Boys will be boys is never an excuse

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Your Honor, thank you for letting me address this court. The first thing I want the court to know is I couldn’t wait to start high school. I liked the defendant. I really liked him. And I thought he liked me back. But now I know he never saw me as a person. I was nothing more than an opportunity for him. So now I can’t wait to finish high school.  ~Victim Impact Statement, Ashley E. Lawrence


September 6th – This Year

Bellford, Ohio

The mirror is my enemy.

So is the closet.

There’s literally nothing to wear. Clothes litter my room. Several pairs of jeans are balled up on my bed because they showcase my butt. T-shirts lie in piles on the floor because they show off my chest. Shorts and skirts? Uh-uh. They reveal too much leg. I throw them over my shoulder. My therapist claims it’s normal to have trouble getting dressed after what happened.

I always tell him I don’t care what’s normal after what happened; I just want real normal — without qualifiers.


I glance up, find Mom in my doorway, looking me over.

“You okay?”

“Fine,” I lie.

“Ashley, look at me.”

I pull my head out of my closet and meet her eyes.

“Honey, I know you’re upset. We all are. It’s going to be okay.”

I snap up a hand. “Mom, no offense, but you don’t know anything.”

She presses her lips into a tight line and nods. She steps over to the closet, starts re-hanging the discarded clothes I dumped on my bed. “We’ll call Carol and discuss our options. We’ll get a restraining order. We’ll—“

“We already did everything, Mom. And it wasn’t enough.” Thanks to Derek.


“Mom. I really have to get dressed.”

Her blue eyes, the eyes both of my brothers inherited, fill with the look that’s become way too common over the last two years. It’s disappointment, disappointment so acute, I can’t bear it and look away, diving back into the closet to find something to wear.

“Okay. Have a great first day. Call if…if you need me.” She turns and heads downstairs. We’d agreed that I’d go to school on my own today.

It’s time.

I don’t answer because great days are not my thing. Not anymore. I glance at the clock and panic spreads. I’m going to miss the bus if I don’t find something to wear fast.

I paw through every drawer in my dresser and every hanger in my closet and finally spy something. It’s an old maxi-dress Mom bought for me years ago. The tags are still on it. I grab it, hold it up. It probably doesn’t fit. I think I was twelve or thirteen when she bought it.

There’s a little pang in my chest. Twelve or thirteen.


Before everything changed. Before my brother decided I was worthless. Before life as we knew it ended.

I swallow hard, trying to hold onto the pain because if it gets loose —

Deep breath. Hold it in. Okay. Dress. Right.

I hold the dress up to my body, considering it. Yeah, it might work. I slip it on, smooth it out. It’s a bit big. And ugly. Shades of dull beige and brown in a paisley print that hangs all the way to my ankles. I grab a sweater to hide shoulders revealed by its spaghetti straps and smooth down a cowlick in my hair that’s finally reached shoulder length again.

Yeah, this does work.

It hides pretty much everything. This is good. Under the mirror on my wall, there’s a shelf. It used to hold my collection of lip glosses, hair accessories, and eye shadows. I don’t use any of that stuff now. The mirror had been covered up for a long time and the shelf empty, except for a few dog-eared paperbacks. Mom cleaned them off just the other day so I could get ready for a new school year. There are brand-new bottles of hairspray and perfume I’ll never wear, plus my cell phone, even though that hardly rings anymore.

I glance at the phone, annoyed when some stupid tiny kernel of hope blooms because there’s a text message from Derek.

Derek: Good luck today.

Drop dead. I shove the phone into one of the dress’s pockets where it’s swallowed whole by the voluminous folds. My backpack hangs from the doorknob to my room and I do one last check — notebook and extra pens. Good luck? Seriously? What a clueless jerk. I pull the phone back out and start tapping out a response.

Ashley: Really, D? Like bad luck is the only thing we have to blame for all the shit that happened?

The phone buzzes.

Derek: I’m sorry.

I stare at the two words I’d have given anything to hear my brother say two years ago. But today, they’re too little, too late, and — knowing Derek — too rehearsed.

I shove the phone back in its pocket and put my brother out of my mind, the way he did with me a long time ago, and head for the door. Okay. I’m ready. I’m definitely ready. I suck in a deep breath because that’s a complete and total lie, but telling myself lies helps me believe them, turning them into what my therapist claims are self-fulfilling prophesies. I get it. The power of positive thinking and all that crap but the truth is, I’m still waiting to feel fulfilled.

I snag my bag and do one more affirmation. This is it — the first day of school. Junior year. I can do this.

I can. I will do this.

Two years. It’s been two years. I’m fine. I’m absolutely fine. With one last deep breath, I head downstairs, ignoring the dread that’s climbing up my rib cage. I see two coffee cups in the sink — the remains of my parents’ breakfast. It’s enough to hang on to while I figure out how to pull myself free of the past. I’ve had tons of practice.

I got this.

Soon, my stomach rumbles and I laugh once. It’s a sign of normalcy, so I go with it and pour myself a bowl of cereal. Just as I dig in, I glance at the clock to make sure I have time — it’s… It’s 7:50.

No, that can’t be right. I woke up extra early.

