April 4, 2016 by The Citron Review
by Gwen Beatty
The first thing I ever did wrong was kiss a boy and the second was give a blowjob. Sixteen, Second of July, my best friend’s older brother, empty house, Freaks and Geeks episode, aptly titled “Tests and Breasts,” on TV with surround sound, persuasion from a boy in the middle of a long line of men who would control me under the guise of “protection.”
I was scared into salvation at eight years old by a man who told me I would be on fire and eaten alive by bugs, alone, in the dark, for eternity. Ten years later, a different version of the same man would encourage me to marry my abuser. A different version of the same man would compare the loss of my virginity to chewed gum. In a fundamentalist Christian church, you’re always being “protected” by men who scare you.
I wrote in the margins of my bible because I liked the way my handwriting looked holding hands with the typeface. My words and God’s.
“I think” started early. It was my only defense against my imperfection. “I think” was a guard against accidental lie telling, a sin I might forget to ask Jesus forgiveness for. Accidental hell. “I think” crept up in my speech and crawled over every page of my journals in tiny print behind each sentence. Religiously.
My relationship with blowjobs began this way: they were an act of defense.
In high school, blowjobs became my settling act with boys because I was a good girl. I wasn’t going to have sex with anybody. I needed to offer a consolation prize.
In the bathroom of the bar I work at, someone recently wrote, “Gwen Beatty blew me” on the wall. A friend of mine called, said, “Someone wrote a horrible thing about you in the bathroom. Do you want me to erase it?”
And I said no because it was probably true.
Aren’t I just a textbook case of a church girl gone bad?
Truth was important, but bible stories were supposedly true and didn’t sit right in my bones. In fifth grade, I read a historical fiction novel about a thirteen-year-old girl who spearheads the mutiny of a ship, and goddamn if I didn’t feel more connected to her than I’d ever felt to Jesus Christ.
Later, I’d start my own mutiny. I’d cut the “I think,” toss in a few blowjobs, learn to control the stories men told about me.
A blowjob was a plea for normalcy. They’d say, “She didn’t let me fuck her, but she gave great head.” A desperate hope they wouldn’t sniff out the queer parts of me. To not take things further, theft of the lust that drove them. A cork.
I felt powerful. I mean, suck a dick once in a while! But people started to notice. I’d be disarmed in public by a stranger with a flippant joke. Boys pursued me, and sometimes much older men, a boss once. I was tossed from boy to boy. People swapped stories, were predators. They snagged my weapon.
In the mutiny story, men surround the girl on the ship, all telling her what to do. She is inexperienced, confused. She has no tools to combat the violence she experiences. At the end of the book she runs away.
A few of the men in my line of protectors kicked me out of bible college for giving a blowjob I didn’t want to give. I remember being called a “harlot.” They listened to the boy as he told them how I seduced him, how I forced him to sin. This was when I ran.
Being a whore felt better than being a good girl. That’s the thing about having your self-worth tied into to a god so separate from yourself. It is so easily cut from you; all it takes is a sin or two. Suddenly I had nothing to lose. I knew that there was no forgiveness big enough for blowjobs. Chewed gum.
This is when I started sleeping with boys who hit me and snorting free bath salts from the internet and getting tattoos from strangers at parties. I was so sure I wasn’t savable, I got to explore the yawning darkness inside of me that I’d been too afraid of before. The truth didn’t matter anymore so I stopped telling it. I kissed lots of girls and figured out that I could love them. I masturbated. Like, holy shit, I’m 18 and masturbating for the first time, you know? I’m listening to Black Sabbath and drinking cheap wine from a box and reading books about sex work and falling in love on the internet and realizing some of the broken parts in me are the same broken parts in other people.
I read an article once that said memories of events are memories of the memory. The more a memory is recalled, the further it drifts from the truth. Maybe the memories that preoccupy me have hardly a shred left to them. Maybe “I think” is beginning and end, the whole of the thing.
At thirteen, I was starting to have a mutiny on my hands and I needed someone to tell me that story. Stories are truer with a lie or two. Fiction has no room for “I think” and the strength of the story comes from how it feels to be human.
So, here’s the story: I was nineteen in a car with the friend who picked me up from the hotel where a different version of the same man raped me and I said, “I think I got raped.” Or, at least, I think that’s what I said. It’s what I remember. And doesn’t it sound true?
The truth of the story is that I got raped. The lie is that I always thought the curtains were green, but fuck if I know what color they were.
Gwen Beatty is a sorority dropout and cry-baby from Iowa.