Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Incident in The Car

When I was in high school, there was a girl I liked in my class. She was smart and pretty, and she came from a wealthy family. I came from the “other side” of Queens, so our relationship had all of the potential of a Lifetime movie.

One spring day, after math club, I walked her home. I bought her an ice cream cone at Baskin-Robbins. We sat in the sun and talked about how our SAT scores were going to determine the rest of our lives. The fact that we were sitting there together was a sign that she liked me. I was hoping this would be my first serious girlfriend.

That weekend, a group of our friends went to “the city” to see some movie at the Ziegfeld Theater on the big screen. Her friend drove us to the theater. It was six crammed into one car. I was in the front and she was in the back. She was all dressed up, wearing a dress, and looked fabulous. As we drove, I became upset when I saw her flirting and talking with one of my other friends. I could feel my stomach tighten. Until that moment, I had never felt such intense emotions, harsh and powerful feelings of jealousy and lust.

To this day, I do not remember what the movie was that we saw at the Ziegfeld or what we did afterward. I think we went out to eat after the movie, but I don’t remember for sure. Someone smoked pot, but it wasn’t me.

As we drove home, we took the same seats in the car. When I looked at her in the back seat, I wanted her badly, even though I’m not sure what “wanting her” meant as a virgin in high school. I just knew that I hated myself for wanting her so badly, and that these wild, animal feelings were turning me into some sort of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde monster.

I turned to her in the back seat. She was wearing boots with her dress, and a silk blouse with no bra. I was so angry that I did not possess this girl for myself, or that she might give “herself” to someone other than me.

The next five seconds have haunted me for decades. As we drove over the 59th Street Bridge, I put my hand on her thigh, saying, “Is this what you want?! Is this what you want?!” She quickly blocked my hand and started tearing up. I grabbed my hand back and turned to the front, ashamed. The others in the car didn’t really know what had happened, because it occurred so quickly. When they asked her why she was upset, she didn’t want to talk about it.

I didn’t speak to anyone for the rest of the trip home. I later apologized, but she didn’t talk to me again.

This was one of the meanest thing I ever did, and the only time I ever did anything like this, and it affected my relationships with women for years.

This incident truly scared me, not only because of what I did to her, an innocent victim, but because I lost control. For many years, excessive emotions and sexuality frightened me, as if they were dangerous, never knowing where they might carry me, like a leaky raft on wild rapids.

82 Comments

  1. Wow. Props for your honesty. I think we’ve all done some pretty terrible things in our past that we regret deeply, and we’ve all had some horrible things done to us. I like to think that the people that did the horrible things to me are as remorseful as I am for the bad things I did to others. Sadly, I’m pretty sure that still doesn’t excuse the puppy kicking thing.

  2. If only you had been sitting next to her, this story might have had quite a different ending.

  3. This was brave of you to share. I agree with Elly Lou, that we all have done horrible things. In high school, I slammed a girl’s head into my locker, thinking she had stolen my books and never apologized. Even after I found out it wasn’t her. Of course, I am remorseful.

  4. Wow. It is difficult to talk about regrets, to air the dirtiest of our laundry in a place where the response could be so caustic. I admire you for sharing your obviously authentic remorse despite the risks of judgment and misunderstanding. I hope you feel a little better after getting it out, too.

  5. Ugh.

    We all have moments that make us want to melt into the walls.

    Our sexuality can be very powerful–and scary. This is a good piece Neil. Really good.

  6. I don’t know how I feel about this one. This one is so loaded. I hate that you did that. It makes me furious. But, this isn’t about me. I guess I’m just sad you felt that, did that. And, I’m really sorta amazed and blown away that you posted it. Mostly, I just want to know if you ever talked to her again. I wonder how she would write this same story.

  7. Wow, brave for sharing!! I think the emotional and hormonal highs and lows we experience at that age are normal for everyone. We’ve all lost control. I’m sorry yours manifested itself in a way in which you’ve felt guilty about. You’re normal! 🙂

  8. I’ve been reading a book that has quite effectively changed the lens through which I view adolescence (and all of childhood). It’s called NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children, and it offers fascinating insights on how the brain functions totally differently during adolescence than at any other time of life. It seems that for a great many reasons—not only hormones—we are predisposed to do very stupid things as adolescents, no matter how nice or smart or savvy or well-brought-up we are. Reading the book has allowed me to forgive some of my own adolescent foolishness and mistakes, as well as to better accept those of others (not to mention prepare for my kids’ eventual adolescence, were such a thing possible). You might want to check it out.

  9. Brave to post about that experience, Neil.

    I am positive we all have things like this that we deeply regret and wish we had never done. I know I do. The best we can do is learn from them.

  10. You were the worst kind of jerk–nerdy, cruel, and scary all at once.

    I can see why this incident and its memory haunts you. It takes courage to own and face our worst moments, to look past the regret and try and figure out why we did what we wished we hadn’t done, to find our triggers and work to change.

