I remember the basement was dark and cold. The kind of coldness in which everything feels damp and a little rank. I was there with my boyfriend. Not my first, but certainly the most memorable. He had been so charming upstairs, in front of friends. Lots of smiles and sudden hugs from behind. He also kept my glass full of cheap liquor. I didn’t have to be forced to follow him down the stairs. I didn’t even get nervous at being alone with him, instead I was excited. He was so beautiful and I still couldn’t believe he had chosen me over all the other girls. Girls who were prettier, had more personality, were more experienced. But, I had no doubts as I followed him down the stairs.
“Careful,” he said as I tripped on the last stair. I giggled with embarrassment. He must think I am a total dork. But he just smiled at me and took my hand. He led me over to an area that was set up with a blanket and pillows. He lay down on the blanket, smiled and said, “Lay down.” I sat down next to him. “Lay down,” he said. And when I hesitated, he sat up and firmly pushed me down on my back. I wasn’t scared, just nervous. I wanted to be whatever it was he wanted me to be. I wanted to be special, to be part of something, what that something was remained indefinable to me. “Relax,” he says in my ear. It wasn’t a comforting whisper; instead it was kind of an irritated and harsh voice. I was becoming troublesome to him. This always filled me with fear. Whenever I would grow tiresome or he would become weary of me I would desperately try to change. I was like a clown, trying to please him, but his moods changed so quickly, I was always at a disadvantage, playing catch-up.
And then, I cease to exist. Who I am no longer matters. I am there for one purpose, not my own, but rather for the service of someone else. Someone who said they loved me. Someone who said I was the one they wanted. Someone who like to use force and manipulation to get what they wanted. I close my eyes and try and put myself somewhere else. I keep shivering, but I don’t think it is just because of the cold basement. “Come on,” he is really getting irritated now. The next time he tugs at my underwear, I know better than to push his hand away. Doesn’t he notice I am not participating in this? Doesn’t he notice I am not moving? Doesn’t he notice I am invisible? He pushes his tongue down my throat and tears into me.
I am 15 years old. I am in a very cold and dark basement. My underwear is torn, but I try to put it on anyway. “Hurry up,” he says. He is anxious to return to the party. I follow him up the stairs. When we reach the top he holds my arm and turns me to face him, smiling he says, “there. That wasn’t so bad? It was nothing.” It was nothing. I am nothing. And I knew in that instant that it would always be this way. I would always be nothing.
The next morning I stayed in bed and told myself that I would never see him again. He should have known better. He should have been more careful with me. I get up to use the bathroom. I see the blood in my underwear and vomit. What I really know is that I have a choice to make. I can choose to never go back to him. I can choose to do what is best for me. I can choose someone who will love and respect me. I can learn to respect myself. But I made the other decision. The one that has me go back to him. The one that has me hating myself. The kind of self-loathing that turns violent.
It was a choice that I made. It has shaped and defined who I am today. It also will define how I raise my daughter. Because I never want Emma to be left in a cold basement thinking that if she doesn’t lie there and take it, some guy won’t love her. Everything in life is a choice.
Today, I choose to get up out of bed, to care for myself and my family, to love my husband and to thank God that I lived through all those cold dark evenings to see the morning.