My Story, My Lips
He seemed friendly and safe enough. It was at a big convention, where it wasn’t uncommon to meet guys who wanted to talk and get to know you. Although in retrospect, it was odd he was into me considering, I was cosplaying a guy and he seemed very straight. I didn’t look like a guy but I didn’t look like a girl either. More like someone you might take a second glance at in question until you noticed the black short wig hiding the long strands of blonde under it that kept falling out because my hair cap got torn before the convention and this was the best that Anna and I could manage.
Anna and I were close friends. We were both in Graphic Arts class together and did some crazy shit I’m surprised our teacher let us get away with. We made some questionable photoshop pictures together, including crude head clippings of other teachers onto strange objects and fake magazine covers that implied our cafeteria served horse meat. We would joke around and nerd out about different animes and video games. We both loved Pokémon and it wasn’t rare to find her wearing a Vaporeon hoodie around school. She was a year ahead of me but we felt like we’d been friends for far longer than just the few years we’d known one another. I trusted her and she trusted me.
I trusted him because she did.
Anna was the one who introduced us. I don’t actually remember his name, Anna kept using his gamer tag and I’ve never had the desire or motivation to ask her about his name. I don’t want to have that name ruined for me, especially because every name is important and meaningful as an author. He was cosplaying the Bleach character Aizen—who ironically was also a creep—but I hated the name Aizen already, so it’s alright he ruined it further. I haven’t watched Bleach since I met him.
He was funny at first. He liked my costume, Izaya from Durarara, an anime. He knew the character and inside jokes. He ran into us in the gaming room where I was discussing fighting people with lightsabers at my high school lock-in. He thought it was hilarious. Especially since I—a sixteen-year-old girl—had beat multiple upperclassmen, many who seemed stronger and more athletic. He wondered if he could beat me. He was planning on buying Japanese wooden swords in the Expo hall, where artists and collectors bought and sold merchandise or collectibles. I told him I didn’t know how well I could fight with them, but I could try. He ran off and I didn’t expect to see him again. Things like this happen all the time at conventions, you meet lots of other fans of tv shows, animes and cartoons, claim you might hang out later, and then go to the other side of convention center full of room after room to get lost in – never to see each other again. That’s what normally happens, at least.
Later in the night, I left Anna in the game room. She loved playing Super Smash Bros and there was a tournament going on. The game room was full of monitors, arcade games of any kind you could think of and groups of people playing their 3DS games off in the corner. The light of the Dance-Dance Revolution and their own gaming screens was the only thing keeping them from disappearing into the black corners of the room. Anna had already disappeared from sight as she joined a crowd of Super Smash Bros players, ready to beat as many contestants as she could. I knew she’d have fun here. I had other places to be, especially since there were VIP events and my parents had got me a VIP badge for Christmas. I left to go to the Expo center—there was a poster I wanted to grab so that I could get it signed—but as I was entering I ran into Aizen again.
“Hey, Izaya! I got the swords. I told you I would,” he called out and I turned away from the Pokémon plushies at the front of the hall. It took me a moment to realize he actually was talking to me. He used my real name, Diana, but I prefer to remember it as Izaya because then I can pretend his lips didn’t form my precious name, the name I love, the name I share with my grandmother. So I pretend he said Izaya because it makes it hurt less.
“Oh, hey Aizen. You actually got those, huh?” I asked. He grinned, it was the smile of a cobra preparing to strike but I, being naive, only saw a dopy fanboy.
“Yeah, do you wanna take them for a spin?” he asked. In a lot of ways, he was dangling a piece of meat in front of a dog. I adored Japanese culture and loved their swords. And I was a giant nerd and he was offering me the chance to fight with swords. This was a dream to me.
“Absolutely, let’s go outside past the Star War clique. We don’t wanna hit anyone,” I said. I didn’t realize the snare I was helping to lay out for myself. Like the rabbit tying off the trap for the hunter.
“I agree, let’s go.” He said and I didn’t notice it as he put his hand on my arm and guided me out of the main convention hall. His hand was close to my shoulder, something I realized when he repeated the action later in the night.
It was near eight at night and March in Michigan, so the sun had long since dipped into the night as the fairy-lights lit the rivers near the convention center. There were hundreds of fireflies flying over the water, blinking like warnings in the night, that I ignored.