  11. Wait a second. Why are we all saying, Neil you are brave? Neil, I love ya but come on. As a victim of sexual assault, I can’t just sit here and read all the, way to go Neil comments. What you did was fucked up! I get that you get that. I do think it took bravery to post it. But, I don’t think you should just get a million high fucking fives because you did. What if the woman wrote the blog post. Wrote about some guy shoving his hands between her legs in a car and saying what you said to her, making her cry. All of this unprovoked. Would we all be like, Wow suck it up chick. No. We would all be outraged. What the fuck? I’m sorry to highjack your comments, but this one is really throwing me for a loop. I really do like you as a person but I truly hate what you did. It makes me so angry and sad. I’m sorry to write that here, but some woman needs to say that.

  12. I never buy into the whole “you’re so brave” thing. Not for any kind of public writing. It just doesn’t fit for me. It doesn’t apply here, I don’t think, any more than it applies to someone else writing through grief or trauma. It’s not bravery. It’s an awareness of the consequences, and something else being more important than the consequences.

    Here’s what I think your something-else might be. Maybe, after all this time, you needed to expose this so that a group of women you already know to be articulate, vocal, passionate and opinionated would be given the opportunity to call you a prick.

    Which would then give you the opportunity to nod and say I KNOW. And to say you’re sorry. And to tell them how it’s haunted you.

    That’s not brave. That’s sensible. That’s needing to be called a prick, since that girl in the back seat never had a chance to. That’s us standing in for her, being her proxy, hearing you and nodding when you nod.

    You’re heard, Neil.
    xo

  13. Neil, I’m sorry, but I have to ask. What is the truth quotient here? 100%?

  14. Huh. I do not have any armchair (blogchair) psychoanalysis for you. It sucks that your impulses made that decision for you. It sucks that that girl and you have had to suffer the consequences. It all sucks. It’s all life. And I do admire you for sharing.

  15. When I was 9, a friend and I hurt someone. It could have been considered a standard playground bullying event, but this someone was a mentally and physically handicapped boy. As an adult, I thought of apologizing often, but didn’t make the effort to find him and do so. Several years ago, I spoke to my old friend and she told me that the boy we bullied had since passed away. I regret not apologizing almost as much as I regret the original incident.

    I’m just saying…

  16. I think everyone holds inside them at least one rash, impulsive, shitty action that however brief haunts us in myriad ways. I think it takes courage to speak that action out loud even if the action itself was cowardly. Admission isn’t an excuse.

  17. I read this earlier today when Neil posted about it on Twitter. I couldn’t bring myself to post a comment then; it bothered me so much that I had to reflect on it first. But now, after thinking about it all day, I have to say I agree most of all with what’s been said by Kelly and VGrrrl. I do understand that it’s difficult to reveal to others your most embarrassing, shameful moments. I respect that Neil had the wherewithal to do it anyway. But the victim in this vignette is not Neil; it is that girl who, 20+ years ago, was treated horribly by someone she thought was a friend. That girl who was, by many definitions of the word, assaulted by someone she trusted. I wish that, in the above comments, I could find a little more sympathy for what happened to her, besides just for the guilt you still feel.

    I’m not saying that this is a simple situation, by any means; I think this story raises multiple issues for many of us. Beyond the facts of what happened that night, and what that means to each of us, it’s difficult because, to be honest, we are (some of us) friends with the one who did the assaulting. What do we do with that? Where does that leave those of us who feel some sense of loyalty, obligation, and friendship to Neil? This story involves us, now; now that we know what happened, how do we reconcile that with our friendship with Neil? And how do we reconcile that with our status as women (for those of us who are)?

    What do we take away from all this? What do you want us to take from this, Neil? Why did you tell us this story? I doubt that the issues this incident brought to life have been resolved, or else it might not still haunt you the way it seems to. I don’t have the answers. But I think it would be very useful to you, Neil, if you could ask yourself why you posted this story, and what you need to deal with to put this story to rest. I hope you’re able to do that.

  18. I’m sort of glad this has haunted you. I think we would have a very different Neil on our hands had you enjoyed the feeling of taking away that girl’s power.

    As for how to relate to you, how to feel about now knowing that you were once a jerk-faced teenage boy… you’re still just Neil to me. Imperfect, flawed, human.

  19. I wrote a post similar to this one several months ago. Because those involved are still around, and read my blog on occasion, I decided to allow a friend and abuse/violence-survivor to post it on her site. I needed to write it and get it out there, even if all these years later.

    Many of the comments I got were of the “Wow, you’re so brave!” sort. And I’ve never really come to grips with that. Brave? Perhaps. I know asking for forgiveness from those I wounded felt a bit like bravery. Or at least I thought it would. I was forgiven, and we have moved on with our lives. But in the end, I was humbled, ashamed, and felt like a fraud; how many days had I lived as though what had happened was no big deal?

