For My Aunt Sarah ~ Midsummer’s Bloom

It was my intention to post this in April in honor of sexual Assault Awareness month. My Aunt who passed away in February, dedicated her life to this cause. She fought to protect those who could not protect themselves.

In the mid 70’s she began volunteering as a counselor and advocate for Seattle Rape Relief, one of the first crisis centers in the nation. Then in 1995, she founded Rape Trauma Services (www.rapetraumaservices.org) in San Mateo County, California, providing comprehensive victim services, expertise in trauma and healing, and violence prevention. Her work created change on local, state, national and international levels. In the state of California her advocacy was the catalyst for ensuring victims have a sexual assault counselor present during medical and legal procedures, they not be forced to report or testify, and be treated with dignity, respect and sensitivity. Her booklet, “You Can Heal From Rape,” a tool to help survivors in their healing, has become a guideline used by Crisis Centers throughout the country.

My Aunt sought to understand Human Cruelty on a deeper level. She hope for change and an end to violence. I dedicate this story to her memory and to her life’s work.

 For Sarah


Midsummer’s Bloom

With barely a jolt the 747 touched down smoothly on the runway of JFK airport. Arriving back in the United States felt like hazily waking up from a dream, half frozen. It was as if I was still suspended in airy delight from the past month in Sweden with Brigit’s family. It all seemed so surreal. I thought to pinch myself but that was just silly.

I was finally home — well close enough. The summer was winding to a close and we’d arrived back in the good old US of A.  Stepping off the plane still somewhat exhausted, as if I never caught up to begin with, I felt totally elated from both my time away and return. I could only smile. Soon I’d be in my parent’s arms. I was glad to be back– not that I’d admit it.

Brigit and I made our way through customs and out into the crowd of waiting faces. Brigit spotted them first standing off to the left. ”Over there” she indicated. My mother wrapped her arms around me.

“Mom. Enough already.” Holding on just a second too long she finally let go and threw her arm around Brigit’s shoulders. “So tell us all about your trip.”

Outside of customs we piled ourselves into Sassy, short for Sassafras. That’s what we called our Toyota van and headed up to Connecticut for my father’s college buddy reunion. They called it the cowshit festival, a tradition of chaos.

Of course they wanted all the details of our trip. And there was plenty of time on the drive. The last month Brigit and I had been in Sweden was wonderful. It proved to be one of the most magical times of my life. Our adventures had been plenty. But where to begin I wondered and what to share?

Brigit dove right in sharing about our trip to the beach and sunbathing topless. Of course I would have left that story out. It was the first and the last time I’d try that, due to burnt nipples. Despite this minor setback Brigit and I had investigated the entire countryside. I caught my first Pike, and worked on her grandparents’ egg farm manning the conveyor belt for the afternoon. We ate crawfish, each placing one of our tails upon a piece of buttered bread to honor of our host, her step-mom. We made homemade blueberry ice cream cake from wild blue berries we picked in the forest. I swear the birds sang back to us as we “whistled while we worked” Snow White and the Seven Dwarves style.

We silently collected the nine wildflowers necessary to place under our pillows on Midsummer’s Eve in hopes of dreaming of our future husbands. We then put flowers in our hair and did a mock modeling shoot all dolled up for one another. The flowers we carefully pressed in our sacred notebook. (The journal we pass back and forth to one another all year in school. Personal notes shared throughout the day. It holds all our deepest darkest secrets.)

We even had time to notice a few cute boys along the way other than her brothers from her Dad’s second marriage. But honestly they too were hot. I was just beginning to notice these things. Caring less about doing more pull ups, running faster and spitting a loogie further then the boys. I was beginning to change and I felt like I grew up a great deal over the past month away and began to let myself go to discover. I wondered if my new found worldly glow showed.

After nine hours we arrived at the Laribee’s and set up our tent outside the house. The sun had just begun to set and by the time we had finished the sky still clung to remnants of its crimson rays.

