Written By: Rebecca Laufer
Art By: Izzy Dickey
*Names have been changed*
“ugh why am i so ugly?” I text Emily.
“rebecca that’s not true at all. i don’t know who put that in your head, but it needs to get out.”
When I was in fifth grade, a boy named Matthew “asked me out” through a friend. Through said friend, I said yes. A mere week later, I found out that another boy named Derek liked me, and wanted to ask me out. So, I broke up with Matthew over text, and Derek asked me out through another friend. Again, I said yes. For Valentine’s Day a few days later, he gave me a homemade card that read, you’re awesome, you rock, along with an elephant shaped Silly Band. Ten-year-old me dated two boys in just a month, of course I thought I was pretty.
When I was twelve, my two best friends, Jennifer and Ella, had boyfriends. I didn’t. We all looked practically the same – short, big green/hazel eyes, dark brown hair with side-bangs, braces with lots of different colors; we even had the same narrow plastic-framed rectangular glasses that didn’t flatter anybody. The only difference was that I had acne, and used way too much concealer in hopes that nobody could see the red bumps on my face. That’s when I realized that boys don’t like girls with acne.
When I was thirteen, our friend Jackie introduced me to her brother Mike. I thought he was weird. He texted me nonstop, constantly telling me things like how pretty he thought I was or how much he loved me. It was an obsession. Infatuation.
Mike came to one of my softball games once, because Julia was on the other team. Apparently he never went to her games; only this one because I was there.
Sometime during the game, he walked up to my dad in the stands and said, “Mr. Laufer, you have a gorgeous daughter.”
My high school consisted of three middle schools meeting into one. When I started at fourteen, I knew different people from different cliques: the jocks, band geeks, wallflowers, the inbetweeners, just to name a few. I was constantly asking if they knew of anyone who had a crush on me. Three-hundred other people, at least one of them had to find me attractive, right?
It was February. I was fifteen, and I still hadn’t had my first kiss. It felt like everyone had done it by then, why not me?
I was hanging out with Mike at his house. While we’re playing on his PS4, I’m texting Emily about all my thoughts and fears. Ugh, I really want him to kiss me. I could just get over it with Mike. Emily was trying to talk me out of it, but I didn’t listen.
I couldn’t talk. “Mike…” I managed to get out of my mouth. I showed him my phone with my messages open. He understood.
“Follow me,” he said. He led me to his room, and closed the door.
We stood right in the middle of the floor, and he put his hands on my waist. “It’s okay, just take a deep breath. You’ll be okay.”
And with that, he pulled me in, and boom. It happened. I just stood there, not reacting to anything he was doing. My heart was beating out of my chest.
We were interrupted when his mom called us for dinner. I couldn’t walk straight, shivering with anxiety and worry. I thought this would ruin our friendship. I sat at the table, hardly eating anything.
When my mom came to pick me up, I was shaking. I could hardly hug Mike goodbye, let alone make eye contact with him. I didn’t talk to him for almost a month.
Later that March, I met a boy named Dylan while at Jenn’s house. Almost two feet taller than me and three years older, I immediately liked him. We had almost everything in common: favorite books, favorite bands, the same sense of humor. Except he was much more experienced than me. Sexually. It didn’t bother me at the time. I talked to him constantly for the next few days. Eventually, I found out he liked me too.
A couple weeks later, Jenn threw a party for her birthday. A few other people, myself and Dylan inclued, stayed the night. I found my spot on the couch and Dylan sat right next to me, almost on my lap. He kept adjusting himself to be closer to me, trying not to make it obvious. We all stayed up playing Cards Against Humanity. He would go to kick my leg, I’d kick mine back. He would turn and smile at me, I would smile back. By four in the morning, everyone except Dylan and me were asleep. We found the remote and fell asleep to a rogue episode of Doctor Who.
Two hours later, we were the first ones to wake up. He pulled me close, had me lay my head onto his shoulder, and put his arm around my neck. I looked up at him, and he leaned down to kiss me. Immediate tongue.
A bit later, he asked me, “Top or bottom?”
I paused, having no clue what he meant. “Top.”
He started to slide his hand up my shirt and under my bra right away. I couldn’t tell if I was okay with it, and I think I wanted him to stop. I was too afraid to tell him.