    We live and learn . . .

  20. If I were that girl in the car I’d have kicked your ass. Then cried. In private.

  21. Wow, that not only seems so very unlike you, it seems unlike that adolescent you’ve described so often. If you were sitting in the front, other people must have seen and heard this exchange, no?

  22. I think it’s always taking a chance to tell difficult truths in the face of judgment. I’m not sure I’d call it bravery – risky maybe, but that’s different.

    If I went back through the years and unfriended people in real life or online who did ill-advised things from little ones to grave ones, I would likely have far fewer friends. What do I know about people who talk to me or whose words I read online? Very little, in truth. How do I know what people are leaving out? How do I know who is telling a prettier story than what is true?

    I’ve done horrible things, mean things, that I would never post about, or maybe I just haven’t yet. I don’t know what that says about me. But I do know that I live a decent life now. And for the most part I’ve atoned for the things I’ve done that I felt were wrong or inappropriate. I’ve grown up into a different sort of person who makes reasonably good choices. Am I sorry this person was on the other side of your poor choice here, made in high school? I absolutely am. I hope she is okay. I think this post can and will trigger negative reactions. I’ve got my own story that I keep tucked away because it involves others whose story is not mine to tell.

    But am I going to recast my entire perception of you based upon an action that occurred when you were a teenager, assuming you haven’t done similar things all along the road and plan to unpack those brick by brick as well? Am I going to demand things from you because of it that you don’t owe me specifically? No, because it really is just shades of who you are, an incident from decades ago that really, given what I know and understand about life on both sides of this fence is unfortunately none too surprising.

    I hope she’s okay. I’m beyond sorry that happened to her. I’m sure you have your reasons for writing about it and I hope that they were served. Shame (unlike personal responsibility) helps no one in the long run, victim or victimized. I hope that neither person in this incident still carries any.

  23. I’m a tad older than Neil, but I can recall being that gawky nerd who didn’t know how to express his desires to fetching females. It seemed that other kids knew some Magic Words you’d utter and get to experience mutually satisfying Fooling Around. As horrifying as the incident is, I find “Is this what you want?!” poignant because, like the teen me, the teen Neil really didn’t know what women want.
    All these years later, Neil’s emerging from a long monogamous marriage and, in a mature, thoughtful and empathic way, struggles to figure out how to woo women in 2010. Makes me thank my lucky stars I’m in a long monogamous marriage because if my wife should ever kick me to the curb, I’d be struggling to find the Magic Words as well

  24. I admire your bravery in sharing this Neil. It may have shaped your relationships, but in a way it shaped them for the better don’t you think? You’ll have been far more conscious of the way you treat women. And for that, I thank you. Your honesty is great!

  25. Teens do some stupid shit.

    I saw your follow up tweet to the post and thought you should know reading this past moment did not change the way I think of the ‘today’ Neil. It sounds like the last week has been
    a rough one with a lot of emotional upheaval. It does not sound like you are asking to be excused for what you did, maybe just processing it in a very external way.

    But then that truly is what writers do, right?

  26. I only encountered this kind of aggression once (thank god). And it was horrible. It haunted me for years. It made me feel cheap and worthless, even after he apologized for his crass assault. This kind of moment sadly shakes a woman for years (forever) since it makes you acutely and constantly aware of your own vulnerability. In a strange way I hope it shook you for years too, and that it gentled you forever. It is clear that you like women and in a way this is why this story shocked me most.

  27. Frankly, I am amazed by all these comments. It wasn’t as if the girl was being being molested by a child-molester. It was a bunch of high school kids who are clumsy – socially, emotionally and physically, and who have no clue how to behave or express very intense and overwhelming emotions. It’s not as if most adults ever allow teens to talk about *any* of this stuff, or work out how to be together.

    Sex is taboo and forbidden and no-one wants to talk about it. All teenagers suffer from this type of clumsiness and angst. Both Neil and the girl suffered that night. And both have probably suffered all their lives. Everyone, brought up by an adult, suffers! Most adults are so screwed up that they unwittingly and unintentionally screw their kids up too!

    So, Neil, I am so sad to read this story and so sad to think that you or anyone has been haunted or suffered so long about something that could have been healed so fast if some responsible person could have processed it with you all!

  28. I’ve got a litany of bad choices like this in my past too my friend. We all do lots of stupid shit, it’s OK – feeling bad about it doesn’t make it OK, but knowing it was a mistake does.

  29. I know from personal experience that it’s possible to cruise through the days with very little introspection and absolutely zero sharing about what’s going on inside. It takes courage and strength to kick over the mental rocks and study the creepy things that exist in our own psyche. In sharing your thoughts on something from within, something that’s haunted you and shaped you, you’re risking possible rejection. It’s great to be loved but even better to be loved by people who aren’t “put off” by the creepy things. Sharing a dark secret is like saying, “Sure you love me now, but will you love me if you know this about me?”