I dragged my tired body inside the house to a buffet that was set out for all of us. I was absolutely starving and exhausted as well. I did not even know where to begin with all this food. Slowly we all picked up our plates in assembly line fashion and began to make our way around the giant cherry wood dining table. I stacked my plate as high as I could with fried chicken, salad, fruit, and potatoes. I had the appetite of an army in the body of a twelve year old. I even had some space for bread. When the balancing began to become an obstacle we headed for the outdoors. The giant oak tree by the house made the perfect chair.

 The sun had disappeared. Now bluer than ever the August summer sky shone above and all the stars glistened brightly. I could see the moon begin to get up out of her bed of trees and mountaintops. The fireflies were still around taunting us to come out and play. Fireflies are fairies you know. And the crickets strung away like my grandfather’s melodious piano concertos. I was completely alive and free. When we were stuffed to completeness there was only one thing left to do which would top off this evening and our summer — take a swim. We put away our dishes and ran to the tent to get our swimsuits.

 This year had marked a turning point in a woman’s life for both Brigit and me. We had gotten our periods. Brigit was afraid to swim because she thought she would bleed in the water. She had just gotten hers so she was not as experienced as I was. I, the wiser one, informed her that she wouldn’t bleed in the water and would be fine as long as she put a pad in once she got out of the pool. Relieved, she agreed to come. We grabbed our towels and ran to the pool as fast as we possibly could.

 Never stopping, we threw our towels down in midair and cannonballed into the pool, displacing a great deal of the water. Shooting out of the water our laughter was cut into by the sounds of shouting poolside. There underneath the shadows of the trees on lawn chairs lay my cousin Peter and the Laribee’s son, Bobby. In the dark they had been completely hidden from the moonlight but I could still tell they were completely soaked.

I had a crush on Bobby since I could remember. He was sixteen now which seemed a much older man to my mere twelve years. He was tall, blonde and blue eyed. But then again so was I. When he stepped out into the light I immediately noticed his body. He was bigger, stronger. I watched as the moonlight glistened in all the tiny beads of water on his summer tan skin. He was more gorgeous than ever. But there was no use in drooling over him. Bobby never paid me any mind anyway.

“Sadly I am just a little girl to him.” I reminded myself. But I knew this time things were different. I had four extra inches and was no longer completely two-dimensional. Bobby stared at me with a strange glint in his eye. He told me how grown up I had become and how much I had changed. At the time it seemed like all the right words to a girl who yearned to escape childhood and feel like a woman. I was no longer being treated like the unattractive boy-hating tomboy I had always tried to be. It was now somehow different…strange.

As his commentary continued on my apparent maturing I grew uneasy. Peter and Bobby had an unsteady tilt to their walk and their words were somehow slurred. It was their never ending laughter and snickering, and stashed beer cans which clued me to the fact that they had been drinking and probably quite a bit. Even more nervous I told Brigit to stay with me.

“Don’t leave me alone with Bobby,” I said.

But despite my plea as soon as we got out of the pool she was off for the tent. When I told her to put a pad in once she was out of the water I had not meant immediately. So there I stood alone with Bobby. I hadn’t even noticed my cousin slip away but he was definitely nowhere in sight.

Bobby and I began to talk. I felt this was unavoidable. I didn’t want to look stupid if I just took off for no reason. Besides I hadn’t seen him for about three years. Bobby walked over by the shed and sat down on the grass. There I stood with my towel wrapped around my waist listening to every word that came out of his mouth. I don’t think I heard a thing. He asked me to sit down because he was tired of looking up at me. I plunked down next to him. Stretching out he displayed himself with the arrogance of a peacock. I had my legs tucked up into my chest and rocked a little.

How babyish, I thought. I still couldn’t hear any of his words, just a trance-like droning buzz. Scanning me from head to toe he smiled but never broke cadence in his conversation. There wasn’t even a pause as his hand hit my thigh other than my heart completely stopping. “Come on!” he said.

“But where?” I muttered.

“Just follow me, okay?” was his only reply.

