and the other to cover her private parts. She cowered next to the bed. “Dare!” Russell decided for her, and challenged her to walk atop his spread-eagled legs as he reclined back on his elbows. His penis stood in the nest between his legs, threatening all of us with its presence. We knew if she could not complete the dare to his satisfaction, she would have to perform another task until he was appeased. I watched, afraid for her, but stimulated at the same time.  The woolen carpet scratched my own private parts and I liked how it felt. At least I still had my shirt on. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Writing & The Body

Livor Mortis

March 29, 2017

By Megan Collins.

My first husband wanted to pee on me. I kid you not. He wanted me to dress down to my skin and lay in that cold vessel of a tub with the drain stabbing me in the head so that he could piss all over me. Can you imagine? I did. I could die. My tombstone a metal faucet with an inscription in scum, ‘Here lies girl who once was. Wild. May daffodils grow in her stead’. I tell you this so that you know what the face of death looks like when she’s staring at you from across a cafe; the grocery store. What the separation of body and a spirit look like walking around in human skin. It is a body covered in piss owned by a man you despise, with the life spirited away.

 

For the record, I told him I would not. That even the thought of it made me feel dirty and disgusted. So he told me I was a stuck up cunt and that the reason for his late night voyeurism of underage Asian girls and naked, male, jock on jocks with throbbing veiny dicks was because I was stifling his sexual exploration. Continue Reading…

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

La Llorona

October 29, 2015

By Alma Luz Villanueva

I lived in Santa Cruz, California, for sixteen years while my youngest son grew up, became a surfer, a runner, and went off to university. So, when I heard that eight-year-old Madyson Middleton was missing from the Tannery Arts Center, where she lived with her mother, I immediately began to worry in a personal way. Also, one of my granddaughters is exactly Madyson’s age, and I was to find out later that she knew Maddy from school. And so, the night of July 26, 2015 I kept checking for updates- was she found yet. Then I finally gave up, went to sleep after midnight. I kept seeing her large, beautiful, child eyes, awake when I checked the clock, back to dreaming. In the very pit of my stomach, where the truth lives, I knew she was no longer alive- but I refused to believe it. And her mother, her young mother- I imagined what she was going through. Her beloved child missing.

I felt the horror in every cell of my body like small fires. And I remembered myself at seven, an older thirteen year old friend saying it was okay to go to the park by ourselves. Buena Vista Park, San Francisco, the early 1950s. I was wearing a brand new dress and twirling around because I thought I was beautiful, special, in my brand new dress. My grandmother had made large curls on my thick, dark hair, held by barrettes- I remember they matched my dress, soft pink. I never left the street by myself, my grandmother, Mamacita, watching me from the window as I rode my Hopalong Cassidy bike with rainbow streamers on the handlebars. She’d yell my name, “ALMA,” and I had to answer like a song we knew together. Alma means Soul, and she’d often say (in Spanish), “Tu eres mi Alma…You are my soul.”

When my older friend, Peggy, and I got to the playground area we had swinging contests to see who could go higher. Of course, she was stronger as her feet pierced the sky much higher than mine. But I didn’t mind, I remember I was just happy to be swinging with my new dress blowing around me. I remember wondering if Mamacita was calling my name, waiting for me to sing back to her. I remember wanting to go back suddenly, like a pain my eight-year-old stomach. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Damaged

August 26, 2015

By Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons

Three months before my niece started sixth grade, we were walking to the local commuter trains station near my house. I was taking her to the symphony for her birthday. “I can’t believe you’re starting middle school,” I said. “Are you excited or scared?”

She thought for a moment. “Both.”

Out of the blue I said this: “Lizzie, if anything happens you don’t feel comfortable about, I want you to tell me. Or your mom. Promise?”

She looked at me as if she wanted to say what could happen to me? It’s just sixth grade. Part of it was I’ve been writing about a cold case about a girl who was killed years before. But it was something else, something more personal. In sixth grade I experienced something that was so awful, so shameful that I never wrote about it, nor did I ever talk about it. I wanted my niece to skip middle and high schools and go directly to college. I didn’t want her to be bullied. I wanted to protect her from the world.

