I am fifteen and I am being choked by a nineteen-year-old who has also threatened me with the handgun in the glove compartment

by Juli Kearns

Concerning an incident from when I was 15, in 1973.

I am fifteen and I am being choked by a nineteen-year-old male who has also threatened me with the handgun in the glove compartment of his car. I will describe for you what it is like to be choked, so that if you don't know what it's like you will perhaps feel how it is like nothing you could imagine because one might suppose there is always some way to fight back or run and choking is not like that. You can do fucking nothing when you are being choked.

The setting is a car. It is in the early 1970s, back in a time when normal run-of-the-mill cars don't have bucket seats. We are at a drive-in movie. I am drunk. He has been drinking but he is not drunk. I'm not out with this guy because I like him. He is not normally someone I would have anything to do with. He is what I think of as a redneck and I don't like guns and I don't like anything this guy likes or represents. So, what am I doing there in that car with him? He is the boyfriend of a friend of mine and she has asked me to go out with him. My friend is a sweet and lovely girl, she's even intelligent, but we are fifteen-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds come up with bizarre plans. I am even confused that she wants me to go out with him. He was caught in her bed one night by her parents (he escaped out the window, dropped down, away he ran, I have never been to her home so my imagination had him climbing through pink flouncy sheers) and he has been threatened with statutory rape charges if they see each other again. She says she really really loves him and she wants me to go out with him, knowing we'll just be friends, until her parents back down and let her see him again. She proposes this in our sophomore classroom, by the way, which adds another layer of the absurd to the picture. That's where we are friends, at school. She whispers this proposal while the teacher lectures. She is afraid that, during the time she can't see him, he'll get involved with someone else, which is why she is asking me to go out with him and kind of babysit him. She trusts me and knows I have no interest in anything this guy likes or represents which is why I'm the one she picks for this favor. I am thoroughly confused by this but she pleads with me to go out with him, and I agree to do it, even though I think this is an ill-formed idea, even though I think it's even insane, even though I think it's fucked up for him to be escaping out her bedroom window without any clothes, even though I don't know the guy at all. I also agree to it because I am fifteen and don't have a clear idea on just how much you should do for your friends, and maybe this is in reasonable bounds. I don't know. Then, when he picks me up (he acts like this is completely normal) he has alcohol and that makes the whole arrangement cool with me. I will babysit him as long as there's alcohol. But, god, he is such a redneck, and he has a rifle in the back, I have never been around a rifle, but I figure it's a learning experience. He says he runs guns and other contraband in the north Georgia mountains, and now I'm really feeling like this is a learning experience. Is he telling the truth? He says he's telling me this as a matter of being truthful with me. What kind of people do shit like running guns? I thought that was 1930s billy goat gruff, hillbilly gangland stuff. In the modern era, I thought it was movie fiction. I don't know if he is being truthful or if he thinks this impresses the girls. There is probably even a confederate flag mixed up somewhere in this, there is certainly country music and I hate country music, but he surprises me by being polite as can be, and he always has alcohol. He favors big tall cans of malt liquor. We don't go anywhere, I don't want to, these aren't "dates", I don't want this guy to be a part of my life, I don't want to be seen with him and I don't really want to be with him. I have him compartmentalized way off in a side box. I'm just spending time with him for a friend. As he is not officially part of my life I am fine with our simply spending our time hanging out in suburban cul-de-sacs where there are as yet no houses, just the cul-de-sac, and he talks and talks about his relationship with my friend. He spends hours talking about my friend. And he talks about his problems. He talks about his feelings and he may be part of a completely different world (I reason that writers should know about different worlds and all kinds of different people) but I find I empathize with him. I'm listening to his stories and I'm learning something about his world from his stories and I empathize with his feelings. I don't get at all his relationship with my girlfriend, I don't get his culture and his interests, but I empathize with his talking about his feelings. As it is, I don't much understand my friend anymore either, I don't get some of the decisions she has been making, I don't get why she is attracted to this guy about whom I see nothing attractive except for his alcohol, and during this brief transition period, the time when I'm hanging out with her boyfriend, the girl is suddenly switched to another school, her parents aren't letting her use the phone (until she switched schools I was also supposed to ferry messages back and forth), and as we are school friends, with the change in schools, we end up not even being friends any longer by the time this brief not-much-of-an-adventure is over.

