To celebrate Storytelling Month, I’m going to tell you at least one story per week in February. These are all true stories.
I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before. Maybe I have and I’ve just reached that stage of perpetual awesomeness where my memory of stories is like that thing that things get out of. A prison or a sieve or a colander or politics or whatever.
Part of the reason for that is that I can’t actually be certain whether it’s fiction or fact. When I look back at the whole thing with my remembery, things are hazy. Flash-bulb, like when you dangle too far into your cups at a hootenanny and your only memories of the evening come in postcard-like flashes because probably your blinks took several seconds each. Like dancers in a strobe. Like headlights on the highway.
I would have been in grade four or five. Maybe grade six. I was around ten or eleven years old and my neighbourhood school had rapidly declining registrations. It was …it *is* a gorgeous old school, built in 1924, I think. It’s a Band School now, but at the time it was a public school. I remember the dust-and-chalk scent of the classrooms, the sound of runners squeaking in the halls, and the way the sun burst through the walls of windows in each class.
The kids I went to school with had been attending this school with me since Kindgergarten, for the most part. Maybe one new kid here and there, but not many. My neighbourhood was in an older part of the city, where there were three elementary schools (two public and one Catholic) in a ten-block area, all on the same street. The point here is that I knew everyone in my school.
When you only have twenty kids in your age range (and split-grade classrooms), you often go to every birthday party that rolls around. It’s a bit like living in residence at University really, or in a small town; when there’s a party, everyone goes. There was a birthday party – a slumber party – and I’d been invited, and my mother didn’t want me to go. She couldn’t really articulate why, but in retrospect, I think I understand. All she could tell me was that she didn’t know the family very well. Didn’t know the parents at all. She was nervous. She said I could go to the party but had to come home before the sleepover started.
I didn’t listen.
I went for the party and after hotdogs and cake I phoned home and asked if I could stay over. Mum said she wanted me home, but I begged and pleaded and wore her down in the way that only eleven year olds can do. She knew where the house was, she knew the phone number, she knew some of the other kids who were there. I didn’t tell her that some of the girls who’d been to the party had gone home. She brought over some pyjamas and a change of clothes, a sleeping bag and a pillow. She told me to be home first thing in the morning. Before noon.
All of us were down in the basement, flopped all over the floor like a litter of puppies. Some girls had sleeping bags, but most had been given some blankets and pillows to sleep on air mattresses at the foot of the stairs. I was curled up on a foam mattress a little way away, listening to whispers and giggles and staring into the darkness watching shapes form and reform as my retinas did whatever magic thing retinas do when the lights are out.
I wish I could remember more details. What the house looked like. Who was there. What time of year it was. But I can’t.
At some point when the whispers and giggles had turned into deep breathing and light snores, I heard something. Someone was coming downstairs. I don’t remember exactly, but I think my birthday friends had older brothers and sisters or uncles or family friends…someone was coming down the stairs. I remember a sliver of light as the door to the upstairs opened. I remember the sound of unsteady footfalls on the stairs. I remember the vague outline of someone walking past the foot of the mass of sleeping girls.
I remember the weight of someone on top of me. I remember pain. I remember, vaguely, at least I think I remember, being told to stay quiet. I remember being completely disoriented, having trouble walking the next day. I remember going home the next day wearing panties that weren’t my own. I remember Mum asking me where I’d got them, and I didn’t have an answer. I don’t know what else I knew then, when I was eleven years old.
That was the last time I ever went to that house, though. I didn’t even talk to the girls who’d invited me to their party very much after that.
Although I still don’t know what exactly happened in that basement, I think I was raped.
It’s neither here nor there now. I don’t remember it, so ultimately it might have all been something that never happened. The only thing I know is that I came home the next day in someone else’s panties and it hurt to walk. It doesn’t affect me. I don’t have PTSD. I’m not a victim. I don’t even really ever think about it. I only tell this story now because not all stories are good ones. But all stories are important.