It was two weeks before Christmas. Eighth grade girls were choreographing a dance set to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” while others were singing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in the hallway.  All the girls were wearing Guess jeans. I wore Gitanos. One came up to me and said in all seriousness: “Oh my God, are you poor?”  Not only did she have Guess jeans, they were stonewashed.

I hated sixth grade with a full passion. I hated my core teacher, who had a thing about making sure we knew about prepositional phrases, making us diagram sentence after sentence. One time I forgot my reading book in my locker. She threatened to give me detention. She changed her mind, saying that she would write it on my progress report instead. When my mother read it, she looked at me and said “Well, stop making mistakes in that class. She wants a robot, not a student.” Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, healing

Palms Up

June 16, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Telaina Eriksen

“I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight. I mean, I haven’t been staring at your body…”

“A lot of weight,” I say.

“I just mean to say… I just want to encourage you… I’m not saying it right, but you deserve to be thinner and healthier.”

I feel the tears spill out of my eyes. So much shame. Ancient shame that I have carried with me ever since my mother slapped my arm repeatedly for salting a saltine when I was four or five years old. Good people aren’t fat. Fat people are ugly and bad and lack control and self-discipline. Men do not like fat girls and if men don’t like you, they won’t marry you, and if you aren’t married, if you don’t have a man, what good are you? The Gospel According to My Mother.

“It’s how I deal with things,” I tell my friend, oversimplifying.

“This fall, I think I know how you felt. I gained a lot of weight, was very heavy for me. I remember thinking, ‘why not? I’m happy with myself’… I’m not saying it right… but I love you. I want you to be happy.”

I am so huge, I require an intervention. I love my friend but I feel like sobbing. Doesn’t she think I know? Doesn’t she know that I always know? Maybe I am naïve enough to believe that some people just accept how I look and aren’t secretly judging me.

I get into my minivan after our conversation. I reach down to feel my stomach, feel the exact proportions of my shame and worthlessness. The exact dimensions of my failure as a woman.

***

As near as I can figure out and remember, I was sexually molested off and on from the time that I was about four to when I was about nine. When I was nine years old, I had my tonsils out and due to complications, almost died. I was without oxygen to my brain for not merely seconds, but minutes. It felt easy to blame my fragmented childhood memories on that illness.

The feelings I remember most from my childhood are terror and anxiety.  Nightmares plagued me. During the daylight hours I constantly sought attention, distraction, love. At night I sucked my thumb and tried not to wet the bed.

***

Here is a list of the things I need to be doing at this exact moment:

cleaning the house

baking my son’s vegan birthday cupcakes

walking the dog

placing the new boxes of tissue around the house (it is cold and flu season after all)

turning in my grades for the semester

mailing the Christmas box to my siblings in another state

scooping the cat’s litter box

cleaning off the top of my desk

loading the dishwasher

wrapping my son’s birthday presents

doing laundry

losing weight

being a good friend, wife, mother and daughter

being Zen (while also being understanding, charming, evolved and happy)

making time for the important things

reducing my social media time

reading more

gossiping less

achieving perfection. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Self Image, Self Love, Yoga

Teaching Yoga To Teen Girls With Sexual Trauma and The Connection To Us All

March 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anne Falkowski.

 

I had my own sexual trauma at thirteen. It took only a few minutes. I can’t remember it all, but can still feel the pebbles and grit embedded in my opened-up palms, see my ripped jeans, and taste the blood inside my mouth from where my face was shoved into the ground. I can still smell their boozed-up breath on my neck and feel their thick hands and fingers. It was a one time event, but my perpetrators went to school with me. I had to face all three of them for the next five years in classrooms and even at parties. I had no one to talk to, no therapy, no coping strategy.

I begged my parents and the male police officer, who spoke with me about it immediately afterwards, to drop it. I gave no details. Details would have made me cry.

