Fiction · Magazine

Consent Means What, Now? by Amanda E.K.

Illustration by Lonnie MF Allen


1.) Power Play

He shut me inside the fast food restaurant office.
     He sat down in his dirty swivel desk chair, his legs spread wide apart, his non-slip sneakers caked in soggy breading. His hair was greased, stiff, shiny. My heart sank as he locked the door.
     “What will you do for me to get the day off?” he asked.
     I stood frozen—scared of the implications. There were stories about the other girls I worked with. Stories that always began with the locked door.
     I was fifteen, easily intimidated and naïve.
     I raised my eyebrows, not knowing what to say.
     “You can get the day off if you get on your knees,” he said, smirking,
     My skin flushed, heart racing, eyes searching for an escape.
     I must’ve scowled, or looked frightened.
     “You do that for your boyfriend, don’t you?” he said, his hands reaching for my hips.
     I was dating Carlos, another sexually insistent guy in my life, who I’d managed to push off me countless times to avoid doing anything sinful.
     “No,” I said. “I don’t do that. I’m not like that.”
     He laughed, tried to get me to admit it wasn’t true.
     When I insisted that it was, and that he was making me uncomfortable, he pulled his hands away from my hips.
     “No, no,” he said with a nervous laugh. “I was just kidding. You think I’d do something like that?”
     “Fine,” I said, and turned to leave.
     I never said a word—never told friends and family why I quit.
     But he knew.
     He tried to persuade me to stay, because, more than wanting me on staff, he was afraid I’d dare to speak up.

 

2.) Dutiful

I dated Carlos off and on for two and a half years in high school. I finally gave into dating him because he never stopped soliciting. He’d call me three times a night just to repeat the word “Please.” (Which was tricky because I shared a phone line with my parents and I wasn’t allowed to date. Good Christian girls were only allowed to “court,” and Carlos had no interest in courting.)
     He’d flatter me and promise to shower me with gifts.
     I didn’t want gifts. Gifts made hiding even harder.
     But I was too shy to approach the boys I was into. And what would be the point?

Carlos always got me on his bed. He liked to lie on top of me and touch me over my jeans. He tried, dear god did he try, to get in my pants every single time I was over. He’d undo my belt while I strained to keep it latched. He’d sweet talk me and try to convince me that I’d love it.
     “That’s what I’m afraid of,” I confessed. “But I want to stay pure for marriage.”
     “Marriage, huh?”
     “Marriage,” I said.

One time he pushed me against his basement wall beside the stairs—his friends in the next room smoking weed and rapping, his hips pinning me to the paneling. He smashed his mouth into mine as I tried to turn my head, tried to shove him away but he was too solid.
     Stop, stop, stop, I’d say, but the only way he would was if I hurt him. Not hard. Just enough. Then he’d get pissed, and I’d look away in shame.
     But he loved me, he said. He’d do anything, buy anything for me.
     He wrote me songs and letters that he’d slip into my back pocket.
     He sang to me in the cafeteria, sent balloons and roses on Valentine’s Day, and he once punched a kid in the mouth who’d been talking about my ass. He probably still has the scar from the kid’s braces.
     I thought: He’s good to me. He’s protective.

My life was dictated by rules I didn’t fully understand. I told myself: This is how men are.
     The Church said I must be chaste and modest—that boys’ purity depended on me not tempting them. It was my duty to prevent my brothers in Christ from sinning with their eyes.
     I thought: It’s my job to tell them no and when to stop.
     I never expected a guy to ask if he could touch or kiss me—I just had to wait, then put down my foot when things went too far. If the guy didn’t stop, I’d pray for some assistance. But I always took responsibility, telling myself: I got myself into this, and now I must pay the consequences.
     I could always ask for forgiveness later.
     The only way for me to have a sexual experience was if a guy came onto me. I wanted to feel good without all those feelings of sin and shame. So I welcomed these experiences out of curiosity, relying on God to relieve me from the worst.

Carlos is married now, a dad to two or three. He works at the Tyson slaughterhouse and does his art when he can. He still gives my mom a hug every Fourth of July at the park.

 

3.) Jailbait

Justin called me jailbait when he came back to town after boot camp.
     He’d been a senior when I was a freshman.
     We hit it off at a school dance where we bumped and grinded to the Thong Song and Shakira.
     I wasn’t used to attention from a boy with such a pretty mouth and perfect teeth. An older boy, with a car.
     He was my first kiss—his tongue shoved in my mouth at the movie theater (The Fellowship of the Ring). I quivered in places I barely knew existed. He went faster than made me comfortable, but I liked how much he wanted me.
     After the movie, my mom said I was never to see him again, said she’d never have allowed the date if she’d known he was seventeen.
     “Boys his age are about one thing,” said Dad.

Thus Justin became the first of my series of secret boyfriends.

Boys at school started talking to me like I was easy. They talked about my ass, and accused the pimples on my neck of being hickeys.
     I liked and hated their attention at the same time. I liked not being called, for once, a prude. Because most of the time that’s exactly how I felt.
     I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t swear.

I’d invite Justin over when my parents were at work, told him to park a few houses down because the neighbor was a snitch.
     We’d sit on my basement futon, rating our favorite parts of each other with our hands. I played my fingers over his lips, his dark scruffy jaw. He drove me crazy, winking at me in the halls at school. I was constantly excited, and constantly terrified of the sensations he brought out in me. They felt like the definition of sin.
     With two fingers, he demonstrated the three different types of girls: crossed legs, legs clamped together, and legs wide apart. He implied that I seemed like the third type. Or could become so with his coaxing. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be that for him or not.
     During finals week, he drove me out to his house on the edge of town for “lunch,” touching me over my jeans in the passenger seat, speeding between the cornfields where the cops never stopped.
     Though I did my best to hide it, I was riddled with anxiety about being found out. Not only was I skipping school, but I was doing it in direct disobedience to my parents. And since parents were directly linked to God (‘Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother’…), I was also wallowing in spiritual guilt.