“Your heart is beating so fast. You’re so nervous,” Dylan whispered in my ear.
“Oh, you could tell?”
“It’s okay. Take a deep breath and relax.”
I let him feel me up until he realized I wasn’t comfortable or enjoying it. I let him feel me up.
“I’ll wait for you. Until you’re more comfortable,” Dylan whispered to me. We kept cuddling. Jenn woke up, saw us, and smiled.
The three of us hid what happened to everyone else. Jenn, Dylan, and his friend were whispering about me. I wanted to speak for myself, about my feelings. But I wasn’t able to.
Later that day, about two hours deep in history homework, my phone vibrated. I peeked at it, and saw a text from Dylan. Naturally, after this morning’s events, I was ecstatic.
“I’m sorry,” it read. “I don’t want to continue.”
I was heartbroken. “It’s alright, don’t worry about it,” I responded.
“Of course I’m going to worry. I lead you on. I shouldn’t have.”
“Really, don’t worry about it.”
All I remember after that is that I couldn’t concentrate on my homework. Every time I hung out with Jenn after that, I was asking her the same questions. Does Dylan still like me? Does he ask any questions about me? Is he thinking about me?
It was the same answers every time. “He still thinks you’re cute. He doesn’t want to wait for you. He wants more than you can do.”
Liar. He told me none of that was a problem.
A few months later around my sixteenth birthday, Jenn and I started to grow apart. She just stopped trying. With none of her wrongdoing, my clinical, minor depression became major. This usually comes with a nice helping of suicidal thoughts. Mine came with two or three.
On New Years Eve, I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital for a week for attempting suicide.
My first night in, I was curled up on a chair in the common room, turned away from everyone in the center. My hair was in a mess on top of my head, which was resting on my knees. Suddenly I heard a whisper.
“We’re not supposed to pass notes, shhh,” a girl said, handing me a piece of paper. It read, I know it sucks to be in here but just know it gets better! followed by some random social media accounts. P.S.: oh my gosh, you’re so pretty!
Later that April, Dylan reached out to me. We started talking more and more again. A couple days later, he picked me up from my house and drove me to his.
This time, he did more than stick his hand up my shirt. We almost had sex. I didn’t want to go that far yet, and he was okay with it.
He looked at my body and was in awe. I thought I was pretty. I thought my body was pretty.
After that, I sat on his lap at his computer and played a video game for an hour and a half. He dropped me off at home and kissed me goodbye.
The next time I went to his house, it actually happened. I had sex for the first time. He treated me well and made sure I was comfortable. After we finished, I sat in his lap, and we played a video game for an hour. He dropped me off back home and kissed me goodbye. I thought I was pretty. I thought my body was pretty.
Two times later, we had the house to ourselves. Everything was more intense. He didn’t treat me well or make sure I was comfortable. I remember him on top of me, only worrying about his needs and not my wants. I didn’t know how to tell him to stop.
I didn’t enjoy it that time. I only thought my body was pretty.
When we finished and cleaned up, he drove me home. He didn’t kiss me goodbye.
I haven’t seen him since.
The following January, when I was seventeen, I found out that a boy named Ethan had a crush on me. I knew him from the marching band and fencing team. So, he asked me out and we went out to dinner. We talked nonstop from six to eleven at night, and it really sealed the deal—I liked this kid, a lot.
A couple weeks later, while we were hanging out, we went for a walk and stopped at the beach. Being the child I am, I went on the swings. Ethan followed and I stopped swinging to be next to him, and boom, I kissed him first.
We dated for a year.
The following January, when I was eighteen, I was telling a kid named James, who lived in my dorm, that I was thinking of breaking up with Ethan. Later that night, he kissed me and tried to stick his hand down my pants.
The night I broke up with Ethan, I was in the (communal) bathroom washing my hands when James walked in. Without warning, he leaned me over the counter and pulled my pants down, trying to take advantage of a girl with a broken heart. I stopped him before anything else happened.
Almost every night following, I would get the classic, “hey u up?” text. If I was up, I complied. He would walk across the hall to my room, and sit on the bed. He started with feeling me up, complimenting my body and how it felt. Then he’d get a blowjob, catch his breath, tell me “Fuck, you’re good at that,” and leave. Every single time, I expected something in return, but never got it. Eventually I stopped responding to his texts, and I haven’t seen him since.