I’ll be fine.” I said.

What I wanted to say was, “Shut up. Shut up.

And like a miracle, they did. My parents and the cop, they shut up. In a span of less than fifteen minutes, they were gone.

I was left alone with the sound of my body hitting the pavement hard and the boys laughing and squealing in my head. It was like taking a deep inhale, closing off your ears, eyes, nose and mouth, and never exhaling again. I failed to mention “the event” again until I was 30 and in therapy for self-hatred so thick, I could stir it. Thanks God for the panic attacks that led me to the office of a persistent and wise therapist. I had no idea my low self-esteem and carefully hidden self-destructive behaviors were linked to what happened at thirteen.  All I knew was I had spiraled to a black bottom and couldn’t find my way back up. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life: What Do I Do About A Sexual Predator?

February 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

 

Hello from London! Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by my friend Zoe Zolbrod, who also happens to be the fabulous co-editor for The Rumpus on Sundays.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Atlanta in a couple weeks followed by NYC! 

 

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early! " It's story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen's booming voice. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home." ~ Pema Rocker

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early!
” It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home.” ~ Pema Rocker

Dear Life,

My cousins are twenty-eight and twenty-nine. He’s related to me on my mom’s side and she’s related to me through their marriage. I introduced them as a couple when we were in high school after he asked me to help him find a girlfriend. Of course, there had been a lot of issues with women up until that point, including some awkward comments from him to me (“You should do a wet t-shirt contest”)… but I thought those remarks were just par for the course, given our shared history. I strongly suspect he is a survivor of sexual abuse. His father (my uncle) molested me as a child. I believe he inflicted similar abuse and passed down his gross attitudes toward women onto his children.

Well, at first, everything seemed great. They start dating and hit it off. He snaps out of his depression, goes back to college, gets a driver’s license and travels to Europe with her. They move in together and years later, he proposes. I was a bridesmaid in their wedding. I consider his wife to be one of my oldest and closest friends. But I’m keeping a secret from her.

Over a year ago, at a party we co-hosted in their new home, I went to hug him goodbye and he stuck his hand down my shirt and squeezed my breast. We both had been drinking. I walked out of his house in shock, but I said nothing to my then-boyfriend on the way home. Well, as it turns out, I’m not the only one he groped that night. Two other friends were also subjected to this assault. I’m calling it assault because there’s absolutely no way this touching was invited. It was a hug. He is my cousin and their friend. None of us wanted this to happen. We don’t even want to be alone with him anymore.

The total (that I know of) now stands at four women who have been groped without permission. Each time, he’s drunk and his wife is out of sight. He clearly has issues with alcohol, but the line has been crossed and he’s acting like a sexual predator. The last time he groped me was three weeks ago. He slid into the backseat of his wife’s car while she walked another friend to the door of her house. He hugged me from the side and I went stiff. He touched my chest and I made my voice firm: “You’re touching my tits, stop it.” I pushed him away, but he reached for me again. When I pushed back, he finally pulled away… and called me a tease. When his wife got back to the car, she looked at him strangely. She asked him what he was doing in the backseat.

Here’s the hard part: she’s pregnant.

I am at a total loss as to how to proceed. I want to protect her, but it’s hard to imagine that she’s not catching on to his drinking problem and his boundary issues with women and the sexual predator side of his personality. What do I do? Silence isn’t protecting me or my friends. I feel responsible for introducing them as a couple, knowing he had issues — but he never tried anything like this when we were teenagers. And it’s not even just happening with only me. I want to protect myself and my friends, but I don’t want to hurt someone who has a lot at stake. Please help.

Signed, Protective

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, Race/Racism

A Glossary of Ambiguous Terms for Difficult Situations.

February 5, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Laurence Dumortier.

Cocksure (adj.):

In September I arrive in Italy for my Junior Year Abroad thinking I know a thing or two about life. I have had two “big” relationships, each lasting about two years. I’ve had sex a lot, mostly with my boyfriends, but also a few weird one-night stands. I’ve also been hurt, and this makes me feel tough. I’ve been alone since the summer and liking it. I don’t need anyone. I just want to learn Italian, eat with abandon, drink it all in.

