Like the rest of America, I devoured last week’s news, following the twists and turns of Brett Kavanaugh’s will-he? won’t-he? Supreme Court nomination. One detail in particular of Christine Blasey Ford’s address to the Senate Judiciary Committee struck a chord with me.
“In the summer of 1982, like most summers, I spent almost every day at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland, swimming and practicing diving.
One evening that summer, after a day of swimming at the club, I attended a small gathering at a house in the Chevy Chase-Bethesda area. There were four boys I remember being there.”
That’s an unusual detail, I thought to myself. What is she building towards?
He had a hard time because he was so drunk, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. I believed he was going to rape me.
A memory tucked away in the deepest caverns of my mind surged forward. I hadn’t thought about it in decades. But there it was, vivid as ever.
In no way do I want to conflate my experience with Christine Blasey Ford’s. Simply, I wanted to share a story that many young females can relate to.
The difference is mine was 100 percent consensual and stopped when I wanted it to.
The similarity is what we wore.
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He was 16, which I only knew because so was Kenny. He was otherwise unremarkable. Average height. Average hair. Average shoes. Glasses.
Kenny was the oldest of 3; it was him, then Shawn, then Shannon. Shannon was my friend.
Shawn was nice. So was Kenny, I guess, but he was 3 years older and therefore, 3 million miles away, as that sort of thing goes when you’re still in middle school.
It didn’t stop Kenny from having a thing for Lisa, who was pretty (but not *that* pretty), skinnier than me, and cool because she smoked. I suspect Shawn liked her, too. Too bad. I might’ve liked Shawn myself, if he had been, as they say, emotionally available.
Shannon’s parents were known for hosting this big bash every summer. They had a pool and set up a raggedy volleyball court in the back corner of their yard, where the grass had burnt out under the hot August sun.
Shannon’s parents, along with Lisa’s and a few other girls on our travel soccer team’s, drank coolers and coolers of beer. When the sun went down they passed around a bottle of Cabo Wabo and went from regular ol’ embarrassing parents to crazy. Everyone’s pretty sure Mrs. O’Brien went skinny-dipping once! I can’t even look her in the eye when it’s her day to carpool and she pulls up in that town car with her lumbar-supporting seat accessory.
We mostly ignored them—the adults that is—instead focusing on perfecting our dives and other splash antics. Lisa usually just sunned herself on a chaise lounge and tuned out our watery screams. I guess that’s why Shawn and Kenny both liked her; she wasn’t babyish like the rest of us.
I surfaced after doing my second-cleanest dive of the day and saw him looking at me. “Nice,” he remarked, flashing a thumbs-up gesture.
Sunburn camouflaged my flush, I think. I dipped underwater again just to be sure.
“Who is that?” I hissed to Shannon as soon as I had a chance.
“Him.” Using my chin, I pointed to his turned back.
“Oh, that’s Rory.”
“Rory?” I asked, skeptically. I had never heard such a thing. “Like Cory with an R? That’s a weird name.”
“Yeah, Rory. Why? Do you think he’s cuuute?” she teased with a splash.
“Ewh,” I replied, dunking her and watching her emerge with Martha Washington hair.
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A cool sensation came over me as I stood waiting for the ketchup bottle. It was more than just evening settling in over the damp towel draped on my shoulders. I turned around and faced Rory.
“Oh look, it’s Esther Williams.”
He turned his gaze down. “I think she was a diver or something. I dunno.”
I had embarrassed him. I didn’t know it was possible for a meager soon-to-be eighth grader to do that to a 16-year-old. I felt a twinge of sympathy. “Oh, thanks. I’ve been practicing all summer.” I handed him the ketchup and had to admit, didn’t hate when our fingers touched.
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“An-dyyyy!” Mrs. O’Brien shrieked, slapping Shannon’s dad playfully on the arm. “That is not what happened!” Her voice dissolved into laughter. This was the younger generation’s cue to exit the back yard before they witnessed those things they only ever heard about.
When we were little one of the moms would usher us into the den and put on a wholesome movie. Harry and the Hendersons or Troop Beverly Hills, something on that order. Once we hit double digits, we had a little more freedom. Manhunt was the prevailing game for the past two years, and it was looking like that was tonight’s plan, too.
Shawn was It first, and more than anyone else, he knew all the best hiding spots in the cul de sac. I hurried south, passing Lisa, who of course didn’t play; she just stood there, smoking. With the orange tip of her cigarette, she gestured towards some arborvitaes and raised an eyebrow. Not a bad idea, I thought, wedging myself between the bushes and the chain link fence they grew against. I liked Lisa.
No sooner did I finish arranging my feet so the white on my sneakers would go undetected, I felt some branches being pulled back a few yards away. I squeezed my eyes shut, knowing I was hosed. Damn you, Shawn.
But the swift, rowdy motions of being caught never came. I opened my eyes and they revealed him. Rory.
He put an index finger to his lips and a furtive smile came over his eyes. He drew closer and I started to see a fineness in his face I hadn’t previously observed. Average height. Average hair. But a straight nose, warm honey eyes, and lashes so long they nicked his glasses.
I could feel my senses intensifying. The earthy smell of the mulch we stood on, suddenly it was overwhelming. The piney notes of the bushes that concealed us; I could practically taste them! I could identify, vividly, every singular thing touching my skin—the prickles of the arborvitae, the yielding firmness of the fence I was lodged against, the inch of space between Rory and me…
No sense was stronger than the strangeness in my chest cavity—delicious and a little dangerous—every time I breathed in.
Sounds of sneakers on pavement broke the moment. Shawn had caught his prey, bringing to a close his turn at being It.
Manhunt went on for more than an hour, but the hiding spots grew stale after a while. Somehow Rory found mine every time, whether he was It or not.
“Wanna go inside?” Shannon finally asked.
“In a bit,” I replied, looking at the curb and not her face.
“Oh!” She sounded surprised. “Okay, well, I’m going to bed. The air mattress is already blown up so uh, I guess try not to make too much noise when you come in.”
“Thanks, Shan,” I murmured.
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There was a small park nearby that my instincts ushered me towards. Lisa and Kenny were there, lying side by side on the carousel, looking up at the stars. Rory sat gawkily on a swing.
“Hi,” he said as I approached.
“Hi.” I sat on the third swing and started swaying.
Beyond that, neither of us knew what to say, so we simply listened to the chorus of evening insects and the metal-on-metal creaks of children’s playthings.
Rory moved one swing closer, which filled me with equal parts excitement and dread. I began twisting my swing like a corkscrew. Nervous.
“Would you stop that?!” he laughed, standing up to grab the chains above my head and whirling the swing around to face him. He leaned in and I let him kiss me. He was only the second boy I’d ever kissed.
“Come on,” he said, taking me by the hand and leading me up a set of plastic stairs.
More kissing. Conversation in hushed voices.
“You’re going to be so pretty,” he breathed. I think I knew what he meant.
He kissed me harder and grabbed the waistband of my jeans.
Incredulously, “You’re still wearing your bathing suit?”
I nodded, secretly but also supremely relieved.
He swallowed, slowly and with intention. “Probably a good thing.”
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I only saw him that one time. He was in high school, after all, and lived a few towns away.
It was the 90s, so I sent him an email. His reply was sincere, with a trace of wistfulness. A few months later I heard he got together with the more age-appropriate Marcella, who was known for being, as they say, physically available, if you catch my drift.
I never regretted my tryst with Rory. I liked him. But I’ll tell you one thing. I was grateful for my one-piece bathing suit.