“what you did was unforgivable,” Kevin said, a smile on his lips.

we were sitting in the backyard of hopeful, college months away, summer dripping down our backs, it was a graduation party, I don’t remember who’s. when we were younger, I called Kevin the smile boy. i’m sure you know the kind, people who have a grin permanent, no matter the mood or gravity of conversation. I had a crush on him in middle school, I thought his smiles were endearing. he was one of the whole ones, a smart and safe boy who was well-liked and good at some sport, I don’t remember which. so it took me a moment for my heart to clutch, for shame to swap with sangria, for me to search for a handgun in my handbag. I was too fooled by his smile.

“do you really believe that?” I asked. here, now, when time has passed and you were not in that bed and how dare you do this now, when real life is about to hand me an oxygen mask and teach me to breathe for the first time since high school ripped my lungs from my chest? I don’t remember how he responded. Just the stretch of his good dental insurance across his face.

Unforgivable, to Kevin, was having sex with someone older than me, off-limits because he was a friend’s sibling, some invisible law determined by the privilege of xy chromosomes and punishment pornography. I do not doubt the evil in the boy’s locker room, the menace of puberty, the toxic in the pressure of that first beer chug, the things your father winked at you, the history of violence awaiting you in the delivery room, all masked behind a smile called charming.

How do we protect boys from a hazing that starts as soon as a scalpel is taken to their newness, demanding pain but expecting silence. When will we teach men to cry?

I remember that party being the first time I felt safe amongst my peers. Thrilled that the worst of it was behind me, not entirely forgotten but stacked somewhere underneath our acceptance letters. And besides, they seemed to shrug, you’re a fun person. It was a group that I almost fit in with, the part of me that could have done my homework, waited to have sex, refused that first vodka at thirteen. planned for college, stayed in to watch movies on the weekends instead of sneaking into the city, left my hair curly, stayed with my high school sweetheart.

But I didn’t do my homework because I was afraid of my own potential, and I had sex before I was ready because I thought it was the second step after I love you, I drank because I thought my mother’s prison bars might dissolve with alcohol, didn’t think about college because I didn’t know I could be an artist, couldn’t stay in because I had found the jail keys, straightened my hair because being the pretty girl was easier than anything else, and I broke up with my high-school sweetheart because we had sex too early and no one taught me how to live inside the complexity of discomfort so I decided the third step after I love you was to take it all back.

I raged wreak and havoc inside adolescence’s turbulence, my huge and wild heart without direction or understanding, and my curiosity for bad made me believe I was. And then I got so drunk I couldn’t see and woke up with a man inside my body and because things like this happen to bad girls I told myself, and everyone else, that I liked it.

Unforgivable, he said.
Yes, Kevin. You are.