In truth I know nothing about a million things—including love and sex—I just don’t know that I don’t know them.

Infatuation (n.):

When I first meet Arthur he seems shy but friendly, and with a winning smile.

Everything feels new and exciting, though, so there isn’t a lot of excitement left over for boys. I’m more intrigued by my flat-mate Carolyn. She seems even more knowing than I think I am. She grew up in New York; she is knowledgeable about art; she studies film and semiotics and in an argument she can make her point with deadly accuracy; she is on the tail end of a painful breakup and looking for distraction; she is devastatingly funny and beautiful. I don’t know it yet but she will become, and remain to this day, one of my closest friends and co-conspirators.

Tight (adj.):

There is a lot of drinking in Italy, but it feels joyous and grown-up. We make dinner in our tiny Italian kitchens and though we are inexpert, it all somehow ends up tasting delicious. It’s hard to go wrong with tomatoes and zucchini and whatever is in season, all ripened to bursting, glorious with flavor, picked up from the little fruit-and-vegetable man down the block.

Our little group of Junior-Yearers is intimate and funny. It feels safe somehow to flirt, to laugh, to begin new adventures. There are a few outliers in the group, doing their own thing, but there is no hostility, we are chill.

Thirst (n.):

On Halloween we dress up. This is over twenty years ago in Italy, in a town with few Americans or Brits, so Halloween is just our little group. We party. I end up on the balcony of one of the flats with Arthur. We are kissing and it is surprisingly, electrifyingly, good. Back in his bedroom we take off our clothes. I notice his body which is beautiful and strong in a way I never knew I would care about. His beauty, and his interest in my body, the way he looks at me, makes me feel beautiful too. I have never felt that way before, I’ve always thought of myself as okay, cute-ish, verging on ugly at times. It is a strange thing to feel beautiful. In his bed, his face, which had earlier struck me as pleasant, looks beautiful too. It’s like love at first sight, except we’ve been exchanging pleasantries for months.

In the next weeks we spend whole days curled up in bed together, laughing, fucking, sleeping, listening to music. I feel like I’m on the drugs. The feel of his skin under my fingertips is like that weird velvety buzz of being on X. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Dear Life., Guest Posts, healing

Dear Life: I Don’t Feel Worthy of Love.

January 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Angela Marchesani, who wrote this stunning piece on rape here on the site. Her essay was anonymous until a few weeks ago. She is also the awesome soul who made me the “Don’t Be An Asshole” wine/coffee cup. Order one by emailing her at angela.marchesani@gmail.com. Say Jen sent you. And remember, don’t be an asshole. 🙂

10906250_382188381942065_3259713207549686863_nSend us your questions for Dear Life because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Vancouver in a couple weeks! My first workshop there! 

VANCOUVER! The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 17th. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to be a human being.

VANCOUVER! The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 23rd. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to be a human being.

Dear Life,

I don’t even know where to begin – I have so many thoughts running through my mind right now, so I am just going to write.

As a young child, I endured sexual and physical abuse, I observed my parents go through a horrible divorce, and I was put in adult situations no child should ever be in. To sum it up: I had a dysfunctional childhood.

My teenage years were not any better – my family life was chaos, I had a broken/unhealthy relationship with my father, mother and siblings. I longed for my parents’ love, affection and attention. I unknowingly sacrificed my innocence by offering my body to men/boys as a means to feel loved. Yet, deep down in my soul, I knew all the suffering I had experienced in my short lifetime was not my future.