The following January, when I was nineteen, I met a boy named Sean who lived next door. We clicked immediately. We talked all the time, played ping-pong in the common room, and pulled all-nighters playing Mario Kart in one of our rooms.
Like a middle schooler, I texted our mutual friends and asked if Sean liked anyone (or me, preferably). I even asked my brother if there were any signs I should look for. None of them were much help.
One of our Mario Kart adventures ended around midnight. We were sitting on my bed, and Sean didn’t want to leave, nor did I want him to. We were staring at each other for what seemed like hours. I was picking at my cuticles—it’s a habit I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. He put his hand on mine in a “you need to stop!” way, but didn’t move it. He ran his thumb back and forth on my knuckles, and I let him.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked.
“Probably.” I said back.
“I don’t want to make the wrong move.”
“Well, we’ve just been looking at each other for a while, and you haven’t really moved your hand.”
“Yeah, we’re definitely thinking the same thing.”
Then, as you may imagine, he leaned in and kissed me. No tongue, no hands down my pants or up my shirt, just my back and knee. We leaned back, both smiling.
We talked more about how we were thinking the same things, that we liked each other, but didn’t want to ruin anything, that there were a lot of moments where we wanted to make a move but chickened out, all that fun stuff. He ended up staying the night.
A couple weeks later, we decided to watch a movie; the very romantic The Mighty Ducks. He leaned back on my pillow and gently pulled me towards him, and we just laid next to each other.
It was 1:30 in the morning when the movie finished, so I insisted he sleep in my room. He suddenly rolled on top of me and we started to make out. Some clothes came off—my shirt, his shirt, his pants, my pants.
When he took off my bra, he stared at my chest with what looked like awe. I thought my body was pretty. We continued and finished; he didn’t make me feel like I did with Dylan or James.
About a week later, I was hanging out in his room – I was lying in his bed and he was sitting on the floor. My hand was hanging off the side, so he just reached over and grabbed it. Wow, cute, romantic. It got closer to midnight and we were obviously pretty tired. He didn’t invite me to stay the night, he only texted me after I left saying he didn’t want to ask his roommate at the last minute. Makes sense, but it was still off-putting.
That was the last time he grabbed my hand, the last time we kissed, the only time we had sex. If I ever was picking at my cuticles, he wouldn’t grab my hand to stop.
A few weeks later, we were eating breakfast in the dining hall. A girl walked up to him, said hello, then asked,
“Is this your girlfriend?”
“No, just a friend,” he says back.
“Oh, all you said about her was that she had glasses.”
There was more conversation between them, but I didn’t bother listening. When she left, I said to Sean,
“I didn’t know you were dating anyone, why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s very new.”
“Were you dating her when we hooked up?”
“No, don’t worry. I would never do that.”
“Good, I wouldn’t have either if I knew. Who is it?”
“Amanda!” a girl I knew he was friends with.
“Oh,” I said, trying to seem happy for him.
I was telling everyone I was close with about this situation with Sean. Everyone thought he still had feelings for me- it was why he didn’t tell me about Amanda. I wasn’t sure how to respond to them, how to express how I felt. I thought I finally found someone decent to me, but again, I was wrong.
When I was ten, I was a player. I dated Matthew and Derek in a span of a few weeks. Jennifer and Ella made me feel ugly. Worthless.
Mike is one of my best friends. He made me feel good about myself again. But then Dylan came along. He made me feel disgusting. Used. Assaulted.
That girl in the hospital? Wonderful. She saw me at my worst, and still thought I was pretty. So did Ethan. He was my first serious boyfriend and made me feel loved.
Then James? He used a girl with a broken heart. Used me for sex, his own gain. I thought he’d be good and that something could come out of it. I was wrong.
Same with Sean. My depression at the time was bad. It was like he was taking advantage of a girl with low self esteem and wanted attention from just somebody.
What happened between fifth grade and now? I let other people control how I feel about myself. I let boys control how I feel about myself. How dare I do that to ten-year-old me? She was on top of the world. Felt invincible.
I need to be like ten-year-old-me again. We all need to.