    Also, there’s an element of testing the waters. You know how you feel about it, but isn’t it nice to have your thoughts validated or – better yet – modified by a group discussion? Isn’t this the basis of some forms of therapy?

    And about that incident, I know from my own teen years and from raising daughters that girls can be just as clueless about the signals they’re giving. Adolescence is brutal but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way around it on the path to adulthood.

    Neil, I find you sensitive and insightful – someone I’d like to get to know better. This tale from your past reinforces that.

  30. I don’t have much to add, as I think the commenters have all much more eloquently expressed for me everything I thought while reading your post. But you don’t say whether you had any subsequent interactions with this girl, and whether things were changed between the two of you.

  31. That’s awful. But, I hope you can forgive yourself. Weights that stay on shoulders for decades outlive their initial benefit.

  32. one more thing: i hope you know i love you (as much as a person who only knows you in a virtual world can) and think that the man you have become is an honest and gentle one.

  33. Neil, I started to write a comment and it became epic length and so I posted:

    http://okayfinedammit.com/2010/01/all-the-little-things-in-response-to-neil/

  34. I’ve read the post and the comments. I’m headed over to read Maggie’s response in a little bit. But I wanted to say that if you can find and apologize to this girl, I think it would be a good idea. She probably remembers the incident – she might get some closure she needs. If it’s affected your relationship with women for years, then it is probably affecting her relationships as well. Give her the apology that she deserves, if you can.

    And once you’ve done that, make peace with yourself. We all do stupid, horrible, mean, hideous things. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t committed some sort of horrible act, be it purposefully, accidentally… we all have to live with our actions. Grow from them, if we’re smart, and be better people.

  35. Neil you get my nod…for all of the little things that have stayed with me throughout the years…and for all of the men that I will never get to confront…you get my nod.

    And also my thanks…for saying this out loud.

  36. i’m always, always, always amazed by the sheer capacity of another to judge.

    As a Catholic, I fully believe that the only way to truly get forgiveness is through admittance and therefore in forgiving oneself. For that, I”m glad you shared.

    I’m sorry it happened, but life happens and mistakes occur. Not one of us has lived a life devoid of hurting others. We all make the wrong decisions sometimes, and the way we handle it defines us more than the mistake.

    It is hard to publically admit something big that we do. But then to have to endure the ridicule and the judgement of others; that is uncalled for, as it portrays itself as stoning. Remember the adage of ‘ye without sin, throw the first stone”?

    I’m sure that Neil has punished himself for it. Its not our job to do it, and we need NOT approve it or remember it.

    You’ve aired it, now forgive yourself, accept forgiveness and allow it to be in the past.!

  37. I cannot imagine you doing such a thing. That I can’t means that you realize that what you did was horrible and that you’ve felt enough remorse for it to not repeat the mistake.

    That being said, teenagers are not adults. The brain is not fully formed until we are 21. Kids don’t have good impulse control and are fighting raging hormones. In other words, they do stupid shit. They hurt other people. With luck they learn from it and do better.

  38. As a survivor many times over, it means a lot that you wrote this for the world to see. Are you brave? Yeah, I think you are. That doesn’t mean I’m condoning anything – there’s nothing for me to condone because it happened, there’s no going back. What’s brave about your writing this is that you admitted fault “out loud” and owned your actions. You’ve opened a vault and opened the door to comments good and bad. I can’t go back and change anything that happened to me, but what I can say is that it would definitely mean something – NOT everything, and it doesn’t mean it would give a free pass – if my abusers would just fucking come out and own it and feel genuine sorrow. It would be easier to go through life knowing that they felt regret. Again, would it forgive? No. But it sure as hell would lift something off my shoulders.

    Again, I’m not passing judgment on you or the situation or anything. I can’t do that. I just want to let you know that I appreciate your honesty and your putting your whole self out there and not doling out only the Good Neil, like so many of us do about ourselves. That’s what I think is brave.

    Do you still remember her name? I wonder if you could track her down. Speaking only for myself, I can say that a sincere apology would mean so incredibly much.

  39. I am glad you feel remorse for what you did, because what you did was awful.

    I hate your actions, but I do admire you admitting to it, the truth of it.

    As for forgiveness, absolution? It is only that woman’s to give.

  40. This post brings up an interesting point for me. I work in family violence, and there are tons of programs for women, but not so many for men that hit them. I’m wondering of we listened to men about why they abused, if that would make a difference.

    Neil, did you ever talk to someone and work through this? Did anything like this ever happen again? It was very, very brave of you to post this.

  41. I am not going to applaud you for sharing this one the Internet.

    This is a horrifying act. Something that you should have worked through in order to make sure it never happened again.