Since my early 20s, my determination helped me move mountains to heal from my past, so I could live a life I know I deserve. I never let my past be my crutch, so I put myself through college while working a successful full-time job. Throughout the years, I sought out different therapist to help guide me on my journey. I have tried to form a consistent spiritual relationship with God, I have read end-less self-help books, I am constantly on social media reading inspirational quotes and self-discovery blogs (Oprah is my new best friend) – you name it, I’ve tried it. Yet, I still feel empty. I still struggle with depression, weight gain (self-sabotage), and I lack self-love, self-worth, and self-acceptance. I often find myself pondering why I am still so broken, if I am a “survivor”?

So, let’s fast forward to the past few years — I have been hit with one crisis after another, and as a result, my mind, body and soul finally shut-down. The stress I was under triggered my past, and I became that fearful five year old girl, immobilized. I became severely depressed and by the summer of 2014 I was suicidal. On the outside in, I appear well put together, the one everyone calls for advice, the person who will lift your spirits, the reliable one – yet, on the inside I was dying. I was in a black hole that I could not get out of alone, so I cried for help, and for the first time, I shared my dark secret with my loved ones. Unfortunately, the stigma around depression made it hard for my loved ones to truly understand what was happening to me mentally. At the end of the day, I still suffered in silence and alone. I fear my depression because I can feel the illness lurking in the background ready to pounce on me when I least expect it. I never want to go back to that dark place, ever!

Now I am going to jump into my relationship. For the past six months, I have put my relationship on the back burner to focus on myself while I was severely depressed. I live with my boyfriend of nine years (it’s more like we are roommates) – we share the daily hugs, kisses and “I love you”, but there is no true intimacy: physically or emotionally. We don’t really share the same interest anymore. I spend more “alone” time with my girlfriends than I do with him – I go to family functions by myself because he would rather sit at home drinking a beer and watching sports. I feel depleted – I don’t feel in love with him anymore, and I often fantasize about being in a relationship with a man that has lots of passion. Our lease is up in a few months and I am torn between working on the relationship or saying goodbye.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I don’t have the mental capacity or the tools do handle this all alone!

Sincerely,

Am I Worthy of Love?
Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Vulnerability

About Knowing What I Don’t Remember.

August 26, 2014

By Kit Rempala

I’ve never been “normal” – if that word means anything at all. I see and speak to dead people. On occasion I read people’s minds and have prophetic dreams. Souls and emotions are as tactile to me as the fur on my cat’s back. I hear messages in nature, be they from water or fire or wind or earth or the moon in the sky or the rustling of leaves. I feel everything.

So, to sum things up: I’m pretty darned good at believing in things I don’t see, things I’ve never seen, and things that can’t be seen. Sometimes, I worry I’m too good at believing.

I never believed I’d been sexually abused until my therapist asked me. I thought I’d answer “no” and the session would move on. But instead she asked me another question, one I’d never expected: “Are you sure?”

What did that mean, am I “sure?” How could I not be? How could I not know? How could anyone not know?

Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing

For Women Who Apologize For Everything.

May 11, 2012

By Jen Pastiloff.

**trigger warning. Sensitive material contained in this piece. Mention of sexual assault.

Relentless Over Apologizing.

A few years ago a man I knew walked into the café in NYC where I was having lunch with a friend, and before I realized what was happening his hand was on my breast. “Damn, Look at those things,” he’d said with a fistful of my boob.

We chatted for a few moments about irrelevant things- yoga, weather, eggs, before he walked away and sat down at his own table. My friend was dumbfounded, the most natural response, I suppose. She was shocked that he’d grabbed my breast like that. In public, no less. I was embarrassed and made excuses for him. That’s just how he is. He doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s just a flirt. He’s harmless.

Did I think it was okay on some level? Did I not want to embarrass him? Why was I the one who felt embarrassed when he was the asshole feeling me up? Was I flattered in some creepy shitshow way? Why hadn’t my friend said something right then as he’d had my breast in his hand like it was his? And would I have said something, if the situation was reversed and it was her breast and not mine? Oh, the shame. The hot shame on my face and my arm hairs standing on end, I felt incompatible with my own body as I pushed my eggs around in a soup of Cholula sauce.

My breasts felt like they were no longer part of me. It was if he’d walked away with them. Or at least the one he’d fondled.

