How did I get to be a “good girl”? Growing up the middle of five children, I learned to not ask for things. We were Catholic, and suffering in the name of the Lord was the ideal. I also was pretty intuitive and could sense that both my parents were emotionally overwhelmed raising us, so I decided early on not to be demanding. Even if my sisters and brother were difficult, I could at least in my little way help out by not being needy.
Being a good girl doesn’t mean I wore frilly dresses and spent my days learning so-called womanly arts. I was something of a tomboy. I always preferred to play with my brother and his friends than with girls. Trouble was that my brother hated having a little sister around. I spent time trying to prove I was just as tough as the boys in the hopes of being accepted and being allowed to play their games. I ran around in the woods, caught toads and played our version of suburban stick ball. I hated it when the boys assumed I was weak because I was a girl. I hated it even more when they would wrestle me to the ground to prove that I was weaker. Deep down, I knew I was just as tough as any of them. I didn’t doubt myself, but I hated that others doubted my toughness. I could summon the strength to just bear these things- and continue to put myself in the line of fire- after all, it made me stronger, and that was good, right?
As a teenager, I liked boys and wanted their attention, but was never the soft or flirty type. Add that to the fact that I was tall and was somewhat brainy- and in retrospect, it seems pretty obvious that I was never going to attract the attention of an insecurity-filled boy. Instead, I watched my friends garner the attention of boys, and I easily slid into the role of the sidekick. I took this to mean that I wasn’t as pretty as my friends, but took some solace in knowing the boys were very comfortable with me as a kind of peer. I could make friends with them, laugh with them, and took pride in not being a sissy who spent hours on her appearance. I don’t think anyone would have guessed that deep down I was a hopeless romantic dreaming of a Romeo who fell madly in love with me at first sight. I told myself that I just needed to wait for the person who would appreciate me. Bear it out. Be patient and good will come to you.
I left for college thinking things would be different there; that boys would be attracted to smart chicks there. Ha. Instead, the pressure to conform increased ten-fold. At least in high school, my peers and I all had the commonality of believing that everything sucked. College, by contrast, was a world of people talking about how great college life was, how amazing the partying was. I wasn’t sure what was so great about being away from people who really knew me in a world of a stale beer smell and ridiculous attempts at conversation with drunk people. But I got the picture quickly that I was supposed to at least pretend I was having a great time. I usually ended up just hanging out on weekends in my dorm, listening to music and eating cookie dough or pints of ice cream. A couple of weekends I decided to let loose with some of the kids partying in my dorm; the last such event ended in me being assaulted by a boy who lived on my hall, with a three other boys looking on.
Traumatized, I went to my RA the next morning to report what had happened. She told me that she had already heard that I had “hooked up” with the boy and that all the other boys were saying it was mutual. I dropped any idea of pursuing a claim then and there, knowing that the numbers were stacked against me. I didn’t dare tell my parents: my mother would have thought I was asking for it because I had been drinking, and my father would have tried to take control of my life and file suit to get revenge. On some other level, I was afraid of what my father would think of me if he had confirmation that I was no longer a virgin. I wanted to disappear completely, but instead I learned how to put on a brave, unflinching, deadface stare into the eyes of all of the boys who were part of the trauma. And I put up with the humiliation of girls whispering behind my back. I’d never let them know I was internally a wreck. I kept my chin up as best as I could and gritted my teeth through the trauma, because I knew I was tough. I rode out the rest of the school year almost completely alone. I definitely earned a star on my toughness uniform for that performance.
I spent that summer as a lifeguard at an all-girls summer camp. It was probably the most healing thing I could do to spend two and a half months away from any physical male presence. I felt safe, and was able to get to the next stage of my processing. I went back to school for my sophomore year angry.