He tossed me a sword and I took it into my hand before facing him, ready to strike first. The fighting was thrilling. I loved it at the time. There’s a power to having a sword in hand. Something I still love to this day. He didn’t ruin that for me. I could have fought better, gotten away faster if I’d had that sword in my hand. The sword was a sword, at that time. Today I have other swords to protect me. On campus, my sword is pepper spray, because I won’t be taken advantage of again. On paper, my sword is my pen. And at home, there’s my keyboard, I can fight ignorance and depression with my keyboard. That’s the only reason I can relive this story.
When we were both gasping for breath after fighting— neither worse or better than the other—we sat on the ledge facing the river. That’s where one of the coordinators of the convention came over to chat with us.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I saw your fighting and took some pictures. Would you consent to my posting them on the convention website?” she asked. At the time I thought it was awesome. I was going to be on the website for sword fighting. She even emailed me the pictures.
Later, I marked them as read. I didn’t have the ability to actually look at them or the strength to delete them. My trophy of failure was a small 36 KB email labeled “Sword fighting pictures-SO COOL!!” that I was too ashamed to do anything with.
When she left we both decided it was time to go back in, but we had wandered further from the entrance we had exited from. Aizen convinced me that we could take a shortcut through the garage and continue to cool off there. I wasn’t thinking when I said yes. I didn’t have any notion of the plans he had in his head, the things he imagined to do together.
It was in the garage we began to talk.
“So, have you ever…had sex before?” He asked. This was the red flag everyone talks about or doesn’t talk about, because society refuses to admit that perfectly nice evenings can take a 180-degree turn in an instant and a girl, who was just a new friend, soon becomes a victim. This was the moment where the world changed rotation, the axis of my precious, naive, little world shifted. It was not subtle, not strung out. It was an instantaneous and rapid change. One second I was comfortable, I was happy and enjoying my life. The next I was the next target, and knew with all my heart, I needed to get the hell out of there as fast as I could or I would become another statistic. Another silent, or silenced, victim.
“I-I…no. I haven’t.” I said, I tried to keep an even tone, I knew men like this, knew them from stories and from my older sister who desperately didn’t want me to go through some of the things she went through. But how could I have predicted this? My friend was friends with this man, had been gaming with him for years, had vouched for him. And this was a convention with a tagline of “safe spaces for all,” and, “safe for all to be who they wanted to be.” It was supposed to be safe for me. How could I have known? Why should I have had to?
His hand was on my arm again. It was creeping further down until he forced it into my own. It was sweaty and uncomfortable. Every skin-to-skin contact felt like pins and needles against my skin as the cold, sickening hand crawled up my spine. I felt nauseous at what might occur, what I needed to prevent. At that moment, I was the rabbit desperate to free my foot from the trap.
“Would you be interested in it?” He asked. His breath was mingling with mine as he moved closer to me, his arm now against mine. Too close, he was too close.
“I’m waiting until marriage,” I said. I’m not. I’m waiting for the right person, but saying anything like that to him was a gate being opened. One I was trying to padlock closed.
“What about blowjobs?” he asked. As cold sweat seeped down my neck. I was glad that I hadn’t eaten much that day because I knew it may come up soon. I was looking for a way out, anywhere to go. The parking garage was under the convention center. There were lines and lines of columns and cars. I could hide if I had to, but would that work as we were the only ones in the parking garage?
There were doors about forty feet from me, but they wouldn’t help me. There were no columns to duck between to get to the doors and a straight dash left me more likely to have him follow me. The doors were two sets anyways, I could make it through one only to have him drag me out before I opened the inner set. I never thought about the strength of our fight or flight instincts until I was prey.
“I’m not really into that,” I said. My heart was racing at this point. I was rejecting him left, right, and center. This was how women died. I was sixteen—not even legally a woman yet.
“So when do you wanna get married?” He asked. This felt safer, less of a pitfall.
“I want to wait, I want to be a doctor which is a lot of school and I want to focus on school before romance,” I said. I was looking anywhere but him. I was memorizing cars, wondering which might be his, which he might force me into. There was a black Toyota closest to us, but it seemed too clean to be his. The white Mazda with mud all over the outside and trash in the rear window felt more fitting. Or the red Jeep next to it that had a cracked window. I wondered if I would die in the back of one of these cars.
“What if the right person appears sooner than that?” He didn’t let me respond as his hand squeezed mine, tighter, a vice, ready to keep me attached to him.