Justin’s room was pitch black, with dark curtains duct taped around the only window. He lit candles and put on a mix CD of early 2000s boy bands.
     He asked how far I’d gone with other guys. I attempted to be vague, concealing my inexperience.
     When he moved my hand to the front of his pants, I felt manipulated and not yet ready for that kind of touching. Maybe I assumed that was the normal pace for non-Christian girls, and I was desperate to come across as normal, so I held my hand there, shaking with nerves (which probably did the trick as far as he was concerned). Deep down, I was dying to know what to do. I wished I had the confidence and skill to touch him the way he wanted.
     He laid me across the bed, my legs hanging over the edge, and lifted my shirt.
     “I want to leave you something to remember me by,” he said, and then he proceeded to suck three hickeys around my navel. It tickled so bad it felt more like torture than pleasure. But I laid there, trying to be sexy, praying for it to end.

He graduated in December and went to boot camp in Kentucky. I cried and asked God if it was a sign for me to end things. I never got an answer, so I started writing letters. Justin wrote me back and my dad found his response in the mailbox and waved it in the air, angrier than I’d ever seen him, yelling at me for staying in contact with, as he saw it, a sexual predator. (A month or so prior my dad had walked in on me chatting online with Justin, whose screen name was NymphoManiac.)

So I had Justin address his letters to my friend’s house.
     He wrote me once, then never again.
     I prayed to forget him since he was no good. I cut up the pictures of our faces pressed together. I went on a spring choir trip to Florida and bought a pair of green capri pants that shaped my ass just right. And when he came back to town, I made sure he saw me wearing them.

 

4.) Church Men

Elderly Alfred called me his girlfriend from as young as twelve years old. He said hello with lengthy hugs, gripping me tight while Enid, his elderly wife, smiled sweet as apple pie.
     He gave my mom the same attention. She’d giggle and pat him on the chest and say, “Oh Alfred, you’re too sweet.” I understood this to mean I should respond in the same way.
     Alfred brought us chocolates from his trips to California. I sampled the chocolates but spit them in the trash when they reminded me of his smell. Old and stale and flecked with powdered sugar like his dandruff.  

***

Farmer Mason would  grip my shoulder with his thumb dug in, causing me to cringe while I forced a Christ-like smile in greeting when I entered church.
     “Don’t you look nice today, Miss Eike,” he’d say, winking at my dad as he gave me another squeeze.
     I’d offer a placating smile and try to shrug him off, concealing my revulsion.
     During brunch back home, my mom said, “You’re so mean to him, Amanda.”
     “But he stands too close,” I said, “and spits on me when he talks.”
     “I know,” she said, “but we still need to be nice.”
     So I learned to play along, to act flattered and serene, virginal yet also kinda flirty, then sit through the sermon, fantasizing about the boys my age I couldn’t date until I was old enough for marriage.

***

Older men will always hold out hope for younger girls.
     Like that song from the musical Gigi, sung by a 70-year-old Maurice Chevalier:

     Each time I see a little girl
     Of five or six or seven
     I can’t resist a joyous urge
     To smile and say

     Thank Heaven for little girls
     For little girls get bigger everyday
     Thank Heaven for little girls
     They grow up in the most delightful way

     Those little eyes
     So helpless and appealing
     One day will flash and send you
     Crashing through the ceiling

Do young men know that this will be their plight? That those girls who gross them out as children will inspire longing in old age? A longing that won’t ever be consensually satisfied.
     Unless, of course, by force—with size and brawn and weight.
     With sweets and smiles and appetites and beliefs that they can’t change.

 

4.) My Husband’s Uncles

One summer while grilling at his campsite, my husband’s Uncle Dean said to me that if he were younger he’d be trying to get with me. He wrapped me in a hug and swayed me back and forth, petting my hair. He was very drunk.

Uncle Ron drinks rum and Cokes from a plastic Green Bay Packers cup every holiday we’re over and kisses my head when I get near. He hugs me tight and calls me pretty and tells my husband he’s a lucky man.

Uncle Mark made a joke about gobbling knobs when my husband and I were first engaged. That was the day I met him. He winked at my husband, who told him to shut up and that he wasn’t making a good impression.

 

6.) Dad’s Good Buddy

My dad’s friend said to me at my grandpa’s funeral:
     “If you weren’t married, I’d be robbing that cradle.”
     He said this in front of my dad, who said nothing in my defense, so I said, “Pete, you sick dog,” to which they both just laughed.
     My dad walked away and Pete leaned in close, whispered, “You know I used to have a crush on your mom back in the day, and you look just like she did.”

     Thank Heaven for little girls.
     For little girls get bigger every day.

His behavior was something I learned to expect and tolerate.
     He meant no harm.
     He’d never actually touch me.
     He’s sixty now and has never maintained a romance.
     Hmm—I wonder why?

 

 

Amanda is a short fiction writer and educator originally from Iowa. She’s a member of the Knife Brothers writing group – a small collective of short fiction writers – who can be found occasionally haunting the Victorian halls of Lighthouse Writers Workshop. You can find her work in Suspect Press, Birdy, Jersey Devil Press, and at yubikwetes.wordpress.com where she writes creative non-fiction vignettes.

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