Paul Catalano was shorter and pudgier than his brother, Tommy, was. He had a broad face, similar light brown eyes, lighter hair, and a prepossessing smile. He’d kissed me in a garage during a game of hide-and-seek when I was nine. It was a forceful peck on the side of my mouth. After a brief delay, I opened my mouth once or twice to say something and then dashed right out of there. In my daunted state, it was like fleeing the accursed grip of a murky tomb into the glare of the blinding sun.
In September of fifth grade, he walked up to me in school and hugged me. I didn’t know what to do with my arms. Another morning, I felt something at my back when I exited the coatroom, a mere graze, but it tickled me and caused me to jerk and jiggle, twisting as I turned. It was Paul trying to feel for my bra strap from the outside of my blouse. He smiled, and I noticed then that other boys had been watching. I hastened to my seat, humiliated, but the expressions on their faces surprised me. They were somewhat in awe.
Not a week later, at the end of class, I was about to slip my arms through my coat sleeves when Paul came to me. He grinned before hugging me, burying his head in my chest, and rolling it from side to side as though savoring the moment. Other boys watched, wide-eyed. I saw their smiles and heard their laughter as I pushed Paul back with all the strength I could muster. In a trancelike state, I slipped my arms through my coat sleeves and maneuvered the buttons. Paul and his friends were still watching, smiling, and laughing, their eyes sparkling with admiration.
It confused me. I neither wanted to be a victim of ridicule nor a target of desire. If I could have chosen the middle ground of being invisible, I would have.
Years later, Robbie seemed horrified when his friends liked me, leered at me, or told him I was cute. He hung around at Addison Park, as Joey sometimes did. Tommy Catalano made the occasional appearance as well—until his mother died, and he moved with Paul and his father to Bridgeport. Angie and I rode up on our bikes, like many of the other kids. Some lived outside of Glastonbury, including Farran. She walked to Addison Park from her little house on Timber Trail in East Hartford.
Upon introduction, the first thing Farran said to me was, “I love your brothers, man. They are awesome.” Of course, I agreed. By then, I thought everybody was awesome but me. My brothers were outgoing charmers who made people laugh. Boys liked them. Girls adored them. Joey had achieved something of a teen idol status.
I was another story, in Jordache or Bonjour jeans, with long, oversized tops and my Keds, my hair in either a loose bun or ponytail, always neatly fastened with a barrette. Angie and I sat by the courts, on the bleachers, or on the grass. We watched people play baseball or basketball. When the ice-cream truck came, we rushed over to buy cones and then sat on a bench to relish every gluttonous lick.
Robbie never wanted me there. He would tell me to go home. Joey would tell Robbie to keep an eye on me.
Addison Park was where I saw Mike McGrath for the first time, and where I’d dreamily noticed his blond hair and cornflower blue eyes. He was walking with his jacket over his arm, and something fell out of the pocket. He kept walking. I went to pick it up—this tiny prayer book. On my way to returning it to him, Farran raced over. She introduced us, and, after he’d left, I realized I hadn’t given him the prayer book. Angie and I were talking about it later. I showed it to her and then accidentally dropped it into a nearby trash receptacle. Shannon came along while I was trying to retrieve it.
I approached her, book in hand.
“You’re Mike’s sister, right?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Um, this is his.” I tried wiping off the book with my hand, embarrassed. “I dropped it. I mean, he dropped it first, and then I … I didn’t mean to drop it, but …”
She laughed and took the book for him.
When Mike came to the park, he liked to sit on a table or perched on top of a bench. He and his friends would drink beer they concealed in a brown paper bag. Every sighting of him had me in a hopeless state of thrill and panic. Angie seemed to think I had caught his attention—that he was checking me out whenever he passed with his friends.
He did ask me out. He invited me to his house. I rode my bike there, feeling great until something splashed on my head—something cold and squishy. Shannon was headed my way, and the moment she reached me, I told her, in a panicked state, what I’d suspected had happened.
She leaned forward to examine my head. “Yep,” she said. “You have pigeon shit in your hair.” With an effervescent chuckle, she tapped my arm. “Come with me. We’ll wash it out, and he’ll never know what happened. We just have to work fast.”
She took me to a small bathroom at her neighbor’s house, where I sat on the toilet while she washed out the green goo. She styled my hair into a side ponytail. I must have thanked her a hundred times, and the smile rarely disappeared from her face. Before going her merry way, she told me a pigeon crapping on my head was good luck. Feeling nervous, I went to the house, climbed the steps, and rang the doorbell. Billy came to the door. He seemed big, with a strong build, and handsome.
His wide grin put me at ease.
“Is Mike here?” It was all I could think of to say.
“Aw.” He said that loudly, as if tickled and amused him. “Ay, Mike!” he yelled. “Your little girlfriend is here.” He shook his head and stepped to his left, smiling. “Come on in and sit down. He’ll be down any minute.” As I entered, he motioned for me to have a seat and then chuckled before barreling up the stairway.
When Mike came down, he was sweet and shy and such a gentleman. I met Tully that day, too. Mike introduced him.
The first time Mike and I kissed, he had to suggest, politely, that I open my mouth. A year later, we hadn’t gone beyond holding hands, hugging, and tongue kissing.
Farran said, “You know, I hate to break it to ya, but guys get tired of kissing. Sooner or later, he’s gonna want more. He’s fifteen, for goodness’ sake! I’m surprised he’s waited this long. He must really care for you.”