Why is he choking me?

I had never expected this to happen. I had empathized with his feelings, and he had talked and talked about his girlfriend, which was reassuring, he wasn't going to be interested in me. After our hanging out maybe twice he had said something about me being attractive but I'm jailbait and he says I'm smart and "not that kind of girl", he says he respects me for being "not that kind of a girl". It was very reassuring to hear him describe me as jailbait because he's already in some kind of law trouble and he can't afford to get in trouble again. How long did we hang out, parking and chatting in cul-de-sacs? I don't remember. And I can't recollect with confidence when he first introduced me to the handgun in the glove compartment. I have always remembered that as happening the day he takes me to the drive-in movie, but I'm not sure about this. Maybe we had hung out and chatted for as long as three weeks? I don't know. This is not a daily habit. I'm talking an arrangement that only runs a few weekend nights. Towards the end of it, he does mention that he notices I won't go out in public with him and I remind him that we're just hanging out. I don't tell him that I don't want to be seen with him as I don't want to hurt his feelings. He tells me he feels like I'm using him for the alcohol, that's the only reason I'm going out with him, and I think, uh, yeah, well, that and the fact my friend insisted I babysit him. And yes, the alcohol is the big upside of hanging out with him. I drink his malt liquor while he tells me his stories. But I do agree to go out with him in daylight, once, to a drag race with nitro-gylcerine hopped-up cars screaming your eardrums goodbye and after a very short time I ask to leave because I want to keep my hearing. I hated the drag race but I would never have gone to it otherwise and I figure it's an experience. Also an experience not to be repeated.

It all happened in one fell swoop. Suddenly my friend and the guy are no longer an item. I don't know how this happens but it does. They were so in love! But no longer. They are amicably parting. She had called to let me know this. She is in love with someone else now. So suddenly? The reason for hanging out with the guy is of course over, but I had agreed already to go with him to the drive-in. He said he has something he wants to talk to me about. As it turns out, what he wanted to tell me was that he wants us to be boyfriend and girlfriend, and I'm saying, no, no. I say no, never, it's all over and done with, I'm not interested, that is something that is never going to happen, I was only hanging out with him because of my friend and that has come to an end.

Big on the drive-in movie screen is this horrible, lurid, martial arts feature, a kind of entertainment I've never seen before. When he said drive-in movie, I didn't expect this. I expected a movie. I'm unsettled by how lurid all the colorful, bloody violence in it is, and when it's not men beating each other up and killing each other, ripping hearts out of chest cavities, it's women being raped and killed. The still-beating hearts being ripped out people's chests freaks me out. The exploitation nature of the woman being raped and killed is horrifying to me. I try not to watch what's happening on the big drive-in movie screen and getting drunk helps. I don't want to see what's happening on the screen. I don't want to hear it.

He's talked about some rage issues he has previously, and I can empathize with rage over the unfairness of life. I've seen him get upset and angry a couple of times when he's talking about things but I've seen a lot of rage in my life and that was nothing.

As it turns out, he doesn't take it so well when I say never, our hanging out time is over now, that we are not ever, never going to get sexy and be girlfriend-boyfriend. I think I even laughed when he wouldn't take no for an answer. It may not have been the wisest thing to laugh, but I am taken aback, I am emphatically no, I can't believe he thinks this is a possibility. Seeing him this one last time was a big mistake, I'm thinking. In the meanwhile, there is carnage and blood-lust and rape on the big movie screen. It makes me feel literally ill.

He says, "Never?"

I say an emphatic, "No, never."

He gets upset. But I don't expect violence. It never enters my mind. He has never been violent with me.

