This is a random story from college I remembered again a couple days ago I felt like sharing.
As I’ve stated previously on this blog, growing up I always had this base understanding in the back of my head that I wasn’t gorgeous. I wasn’t hideous by any means, but I was awkward, a bit pre-pubescent looking until I hit 21, and made terrible fashion choices. When people would describe me, I’d get identifiers like “cute” or “quirky” or “kind,” which always felt like coded was of avoiding actively talking about my physical appearance.
Perhaps it was going to an all-girls high school that was generally uplifting, but I didn’t have a terrible self-image (beyond some long standing body dysmorphia) until I went to college. I hadn’t been allowed to date in high school and quite honestly, didn’t know many people I could have dated. I wasn’t yet comfortable in my sexuality and was desperate for any kind of attention I could receive.
Desperate is an important word here.
My freshman year, the concept of making out with people at parties was not only enticing, it was rebellious in my mind. Up until around the age of 20 I would kiss pretty much anyone who would allow me to come close. My floor freshman year in the dorms was…complicated, to say the least. There was drama on top of drama that seemed to multiply daily. Nevertheless though, the girl’s Writing Floor and the downstairs boy’s Writing Floor spent a lot of time together outside of class.
There was a boy from the downstairs floor I thought was cute and who was generally kind to everyone. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Steve. Steve had the look of a guy from a Disney live action teen show: perfectly styled hair, hipster clothes that veered more on the side of theater-kid-chic, and big dreamy eyes. He was also relatively gangly (which has always been my type). A lot of the girls on my floor either found him cute or were actively hoping to hook up with him. He had a habit of getting drunk and wandering the halls of the boy's and girl's floor hoping to find someone to make out with. The entire ritual had a high school feel to it, but being someone who hadn’t experienced anything on this level, I was interested.
I was understandably aware that I wasn’t the kind of girl he would be after. To describe 18 year old me as awkward would be a drastic understatement, both in action and dress. But a couple girls knew that I found him cute so one night when someone came up to me and told me Steve was looking for me, I thought it was a prank. “You’re messing with me,” I said with a snort. I was in a causal tee, sweatpants, and was barefoot at the time. Still though I went downstairs and found him standing in the middle of the hallway. I could tell he was tipsy, in the way that someone is just as a party gets going rather than a slosh-fest end of night look. Now, it’s important to note, we were Facebook friends and had hung out a couple times, but only in larger groups and never in a one-on-one context.
“Hey, wanna come here with me?” he said, motioning to the bathroom with his head. I was rather bewildered by the entire experience, but I nodded my head yes. He took me into the boy’s bathroom and started kissing me rather aggressively. I remember the smell of Captain Morgan on his breath, that almost nauseatingly sweet smell that doesn’t go away.
No one had ever kissed me like this, and it was intoxicating. After about ten minutes he stopped suddenly as he heard noises outside. It was getting later and people were starting to hang out in the hallways for entertainment. He peeled away from me quickly, stuck his head outside, and came back over near me. I realized then that he hadn’t looked me in the eye this entire time. He was looking over my head at the tiled wall, thinking. Running his hands through his hair, he turned to me.
“Hey so, here’s what’s going to happen,” he said looking around the entire time. “I’m going to leave and hang out outside, and you,” he reached out and grabbed my shoulders and pushed me back into a bathroom stall behind us. “You’re going to stay in this stall for, say, five minutes, and then you’ll go upstairs. Just don’t…don’t tell anyone about this, okay? This will just be our little secret.”
Smiling a half, pity smile, he closed the door of the stall he’d put me in and instructed me to lock it. He left after straightening his clothes. The last handful of minutes had happened so quick I hadn’t had a chance to gather what had transpired. I remember hearing the swinging door close and trying to feel confident. I told myself, “Holy shit, Molly, I can’t believe that just happened to you. You’re pretty lucky.” I tried to stay positive. This was cool, right?
The sudden realization hit me that I was barefoot in the boy’s bathroom. I still remember the feeling of the cold, dirty tile underneath my toes. Then my face was wet and I didn’t know why. I had tears on my face but I wasn’t actively crying. That feeling of shame, that dense blanket of shame covered me. I had a knot in my stomach.
He didn’t want to be seen with me. When he realized someone could potentially walk in on us, he suddenly wanted nothing to do with me. I had seen him flirt with other girls from the floor and lead them off seductively. Not once had I seen him organize alternative escape routes to avoid being seen together. He’d put me in this bathroom stall to wait, wait until it was okay to leave, wait until it had been long enough that no one would have possibly guessed I had kissed Steve. Wait until he could protect his dignity by not being associated with Molly.
I think he thought I hated myself enough to listen to him, not to tell anyone as a courtesy to him. He was mostly right; I told a couple friends but no one else. When I went back upstairs to the girl’s floor, I tried to play it off as a fun, silly thing. I pretended I was okay with what had happened instead of feeling like used. It was in that moment, back upstairs sitting in the hall on the Writer’s Floor that I felt ugly for the first time. I mentally assessed my short, awkward haircut, my bare feet, and my boxy Hawkeye t-shirt. I had a fading purple streak in my hair that I hadn’t dyed correctly.
It was the last time I remember I let someone I was attracted to make me feel unworthy, at least in the sense of my beauty. That incident stayed with me for a long time, but it served as an important turning point for me not to let my then ever-present desperation supersede my self-worth. I was worth more than that.
I realized a few days later that I had forgotten to mention to him that I had mono (I had shared cake a month previously with someone who had it). In the midst of a soon followed holiday break, someone let me know he had also gotten mono. I apologized profusely to him on Facebook and told other people I felt terrible that I’d forgotten to tell him beforehand.
In truth, I didn’t feel so bad after all.