TAINTED SUNLIGHT, Sandra Rodriguez

He was tall- Strong. His hair was brown- Wavy and messy. His eyes were green- The kind of eyes that spoke to you without his lips saying a single word. His smile was blinding- Intoxicating. His shoulders were broad- Inviting. I fell in love with him the summer before I started high school. He was two years older than me, a friend of a friend’s. We met by chance, but became friends quickly. It was so easy falling for him, not that I ever intended to. He was sweet and kind- Funny. We spent hours on the phone. Countless summer days were spent by the pool, just talking. But friends was all we were, good friends, but friends none the less. I knew, even then, that I couldn’t tell him how I felt. At the time I was content just having him in my life, even if just as a friend.

I can’t lie and say it didn’t hurt to be just friends. I felt a stab in my heart every time he told me about the new girl he liked. It hurt to have him so close and yet so unattainable. Still, I decided having him in my life as a friend was better than not having him at all.
Being the good friends that we were, I was not surprised when he called me one rainy spring afternoon my sophomore year. “You have to come see my tree house,” he said, “I can’t believe you’ve never seen it.” I was always excited to hang out with him, and this time was no different. I was overjoyed, bouncing off the walls like a child on a sugar high. I know it sounds silly, a fifteen year old girl ecstatic over a tree house, but this wasn’t just any tree house- it was his tree house.

I tried to sound nonchalant as I mumbled, “Sure,” into the phone before rushing out the door and running to his house a block away. Once there, I rang the doorbell and tried to still my heart as I waited for him to open the door.

“That was quick,” he commented as he opened the door with a smile. He grabbed my hand to pull me inside. “Come on,” he said laughing. I couldn’t help but smile too. I remember wondering then, does he know?

He let my hand go when we reached the tree house. It was a tiny thing. To be honest, it didn’t even look that sturdy. There was a tiny ladder leading up to a small square hole in the floor of the tree house.

“I know it isn’t much,” he began, but I cut him off before he could say anymore.

“It’s awesome,” I was smiling like a fool, so happy to be standing at the foot of a tree house with the boy I loved. Not many girls were this lucky.

“Let’s go up,” he suggested. I should have said no. I should have gone home and finished my homework. I should have taken a second look at that tiny shack of a tree house and decided not to go up. I should have kindly smiled and said no. But I was young, I was in love, and I was naïve.

“Okay,” I said grabbing onto the ratty ladder to make my way up. Inside the tree house was small. The two of us hardly fit inside together. The only way we managed to fit was lying side by side, one side of his body touching one side of my mine. There was a small hole in the roof. I could see the clouds passing by through it.

“What do you think that cloud is shaped like?” He asked, taking a hold of my hand and casually playing with my fingers. My heart must have skipped a beat, maybe even a few. Again I thought- does he know? He must know.

“I don’t know,” I said nervously. I couldn’t focus on the shape of a cloud, not when he was holding my hand. No boy had ever held my hand before. No boy had ever laid this close to me. No boy had ever invited me to see his tree house. There were many firsts that day.

“I think it looks like a heart,” he replied, squeezing my hand. I giggled then, not because something was funny but because here I was lying next to the boy I loved with my hand in his looking at clouds and discerning shapes. He turned his head to mine and whispered, “You’re beautiful.”  His breath tickled my ear so I giggled again and looked at him.  It was then that he kissed me.  It was everything I thought my first kiss would be. Sweet, cute, romantic- Innocent.  He smiled as he pulled away.  I smiled too, from ear to ear.  Then he kissed me again, with more passion and vigor. His hand moved to the back of my head.

I was happy, but through my elated state I felt it- something was wrong. There was a tiny warning sign somewhere in the back of my head, at least I like to think there was. Something felt wrong. I put my hand up to his chest and pushed a little. “Maybe we should slow down,” I said softly, but there was something different in his eyes. Something wrong. He smiled, but it wasn’t the warm inviting smile from two minutes ago, the smile I had grown to love. It was cold, “Maybe we shouldn’t” was his reply.

I opened my mouth to protest but his mouth covered mine before I could utter a single syllable. His hand was still on the back of my head and he wrapped it in my hair. I couldn’t pull away from him. I tried to push him off, but he pushed my hand away. He was stronger than me. Before I could stop it he was on top of me.

“No.” It was the first word that came to my head and the only word I could fit in between his feverish kisses. “No, no, no,” I repeated with increasing volume.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, but it sounded dirty- tainted.