I only realize how critically I've misjudged the situation when he suddenly pins me down so my arms are trapped under me, and starts choking me.

He says, "I could kill you right now. I can make you do anything I want."

He reminds me that he has the handgun in the glove compartment. He says he knows martial arts (I've seen his gi) and he can kill me instantly. If this sounds like "overkill", it was. There was already the handgun. There was already the knife that he wore on his belt that he also reminded me he had. And now he has some special martial arts training that could aid him in killing me? I'm being choked and even I'm thinking that's overkill.

Being choked will kind of wake your ass right up when you're drunk, except you're still drunk but awake. He is strong. I can't move. I can't do anything. I can't breathe. I have no flight or fight reflex going on because I'm being choked and fight or flight is all shut down.

This is what happens when you are choked. You. Can. Do. Nothing.

You can't even try to scream when you're being choked.

When you can't breathe, you mainly think about trying to breathe.

When someone has you pinned down and is choking you, there is no fighting them.

I am fifteen and I have always been told by people that when someone hurts you they don't really mean it. I've been told this by people who hurt me as well. I've always been told there is no real threat. I know exactly what I would be told about this. I would be told, "He was acting. He wouldn't have hurt you." You only know you have been hurt when you are dead. That is the only way to find out if someone is seriously hurting you.

I'm fifteen and I don't know how to define this. Is it just all an act and no real danger when you are pinned down and being choked and can't breathe?

He has said, "I could kill you right now." He has not said, "I'm going to kill you." I note this, but I'm still being choked. What he's doing is threatening me so that I will do what he wants. I am also still conscious. I can not move. I can not speak. I am absolutely, physically helpless, but I'm still conscious, and that means something.

I have been choked before and been made unconscious immediately. I was ten years of age and living for a short while in Missouri. We were waiting for the school buses. The buses were really late for some reason that day. We waited and waited. I left everyone and went to use the bathroom. It was a brand new school and the bathroom was large with a lot of stalls and spacious. There was no one in the bathroom. It was just wonderfully nice, large, and brand new. I used the bathroom and then I went to one of the sinks to wash my hands. I remember the mirror being in front of me. I remember washing my hands. I remember suddenly, so suddenly, someone coming up behind me fast and that there is a whole lot or rage and anger in them, such a horrible rage and anger, it is all so fast I don't even have a chance to see them in the mirror as they grab my neck from behind and choke me with such incredible viciousness, with such insane strength, that I immediately pass out. When I come to I am alone on the floor and I reason that I have not been unconscious but for a moment. Was it more than a moment? I don't know. I'm ten and all I'm thinking is what happened, who did this, who did this, who did this? I'm confused. Fuzzy. Shocked. Everything feels disordered. Unreal. I go to a teacher but there are only a couple waiting with all of us for the buses, and she doesn't seem to understand at first. My throat is hoarse. I can barely talk. When you are strangled like that you can barely talk. I don't recollect now but the teacher must have not paid any attention, because I know they don't call my home. I know I go home and tell my grandparents, that the school doesn't call them. I don't remember if they or the teacher question if I am making this up. But I have marks on my neck. My grandparents examine my neck. I have marks on my neck. They are bewildered. My grandmother tells me I must have made some girl jealous and I should be more careful and just blend in because people can get jealous. I was only going to school there for a few months, only living with my grandparents for a few months, and that may have even been my last day at that school. The incident is like a big white hole in my life. I'm at the sink washing my hands. There's an incomprehensibly fast rush from nowhere behind me and someone grabs my neck and it's so fast that when I start to look up in the mirror I don't see anything because this is what it's like to be choked, I'm already passing out and all I see is white. Just white. Then dark. Then I open my eyes and am alone on the floor. They are gone. The bathroom is empty. It's such a big white hole that I've never known what to do with it.