“I-I don’t know. I haven’t planned for that. Besides, you know I’m sixteen, right?” I asked. I wanted nothing more than to scream take the hint, but like some nightmare, he ignored every effort I made. My heart was beating so fast and my blood rushing through my veins like a drum, pounding against my temple, thrumming against my ears. I prayed he wouldn’t notice, and that it wouldn’t trigger anything from him.
“I don’t care about that.” He was eager with this response. Yet he had to be in his twenties, he looked like the stereotypical thirty-year-old virgin living in his mother’s basement. I hoped he stayed that way, virtue intact. “Well…are you opposed to changes in the plan?” He asked. I felt sick. Every topic, every subject, seemed to keep pointing back to what I desperately feared he wanted from me. Of me.
“I-I don’t know what you mean,” I said.
“Well if you’re opposed to everything I want, how about a kiss? Maybe you’ll change your mind. Opposed to a little kiss?” He asked. He was facing me now and there was a cement pillar behind me preventing any retreat. I wanted to scream but didn’t know how he’d react or what that would result in. I didn’t want to kiss him. But in these situations, it’s not about what I want.
“I-I well, maybe but—“ I never got to finish my sentence as his lips were on mine. Nothing about the kiss was good, although, since it was my first, I didn’t have much to go off of. His lips weren’t sweet and what I tasted was salty like sweat. He tried to force his tongue into my mouth but by some sheer force of will, I kept it from my mouth. When we pulled apart he was looking me over like he’d just had the first appetizer.
I felt sick. I felt nauseous like I was going to curl over and hurl at his feet. Maybe that would disgust him away or he’d get the message? Or he’d get pissed and take it out on me.
The sound of the doors to the parking garage opening was the most beautiful thing I’d heard all day.
At that moment another couple entered what had before been a painfully empty parking garage. They seemed engrossed in conversation, be it over the shows they were dressed in brightly colored outfits I didn’t recognize or something different, I didn’t know. Nor did I care. There were people other than the monster who stood beside me in the garage now. I wasn’t as alone. I thanked any god that had sent this mercy to me. Be it Diana, my namesake and goddess of virtue, Artemis, who Diana is based on, Baldur, the god of Purity, or the big, and according to my mother only God, God, Jesus, whoever. I didn’t know and I didn’t care who, but the blessing was my immediate escape.
“Look, I uh, I have a panel I need to get to,” I said, loud enough it echoed in the garage. The white-wigged male didn’t seem to break off his conversation with the girl he was talking to, but he glanced my way. Good. I started towards the doors to the convention hall and he tugged me back.
“Are you sure you have to go, I thought you said you had an hour?” He asked. He was catching my ruse but I wouldn’t let him win, not when this was the only time making a scene would get me anywhere.
“I forgot my friend wanted to go to some panel over a webcomic she likes. I’ll probably see you around, alright?” I said and the couple was staring now as I pulled away for a third and final time, finally breaking free of his vice. He followed me up the stairs where I immediately looked for a lone girl, an older one who might know what to say or do if need be. I found a girl who looked eighteen or early twenties and darted to her before he could ask questions.
“Please pretend to be my friend, he won’t leave me alone,” I whispered and she hid the startle in her eyes as she immediately looked up and smiled at me.
“Laugh, all you have to do is laugh and he’ll go away if he thinks this is true. Sit next to me.” She said back as she looked back at him but only like a curious con-goer looking at cosplays, then straight back at me as I faked a laugh and sat next to her. She was very pretty if a bit plain. She’d dyed her hair pink and it was cut short to about shoulder length. She was pale and didn’t have any freckles. Her eyebrows seemed well shaped and light brown. I don’t know who she was dressed up as but I remember her yellow sweater. I was too overwhelmed with what had happened to analyze much about this woman. This savior I had forced into heroism.
“How long has he…?” She asked as we both dared to glance as he’d turned away from me and walked off towards the other side of the convention hall.
“I-I don’t know. I felt trapped with him, he led me into the garage and he—“ my voice cut off as I choked on my own words, there were tears threatening to leave my eyes as I admitted what had happened. To me. The girl who had to ask out her own dates or not be asked at all and then get rejected half the time anyways. Me, the girl who cosplayed a guy. Me, who was in a long sleeved t-shirt, black jeans and a big brown coat. No matter what I did, how had I asked for this? Why was I the target?
“He forced me to kiss him,” I whispered. The girl’s eyes softened as she looked around.
“Do you want me to get security?” She asked and I shook my head.