“What would he expect me to do?” I asked.
Farran laughed. “Well, he’ll wanna at least touch the merchandise.”
“Eww.” I winced.
“Are you normal?”
“I’m not even in high school yet!”
“You will be in September.”
“Well, if that’s what he wants, he’ll have to get it somewhere else, because I’m not doing it.”
“Why?” she asked. “You have a nice body. If I had your body, I’d have done it with him already. You’ve got the chest they all lust after.”
I didn’t get that—why the size of my breasts seemed inordinately important, not only to the male species but to females as well. At times, I’d have gladly given back my embarrassment of riches.
Images of touching and nakedness did disgust me then. Everything to do with sex evoked shame. The subject was taboo in our home. My parents were modest and never talked about it. No one did, except priests behind the podium who said sex outside of marriage was wrong, and that the thought of it alone was a sin. One of them had repeatedly emphasized that we were already tarnished with sin and unworthy. Like we had inherited shame. Anything to do with premarital sex could only bring more shame—unbearable shame, along with the shame of every other incident where one came across as pathetic and unworthy.
Of course, I had developed a curiosity about sex. Still, I voiced my concerns to Mike.
“It’s only natural I would want more,” he said, “but I’d wait until you are ready.”
That was nice, but it also meant he expected me to be ready at some point. “What if I’m never ready?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said.
I didn’t believe him.
Then there was Paul. He had kept a respectable distance for years, and now, in eighth grade, he cornered me on the stairway as we exited the school building.
“I bet you think you’re a whore now, hanging around Addison Park with McGrath,” he said.
I was sure I’d misheard. “What?”
“You think I buy your nice little girl act?”
I walked away, trying to make sense of something that unequivocally made no sense. It was then I became familiar with the ingrained concept—you had to be a good girl or a bad girl. Your outward appearance could determine which one. If people who believed in this concept wanted you to be a bad girl, they were hell-bent on transporting you to the dark side. I was upset and more resolved than ever that I would not yield. It was the reason I chose to go to Catholic high school instead of Glastonbury High, where my brothers had gone.
I wrote Mike’s name surrounded by hearts all over my notebook and wore his high school ring on a chain. We were together every day after school and on weekends. Soon enough, I wore an anklet he had given me for my birthday, and then a nameplate he bought me for Christmas. I kissed him with rosy cheeks in my soft, fluffy angora sweaters, but I had yet to give him anything more in exchange for his generosity.
He began to try when I was babysitting—while we were alone in some stranger’s house with their child fast asleep. There was a point when I didn’t want to stop him, but I did.
We fought, too. My mother once showed me a song I had written about him at the time. I couldn’t believe she had kept it tucked away.
This part made me wince in later years:
I may be nasty, I may be mean, but you gotta remember, I’m only thirteen.
When my mother read it to me, she couldn’t seem to stop laughing. She said she intended to keep it forever. I don’t know if I ever gave that to him. Poor guy—he gave me the loveliest things, and all I could come up with was that.
He wanted to be with me always, and sometimes I needed to be without him. I felt restless, curious. I had big plans. Publishing a book would be the stepping-stone for other career paths like singing and acting. I planned to work toward and achieve every goal without depending on anyone but myself.
While many of my classmates had already had sex by sophomore year, I focused on those goals. The girls discussed doing things sexually that I’d never heard of or thought about doing, things they had to explain to me. I was fifteen and could never have fathomed how much all of this would change in the following year thanks to Sergio and Phil. It seemed a cruel joke—one I didn’t wish on anyone and felt no one deserved, sexually experienced or not.
In my room now, thinking about all of this, the scenes began to play out in my head.
Sergio had taken me to the kitchen for a drink of water because I felt sick. It was right after the forced oral sex, and I wanted to hurl. Phil walked in naked, and it made me sicker. He was boasting to Sergio, “If he does that, I’ll just make one phone call. I know people, and they got my back anytime. Getting him iced would be a gift to this town.”
“Iced? You’re getting him iced?” Sergio asked. “And who do you know that’s gonna burn him?”
“I know plenty of people,” Phil said. “I can have it done within twenty-four hours.”
“Oh, well, if you have connections, yeah.”
“You know I have connections.”
They didn’t seem to care that I was listening.
“I want to go home,” I told Sergio.
He held out his hand. “Come back inside.”
I wanted to trust him. I had to.
He took me to the bathroom because I said I had to throw up, and he waited outside the door. I tried vomiting over the toilet but couldn’t.
Next, I was in a different bedroom, a smaller one. At some point, Phil was there. He sauntered into the room, closed the door, and fiddled with the lock. I shut my eyes tightly now, remembering I’d been trapped in there with both of them for what seemed like hours, and much of it was a haze.
“Where is Angie?” I had asked, trying to get up.
Phil pushed me back down. “She’s fine,” he said.“She’s in the other room, waiting for me.”
“Angie!” I screamed her name at the top of my lungs, but it faded like in a dream. “Where is she?” I asked, sounding exhausted.
Phil was lying on one side of me, Sergio on the other.
I tried to get up a couple of times, wanting to look for her, but they threw me back down. I feared she was dead, and that I could be next.
Phil brushed my cheek with his hand. “If you’d relax, you’d enjoy it.”
“No, no, please.” I was crying.
“You have a pinup’s body with an angel’s face,” he said.
I thought I heard her moaning. She sounded so far away. I wondered if she was dying, but I was too weak to get up.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.