Why had I not said anything to stand up for myself? Perhaps on some level I felt the disgust I’d always felt towards my breasts had called out to him, in their own subversive language that some people are trained to hear. Maybe he could smell the disgust on me, how much I hated the weight and size of them and the way they popped out of my bra on the sides (commonly referred to as “side boob.”) Maybe he had sensed the hatred I had towards my own body and how I’d fallen into the anorexia trap when I’d gone to a doctor at seventeen and asked for a breast reduction. “Breast reduction? You don’t need it. Lose five pounds.”

I wonder how many times do we swallow our words? Women. Men. All of us stuffing down what we want (or don’t want) for a variety of, often psychologically confusing, reasons.

***

I let a man give me a “free” massage (that should’ve been enough of a red flag) when I was eighteen years old. It wasn’t until he had his fingers near my vagina, almost slipping them inside of me, that I rolled off the futon he’d haphazardly turned into a massage table. I panicked and asked him to leave, albeit too politely for the fact that he had tried to stick his fingers in me. Soon after the massage, I found out he’d gone to jail under the three-strikes law in California. With the three-strikes-law, habitual criminal offenders, under mandates of the state, are required to serve much longer sentences than they might normally serve. Apparently, he had been preying on women for years and had finally been caught. I’d met him at the place I’d been obsessively exercising in my sports bra and short shorts. My teeny tiny anorexic body of those years. That body that allowed me to feel nothing at something at once, all the are you sick? you look sick questions giving me a high like nothing else. I wanted attention as equally as I abhorred it.

Before I asked him to leave however, I had lay there with my heart beating wondering “Is this normal? Is this what massage is? Should his hands be there?” It was the first massage of my life. And yet, despite the internal dialogue, I stayed on the weird futon massage table. I questioned my own judgment and intuition. Until his hands got too close to my vagina. Then a panic button went off.

But why did it take so long?

After I found out he’d gone to jail, I’d wondered if I had enticed him. Too short shorts? Too skimpy of clothing? Too friendly? What had I done to provoke him? Nothing. But as a nineteen year old I pondered my own complicity, my addiction to guilt needing a fix. I must’ve done this. I still look too sexy. If I was smaller he wouldn’t have wanted to touch me, I’d thought as a teenager. My boobs are still too big, I rationalized. So I lost more weight.

***

That summer I’d been visiting Los Angeles before NYU started in the fall. I’d spend my days eating creamed honey off a spoon (I had no money and it gave me an odd boost of energy with no fat) before I’d climb the stairs in Santa Monica, a set of stairs people use for exercise like angry mice. I’d climb those stairs at least twenty times a day on an empty stomach (or a stomach with black coffee, vitamins and creamed honey.)

I’d gone to the movies with this actor who was twenty years older than me. He picked me up in the car with an open beer can between his legs. That should say enough about what I should’ve expected from him. He asked me to sit on his lap in the movie.  As embarrassed as I was, I sat on him. All ninety pounds of me sat on an older drunk man’s lap in a movie theatre with a mixture of excitement and disgust. I didn’t want to but I thought that maybe it was what adults did, maybe they sit on each other, I thought. And was I just being prude and overly self-conscious to say no? We went to a bar after where I used a fake i.d. and proceeded to drink five vodka cranberries on an empty stomach.

The next thing I remember was me being slumped over the edge of his bed. He was on top of me. My pants down, his off completely. I panicked.

My first instinct, being the worrier I was/am, was to yell for him to get a condom. The combination of shame and drunkenness smothered that night, but I do remember he leaped off me to get a condom from his bathroom.

When he came back I said that I did not want to sleep with him and that I wanted to go home.

He was angry but he drove me home. I rolled down the window of his old Cadillac and vomited red chunks all over the side of the car as it sped down the street. I wiped my mouth off. I apologized. As he dropped me off, he leaned over and kissed me on the mouth. The mouth. Vomit and all. And I apologized again for what I thought of as fucking the night up.