“I want this to be over,” I said and she gently placed a hand on my shoulder. It was gentle and welcome, from a pink haired girl who knew what it was like for me to be alone and in that kind of position. Even if she’d never experienced it herself, she knew someone who had. We all do. Women either grow up to experience it ourselves or hear about our family, our friends and our classmates having experienced it. She knew.
We sat until I could breathe without a hitch in my throat. Until I felt like I could stand without my legs shaking. When I did, I thanked her. She was there to enjoy the con after all and I’d thrown a terrible realization on her shoulders. I felt bad for so many reasons. Shame laid heavy on my own shoulders.
When we departed from each other I went to the bathroom. It was crowded, but I found a sink near the back. I stared at myself in the grimy mirror. I looked no different. I hadn’t been wearing makeup, so no ruined lipstick. I didn’t look changed, the same face I had always had stared back at me. Yet, it felt different now. Like something had been taken from it. My eyes lost some of the glimmers within their beautiful hazel that had been there that morning. I scooped sink water into my face. There I washed out my mouth. Washed the remnants of him from my lips. Removed his DNA from my hands. I tried to wash away everything of him.
Some days it feels like it worked. Others, I can’t shake the nausea as I taste his saliva on my lips.
I was a victim. This was something I didn’t grasp or comprehend for a long time before I should have. It took a year later and a talk with my English teacher, his words of comfort and assurance to realize what happened. Sexual assault seemed like such a heavy term, but my teacher was right to tell me that my experience was covered by that term. If it wasn’t for him, I’d still be blaming myself for what happened. He further proved what I already knew, that not all men are corrupt.
“I want to ask you something…it’s… it’s private. I…” I kept fumbling on my words as the door to Mr. Podmore’s room closed, leaving us alone in the room. I kept avoiding his eye contact. I knew it was rude, but I’d preferred staring at the paintings of My Little Ponies and Undertale memes on the ceiling to looking at him while I approached the subject.
“Yes, what is it?” Mr. Podmore’s full attention was on me. I wasn’t quiet, nor was I far from a teacher’s pet, so staying after to talk wasn’t rare for me, but private matters was. I talked about writing, becoming a better writer with him. Not about myself.
“I… you said earlier in class that there’s a truth to writing. That we should use honesty in the arguments we make in our essays. If… if I wrote something I’ve never told anyone before in my essay, could I trust you to keep it private? I wouldn’t want it to be used as an example essay,” I said. Red flags flew throughout that entire question, I could see them processing in his mind.
“I…yes. I can definitely keep it private. But…” he paused as he saw the tears in my eyes. I never cried at school. I was so mad at myself for letting myself cry at school that I almost turned away. “Diana, I’m here if you need to talk. There’s also the counselor’s office, they’d be able to help.” He said. I’d considered it. But I was top of my class. I didn’t want the counselors to see a different side of me. Most likely because when you’re placed on a shelf like a trophy, you don’t want to tarnish yourself.
“It’s… I don’t want to talk to them. It’s just… a year ago I had a guy force me to kiss him. It’s stupid and I make it more of a big deal than it is, but it connects to Their Eyes Were Watching God and I thought it’d help to write about it. I don’t know. It’s stupid.” My hands trembled as I tried to move on from it all, I was going to turn around and leave.
Except his words stopped me.
“It’s not stupid. And it was wrong for any boy to force that from you.” He said. I took a deep breath and wiped some of my frustrated tears away I’m sure he noticed.
“But it was just a kiss,” I said, barely audible. I fell into a pattern of claiming this. I constantly made myself feel worse by repeating it over and over. It’s not sexual assault. Just a kiss. Part of me feared I was being melodramatic. It’s not like I was raped like so many women who had been in similar situations were. It’s not like he hurt me in any way, except mentally.
“If you didn’t want it, then it was assault. And I’m sorry it happened. I’m glad you’re comfortable enough to talk to me about it. If you include it in your writing then I’ll be sure to keep your writing private,” he said.
He kept his word.
I’ve shared my story as I saw fit. I’m not sure he knew how big of a part of it he was.
I ended up writing an essay centered around wanting to forget the past. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie says something along the lines of, “women forget what they don’t want to remember.” Something I disagree with to this day. Sure, I did my best to forget his hands on my back. I did my best to forget his breath so near mine. I did my best to forget the taste of his saliva. I tried to forget him. But I couldn’t.
It wasn’t my best essay. But it was raw and honest about what had happened. Something I hadn’t been honest about up until that point.
I was a mess of emotions, but there was something about writing the words “sexual assault” in my essay that made me understand the truth behind them.
