Unspoken Rules

*This is my first draft. I have a couple questions on things I want to address. The part about the song feels forced, even though it's true. Also, the part about the secret gives me pause. I've never written about it before, never admitted that exccept in therapy. I don't name names, but I feel weird putting it out there. LIke it's not just my secret. Does it need to be in the essay? Is there a way to allude to the secret without sounding obtuse? Or does the impact outweigh the issues...

I don't know if anyone is checking this anymore but here goes.

It was to be the final months I was going to spend in my house, but I didn’t know that yet. This house, where I’d lived for the better part of my life had been one of the few constants in my life. Well, I lived there part time anyway. My parents divorced when I was two and had joint custody. My sister and I spent one week with my mother and step-father, one week with my dad and step-mom. My dad had moved four times in the same amount of time I’d lived in this house.

For nearly eight years, nothing bad ever happened there. Accidents, sure. Chasing a cat and stepping on a fallen gutter, which required a trip to an emergency room for stitches. An admittedly foolish attempt to kill a fly on a window with my arm, which also required stitches. Throwing up all over the wall. But never anything terrible, never anything impossible to overcome.

But then my dad died and my house changed. I say died, because I don’t like saying killed. People assume he was murdered if I say killed, which I guess is technically true. But this too would be called an accident. Your father was killed in a car accident, my mother told us. A drunk guy hits my dad, kills him instantly and it’s an accident. Sure, ok.

Before, my house had been a happy place. My friends came over, I played in the backyard. Foraged through the bamboo forest behind our back fence, practiced hiding from burglers in my closet, figured out to override the parental settings on our TV so I could watch Melrose Place and 90210.

People were happy that spring in 1997. I was not. I was a tween who’d suddenly lost her beloved father. It tainted me. Not only in my own eyes, but in my friends’ eyes as well. I’d had the same friends for six years, since I switched to my elementary school in first grade. We grew up together, wore Umbro shorts with NBA jerseys together, formed committees to decide who would “date” whom.

They said it was because I had turned overly sexual, that I was trying to convince them to lose their virginity to the boys in our class. That wasn’t it. After my father’s funeral, at the mandatory reception at my house, a secret came out. A secret they tried to bury by shaming me, ostracizing me, exiling me, and torturing me for months. No one remembered what the secret was by the end of it. Or if they did, they were too scared to talk about it. And who can blame them? After such swift and harsh action against me, a planned public shaming of that magnitude, I wouldn’t have brought it up either.

I suppose many friend groups have unspoken rules. Or maybe they don’t. Since that fall and spring, I haven’t been a part of any groups. For years, when I’ve talked to people about what happened that year I’ve said “oh, you know how 12 and 13 year old girls are.” I didn’t want to tell the truth. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m embarrassed, or if it’s not my place to tell, or if I’m so traumatized by what happened that admitting it all over again will trigger something vicious and cause me to go places I’ve worked hard to avoid for twenty years.

But here it is. My friends and I used to kiss each other and roll around together naked until we clitorily orgasmed. There was never any insertion, that I knew of anyway, into any orifices below the waist. There was four of us, but only three of us were regulars. It was sexual, obviously, but we weren’t sexually attracted to each other. We were just sexual.

This was the revealed secret after my father’s funeral. All of my friends, boys and girls, were sitting outside snacking on the various foods people always bring to funerals. I’d just extracted myself from a condolence wisher and returned to my friends who were talking about electric toothbrushes and their various uses. One thing led to another and we were all talking about The Secret. No one seemed to care or think it was that weird. Or maybe that’s how I framed it in my memory. It was a relief honestly. To talk about anything other than the reason we were all gathered together. It never occurred to me that this would be anything more than a silly conversation between some friends at a best friend’s father’s funeral.

The next day, my closest and best friend handed me a note in orchestra. We were so tight, we’d opted out of the coolness of band and decided instead to play violin (me) and viola (her). The note explained how disappointed she was in me, her horror at my betrayal. She didn’t want to be friends anymore. That The Secret got out was my fault. I ran to her, stunned. It wasn’t me, I pled. We all talked about it. But I wasn’t the instigator. I pleaded, I cried. I couldn’t stand the thought of more change, more threatened loss. 

