Lightning Cuts

by | Apr 9, 2024 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Eight

Content Warning: Rape

Lightning cuts. Thunder bleeds. What we do in the darkest storms cannot stay hidden forever.

I am reckless; my entire life an example of I-shouldn’t-have-done-that. Like a vine, stretching out, I envelop everyone and everything around me.

 I am a queen on her throne; I answer to no one.

I am sixteen and 10 months. I am not mature enough to drive, my parents say, but I can take the train, I can ride shotgun, I can go downtown to see the band. I’m stuck somewhere between all of my friends; I don’t know as much as some of them, but I pretend that I do. I haven’t had sex, but I let boys touch me. I have felt their boners through their pants, but I don’t touch them under their clothes. My boyfriend wants to have sex–he wants to be my first–but we’re not talking right now. He is mad at me, always mad at me, or I’m mad at him, maybe–but I can never remember why. All that to say, he’s not my boyfriend this summer.

My friends and I haunt cafes on weekend nights. We order grilled cheese plates to split, drink coffee with too much cream and sugar and say odd things to sound interesting. Someone suggests we play a game, a spin on never-have-I-ever. We tally the times we have done things–sexual things. How many times have you kissed someone? Have you ever given a handjob? It is the age of the hook-up. I have gotten drunk a handful of times, fooled around in a hot tub at a party, kissed boys and girls–those are bonus tallies–but I have never gone past second base. We track each other’s scores on paper napkins. I don’t know if I want to win, but I know that I don’t want to lose.

It is the summer before my senior year. I am hanging out with new friends, meeting new boys, preparing to be editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper; my priorities in that order. I meet a boy at a party; he takes me on a date to a bookshop later that week. He is cute and nice, but a little vanilla. He drives me home, kisses me, but I don’t invite him inside. My mom says that’s a bad sign. But I keep texting him–maybe I’ll see him around this summer before he leaves for school.

Thomas isn’t vanilla. A boy from the band–a guitarist I had met a few weeks back at a local show–with long, curly blonde hair grazing his blue eyes, he could have been something I made up in my mind. No, Thomas isn’t vanilla. He is aged leather, hints of cedar and whiskey and smoke; a bonfire on a cold night. We take polaroids together at the show; he puts his arm around me. He asks for my number. He texts me all night, asks when we can hang out. He says he saw me from the stage. He says he noticed me immediately. I stood out. We go back and forth for weeks. My friends are tortured with jealousy.

I want Thomas to like me; I might even want him to be my boyfriend. I tell him my parents are going out of town, I am having a few friends over, he should stop by, that my favorite drink is goldschlager, I drink it straight from the bottle.

He asks for my address, if he can bring some friends, is it cool if they crash for the night. I say yes. He doesn’t ask if I’m a virgin, and I’m thankful for that. I don’t want to come off like a virgin.

I wear the ebony blouse I took from my mom’s closet months ago. I know she noticed, but she never mentioned it aloud. It is too low-cut, revealing the tan line from a summer spent outside, inappropriate for a girl my age. I wear a pushup bra underneath, but I don’t need it. I am the most developed of all my friends. Some of the boys at school call me ‘Tits McGee’–I laugh when they do. I think it is a compliment. The summer has been good to me, too; my skin is bronzed, glowy. I pretend I am a goddess–I add angel wing earrings to seal the look. The night is mine.

My friends arrive first, of course. Flip cup on the patio, toes in the pool, beer pong on the kitchen island. I wait, I wait and I drink. I fall to the floor during a piggy back race, smashing my phone. I am inconsolable–what if he calls? What if he can’t find my place? It is late into the night when he arrives, a few friends in tow. I am somewhere between here and there, drunk and gone, aware and unaware. The storm closes in.

Like a damaged film reel, the scene fades in and out. The stairs up to my room; taking off my angel wing earrings; the fitted sheet torn off the corner of my bed. The rest: a void.

I wake in the eye of the storm, quiet and still; a dull ache between my thighs and a pounding between my eyes. The bed is wet, but not from what he did–what we did?–no, I have soiled myself. I am laying in a pool of my urine, coating my thighs and ass. A barely-there odor, but I know what it is. I am not so drunk that I forget to be disgusted. Shameful heat runs up my spine, turning ice cold as it reaches my cheeks. But there is no blood, no scarlet letter, identifying me for what I am. What I was. I remember reading that somewhere. Some girls bleed their first time. He is still in my bed, his eyes closed, his chest moving up and down in a hypnotizing rhythm. I am exposed, laid out beside him. Sheets no longer cover my mattress, my blankets have fallen to the floor. Distant voices echo beyond my door, indicating the party continues, at a slower, less menacing pace.

Thomas’ friend–whose name I never caught–opens the door. His eyes flicker over my bare body for a single moment before landing on Thomas.

“Fuck, dude.” The nameless friend–the bassist of the band, I think–says. He sits on the edge of the bed.

Thomas is awake now. He glances at me. I say nothing, tugging the comforter from where it has fallen to the floor to cover my body.

“That girl is really upset–your friend.” His friend is talking to me now.

“Why?” I ask. Thomas is still looking at me.

“She said she’s a virgin. And we, you know, just for a second. But then I stopped, and now she’s throwing up in the bathroom downstairs. She’s crying, too. I didn’t know, dude.”

That girl is my best friend. She’s a virgin, like me. Or like we were. I know I should go talk to her. I will my body to move, to get out of this bed, to find my clothes. But my head is still cloudy, my body feels too heavy.

They both see my hesitation.

“You know what–no. I’ll talk to her.” The bassist, or maybe the drummer, stands. “I should do it.”

I don’t fight him. I don’t move. I don’t do anything.

What is done to us in the storm cannot stay hidden forever.

I didn’t move from the bed; I stayed until the light came, until Thomas left my bed first, until my parents came home and I had to tell them what happened. I didn’t tell them everything, only the parts you told your mom. You told your mom you didn’t want to, so she took you to the doctor.

She called me, yelled at me for letting this happen to you, like my parents yelled at me for being so reckless and making them vulnerable, or culpable, maybe. No one asked me anything. Just the yelling until I couldn’t stand it, until I had to turn on the shower to drown out the noise, until you weren’t my best friend anymore.

You came to my house with the results before you left for school, the last time I saw you for months. You sat on my couch, explaining to me what the doctor had explained to you: a positive test from a night you don’t remember, a prescription for antibiotics, shouldn’t be any lasting damage.

Before you left, you asked if I had wanted to do what I did. When you asked, I said it was fine. When you asked, you were lied to. When you left, I was all alone with the clouds hanging overhead.

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