Trigger Warning: This story includes violence and it’s aftermath through the lens of a teenage girl.
Caroline Hearts Toby
by Melissa Algood
“When I saw this, I thought of you,” the most perfect boy said.
I remembered the first night we spoke, at a party, a week after I turned fourteen. It was a humid Saturday night and an ex had decided to start a fight with me. I turned into a full-fledged drama queen, and ran crying to the solace of a wooden gazebo on the edge of the woods behind the party house. The tip of his long shadow touched the steps of my fortress before Toby did.
“Are you OK?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I said between racking sobs.
“You want to talk?”
“Yeah.” I went on for what felt like years but was actually a few hours without taking a breath.“…he’s just such an asshole you know, I could do so much better than him.”
“You could do a lot better, like me.”
For the first time that night, I burst out laughing.
The side of his mouth turned up in a half smile. “What’s funny about being my girlfriend?”
“You don’t want to date me, I’m like, totally crazy.”
“Maybe,” his light eyes enveloped me. “But you’re laugh is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”
Before I could decide if he was serious or not a group of boys with baggy jeans, flannel shirts,and backwards baseball caps called out, “Hey! We’re leaving, man. You coming?”
He stood up. The eaves of the rotted wood sighed beneath his lanky frame. “I gotta go, see you around.”
“See you around.”
That Monday, Margo and I strolled up to the side entrance of the two-story brick prison called high school, and there he was. His eyes were half closed as he sat on the steps playing an acoustic guitar the color of wheat. The scene was more fantastic than an e.e. cummings poem. My heart stopped beating in my chest as I followed the trajectory of his skinny left arm and the fingers of his right hand caressing the neck. Even though he was fully clothed, a hundred feet away from me, and so into the song he didn’t know I was staring at him, it was the most erotic event of my life up until that point.
Margo, my best friend since forever, nudged me. “Gawk much?”
I took a breath, not realizing I’d been holding it the entire time, and shook my head. “No way. Total waste of time. It’s not as if he likes me, or whatever.”
“He totally likes you, Caroline.”
“How do you know? Are you psychic?”
“I have eyes.” A smirk stretched over Margo’s tan skin. “Every time you speak, he looks over at you and smiles like a little kid. I’m afraid he’s gonna pull on one of your pigtails during recess, or something.”
My pulse sped up. “Really?”
“Watch him for yourself if you’re so interested.”
I did. Our eyes met for the briefest of moments and it made me feel as if I’d been shot out of a cannon. I turned back to my notebook and started to write, secretly wishing my Mom would give in and buy me a cell phone. Since I was fourteen, the best idea for expressing my undying love to him was to pass him a note after class, and that’s exactly what I did. The rest of the day proved supremely agonizing. As I walked out the front door to my bus, he stopped me, and handed me a note of his own.
I wrote him a note every day for the next two years.
Now, he stood before me with the gift. I believed it was a second chance when Toby handed me a magazine with my favorite singer, Lily Allen, on the cover. It had been months since we’d spoken, but it only took me the summer to figure out I’d made a mistake by breaking up with him for a guy with a better car. But, I was too late. Toby already had a new girlfriend, Sara. Yet there he was, standing in front of me, in the alcove between our respective English classes, with the magazine I’d later cut out all the pictures from, and tape above my bed.
I smiled. “Whenever I hear The Neighborhood, I think of you.
“You still like her, right?” His green eyes twinkled.
“Always, and forever, Toby.” I hoped that he knew I was referring to him, and not the British songbird.
His smile widened and warmed my heart, “Apparently, she’s coming out with a new album.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna be epic.” That was the moment I should have told him, I still loved him and wanted to have a hundred babies with him. Instead I bit my bottom lip and added, “Thanks.”
“Always, and forever, Caroline.” My heart skipped a beat when he said my name.
I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time he’d see me, the girl he loved, a million years ago.
I went home that night and wrote a dozen love letters to Toby, as Lily Allen gazed down at me. A multitude of handwritten apologizes, in various colors of ink for emphasis, explaining why I was the worst seventeen year old to breath air. I knew putting pen to paper was archaic, but my thoughts could not be contained in a mere text. Besides it worked once before, maybe it would work again. Even if we didn’t end up behind a white picket fence, I needed him to know that I was sorry. Sorry for every dumb choice I’d made. Sorry for hurting him. Sorry for believing that there was another man that could match him, much less that one existed that was superior.