Why apologize when you’ve simply said no? one might wonder. Why apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong except be an eighteen year old (who puked) and who’d made a couple of really dumb choices? Why apologize for having a body, which is, essentially what all the starvation was about. I don’t know. I know talking about this is important though because I see it all the time.

The relentless apologizing for everything.

Recently, I got an email from someone who reads my blog.

 Dear Jennifer,I’m writing on behalf of my dear teenage daughter.  We adopted her as a little girl. We were her 5th home.  Needless to say, she has many issues of abandonment, rejection, anger, etc., which she is courageously working through. But the one thing that “sinks” her most often is the sexual issue.  Because she was abused in those early years, she feels that she is “ruined.”  She is very strong to stand up for herself in all areas but this one.  She lets anyone … ANYONE … touch her, kiss her, etc.  Guys, girls, whoever … she doesn’t even like them…. but they get a free pass to use her for their pleasure. Ever since she’s been little, we’ve guarded her carefully … very few sleepovers, etc. because it puts her in such a difficult situation.  Sometimes over the years, I think she’s been the instigator of sexual situations, but more recently, she seems to be the victim.  She just loses herself.Last weekend, she had a sleepover (first in a long time) with a 16 year old girl.  They seem to just have a fun, normal girlfriend relationship.  And since the girl was a little younger, I felt it was safe.  My daughter has been doing well and making good choices overall.It was bedtime, the lights were out … I was almost asleep and suddenly sat up with a jolt.  I texted my daughter to come to my room and talked to her about the situation. I just felt in my gut that something was going to happen.I found out later that it already had.My point here isn’t whether or not teens should have sex or whether or not same sex is ok.  My point is that my daughter DIDN’T WANT TO … and yet she did.She told me that in those moments, she hears two internal messages:1) You have to do this with me because no one else will ever love you like I do.2) You need to do this to make me happy.

She fears upsetting or losing her friends and so she sacrifices herself and her own self-respect to please them.  In her words,  “I’m already ruined, so what difference does it make?” 

***

I understand that idea of being ruined. I wouldn’t eat for two days. Then I’d eat a can of tuna, and for that transgression, I’d felt like I ruined all I had worked for. I might as well eat another can of tuna and bread and ice cream and all the things I had been denying myself because I had already failed and what the point? was usually my rationale.

I read that letter and understood the yearning to make someone happy- the things I’ve said yes to because I thought it would make me worth something.

I don’t know the answer, and I’m obviously not a psychologist, so don’t worry about pointing out the obvious there. But I do know that apologizing for existing is a tricky business, one that parlays into all sorts of self-destructive behaviors. Now let’s be clear, I am not saying that the man grabbing my breast was a self-destructive act on my part. Not at all. The shame around it is though. The voicelessness is. The apologizing is. The sitting on that guy’s lap and then proceeding to go home with him was not smart, namely because I was drunk and had no grasp on my mental faculties or the choices I was making. But we’ve all been young and dumb unless we haven’t, and in that case, you’ve surely spent your youth locked in your bedroom.

If I had told that guy I didn’t want to sit on his lap, or I had yelled at that man to let go of my chest, then I would have lost them, and in some small way, I wanted to make them happy, like the teenager in that mom’s letter. I squirmed when I read the letter because if I was as brave as this mom was in writing to me, then maybe I could write a piece on the things we let slide and how quiet the world would be without so many I’m sorries.

This is my paltry attempt at understanding the way we keep ourselves underfoot, the way we don’t say what we want to say for fear of losing what we probably never had in the first place. So, to answer that teen’s question in the letter of What difference does it make?

It makes the kind of difference, say, where you stand up when he touches you and you say, “Excuse me but please do not touch my body like that.” Or, “Fuck you, get your fucking hands off me.” That’s the kind of difference it makes.

And then you grow up and maybe when you get to be my age you only say I’m sorry when you’ve hurt someone or reared your car into theirs.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next Manifestation workshop is London July 6. Book here.