At ten years old my social circle extended no further than my immediate family, a few classmates, and the small group of kids sharing the same path on the way to and from school. This tiny band of side-walk travelers included my younger brother John, my best friend Jamie Thompson, Beverly Watts (the tallest girl in the class) and Cathy O’Neil. Cathy O’Neil was the most perfect combination of blonde curls, ribbons, ankle socks and black patent leather shoes.
I had met her the previous year in the fifth grade and we had hung out a few times during summer camp. By the time we were half way through the sixth grade, I was completely smitten. Running to catch up with her on the way to school, lingering until she appeared at the top of the street, I had it bad.
I knew I liked her. I really, really liked her. But the word love never occurred to me. I loved Batman and Lost in Space, I mean who didn’t. I loved my Mom, but that was different, using the same word to describe with my feelings towards Cathy would just be creepy. No, I needed another word. I wanted to tell Cathy how I felt about her and I needed to express myself in such a way she would understand the depth of my passion. I was determined to let her know how I felt before the end of the school year. Seventh grade meant changing schools and perhaps, well who could tell what might happen during the long months of summer vacation.
The days of spring were coming to a close. I was running out of time so I finally decided to tell Cathy just how I felt. We were walking home as usual, and as we approached the corner where our paths diverged, she turned to raise her hand in a parting wave. I gathered my courage and hurrying to her I leaned in and said in a quiet voice the words sure to send quivers through the spine of any female. She stood there looking at me. Her eyes widened as my heart raced with anticipation. Her face blushed. She turned quickly and ran away.
Well, clearly I had made an impression. Of course she was embarrassed. She’d probably never experienced such a sophisticated suitor. I was proud of myself. I walked the rest of the way home confident tomorrow she would be more composed and ready to share similar feelings towards me.
The next day Cathy O’Neil was not in school. How disappointing. I hoped she wasn’t ill. But I’d see her tomorrow or the next day. Class dragged on like the day before Christmas, but at last the final bell rang. We all grabbed our books and stuffed them into our desks and tumbled out of our seats in the mad dash for the door. Our teacher, Miss Richards, called me back. “Robert, I need to have a word with you!” I was in such good spirits, being held after school couldn’t darken my mood.
She sat at her desk considering how to proceed. “Do you know what the word rape means?”
I don’t recall the exact circumstances as to when I first heard the term “statutory rape”, probably an over-heard adult conversation quickly terminated upon my entering the room. Or maybe I heard a sound bite from a T.V. news broadcast. But regardless of the method of my exposure, the extent of my comprehension extended only to a vague idea that rape had something to do with sex, and all I knew about sex was first there was kissing, moaning possibly, and a few minutes later, a cigarette. What statues had to do with it all was clearly beyond me. I certainly didn’t understand rape is to sex what strangulation is to having a sore throat. All I really knew was I had stumbled upon a shiny new word to place in the treasure chest of my lexicon until there arose an inappropriate time to use it.
So to the amazement of us both, I had no satisfactory response to her straight forward question. She followed with another.
“Did you tell Cathy O’Neil that you would like to rape her?” she insisted. I felt my face begin to redden. I was speechless and I stood there staring at her. My look of shock and embarrassment at the revelation my affection toward Cathy O’Neil gave her all the answer she required. She sighed; relieved to know she was dealing with a mere idiot and not a sexual deviant.
At her instruction, I read the definition of rape in the dictionary. I mouthed the words slowly and in silence. I still didn’t quite understand it all, and it didn’t seem like the right time to be asking questions but, Oh my God. Why hadn’t I thought to look up the word before? I felt small and insignificant and horrified at what I had said to the prettiest girl in the world.
“But I really like Cathy.” I finally managed.
She gave me a “You poor dumb bastard?” kind of look.
My world was shattered. The day before I had been a boy enthralled by an innocent affection towards a girl I truly cared for. I had hopes of a great summer spent in each other’s company. I’d rape her, she’d rape me back. And, after a respectable period of time, perhaps a week or two, we may even hold hands and kiss.
“I think you should probably stay away from Cathy for a while.” she said at last. “I’ll let her know that it was a mistake and that you didn’t mean what you said.”
I walked home under a cloud of shame and disappointment over my failed attempt to win the affection of the fairer sex. Cathy O’Neil never spoke to me again. Over the summer she moved away, her father transferred to New Brunswick with the Canadian Air-Force. Though saddened, I was still aware of how lucky I had been. Miss Richards hadn’t mentioned talking to my parents or the Royal Canadian Mounties for that matter.
In the age before Title Nine, social and political correctness, such a grievous error committed by a clueless twit, could still be resolved without a court hearing or mandated sexual counseling. Writing 300 times on five sheets of paper, front and back was sufficient.
I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.
I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.
I will not rape Cathy O’Neil.