She said she believed me. That everything would be fine. And for one perfect month it was.

One Tuesday I came to school. First period was orchestra. I got my metal folding chair as usual, set it up in front of my music stand as usual. Pulled out my violin as usual. I did the same for me closest and best friend as usual. When she came in the room, instead of sitting in the chair I’d set out for her she got her own. Got her own music stand. Wouldn’t even look me in the eye. I tried to speak to her but it was as if no sound came from my mouth. I wasn’t given an explanation, ever. Not that they didn’t talk to me. They did. They made sure to tell me that I wasn’t their friend anymore, that no one would be my friend. That I was a freak. That I’d copied one of them by getting contacts, that I was weird for wearing a bra under my ballet leotard, that they would refer to me now as Rebekah instead of Beka, because they knew I didn’t like it. There were three-way calls with a boy I’d liked, maybe loved if that was possible at that age, to trap me into saying I wanted him to break up with my closest and best. That I wanted him to be with me.

This went on for two months. Then for some reason, the mothers thought if I attended my closest and best’s birthday party everything would work out. They were certain we’d move past it. Instead, they made me drink toilet water, run outside naked, asked me why I was acting different. Then I had to sleep on the floor in the bathroom because no one wanted to sleep near me.

After that, my mother allowed me to stop going to school. I’d already attempted suicide. The cruelty of the girls broke me and I could no longer even be shocked by it. Hurt, yes. Shocked, no.

I went to work with my mom who gave me assignments. I still had to learn, she said. She was angry. Sometimes I thought she was angry with me, that she was disappointed I couldn’t figure it out. If your dad hadn’t died, she said once, I’d tell you to buck it up and go back to school.

During this time, MmmBop came out. I’d lay on my floor and listen to it on endless rotation on the radio. I’d lay half in my closet, half out staring at the ceiling wondering how those boys could sound so cheerful when everything was so awful. Yet I listened to it because there was something meditative about all that nonsense and gibberish being repeated over and over. It was like a chant or a mantra I could focus on without having to think too hard. The words were an escape from my reality.

After weeks of not attending school, the counselors at my elementary intervened. All the girls, me included, were called in for mediation. I don’t remember if it was chilly that day or if I just wore my Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt as armor or maybe a shield. I remember pulling on the sleeve cuffs, tightening my arms around my body as I sat facing the girls. I was at the head of the table and the three girls faced me. My back was to the wall but at least I could see the door.

I was already beaten down and tired of, well all of it. They told me they weren’t even mad anymore, never had been that mad. You said you wanted us to treat you the same, they said. That was true. I had asked to not be treated like a wounded animal. Though had I considered what could actually occur, I may not have asked for it.

I just shook my head. What was the point? I’d recently found out my parents had been transferred to a church in a different city. I would be moving away from my house, my hometown, those girls. I went back to school but I was like a ghost. A lot changed while you were gone, a classmate said. Not really, I countered back. And then I was gone.

About for years later, I ran into my closest and best. She hugged me and squealed, thrilled to see me. Wow, she said, we were really mean to you weren’t we? And even those years later, I couldn’t muster up the courage to say yes, you were. I hadn’t yet figured out how to extricate myself from under her thumb. Though, it might not have even been HER thumb.

To put it simply, I’d lost trust. Though trust is never a simple thing. It wasn’t that I’d exactly lost trust in myself or in others. It was that I lost faith that people would find redeeming enough qualities in me to consider me worthy of time. It’s mouthful for sure. When people you love, in this case my girlfriends, tell you you’re bad or wrong or unworthy you listen. At least I did. It’s difficult for anyone, let alone a young girl who’d just lost her father, to shed the story being told. It took me a long time to figure out how to lift the veil of darkness and see that those girls didn't get to decide who I was or was not.

I know that I’m good, that I’m worthy. I was then and I am now, too.


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