  42. I’m wondering if you were ever able to apologize to the woman in question? Even years later it would make a difference to her.

  43. I’m going to take the easy way out on this one and just say that it’s more “ABC Afterschool Special” than Lifetime TV Movie. Because Lifetime is after our time in high school.

  44. Oh.

    I was on the other side of your equation, except that he went further than you did.

    I’ve struggled for years with what happened. I never voiced it because I thought it was too “small” to be considered assault.

    Recently someone told me that no, it was not too small, not at all.

    Why did you post this? Are you looking for forgiveness? Did you think in writing it that you might forgive yourself? Do you believe that you need to be forgiven?

    I don’t know what to say.

  45. FWIW, it doesn’t change how I feel about you. One incident from a person’s life doesn’t make (or break) that person. It’s in the totality of the small moments.

  46. We’ve all done things we are not proud of, moments where we don’t even recognize ourselves at all. High School is the time where so many of make so many mistakes, do things that are almost unspeakable of now, things that we even have regrets about. I could start an entire new blog about some of my stories. Things I’d hate my children to know. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

  47. I can also say that I’ve been in that girl’s shoes a few times, as well, from high school, etc.

  48. In October, This American Life replayed a show from 2002 about people who do bad things called “Devil on My Shoulder.” Reading this, I felt the same feeling during the podcast – remember the inexplicable moments I’ve had doing something truly terrible when I knew better. The opening story is a collection of people telling stories about things they did with the devil on their shoulder.

    I think things like this make us human.

  49. This is my first time reading your blog, so I don’t have a universal view of you from anything but this post. As a woman, a victim, a mother of 3 daughters…I’m angry. Everything I’d like to say was pretty much said by Kelly.
    But I am glad you wrote this. We have to have a dialogue about this sort of behavior and how men/boys relate to and think of women/girls and what rights they think they have to their bodies. We have to talk about this sort of thing, because not talking about it creates a petri dish for sexual assault, creates an environment shrouded in secrecy, silence, shame, ignorance…
    So, I’m glad you wrote this. I’m glad we’re talking about it, so that now we can go and talk to our sons and daughters. Now we can have an internal dialogue about self worth and who has the right to diminish that.

    Also, regarding “apologizing” to this girl. I don’t think she needs an “I’m sorry.” I think that sort of approach would be self serving on the part of the perpetrator. But a pronate, face in the dirt, “I am shit for what I’ve done to you…and it is a poor representation of who you are and what you’re worth,” bon-deep, heartfelt, contrition may go a long way toward healing for you both.

  50. I think Sweetsalty Kate got it right. You put this out there in a place where you feel relatively safe so that you could take a little beating (but not too bad since everyone loves you here) and repent. Rather than brave, I think it was a little bit chickenshit. You need to find that girl and apologize to her.

    I am also not going to fawn over you for being introspective. I expect it of you and of everyone. I think you need to dig a little deeper, actually.

    That said, we’re still cool.

  51. I agree with the earlier comment about needing to verbalize the sin before being able to forgive yourself or seek the forgiveness of the person against whom you transgressed.

    Great people do some shitty things, Neil. What makes them great is that they own up to the shitty stuff and seek to right the wrongs. You may not be able to fix it, but I’d enourage you to try.

    Obviously this event has haunted you and has likely haunted your victim even more. I hope you can make 2010 a year of peace – peace of mind for both of you.

    You can be defined by your errors, or you can be defined by your solutions. The choice is up to you.

  52. I don’t know you. This is the only post of yours that I have read. Only saying that to point out that I have nothing to go on to tell me what kind of person you may or may not be.
    Thank you for posting this. As someone who has been attacked for finally telling the story of being a victim, it gives me hope that one day he will see himself. Or maybe that even through his denials, knowing that he hurt me protects someone else.
    Are you brave for posting? I don’t know. I appreciate that you are willing to open the dialogue. If we could all be more open and frank about it maybe we could prevent the next generation from being so damaged.

  53. I came over to read before reading Maggie’s response and am not sure that I have anything to add to my comment there.

    I think that you have a wonderful group of women friends here that will provide the sounding-board that I assume you are looking for–the comments so far are a great example of the thoughtful, intelligent and sensitive women (and men) that make up your audience. I hope that everyone’s comments give you some peace and the courage to keep moving on your path of redemption, or whatever it is that has brought you to this point in time.

    I think that if you are looking for forgiveness then it can only be found in yourself and/or from the woman that you hurt. It sounds like you are truly sorry for what happened and, perhaps, are as scarred by the experience as the girl may’ve been.

    I also feel compelled to add, speaking as a woman who grew up riding a schoolbus where titty-twisters, grabbing, rude comments and the like were a regular occurrence…. you may be surprised to find out that she barely remembers the incident. Or at least wasn’t affected for life by it. Everyone’s sensitivity levels are different and I can’t speak for them, but in the rural community I grew up in? It would’ve taken a whole lot more than your seethingly jealous bitter remarks and grabs to change my outlook on men and sex.

