Seventeen – was the age she lost her virginity. In Jeff’s truck, on a Sunday night, their second date – though she wasn’t sure whether she did lose her virginity then. Did she bleed? No. Was there full penetration? No. Perhaps she didn’t then.
More precisely it was two weeks later in her room at the Feally’s house, where she was staying for a year-long exchange program. The others hadn’t arrived yet. There was blood, indeed. But only a little later. Like menstrual blood it kept coming out, though less in volume. And she was hurting. Maybe the next one will feel better, she thought. She smoked a cigarette down at the barn afterwards, braving the cold of Ohio’s fall, making sure she kept the butt in her pocket to be disposed later at a safer place.
Thirteen was when she decided she would lose her virginity before married. Her cousin Julius was telling her brother about a pretty girl at school.
“But everyone knows she’s not a virgin,” Julius said, twirling a cigarette with his fingers.
“How would they know?” she chimed in.
“That she’s not a virgin. How do people know someone’s not a virgin?”
“Ah, you can tell,” he waved her off.
Her brother joined in: “Girls like that, you can tell.” They laughed.
Later she found out about the hymen from an article in her mom’s magazine. The article warned of tearing the hymen by riding a bike or being in an accident, and from using a tampon. What a tampon was she had no idea. She also found out that men can tell if a woman is no longer a virgin on their wedding night. She looked for its equivalent in men and couldn’t find it, so she asked her brother and Julius again. They had a good laugh. She found out there is no equivalent to a hymen in men. How unfair, she thought, and decided she would not be virgin for the sake of protest.
Eight was when she was touched by a boy for the first time. In her own bed in a house left empty for a reason that was then unknown to her. She woke up because she felt like someone was examining her, poking and probing. When she opened her eyes, she saw the houseboy smirking, and continued to do what he was doing. The house was so silent she could hear her own heart pounding. To this day she shrinks in repulsion and fear when a man – or a woman – do things to her that make the sensation of being poked and probed returned. And for the next two years until that houseboy left the house, she was his claimed prize, mostly early in the morning, a time when people were still asleep or busy doing their morning rituals.
Eighteen was when an older man propositioned her. On a summer holiday at home, when she took up a job teaching private English lessons. They had made an appointment to meet at his office at the City Hall. She walked into the huge office nervously in a black skirt and cream blazer a size too big that she borrowed from her sister. Coming in she had put on a red lipstick to make her look not so young. He looked embarrassed when his colleague showed her to his desk.
“Let’s do this somewhere else where we can eat and talk,” he said getting up. They got in his car and drove off to a quiet restaurant.
While dining he asked about her a lot. How come she speaks English so fluently? She told him language was always her passion and that she just came back from a year of exchange program in the U.S. She told him she would be back to the U.S. that fall for college.
“My English is not so bad in writing,” he said, “but I’m going to be promoted to the international cooperation department, which means I’ll have to communicate in English a lot with our counterparts.” She felt him examining her as she picked at the butter chicken gingerly, trying hard not to make her youth even more obvious.
“So you want to focus on conversation?”
“Yes,” he said. “But, the thing is, my office is too crowded and noisy and I couldn’t find a space there for our lessons. Can we do it somewhere quiet?”
“A hotel, maybe?”
She froze; her shock must have clearly been broadcasted that he quickly clarified himself: “I mean we’ll do it at the lobby, of course. In the beginning. Whatever makes you feel comfortable.”
She grew quiet the rest of the lunch and the drive back to his office, where she was to catch a taxi home. At a red light her courage rose.
“I think I will get out here. Thank you!” She slammed the door behind her and ran for the nearest taxi.
Nineteen was when she found herself walking a good distance home to get away from a man with a bad intention. She had been driving a Ford Taurus for a test drive with the owner of the car lot in the passenger seat. The car was in an excellent condition and it was just the right price for her budget. It was a quiet and smooth Saturday morning drive at the country side. His face was lined with deep creases and he spoke with a thick Southern drawl.
“You’re from Indowneesya, you said?” he asked her.
She nodded, keeping her eyes on the road.
“Where’d that be?”
She explained to him that it was in Asia. Asia, he knew, he said, he fought in the Vietnam War.
“I dated a Vietnamese girl,” he said.
She did not like where this was going.
“You’re a pretty little thing aint’cha? How old are you?”
She realized she had no idea where they were, whether the road would loop back to the town where the car lot was. She began to look for a driveway or somewhere she could turn around.
“I would like to go back,” she said.
“Ain’t no need to hurry,” he said. His hand moved and rested on her thigh. She was frozen like she was eleven years ago.
“I can give you a good discount. This be your first car?”
She shuddered as his hand moved up her thigh underneath her summer dress, then she braked so suddenly. From the corner of her eye, she saw his body rocking and his head whipping violently. That split second his wandering hand flew up in the air, hitting the dashboard or whatever else. She was frightened.
“What’d you do that for?” He shouted. “You coulda killed us!”
Unbelting herself, she opened the door and exited the car.
“Don’t go!” he said. “I’ll take you back to your car.”
“It’s OK,” she said. “It’s my friend’s car, she’ll get it later at the car lot.”
Twenty was when she slapped a guy for forcing himself on her while they were dancing in her house party.
“Cunt!” he said.
She threw the rest of her vodka orange on his face. “Get the fuck out of my apartment!”
“Fucking dick tease!” She heard him say as he walked in humiliation down the staircase with his friends. She felt good.
Twenty-one was when she kicked a guy in the groin for grabbing her butt while walking past her at a bar. She wore heavy wedges – platform shoes were what they called them then – and it occurred to her how satisfying it felt.
Twenty-eight was when she pushed a guy away in a religious press event at a mosque where the President was attending. Like all other journalists and invitees, she was wearing loose clothes and a headscarf to cover her hair.
“Don’t stand near this guy! He’s a grabber!” She shouted for everyone nearby to hear. The grabber looked elsewhere, feigning ignorance.
Twenty-nine was when she felt disappointed. A legislator, a member of the House of Representatives, made a pass at her, as her colleague, a male journalist looked on. He held her hand longer than was necessary as they shook hands after the interview. His other hand caressed her back and it was moving ever so dangerously down before she pulled herself away from him
“You just call me anytime, OK?” the politician said.
Outside, her male colleague expressed his disbelief at what he saw.
“Pfft,” she said, “if you only knew half of the things I’ve gone through.”
“Couldn’t you have done something?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I was actually too taken aback to think of what to do. What do you think I should’ve done?”
“Honestly,” he said,” I don’t know either. And would it make any difference? He’s a House Member.”
Yes, would it really make any difference, she thought. And what can she do anyway? Other than making sure she would never be in the same room alone with him again.
Read Devi’s essay how the death of a celebrity marks the passing of her youth and follow @dasmaran on Twitter.