My rape story makes me feel guilty. I will tell it as simply as I can.
I was an eighth grader, a “senior” at a magnet middle school for “gifted” children. In the way that children who display academic aptitude are plucked from their neighborhood schools, I was separated from mine, and my school-aged neighbors, and bussed less than three miles away from an increasingly rough neighborhood. I was born on Mack and Helen, on Detroit’s “Black Bottom,” a notorious and working poor neighborhood that had become synonymous with urban blight by the mid 20th century. My mother and stepfather moved a few inches further east, to the lower half of a two family flat on Eastlawn and Charlevoix, where as a kindergartner I was once pummeled by much older boys with snowballs stuffed with rocks.
There were 70’s gangs in my neighborhoods whose 50s style monikers belied their menace; The Bubble Gum Gang and the city-wide famous Errol Flynns. By six I preferred to read than go outside. “Outside” there was confrontation masked as “playing” mean talk meant to carry on the tradition of signifying, but these dozens had become a bit meaner, more misogynistic. As a post-toddler, I didn’t have the language to describe this misogyny, I knew only that being called a “yellow heifer” when all I wanted to do was learn to Double Dutch hurt my feelings. Then there was the uneasy way sexual attention from grown men made me feel. There was a group in particular, who posted up on the Vatican-style wall meant to protect the Polish Catholic church that served summer free lunches. When groups of tiny girls walked by they’d comment on a pair of nipples that wanted to sprout or what would a decade later be a round ass. If you weren’t lucky enough to be in a group larger than three, these twenty-something men would reach right out and “smooch” our booties, smooching being a euphemism for sexual harassment by pedophiles. The boys our age would watch and learn and chase us down on the playground and try and smooch our booties. Or drag us out of sight and dry hump us, or worse, tear our panties down and show their friends. I’d like to say this wasn’t most of the boys, but it was. It was the few boys who didn’t play that way, like my friend Junior who the other boys called a fag, and who I remember most.
There was an attempt, many attempts, to pin me down, to keep my legs from kicking, but I would not stop kicking. I kicked and I punched and I screamed and I spat and I squirmed.
Junior heroically got socked in the eye, dragging a much older girl (she was a second grader, we were still in Kindergarten) away from a group of boys. When he told the teacher, and then the principal, what happened, he was threatened so badly by the boys and men in our neighborhood he and his mom left our block. I was so sad the day his grandmother came and put eleven stuffed black garbage bags, containing all of their belongings, into her wood paneled station wagon. I avoided the playground from then on. Became a teacher’s pet. Spent lunch hour organizing and cleaning the room.
Then my mother and stepfather moved me and my brother a mile North, past Chandler Park Drive, to a neighborhood that was made affordable to my waitress mom and mechanic stepdad because of sudden white flight. My parents bought a gray brick three bedroom house with a pool from a white family running to Adrian, Michigan (which would in a decade become all Mexican--I imagine they ran again). Having an above ground pool that was 6 feet deep in the center was a huge deal. My brother and I leveraged our access to chlorinated water to make friends in our new neighborhood, which to us felt damn near upper middle class. I was a better swimmer than my brother and most of the boys he befriended, but it didn’t stop me from nearly drowning the time three boys held me underwater trying to remove my bikini top. At the time I remember being humiliated. When my top was finally removed, there wasn’t much to see. I was seven. Still, I internalized the attack and sat in our kitchen nook, watching the boys bully my brother in our own backyard, taking over our pool almost ten at a time. At night, I’d sneak into the pool and float on my back and count stars. I’d dream I was queen of my pool, but more importantly, that I alone had dominion over my body. I’d stare at the moon til my fingers pruned, but always, after the attack on my halter bikini, in a one-piece racer-style swimsuit. Or sometimes shorts and a long tee.
As in my old neighborhood, my fear of “outside” was widely understood as me being “stuck up” and “lightskinned”. When I did come out to play, few