He began to crawl through the tall wheat grass behind the shed. I wondered if I had shaken my head in response but I found myself following anyway. Suddenly the headlights of someone’s van shot over the grass and I instinctively dropped to my belly, as did Bobby. It was all fun and games in Hide-And-Go-Seek. The lights disappeared and we continued on our journey past some trees into a clearing on the other side. I think it was the neighbor’s property but I can’t be sure. “This is much better,” he said as he sat down. “We’ll be able to speak much better here.”

Taking my hand he pulled me down next to him and started talking again. Without hesitation he placed his hand on the inside of my thigh and began to rub my leg. It tickled so I had to laugh. All of a sudden I was on my back. He was on top of me kissing me with that awful lizard tongue. Short sharp bursts into my mouth felt like razors. His hands seemed to be everywhere and my suit lay around my ankles. My hands pinned to my sides. I was paralyzed, petrified, my screams, “Run, Get up, Bite” silent. Not a sound escaped my mouth and my body only twitched. He didn’t stop. He wasn’t going to stop. Hadn’t he heard me?

“I have to go” crept its way up past my teeth but went unnoticed. “I have to go Bobby. I have to go!” I repeated. There was no response. Like a parrot I kept chirping out my new learned line, “I have to go!”

He has to let me go, I thought, He just has to.

All of sudden he stood up. Still I did not move. I watched as if it was a movie as his hands went to the top button of his Levi’s and opened each button. My heart skipped a beat with every pop.

“Have you ever seen one of these?” flashed before my eyes as he smiled. He began to lower his jeans to his knees and complete panic took over.

It is now or never! raced through my mind.

I was on my feet and trying to hold myself together.

I muttered defiantly,” I have to go!” as if this time it had authority. It was no different to him. I don’t think he heard any of my cries. I turned to walk away with the tears welling up in my eyes. He grabbed onto my leg.

“Five more minutes,” he begged as though this was somehow negotiable.

“No I have to go!” I replied only to be countered with barter.

“Four minutes, three minutes, two minutes,” melted away with every “I have to go!” till I just cried out “NO!”

Then all of a sudden he let go of my leg, stood up, and said, “Fine, but you don’t know me,” and walked away through the trees.

There I stood with my arms over my boobs and my bathing suit as high as I had gotten it, my waist. I pulled up my straps and grabbed my towel.

“You don’t know me” kept ringing in my head. That’s absurd, I thought.  I wanted to scream, “I’ve known you for eight years you asshole!” But I knew I really didn’t know him at all. All my anger, frustration, and shame came pouring out of my eyes. Then with a sudden swiftness I wiped away my pain on my dirty towel, planted the determined nothing can hurt me look on my face and walked to the tent.

I crept inside and peeled off my suit, slid on my PJ’s and snuck into my sleeping bag. Brigit turned over and asked where I’d been. She was half asleep and quickly drifted away when I assured her I’d tell her in the morning. I spent the rest of the night listening all alone to the echo of the empty wind, the screaming crickets and waiting for the moon’s cold face to disappear.  The magic of midsummer was gone.

 

Epilogue:

Six years later they returned to Cowshit neither having seen one another since that fated night. Life goes on, each one grown and changed. But the night felt familiar, the same warm breeze carrying the sweet smell of childhood and the everlasting feeling of youth.

“Want to go for a walk out to the soccer field?” Bobby asked.

“Oh no, I’m not going to make that mistake again.” Deborah replied. “Don’t take me for the little naive girl I once was.” It was bad enough she had to see him again. And he seemed oblivious to it all or so he feigned. She doubted what his Ivy League education earned him.

The invitation denied, an apology of sorts passed between them. Deborah turned on her heals. “I’m not an idiot Bobby!” 

The next morning Bobby had already taken off, leaving his parent’s house and the weekend festivities in the rear view. She knew it was earlier than intended, Cowshit just beginning and he had just arrived the prior night. He’d some excuse about getting a jump on studying for his upcoming exams. But she knew he couldn’t rewrite history 8 years ago and find reconciliation in his actions.

“He left this for you.” His mother held out a faded blue t-shirt.

Really? she thought incredulous. He gets my innocence and I get a bloody t-shirt as a consolation price. Great….

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