Coming Into My Own
I’ve always struggled with being close to someone. Well, not physically close – I could trip over a pavement and fall into them, but that would be more gravity’s choice and my misfortune. Close as in sexually.
Parties were where it became most challenging to hide facts about myself from those around me: not just from the strangers playing the drinking games, but my good friends as well. Somehow, at the ripe age of 23, I had managed to not tell a single soul. Not a best friend, not a therapist and certainly not my own mother.
My family and I travelled often when I was child, and on one particular trip, I found myself in Istanbul, Turkey. When you’re 12, travelling is exciting, but new cultures can be confusingespecially when you’d rather not wear long-sleeved garments in 45-degree heat, and would much prefer to be by the resort pool playing Marco Polo. This was me – a naïve, always happy kid with bundles of energy and a weird grin showing off my never-fully-fixed overbite; until an experience with the 40-something year old hotel owner made me grow up more quickly than I would have liked.
A Turkish bath is meant to cleanse and relax you. The first room is extremely hot, and you sit in there sweating out your toxins until you’re ready to cool off, then you jump into a cold shower. After fully washing your body, you then can sit in a cool room and relax. But my own experience was one without the relaxation the hotel manager promised.
“We must have a power outage!” he said, suddenly walking into the now-dark women’s shower area. He didn’t seem bothered at all by the usually stressful situation. I was in two towels, one hand scrunched tightly around the one covering my body, another on my head holding together the poorly wrapped piece of cotton. I didn’t respond much at all, focusing more on getting back to my hotel room where my parents were, and less on this much older man in front of me, who was now leaning in slightly.
“Excuse me,” I said feebly, trying to get by.
Next, I remember being pushed up against a wall and feeling a sloppy, wet mouth on mine. The man’s hands pressed against my chest as I tried to squirm away. Is this what a kiss is meant to feel like? Was me being naked, my body bare besides a towel, enough to confuse him? Am I in the wrong?
Thoughts were running through my head, and I struggled to comprehend what was happening. I had never been kissed before, let along bare in front of a stranger, and my efforts to get away became both stronger and weaker all at once. I didn’t like it, but I was helplessly caving in.
Minutes after, I was bolting up the stairs, face a pale green and covered in a thick sweat. Shortly after I broke free of his tight grip around my wrists, finally pulling my face away from his, he started promising he didn’t mean it and that I was a “nice” girl. Mum looked startled when I ran in.
“What happened to you?”
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her.
“It’s the heat, I think,” I promised. “I just feel sick.”
I began violently vomiting in the bathroom. I pushed the memory from my thoughts, and it wasn’t an issue that was regularly on my mind. Within a few years, I had succeeded in not thinking about it too much – an unhealthy coping method, but the only way I knew how.
“Go on, have another shot!” they sneered. I was 17 this time, and had been dragged out to a raging house party by my two friends, the only people I knew at the event. I was in what parents would call a “rebellious” phase, but what I defined as having fun had an entry in my own personal dictionary under “teenage angst”.
The night was too blurry for me to remember if I had been spiked, or just been force-fed way too many shots of Wild Turkey.
“Does anyone know this slut?” one of the house occupants asked loudly, as my half-naked body got fondled by two 22year-old men simultaneously, who only stopped when I rolled over to vomit over the side of the bed. The entire party was now standing around, including my two friends, who were attempting to look cool in front of the new older boys they had met earlier that night.
“No idea,” they both shrugged, and thoughts of panic began racing through my head as I realised I was entirely alone.
I blacked out, and woke up confused and in a suburb far from home. A guy was next to me, and too close – and I didn’t understand how it had happened and how we had both come to be so naked. I wasn’t even attracted to men, or anyone at that young an age, and I couldn’t comprehend why this one was so damn close to my being.
I grabbed my dress after finding it in a room different to the one I woke up in, and ran out the door to the first awaiting cab.
Now, at 23, I find myself sitting with a close friend in a bar in the inner suburbs of Sydney. We’re sharing “first time” stories. I was never sure if not telling friends in the past was deceitful, or if it was understandable as it was so personal, and I had held it so close to my chest for years to come. Over the years, games like ‘Never Have I Ever and Truth or Dare had taught me to not say anything – just quietly be there and nod along when it came to anything sexual. Not lying, just a slight fabrication. I felt like I owed the people around me no explanation, and I didn’t feel guilty about that – this story was mine to tell.
Admitting to my friend in the bar what happened finally feels okay. I feel a new burst of liberation. I deserve to go on dates with whomever I may, and I can get close to them now. Unlike in the past, what happened to me when I was 12 and when I was 17 will no longer be a barrier, whether I fall into someone physically due to my pure lack of coordination, or if I fall for them mentally after multiple dates spent cracking bad jokes and sipping wine.
Now, if I like someone, I can get close and vulnerable – and vulnerability isn’t always a bad thing.
Cover by Becca Tapert