    And, no, before anyone jumps on my back, I did not just say it was “okay” to do it! I’m just throwing it out there as an example of how I would’ve reacted to it…. After the tears, I would’ve gotten pissed and then punished him by never talking to him again.

  54. OMG. I only read about half way through the comments.

    I only have to say that in the future, your need to purge and forgive yourself should be put into a private journal. I have no condemnation for your actions.

    You are responsible for apologizing and making clean your messes. Thanks for being REAL. So very few are these days. Every single person on this planet has regrets about something.

    hope you find your way to figuring out your path soon… sounds like you are turning over some rocks and that always helps.

    Happy New Year!

  55. I can’t quite…fathom…the thought process behind this. I never felt the need or desire to possess someone that didn’t feel the same way. I feel for that woman, that young thing with tears sprouting. Perhaps worse than the act were the words. They sting me…”Is this what you want?”…to take the responsibility of your actions and thrust it upon the vicitim, fling it back at her. If it were me, in that situation, that is what I would remember most, the words. I would have believed you, and turned it into being all my fault. I would have believed you.

    This post makes me so very sad Neil. I am sorry for you, but most especially, I am sorry for her.

  56. I want to know what prompted you to write this. That’s all.

  57. The only thing that ever got me in trouble was boys. Boys, boys, boys. Oy.
    You were being a classic, teenage “hairy-legged boy” (as my mother puts it, still). Get over it. You screwed up in that moment. All you can do is the best that you can do at any given moment…and for teenagers, that ain’t so good. 🙂
    Forgive yourself. If you think you need to, look her up and apologize. But don’t beat yourself up over it. Guilt and regret get you nowhere. Learn from your mistakes – as should we all – and move on. 🙂
    Side note: I liked the story. Very real and honest. I could see it in my mind like a little movie…some details vague (decade, etc.), but that just made it more “magical” (for lack of better word)…you know, like those crazy movies where you can’t tell if it takes place in the past or the future or somewhere in between. I saw it in technicolor, though. Thanks for writing. Keep it up. 🙂

  58. Note to self: quit using smileys. i think i’m addicted and it’s getting out of hand.

  59. I hate being asked “Why?” when I’ve posted something bitter to swallow.
    It’s not really so much about “Why?”
    It’s about sharing a piece of myself in such a raw way.

    While I don’t find what you did appropriate, I also know that much of my own childhood was filled with regret for my own inappropriate actions.

    I truly believe that this life is an opportunity to discover ourselves and what it is we do and believe about ourselves. I would hope you would be able to find it within you to forgive yourself. Short of a direct apology to this girl, it’s the only thing you CAN do.

  60. I don’t even know what to say, Neil.

  61. neil, I came here from maggie’s blog. I’m glad to hear a guy say that he did such a stupid thing, and he felt bad about it, and it affected things, and he’s sorry. because I was that girl for some other guy.

    (much edited story of my situation deleted. the particulars don’t matter, really. Just that I got into a situation with a boy I liked, and he behaved about as horribly as you.)

    I guess how awful it was at the time for her depends on where she was maturity wise, and how she actually felt about you anyway. Her tears may have been less from fright than disappointment, anger, & embarrassment. You seem to think no one heard/saw, but she may have felt everyone in the car must have.

    In my case, I actually like the guy a lot, so it was bitterly disappointing to know whoever we might have been to each other, we never would be now. Unlike your situation, I know the situation had not been seen or heard, but I was as embarrassed as if we’d been on stage.

    how much it affected her later depends somewhat on what happened later. I was date raped later that year. We didn’t have that name for it then, but,as it was happening, I could already see the previous as being clearly, forgivable teen boy stupidity, because the second case was clearly not. I hope she never had reason to define your incident by such a means.

    for what it’s worth; if he contacted me to talk about it, I could talk with him. Though we never really spoke again at school, i could talk to him now.

  62. Sure, what you did was totally inappropriate and shitty. You SAID that, that was the point of the post.

    Maybe I’m missing something…but putting your hand on someone’s inner thigh for five seconds (from your description, I’m assuming somewhere between knee and mid-thigh, not like you actually grabbed her crotch ala Madonna) and saying, “Is this what you want?!” doesn’t seem like a life-changing changing event akin to rape or molestation, nor does it fall under the legal definition of “sexual assault.”

    Humiliating? Yes. A violation? Of course. A betrayal of your friendship? Absolutely.

    But I’m finding it difficult to understand why it’s being equated with rape or sexual assault (and yes, I have personal experience with being sexually assaulted when I was a 15 year-old never-been-kissed girl by an adult male so…there’s that, for what it’s worth).

