Otis was 6'3" and 230 pounds easy, and when he slapped me — a swift, backhanded strike — his ring scraped the skin off my right cheek. He raised his arm for a second blow and I saw my blood drip down his wrist.
In the space of one breath I went from half drunk to stone-cold sober. I threw myself over the side of the bed, scrambling for purchase on the too-soft mattress, but he held tight to my hair — long and wild in those days — and dragged me back.
“Don’t you know I will kill you?” he grunted against my ear. Not winded or even angry. Just aroused.
The words bounced around my brain as I tried to make sense of them. I had gotten in his car and come to his house wearing my shortest skirt; I’d been drinking with him and kissing him; I had walked into his bedroom of my own accord and climbed on his bed. And then what happened? He was yanking on my clothes, he was pulling on my hair and biting my lips. He wasn’t sweet or romantic or sexy. He wasn’t what I expected at all.
And I said no, dammit. I changed my mind, I said.
Let me go.
He shoved my head against the wall, hard, and pain shot down my arm. But this time I didn’t cry out. This time I didn’t move or flail. This time a calm, icy glaze settled over me, a white frost like what appeared on my car on those mornings before full-on winter.
Don’t you know I will kill you?
Words surged up out of my gut, out of my cells, and I clamped my mouth shut to hold them inside.
You’re going to have to.
At 19, I was a popular, experienced dater. I was pretty and athletic, and I’d learned to camouflage my brainy tendencies with tequila shots and judicious use of the word “fuck.”
Like all my friends, I knew a boy’s behavior was my responsibility.
“A boy who doesn’t hear ‘no’ is a boy who wasn’t told ‘no,’” our mothers said. A “no” delivered with a smile or a hair flip or a shoulder squeeze was not a “no.” A “no” while eating a dinner he paid for was not a “no” but a “try harder” or an “ask me again.” A girl showing too much cleavage was saying…