Two Tales on a Common Theme

I felt silly today typing "me too," because duh.  Of course, me too.

A year ago this week, I won at The Moth with a rowdy story about rape culture. Everybody laughed because I invited everybody to laugh, because I was laughing, but did anyone get what I was really saying?

I typed "me too" for all of the people who did and for all of the people who didn't. I typed "me too" for you.

Typing "me too" doesn't change what happened. It won't change what is happening right now. Knowing I'm not the only one doesn't make it better (quite the opposite, actually). But I'm done being silent about it.

"Shut Up, Whore" is the Moth-winning story that qualified me to compete in The Inaugural Asheville Moth Grand Slam later this month.

And "So. Low. Key." is a story that had no home until now.

So. Low. Key.

I was a top student in high school until I went to tutor Tristan Bernard for that Spanish Lit test: National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, literary magazine contributor, Student Council officer, AIDS Awareness committee spearhead, Safe Rides volunteer for Student Against Drunk Driving...

Tristan and I hung out in the same group of friends since sixth grade, and when we were the only ones from our clique to end up in Sr. Gonzalez's class in eleventh grade, naturally we sat together. We did all of our dialogue activities together, practiced our vocab flash cards together, and goofed off together every chance we got. Without me there, he would have done fine, but I didn't settle for fine, so we both got A's.

The first time I ever saw a real, live, actual Christmas tree was at Tristan's house. I came from a Jewish family, and so did many of my friends, so none of us ever had a tree. Most of the non-Jewish people I knew had fake trees or miniature trees in pots, and in one case, a sorry fern made sorrier by us sticking tinsel in it, but Tristan and his parents had the real deal. They were from Switzerland or Belgium and spoke quickly in French or Dutch to each other the few times I got to meet them.

The Bernards kept tiny brass ashtrays by the door and encouraged each of us to take one with us as we walked in so that we could smoke anywhere we liked in the house even when we were as young as fourteen. I remember them as sophisticated but not snobbish people, exotic but not weird.

Once Tristan got his driver's license, his parents started going to Spain and Holland for a month at a time, and not once did Tristan abuse the privilege of being left alone. He never threw wild parties, always kept it low key. Just few people over at a time, just a bottle or two of wine from the cellar or a six-pack of imported beer.

Compared to my parents' house, the Bernards' home felt like a peaceful, magical place.

That March night, I parked in front of Tristan's house, let myself in, grabbed a tiny ashtray, and showed myself to Tristan's bedroom like I had done a hundred times before.

He was shirtless at the foot of his bed playing a video game. I'd had a crush on Tristan in middle school before he lost his chipmunk cheeks, but his appeal had long since worn off. Seeing his pimply shoulders and patchy body hair did nothing to rekindle the flame. Besides, I had a boyfriend in Staten Island whom I adored, and everybody knew that.

Tristan paused his game to kiss both of my cheeks. He offered me some of his beer, and I took it.

Heineken. My father's favorite.

He was the only sixteen year-old I knew who drank because he liked the taste. So. Low. Key.

I lit a cigarette and flipped through my notes for the exam. When he finished his game, he stood up, stretched, and let himself fall back down on the bed beside me.

Wanna fuck? he asked, staring at the ceiling.

You? No. I answered, and we both laughed. Can we study now?

And he said, In a minute. He pointed his dark eyes at me, grabbed at my skirt, and said, First, we're gonna fuck. and I said, No, we're not. 

 The next day at school, I asked Sr. Gonzalez to change my seat. He said No. and that was that. He sent me to my seat next to Tristan with a copy of the test. He didn't even look at me.

The day after that, I asked Sr. Gonzalez again, and again he said No. and again, that was that. He sent me back to my seat to run dialogues with Tristan, and I decided to stop going to Spanish Lit class.

I stopped hanging out with my friends and going to Student Council meetings, so after a couple of weeks, Mr. Maloney stopped me on the way out of pre-calc and asked me what was wrong. I told him I was having trouble in Spanish, and he said, You? No. and he laughed.

I was called down to the social worker's office later that day. Everything you say here is confidential, said Mr. Black, so I told him, Tristan Bernard raped me, and he asked, Are you sure? and I thought, Are you serious? but I said No. and I figured that was that.

But then I was called to the principal's office where my parents were already waiting. My mother looked small and ashamed, and she didn't say a word.

Mr. Burns started talking, but my father put his hand up and said, No. without taking his eyes off of me, and that was that. Before you go and ruin this boy's life, you tell me this, my father said through gritted teeth, did you see his member? 

I looked at Mr. Burns. Mr. Burns looked at his hands. Look at me. But I couldn't. Before you ruin—but I didn't—This. Boy's. Life. Don't worry about him, Dad, he'll still become a stockbroker, but I—Did. You. No, Dad. He did. See. Is what I saw really the issue here? His. Member.

And I said Eww. No. because, really. Who even calls it that?

My father apologized to Mr. Burns for this huge waste of time, pointed his white-blue eyes at me, and promised that I would be sorry if I ever said a word about this again.

And until now, I never did, and I'll be damned before I'm ever the least bit sorry.