This is perhaps how I know this guy on top of me in the car at the drive-in isn't serious about choking me. I'm still conscious. The lurid movie is running on the big drive-in screen with all its screams and yells and blood and rape. I am struggling to breathe. I can't talk. I can't move. It is impossible for me to do anything but keep trying to breathe. But I am conscious. My body tells me this is serious, and I'm even thinking that maybe I'm in some deep shit. But I'm conscious. And I'm not sure I'm thinking, "Oh, this guy isn't serious, he just wants to scare me into doing what he wants", because things feel serious when you can't breathe or move. I think it is more like a semi-conscious awareness.

I don't know if it's just me or if being choked flat knocks out fight or flight because you can't fight and you can't flee. You can do nothing. So maybe fight or flight shuts down.

I have only one thing I can do. I stare him in the eyes as he's doing this. I never take my eyes off his. Not once. That is all I can do is keep staring him hard in the eyes like I'm not afraid. Really, when all you have left is one weapon, and it's your eyes, you use that one weapon you've got left. And I don't, actually, feel fear.

When I realize I don't feel fear, I smile. It is a smile that came crazily out of nowhere, and partly an intentional smile. To throw him. Staring in his eyes, I smiled. It freaked him out. I see the shock in his eyes, that I've smiled. That makes me smile even bigger. It's not a pretend smile. It's a real smile. A hard smile. I've smiled like this before. I've been hurt before and I already know what it is to smile and laugh in response to being hurt. I'm feeling that kind of smile. He starts to back off. He stares, shocked. I keep on staring him in the eyes, smiling. He lets go, sits back and calls me a bitch. He starts crying, which makes me laugh. He says I have no feelings. He tells me I'm the hardest, coldest person he's ever met, which makes me laugh even more. Partly because I'm just laughing. And partly because I want to keep him shocked as long as it takes for him to drive me home. I want him to keep thinking I'm the coldest bitch he's ever met. Even though I'm only fifteen-years-old, and even I know that's pretty ludicrous. But if he thinks that? All the better.

Because after that, there's still the drive home. After choking me, he's polite enough to drive me home. He drives me home and I get out of the car. I tell myself as I walk away from it that I am going to forget this person was ever in my life, that I ever knew them, I will never admit to anyone I ever hung out with them, that I ever knew them. If someone ever says, "Didn't you hang out with so-and-so?" I'll lie and say, "No." That's how much I want this all gone. I want everything about this out of my life that completely. I want to forget it somehow. I don't want to think about how stupid I was to be in that position. I'm not even as angry at the guy as I am upset with myself for this big fat mistake. I reason I learned something valuable, but I want to take some big psychic scissors and cut it out of my head. If I could take some big psychic scissors and cut it out of my head, I would. Which is why I never talked about it afterward. It simply hadn't happened. It was already in a box, and I duct taped that box all around and shoved it back deep in the closet. I never spoke to the girl again, her changing schools completely melting her out of my life, and as none of my other friends knew I had hung out with him it made it easier to compartmentalize and try to forget because there was no one to question me about him or bring up his name. You. Simply. Did. Not. Happen. Forget.

Youth. As far as youth. I was not close to my peers in junior high and high school, but I know more than a few were molested, assaulted, raped. We would end up talking about it. I would be sitting around by myself and, in an isolated fashion, a person I knew, with whom I was often only an acquaintance, would sit down and start talking and tell me all about what had happened to them. I would listen. Then they would stand and walk away and melt out of my life as we were usually only casual acquaintances. With some there was a kind of ambivalence about the abuses, a resignation to putting up with it, that this was just the way things were. With others one felt impending catastrophe. A bomb had gone off in their lives, it was tearing through them, and I uncomfortably wondered what would happen.

These things have an accumulative effect over a lifetime. If they don't bother you one day, they come back another. It's not easy to write them out. I try to inject myself back in the moment so I can drag out of it what I was feeling, so it will "communicate", and it's harsh. By the time I'm done, I lose track of even what day it is. I am dislocated in time and body. Even though this is something I'm willing to write about because it is a lesser offense in my life, I still feel dislocated in time and body. I don't feel relief. I just feel sad and horrified for all of us huddled together on this planet.

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