    And for all of those chastising you for writing about this here and not apologizing to the girl in person…they must not have read your entire post. You DID apologize to her, way back when it happened. I don’t think it would be necessary (nor likely welcome) for you to seek her out now and apologize again, decades later.

    In fact, Neil, as I read your post I felt it was one writer’s way of acknowledging and universally apologizing for the shitty behavior most of us experienced, and many of us displayed, as teens.

    I’ve spent way too much time on this comment. Gah.

  63. Here’s the thing. You forgive yourself a thousand times over in this post, with everything that leads up to the assault. The innocent beginning, the Jekyll/Hyde reference, the careful details that make her sexually appealing – this is not introspection. This is rationalization. What if you had simply written “I sexually assaulted a woman” and left it at that? Then it becomes something radically different from a tale of loneliness, thwarted desire, teen hormones and loss of control.

    Anyway, there’s far more to say about this, but I suggest you write the whole thing down from her perspective. I’m not saying that you need to post it here, but look through her eyes.

  64. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to teach my daughter to carry a brick in her purse so that she can use it on exactly this type of person.

    I hope that girl finds you again one day and does exactly that. No one deserves to have their innocence taken away in that manner and you should be ashamed.

  65. I have never been quite sure if your crushes, your proclamations about women’s physical attributes, and your impulsivity/agressiveness on Twitter was humor or truth. People convinced me it was humor. Now I’m confused again, because it’s the same type of sexualize/rejection-fueled impulsivity that you describe here. We’re all works in progress, and I understand writers documenting those truths. I’d like to understand more.

  66. Why did you edit your story Neil? Why did you change the part where you put your hand between her thighs to just on her thigh. Why did you take out the part about her not wearing a bra? Interesting that you edit it after the fact.

  67. By saying “you were young” it’s not dismissing your behavior but you WERE young and you did learn from it. Is it wrong to say thankfully it did not go further? I think I can have sympathy for that boy who had a rage of feeling because I know the man you are today. Was it wrong what you did? Yes. But you get to own your shit without everyone jumping down your goddamned neck. Jeez.

  68. What Sweet/Salty Kate said, pretty much word-for-word.

    (I will say though, thanks for writing this. This started some important dialogue in our community that will no doubt spill over and into discussion between readers and their spouses, IRL friends, partners… That’s true for me. So yes, thank you.)

  69. Well.

    This is what being real is all about, isn’t it? Bringing the pieces together of the dark and the light. Exposing the perverse to the puritanical in us? Figuring out the devil that makes us tick? The angel that keeps us from indulging all of our most dangerous whims?

    That you were 18 doesn’t excuse the compulsion. I don’t believe that you intimated that it does. In that it has haunted you is a two pronged barb as I am certain that it has also haunted her.

    What you did sucks, but I am not going to flog you. You cannot be made more aware of the hurt you caused, you know what hurt you caused. Not only to her, but to yourself because you know that there is a lurking thing in you.

    Our reactions to tales like this are never about the person and always about ourselves. How do YOU react to this, Neil? How does it serve you? How does is settle in your bones? How do you want to be with this?

  70. Neil, you are a good man. What you did was bad, but you owned your actions. You have stepped up, not only here but also with her, and have said ‘I did this, it was wrong, and I am sorry.’ And that is SO MUCH MORE than SO MANY are willing to do. God bless you, Neil.

  71. I’ve never seen an incident get this blown out of proportion in the comments. Taking away her innocence? How? What you did was rude, but didn’t we all do stupid, rude things as a teen? The fact that you remembered it for all these years shows that you are a kind person. I really doubt the girl even remembers it, much less allowed it to change her life.

  72. Oh, Neil.

    I had such high hopes for this. I had thought that maybe this would provide you with an opportunity for introspection that you probably really needed.

    Then I read today on Twitter that you changed some of the details of what happened that day, and I had to check for myself. Sure enough, you did: you took out the part about her not wearing a bra, you changed the wording so that you now “put (your} hand on her inner thigh”, and you took out one of the “Is this what you want?”s. There might be other changes, but, frankly, I haven’t had the heart to look for them.

    Neil, you’re a writer. You KNOW the power of words, the power of storytelling, the power of language. If you felt the need to explain yourself further, you could have done that in a follow-up post. But to go back and change the original story, as if that changes what actually happened? Even if you had nothing but the most innocent of intentions, surely you must see how that looks to people.

    I don’t really have anything else to offer, only that I’m so disappointed.

  73. If this truly was, as Neil implies, the “meanest thing he ever did”, then he’s an unusually kind person. It was a bad thing to do, but from his description it seems far from sexual assault to me — more an awkward teenage boy with no idea how to negotiate the barriers between the sexes and angry at himself and others about it. But from the description he pulled himself back from that anger within seconds. (Although the deep impression it made on him suggests that the anger may have remained but become mixed with intense guilt about it, which is a tough situation).

    Of course, I’m a man, so take it as you wish.