He was touching me, his hands were everywhere. “No.” I was yelling now and my body started to catch up. I kicked. I threw punches. I was screaming now. He covered my mouth. “Be quiet. Isn’t this what you wanted?” he said. He was angry.  “No, no, no,” I said again, but I couldn’t lower my voice. I couldn’t stop yelling.

He didn’t like that, so he hit me- Hard. My head hit the wood. I felt him pull my pants down. He was trying to touch me and fumble with his pants. I tried one more time to fight, to kick, to harm, to escape his grasp, to scream, but it was useless. He hit me again, a fist to the side of the head.

I stopped fighting. I stopped kicking. I stopped screaming. I stopped breathing. I lay like a corpse with tears in my eyes looking through the small hole in the roof of the tree house.

There are some things you never forget. Some things don’t fade with time. Things like the smell of wood and sweat, mingling together. Or the feel of someone’s uninvited breath on your neck. Or even the sound of a spring time rain falling around you and squeaky wood. You don’t forget the way time slowed to a crawl. Or the thumping of one body against another. And certainly not the sun creeping in through tiny cracks and a small hole in the roof of a tree house to blind you. Images and sensations I could never erase, no matter how hard I tried.

When he finished, he sat up. Smiling. I still couldn’t move. He kissed my forehead. “That was fun, let’s do it again sometime.” He had to have noticed the tears rolling down my cheeks, my lack of movement, or even the slowness of my breath. It was hard to ignore, but he said nothing. He pulled his pants up and made his way down the ladder, “I’ll be right back,” he yelled.  I was sore aching and bloody. I wanted to crawl up into a ball and die right there in that tiny stupid tree house, but I didn’t. I found enough strength to pull my pants back up and get out of that tree house- fast. I didn’t know where he had gone, but I didn’t want to be there when he got back. Walking back through the house to leave was not an option, so I left through the side door, like a cheap whore.

When I got home I went straight to the bathroom to shower. I scrubbed every inch of body, every patch of skin he touched. I scrubbed until I was red, and still I felt dirty. I cried until there were no tears left to cry. Afterwards I went to my bed and just lay there, thinking.

I thought about going to the police. I could have told them what he did. He would deny it, of course, and say I had made it up. I couldn’t show them the pounding in my head from when he hit me, but I could show them the bruises he left on my arms and legs while he held me down. It would be a big scandal. But then I thought some more about it. I would have to tell more than one person. I would have to explain why I went into the tree house to begin with. I would have to tell a group of strangers that the boy I loved had ignored my tears and cries and done what he wanted with my body. And if it ever went to trial, it would be his word against mine. I would say yes and he would say no. I had just washed away any possible evidence in the shower. People would have to decide who was lying and who was telling the truth. I would have to tell more strangers what happened. What it would all boil down to was one simple thing- who had the more convincing story? And what if that wasn’t me? What if they believed him?

So I decided, that day while lying in bed, void of all emotion, that I would not tell anyone. I would not tell a room full of strangers, I would not tell friends, I would not tell relatives, I would not tell. And I never did. I never went to the police, or a friend, or a relative. I never told anyone.

Now, some seventy years later, I still have not told anyone about that day. Not my parents, not my husband, not a close friend, no one. I alone bare my secret. The only time I came close to telling someone was when my husband proposed to me, but I never went through with it. The truth is, by the time he proposed, I had buried the memory and the regrets. The regrets had taken with them the midnight crying fits and the fear of tree houses. I was no longer visibly damaged.

My husband’s recent death, however, has awakened in me a need to tell someone. I still can’t talk to anyone about it, not that I really have anyone to talk to. Justice is not what I seek. I long ago gave up the hope that somehow, someway, justice would be served to me. No, I merely want to unburden by myself before my eventual passing. I want to die, alone in my bed, knowing that someone out there knows that sweet boys can turn into monsters in an instant. I think that will give me peace of mind, if nothing else.

Before I go, I will say this. There is one thing that still strikes fear in my heart. One thing that still steals my breath and leaves me cold. I could never escape the memory completely; time doesn’t help with that. The glint of sunlight in my eye blinding me momentarily never fails to quicken my heartbeat and bring tears to my eyes. It is the one thing that brings to life the memory of that rainy spring day. That momentary blindness makes me feel so… helpless. Most people find happiness in sunlight, but I find it is a constant reminder that some monsters steal innocence in a tiny tree house in the middle of the day.

Natalie