She was fourteen. She’d spent the last eighteen months rocketing from childhood to adolescence, growing over eight inches taller and billowing out in all sorts of unwelcome ways. Unwelcome to her, that is. She did notice that others found her new curves not at all objectionable, but there was a new awkwardness in these boys she had known since first grade. She wan’t a fan of the new stature either. She’d gone from being one of the shortest in her class, easily overlooked as she preferred things, to being conspicuously tall, so much so that her gym teacher who was also the girls’ basketball coach, had taken to dropping hints that her reach would be welcome on the team. More problematic, she looked down on the heads of most of her friends now and felt gangly and gaudy.
But she was fourteen. Still a child. Still more interested in Dungeons and Dragons than romance novels. Not even allowed to date yet if she’d had the inclination. Which she did not.
True, she had a few crushes. Content to leave them at that, she had daydreams of first kisses with very little knowledge of what that entailed. She went to Catholic school, so she was fairly ignorant of her own body and the things adults did with theirs.
It was a surprise when one of her crushes noticed her. He was a beautiful boy, wavy black hair and ice blue eyes, a face of angles and shadows, elegant hands. Long and lean, he was striker and captain of the school soccer team. He was a popular senior and had his pick of girls, though he never seemed to pick just one. He was first chair cello in orchestra and sat across from the concertmaster violin chair she held tenaciously. And one Monday morning late in the school year, he looked up, met her eyes and smiled.
Her heart stuttered and her cheeks flushed, yet she returned his smile uncertainly.
It might have ended there and she would have been content. Indeed, he made no overtures that day nor for the rest of the week. She began to think she’d imagined that moment. She was not particularly upset by this.
But on Friday morning, an older girl, one of the horn players, spoke to her. She hardly knew the horn player’s name. She had no classes with this girl except music. She was very surprised when the horn player announced that the beautiful boy would be hosting a party on Saturday and had asked that she come. The horn player invited her to come over to her house in the afternoon and they’d go to the party together. So shocked at this, she didn’t think to question it. She merely nodded mutely and wrote down the horn player’s phone number on the back of her hand.
She’d never been to a real party. Birthday sleepovers. Gaming nights. Skate parties. Her aunt’s wedding reception where she’d been allowed a glass of champagne and decided she didn’t like it. But nothing like the parties in movies, a house full of teens and loud music and groping, inflamed by various stimulants and depressants. When she and the horn player arrived, she discovered that she had indeed stumbled into her first party. And she almost turned around, having quickly determined that it would be her last.
But suddenly he was there with that smile and two plastic cups of a fruity green drink on ice. The horn player gave a nod to him and melted into the crowded room. She took a sip from the cup he gave her; it wasn’t terrible. She took another and then realized he was shouting something incomprehensible through the noise. After an awkward few seconds, she gathered that he wanted to show her something to do with stringed instruments. She followed up the stairs and into a large bedroom at the back of the house where the questionable music, the stench of sweat and cheap beer, and the crush of bodies were all blessedly absent. As he rummaged in a closet, she looked around, her eyes hitching on the messy double bed under the window. But then he was before her again with a lovely, antique viola in his hands, offering it to her.
She took the instrument and bow and propped it under her chin. Long instinct prompted her to check its tuning and play a few notes. The sound was a mermaid choir in a winter lake. She lost herself in it for a bit, while he sat smiling on his bed. When she stopped, he held up his cup in a salute to her playing and encouraged her to drink again as well. Which she did, finishing off the cup’s contents. She regretted this almost immediately as her head began to spin. Embarrassed, she grinned and stumbled over to the bed, returning the wonderful viola to him. His smile looked odd now, his eyes calculating. He rose to put the viola in its case then came back and kneeled in front of her. Holding her with his eyes, he reached up and stroked one elegant finger against her cheek.
Her heart began to race. So this was it! Her first kiss! And with this beautiful boy! It was like a fairy tale. He took her face in his hands and pulled her to him, brushing his lips against hers. Almost shyly. She didn’t even know to close her eyes. And so she saw the change when it came — a dagger-glance of scorn and want and pure arrogant entitlement. But by then she was too muddled to make sense of anything except to note that the drink was not affecting him as it affected her. She felt like a melting snow maiden, arms that wouldn’t move right, a spine that refused to hold her up, legs that were slush.
He began to kiss her again, but now it was aggressive and possessive, claiming her for himself. She was aware enough to rationalize that this happened; she’d seen romantic movies after all. But she did not like it. She wanted him to stop. Or go back to delicate butterfly kissing. But she didn’t push him away. Not just yet. Because while it was uncomfortable and sort of ugly, it was quite heady to be wanted with such passion.
Then suddenly they were lying on the bed and his hands were frantic on her body. She’d worn a floaty wrap-around skirt and a thin silky blouse because it was the first warm spring day, and it was a party after all. So there was little enough initially between his hands and her skin. And then she realized that there was nothing, that her blouse was hanging open, her skirt was hiked over her hips, and he was yanking at her underwear. And somehow he’d removed his jeans and opened his shirt, hovering over her in naked splendor. She had a second of groggy appreciation for the pale, hard beauty of his body before she became terrified, in the second before she realized she could do nothing to stop this.
She tried to scream though in her state it came out as a wailing groan. Tears blinded her eyes and she felt like she might be choking. The drink began to come up and she thrashed away from him to vomit onto the bed. She began to moan one word over and over.
And then there came a loud banging on the door. The handle turned and a boy’s head poked in.
“Hey! You all right in here?”
And it stopped as suddenly as it had begun. He shifted to the side, moving her clothes and covering up her body even as he answered his friend — who did not leave, but came further into the room with a wary, guarded look, a look he directed solely at her as he asked again, “You all right?”
She tried to tug her blouse shut and nodded through her tears. When he saw her helplessness, the new boy came to her side and helped her sit up, away from her attacker who was calmly sliding his legs back into his pants. He gave her a look of disgust and said to his friend “Looks like you get sloppy seconds.” He left the room with a nasty laugh.
The stranger helped her dress.
The rest of the weekend was a series of snapshots. Being led down a narrow staircase with the noise of the party behind her. Riding in the passenger seat of a Jeep. Opening her front door with him at her side. Collapsing on to her bed still in her clothes. Crying into her pillow for hours. Bleeding.
It was a kindness I’d never forget.
“You all right?”
It was a kindness I’ll never forget.
Because it never happened.
“You all right?”
It never ends that way. It never ends at all. It is never forgotten, this phantom kindness that never comes.
The Snow Moon is full now. It is time to cleanse and purge. Let the cold penetrate and sweep out the past. Spring is coming.
Reading Beartown is hard, but I realized something today. I survived precisely because nobody cared that much. I had to prop up nobody but myself. And that’s how I know I will survive this. Even though it is not just my body, but my life. All the good memories, all the hopes for the future. Gone. But I am here.
Tonight I will go out and watch the full Snow Moon rise, fill my lungs with the cold. I will watch it rise and know that as it wanes, spring approaches. I will hunger with the moon. I will diminish. And when it is black, I will scream for the new spring. But I will be standing.