My shoulders sag while I stare at the clock blinking on the microwave over the stove and then pull the phone from my pocket. It shows the same time. How? How is this possible? They’re wrong. They’re both wrong. They have to be. I run to the family room but the cable box is blinking the same time.

I’ve not only missed the bus, I’ve missed most of the first period.



September 6th – This Year

Long Island, New York

My sister hates me.

Ashley’s hated me for a couple of years now and it’s cool. I wanted her to hate me and did whatever I could to make it happen. Of course, that was before I knew what hate really meant. Now that I get it, I can’t change it, can’t undo all the shit I did, can’t fix what went wrong. So I suffer.

That’s what hate is.

See, hate is a meaningless word. Everybody tosses the word around like it’s confetti, diluting it, rendering it about as effective as a Band-aid over an amputated limb to describe how they feel about every little thing that annoys them. They hate this song, that food, that person, or this movie. They hate homework, hate their teachers, hate their parents. They hate this team and that game. They hate every damn thing but nobody has even the smallest clue what hate really means unless they’re the object of it.

The focus of it.

Hating somebody is more than you stop caring about them, and it’s more than not wanting to see that person ever again. It’s this need — an urge you can barely control — to make that person suffer. True hate goes all the way down to your bone marrow. Sometimes, it’s glacier cold and infinitely patient; other times, it’s surface-of-the-sun hot and bullet fast.

Ashley hates me in that glacier cold, slow-moving kind of hate. It leaves me permanently frost-bitten and has this really annoying habit of shadowing me around even when she can’t. Like right now — I’m surrounded by flyers. One was slipped under my dorm room door, another was stuck on the exit door of my building, the third was stuffed into my hand when I ordered some breakfast and this one is folded into one of those little tent cards and placed on top of every single table in the dining hall. I’ve been on campus at Rocky Hill University — several states and hundreds of miles away from my sister — for a few weeks, relieved to be away, to be anonymous, to be on my own. Mom and Dad wanted to come with me, set up my dorm room, have the big sloppy farewell like they did when Justin left for college four years before, but I wanted no part of that. I just wanted to be gone. Free. When Dad got the last of my crap into the car and asked if I was ready, I’d said, “God, yes.” And climbed into the passenger seat. Mom came to the front door and waved as Dad pulled out of the driveway. Ashley stood just behind her, freezing me with that same cold, dead stare she’d been saving just for me since the trial. I kicked back, happy to be rid of her for the next four years.

And what happens?

Everywhere I look — reminders of her.

The flyers announce, You Can Stop Campus Sex Assault! Blue paper, white text, announcing we’re gonna Take Back The Night.


There’s a huge rally being planned for Homecoming week — Rockstock here. Because we’re the Rockets.

Of course, it would be homecoming week, because — like I said — I must suffer.

There will be guest speakers and live music and a candlelight vigil for all the survivors of sexual assault. I flip it over to read my favorite part: Are you a guy against rape? Join GAR today!

GAR. I wonder if people say it with a rolling R, like a pirate. Garrrrrrrr.

Oh, and the coach informed us the entire football team would don special uniforms for that game, showing our support.


I crumble up the collection of flyers into a single giant ball and shove my breakfast aside, my stomach churning up acid. I was already planning on being hurt, injured — maybe both — that day.

“Hey, Derek.”

I glance up into the smiling face of Brittany Meyers, a girl I went to high school with. “Hey, Britt.” I sit up a little straighter, shove thoughts of my sister the hell out of my brain. Brittany’s hot in that girl-next-door way. We’ve been going out for a few weeks now — since we both got here. Her long blond hair’s tied up in a loose knot with strands hanging loose. She’s wearing a tank top, shorts and flip-flops and her toes are painted an electric green and my mouth goes suddenly sand-paper dry. Happens every time…

Quickly, I take a sip of orange juice. A big one.

“What’s this?” She indicates my balled up collection of flyers and I shrug. Understanding dawns a second later. “Oh. The rally.”

“Yeah. That.” I rub the side of my face, scratch at the scar near my temple.

“You’re gonna go, right?”

Hell, no. I shake my head. “No way. I’m the last person who should be there.”

She slides into the chair opposite mine, covers my hand with hers and my whole body heats up. “Derek, you’re the best person to be at that rally. You get it. A lot of guys claim they get it and have no friggin’ clue. But you do.”

I look into her big blue eyes for a minute and finally decide she believes her own bullshit. And then I decide she’s right. I do have a clue. In fact, I have the whole fucking mystery solved. And because I do, there’s no way in hell I’m going anywhere near that rally because I don’t need the whole damn university knowing I’m Derek Lawrence — the guy whose sister is the Bellford High School Rape Victim.

That’s what the media called her.

Ashley was barely fifteen when it happened. A minor. So her identity was protected. But she went public with her story — which also included my role in it. Now, everybody from feminist bloggers to Matt Lauer knows our names.

So, yeah. I don’t want my whole school saying, “Oh! You’re that Derek Lawrence.”

Yep. The Derek Lawrence that sold out his only sister. The Derek Lawrence that told a jury to go easy on her rapist. The Derek Lawrence that drove away and left her standing alone in an empty parking lot and put the whole event into motion.

Hate runs another ice cold finger across my bare skin and I shiver, reminding myself I deserve this…deserve every second of it.