It’s your idea to go as KISS for your first real Halloween party in your freshman year of high school, and of course nobody warns you that your three friends will back out of the costume at the last second. You won’t get their text until your mother drops you off a block away from the party’s actual location. A few weeks before, you’d begged her for the $19.95 you needed to punch plastic rhinestones up and down the legs of too-small black jeans; you have to wear these jeans. It starts to drizzle before you get to the door of the house—everything is always at some rich kid’s stone-sided house, and there are always rigid family photos taken against a cloudy studio backdrop hanging on the wall, and you can never find the bathroom because you’re not used to a house so big—and when you get inside, your thick face paint is dripping down your neck and all three of your friends are nurses in low-cut white smocks. No one offers you a drink, so you make your own, and at the end of the night, Jeremiah Lewis puts his arm around your waist, and his hand brushes against the studs on the seat of your jeans, and he smells like vodka and Sprite when he whispers to you that he always thought clowns were kind of hot.
Your first summer job is a lifeguarding gig at your neighborhood pool, and your first paycheck goes to buying a crop top, bright pink and snug and off-the-shoulder, the kind everyone’s wearing with high-waisted shorts. In front of the mirror, admiring the shock of pink against denim and the way your hair falls over your bare shoulders, you think you look more grown-up now, like a girl who could drive or vote or be in college. You wear the outfit all weekend, pausing to enjoy it every time you pass your reflection in a store window, the glass door at the smoothie place, the side of your parents’ freshly washed car. The following morning at work, an elderly man complains that his lounge chair is wet and hands you his square shammy towel: Be a dear, he says, smiling, and help me wipe this up. Quickly, you flatten the chair, mop the water off the resin-coated wicker, and prop the chair back up, skimming it for extra droplets. When you’re done, the man tells you that he likes that suit you wear, the two-piece red one with the plus-sign on the chest.
Ryan Daniels is in his first year of college, and it’s over winter break that he asks you out on a date, and of course you say yes because it’s your senior year of high school, and this is how you become somebody. He takes you to the Wendy’s drive-through and parks by the empty lake, so dark and so quiet you can’t believe there’s more city on the other side. You pinch your French fries daintily when you eat them, and you don’t dare dip them in ketchup, and everything feels like part of a movie, either romance or horror, you’re not quite sure. On the floor of the passenger’s side of Ryan’s car, you notice a tan-orange bust of Bob Ross, his green sprout-curls wilting away from his face; you love Bob Ross, you tell Ryan, giddy to make a connection on your mostly-quiet date. You say: you didn’t have much around the house growing up, but you always had paint. Ryan laughs and says he took the dumb thing from his lame little brother. Then he reclines your seat for you and stifles a French-fry burp before his weight covers yours. Wait, you say once, or maybe more than once, but he doesn’t hear you. The lights in the car click off.
In your first year of college, your roommate’s boyfriend makes fun of you when he realizes you have a sleeved blanket; it looks like a bathrobe, he gasps between laughs, or a tent. As the first semester passes, you spend most of your days curled up in it, in your lofted bed where you can always hear your neighbor’s alarm clock go off in the mornings. When your roommate asks if something is wrong, you tell her you’re just cold. But the more class you miss, the more you remember you’re wasting your loans, and the more you waste, the less you see the point of anything at all. One day, your roommate lets her boyfriend take a nap in the room while she goes to intramural soccer practice, and if everything didn’t feel so heavy, it would be hard to drift back to sleep with a near-stranger sprawled out under your roommate’s purple bedspread. It’s as if they’ve forgotten you’re in there, too, or they’ve decided it no longer matters. About an hour after you finally doze off again, a strange sound wakes you up, and you open your eyes to your roommate’s boyfriend holding a photo of something, the purple bedspread moving up and down along with his hand. You shut your eyes again and burrow your arms in your blanket sleeves and wait, your gut coiling. When he’s finished, your roommate’s boyfriend goes to the bathroom, and you open your eyes again. There’s a picture missing from your corkboard, the one of you and your cousin together at the lake the summer before.
Your therapist at the university health center asks if you’re happy, and you say yes. You tell her how your boyfriend took you out last night to your favorite restaurant with the spinach dip and steak frites. You tell her how he told you he loved you. Finally, you think, you’ve done enough for someone to love you. You don’t tell her that when you went back to your apartment, he did it again, the thing where he says he doesn’t expect sex but that it would be foolish for him to be in a relationship without it when there are so many girls who could give it to him. You don’t tell her that you lay there and hoped it would be quicker this time. You don’t tell her that when you got up afterward, you left a red stain behind, small and round like an egg. Your therapist raises her eyebrows, writes something down, says not to be afraid to share the whole story. You answer that you aren’t. When you get home, you pull the soiled sheets from the hamper and attack them with stain remover, scrubbing at the spot in the middle. This is the most energy you’ve had in weeks. You run the sheets through a rinse until the stain is gone, and looking at the newly clean fabric, you wonder how to tell what’s real. You’d know for sure, you decide, if you’d really been wronged.