  74. I’m coming to this very late, but I read the original version in the RSS feed and uggh, Neil, Neil, Neil! I had something like this happen to me when I was eleven and I still remember it so clearly, it was so painful and shaming at the time, and it still is, in fact, that it makes me angry to think about it.

    It never occurred to me to look at it from the guy’s perspective. Because why does he get a fucking perspective? I didn’t grab his crotch!

    On the other hand, I know you and have met you and spent time with you in real life, had great conversations with you and lots of laughs. And now I’m having to reconcile that reality through the lens of my own past . . . it’s so damn complicated, Neil! You are making my brain hurt.

    I have to say that I agree with what sweetsalty Kate AND palinode wrote here. I think there’s definitely some rationalization, but there’s also a desire for atonement. And everybody deserves forgiveness, we have to endeavor to be big enough to offer it.

    Thank you for making me think.

  75. I was “that girl” once and had something like that happen to me once, when I was on the track team. Except I didnt even know the guy. It was horrible and I will always remember it. I saw the guy on Facebook recently and blocked him. I appreciate that when you wrote this, you wrote about how you felt about it, and it makes it make more sense, it doesn;t make it right, but it makes more sense. xo

  76. Eesh.
    That’s all I’ve got.

  77. Like many other women commenting here, this happened to me, too. Like many others (and you as well, Neil), it has haunted me for years. I believe, that because of who it was who did it to me, that the incidents (yeah, more than one) was the root of my struggles with my weight. I felt I was being admonished for looking too attractive, being too sexually available and the message I internalized was that the best way to avoid being the target of that sort of sexual rage was to make myself unattractive, to take myself out of the equation. It was the only way I knew at that age to take control back for myself.

    I am the tiniest bit gratified to hear that someone who’d do this to a woman has also suffered for years. I’m not cruel nor looking for vengeance, but there is a measure of consolation hearing that someone who would do what he did to me would have the proper remorse.

    I also understand that you’d be confused at that young age about why you did it. I’m hearing some rationalization, some asking for forgiveness, but I really think you’re still confused — about why you did it, about why it has affected your relationships since then and about why you’re choosing to write about it now.

    Since your introspection isn’t any deeper now than it was when the incident happened, I don’t think you’ve moved beyond it much. I don’t think your understanding of yourself or women has grown as a result, and I think it accounts for your Twitter persona. I think you still don’t know how much you can expect from women, so you cross boundaries in that boyish, cheeky way.

    I acknowledge that I’m seeing this through my own lens. But I think I could be partly right, since — bizarrely and prophetically — you’ve always reminded me of the person who verbally assaulted me.

    Thanks for writing this, even if you didn’t understand why you did it.

  78. Hmmm. You got quite a few bruises from this one huh? Honesty is key here. I think most people remember the intensity with which we felt things in high school and sometimes even through college. The emotions and lack of impulse control ran rampant through my life, so I understand where that kid in the front seat of the car is coming from. I also see it from “the girl” point of view. She was probably scared, confused and angry all at once.
    Great post, and great comments.

  79. as a rape survivor, i echo palinode… and sweet/salty kate… and moosh.

  80. You made me cry. Both because I’ve been that scared girl in the car and because you made me pissed off to think that the boy who assaulted me was a real person who maybe never realized what he did to me. I wasn’t able to confront the guy because he died when I was 16 so I carry the story alone. It’s easier to be alone with it because I don’t have to think of him as a real person who may have regretted what he took from me. But after reading this I have to admit, he was a real person, and human. And maybe it will bring a sense of forgiveness and peace to me after this stops hurting so much. I’m glad you shared this even though I hate to think of you as being the same sort of person who broke me.

    You are still my friend. I trust you. You made a mistake. I hope other people read this post and learn from it. The scars we carry never heal. I mean yours as well as ours.

  81. I began to write a comment and then it became ridiculously long. I have a different perspective on this as a parent of a teenage boy entering high school next year. So I wrote it all up as a post. Instead of a 1000 word comment. http://www.parentopia.net/blog/2010/01/blind-side-football-and-parenting.html

  82. I came over from Maggie’s blog. On her post, I commented that she had released a flood of memories for me. I’ve been on the receiving end of the kind of thing you did more than once in the course of my life, and every one of those incidents left a scar on my psyche. I think I’ve outgrown those scars, which is good, because I’m 40, and now I’ve got wrinkles instead. But what I’m left with is fear. Fear for my daughter, and now, after reading your post, fear for my son.

    Somehow, I thought it would be easier raising a son. I’ve never glimpsed the human on the other side of those awful “little” incidents. You just showed me that. And now, like I said, I fear for my son, too.

    I don’t know if brave is the word I’d use for your confession. But you educated me, and the willingness to sacrifice a bit of your own soul to educate someone else is always a worthy effort. So thank you, Neil.

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