Dear Lisa at Seventeen,
You have just locked yourself in your ex-boyfriend’s bathroom. You broke up two weeks ago. You turn on the faucet and let the hot water run and run. You just had sex on his parents’ bed, with your pants around your ankles and your hiking boots on. You are wearing your boots because it is winter and it was snowing when you left your house. You were still wearing your boots in bed, because you didn’t want to have sex. Your ex-boyfriend knew this. He didn’t care.
You stare at yourself in his mirror, steam already forming from the running faucet: your lips are raw, your hair is tangled, and your cheeks are blood red. You did like your ex-boyfriend in the past. You did let him have sex with you, lots of times—but not this time, and he did it anyway.
He did it anyway.
You try to justify what has happened. Maybe he didn’t understand that you really didn’t want to. You said no, but did you say it enough? Did you say it loudly enough? Did he even hear you? Maybe it’s okay that he did what he did because you guys had been together before. Yes, you admit to your reflection—maybe you didn’t have a right to say no, because you’d said yes so many times.
But, not this time, and the more he insisted, pulled at the button on your jeans, tugged at your shirt, the less you wanted to.
You didn’t want to.
You really didn’t want to.
So, how did this happen?
How did you end up on his parents’ bed with him on top of you, holding your arms down? How did you end up locked in his bathroom? Why are you even at his house?
Because you felt flattered that he wanted to see you even after you broke up.
This is what that got you.
You know you’re not crazy. Your ex-boyfriend did have sex with you without your permission. You think about your friend’s eyes when he walked in unannounced and found you two; the whites of them wide. He looked shocked, terrified standing in the doorway of the bedroom and watching. But, he didn’t say anything, even when your ex-boyfriend turned around and said, give us a minute.
Your friend just walked away. He didn’t help you. But he will call you later and ask if you are okay. You will be sitting in your bedroom in the dark, with your boots still on, but you will say yes, because you don’t know what else to say, because it is too painful to think otherwise. Your friend will say, It looked like you didn’t want to be there, but he will never say the word rape and he will never mention it again.
You look into the bathroom mirror and comb your fingers through the knots in your hair. You know your ex-boyfriend is outside smoking a cigarette. You know you will have to walk by him when you leave. That you will have to see him tomorrow when you go to school. That you will have to see him again and again in the hallways and in class and at parties and that you will not have the guts to look at him.
You will think about what he did to you every day. In the next months, you will skip school and run away from home and do anything you can to not think about it. Your parents will send you to a psychiatric ward because they won’t know what else to do with you, and you will never realize that this night might be why. You will never realize it until the thirty-five-year-old Lisa writes this letter. For this, Lisa, I am so sorry.
If I could be with you in that bathroom, I would hug your trembling body close and tell you that this was not your fault. That you had a right to say no. That he should have listened to you. That you shouldn’t be afraid to tell someone, even though I understand why you are. That your friend is a jerk for not telling someone, and not helping you. You deserved to be helped.
I would tell you that you will leave this ex-boyfriend far behind. You will go to college and make true friends and have so much fun and learn more than you could ever imagine. You will fill your head up with books and writing and anything your classes can teach you.
I would tell you that one day you will find a man who truly loves you. Who wants to kill this ex-boyfriend. You will learn that you are talented and smart and funny and worthy of respect. You will be a published author. You will be a wonderful wife and daughter and sister and friend.
You will finally become yourself.
You will finally be able to say, I said no.
Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University and is glad to finally have it be worth more than the paper it was printed on. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats. Pretty Amy is her first novel.
She was a lot like Amy when she was in high school.
She is still a lot like Amy.