I’m not sure he remembers my conversation with him. But I know he started my recovery.
Even with my English teachers help, there are still bad days. Days where I wonder if I deserved it. If there was something I did wrong, said improperly, should have changed. Some days I wonder if it was truly a non-consensual kiss because I never said no but, I also never said yes.
Then I remember telling him I was sixteen and I feel sick all over again.
Because he didn’t care.
I struggled for the longest time with the #MeToo movement. I wanted to support it, to shout and scream that I knew what it was like. I wanted to scream “Me Too.” But shame caused me to hide. Shame, because I didn’t want to be seen as a victim to the people I loved. Shame, because I didn’t want people to think I wanted attention from my story. Shame, because I felt guilty making a big deal over my sexual assault story.
That shame drove me to be one of the only people in my English class that struggled to advocate for the #MeToo movement. My English teacher, different from the one previously discussed, wanted to discuss it, wanted to know everyone’s opinion on it. I felt uncomfortable, I had too much of a stake in the movement. I was surprisingly quiet. When I spoke, I said something stupid and matching in my denial to reveal any of my past with the topic.
I still regret letting him take even my opinion on that topic from me.
It was what he did to me that made me have every right to say those two words.
Yet it was what he did to me that drove me into a corner and made me never want to share anything.
That will never happen again.
I haven’t posted Me Too on my Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media. But in writing this story, I’ve joined the movement in my own way.
My favorite picture from the movement is a picture of a girl holding a small MeToo sign and another girl raising the sign higher. I’ve met nothing but support from the people I’ve told my story. For that, I’ll forever be grateful.
I never told Anna what happened to me. To my knowledge, she has no idea that her gamer friend took me into a parking garage and took away my naivety. I’m not sure if he ever told her. Bragged about making out with a sixteen-year-old who didn’t know any better to his gamer friends. I’d imagine he doesn’t even know what an impact he had. What he did to me. I don’t know what I would do if I met him again. I don’t know if I could even talk to him. Even thinking about it makes my throat constrict.
That’s why I never told Anna. We stayed friends, I even went to a different convention with her in Detroit later that year, shared a room with her. But I never told her what happened. Part of me believes I didn’t want to ruin her relationship with him, or at the very least didn’t want to cause drama. Another part of me knows it’s because Anna seemed mild, seemed calm and collected, but I was afraid of what she might do to him if she knew. Or worse, I was afraid she wouldn’t care at all, that she would cast my story off as melodrama. Cast me as the antagonist in his story. So I didn’t tell her, and I buried the story for as long as I could manage until it continued to surface in my mind.
If I’m being honest, it took a lot of effort to write this piece. Both due to the emotions and raw pain it brought to the surface of my mind again. I had a physical response to writing some of this; my pulse would race, goosebumps would coat my arms, my eyes would water or my mouth go dry. But I also had trouble remembering certain details. Some of it was ingrained in my mind. Some of it impossible to forget. But I’d spent so much time burying the memory, content to never share it with anyone, that I had forgotten some of my own story. I got it back, as I remembered details slowly, like a drizzle of water leaking through a crack, until the entire picture had reformed.
I think I lost part of myself by reforming that picture. I cracked open a piece of me in acknowledging the memory once again. A piece I’ll never get back, a piece I’ll never be able to fix.
Or maybe he did that when he forced his lips on mine.
It took me years to get past the issues I had with physical contact and affection. I tried and failed at relationships between now and then, but 2019 was full of milestones. I was asked out by someone who built a relationship with me beforehand. We spent an entire semester together before he asked me out. And even after that, he was nothing but patient with me. Everything was by my acceptance. I offered my hand to be held. I gave him a kiss on the cheek goodnight. I grabbed the sides of his head and smiled before kissing him. It wasn’t long and drawn out, it was a kiss goodbye after he met my parents. But it was everything I ever could have hoped for. It sent the best kind of butterflies fluttering within my stomach. My lips felt like they were missing a piece as we went our separate ways and I loved the tingling he left lingering on them. I loved the feeling of his lips on mine. Loved his hands holding mine. Loved being next to him. Even when we broke up, I still looked back with content and fondness.
Everything in my relationship was as I chose it to be. And I loved it.
He didn’t take control of my body. He knew it wasn’t his to take. My body is my own and mine to control. I control it.
Something no man will ever have the right to take away again.
Diana Dalski is a senior in computer engineering with a biomedical concentration and a minor in creative writing.