For weeks I contemplated how I’d maneuver past his new girlfriend, that emo bitch, and give them to him.
Sara would often pass me in the halls in school, and call out over a horde of underclassmen. “He says I give better blow jobs, whore!” A few students laughed, but most of them continued en masse through the crowded hallway.
I’d grit my teeth and avoid her line of sight. Not entirely because I was afraid of her, but because I didn’t want to get into a physical fight with my ex’s new girlfriend. Even I was above that.
Margo turned to me. “What the fuck is wrong with that cunt?”
I shrugged. “She’s totally fucking insane, like, even more than me.”
“I just can’t believe she says stuff like that.”
“Told you, she’s crazy.”
Margo pushed her long dark hair behind her ears. “Besides, Sara probably has a punch card for Planned Parenthood.”
“She acts like a porn star.” The whole time I’d know the pixie cut tall blonde she’d been more than forthcoming with every sexual act one could imagine. And although it made my stomach turn I knew that must be the reason Toby liked her. It wasn’t as if she were smarter or prettier than me, but she was sluttier. Then, I recalled that I couldn’t feel too saintly, due to a evening in close proximity to a church, with Toby. To celebrate passing his driving test we drove to the most secluded part of town and I gave him a pair of oversize fuzzy dice to hang from his rear view mirror. We spent the rest of the night being the only two people in the universe. “I mean I’m not like, perfect, but I’m not like, telling everyone about it.”
Margo’s dark eyes grinned. “Yeah, not everyone.”
I punched her in the arm, then told her in a quick hushed voice, “I think I’m gonna give him the letters.”
“I told you I can get Jason to give him one.”
“No, I can’t have my best friend’s boyfriend give a guy a love letter. Besides we work together at the grill. That’s too weird.”
“Whatever. Then how are you going to get past her?” Margo gestured down the hall Sara had just tromped through.
“I’ll meet him outside of English, or put one on his car, or something.” The thought of doing any of those things seemed exceedingly desperate, but I needed him to know that if I could, I’d build a time machine.
The day before my plan would come to fruition I pictured his big light eyes scanning the
notebook paper, and a toothy grin that would be sure to follow. Cool air wrapped around me, the leaves on all the trees seemed technicolor bright in shades of yellow, orange, and red matching my mood. The black asphalt I walked on seemed to be reflected in the overcast sky that would hover above town for months. I didn’t hear footsteps, but a waiter at the restaurant materialized next to me, as I put the key into the door of my car.
“You’re looking pretty sexy today.”
I rolled my eyes at what I took as a joke, since I was still in my waitress get-up. I knew him from school, we’d even had a class together junior year. Years later, after copious amounts of alcohol had been consumed, I’d remember him staring at me in class. But I’d always thought he was harmless.
Besides, at seventeen I caught a lot of guys staring at me. It was just something guys do.
He moved closer, tilted his head to the side, and smirked at me. “I had a dream about you last night, Caroline.”
The way my name rolled off his tongue made the hair on the back of my neck raise. Instead of running, I asked, “Really? That’s weird.”
He was inches away from me. “Why?”
I laughed, then opened the car door. “Cause I never had a dream about you.”
He shut the door with his elbow, and leaned on it. “You know, you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.” He was close enough that I could feel his breath on my cheek.
Before I could respond he pulled on my long brown ponytail and tossed me to the ground. The Earth stopped rotating. I didn’t feel his grip on my wrists, the pavement on the back of my head, or hear the metallic klink his belt buckle made. But I did feel when he tore me in half, as if I were no stronger than a piece of paper. In my head I was clawing, crying, and screaming, but all that came forth was a whisper. I lay in the gutter next to my car, with him on top of me, as if I’d invited him, and he hadn’t shoved me to the dirt.
After, whenever that was, I sat on the hood of my car. My arms were red and blotchy, but I didn’t know if it was from him, or the cold air. I drove home, raced to the bathroom, and scrubbed until my skin was raw. I didn’t get out of the shower until all the hot water was gone, and Mom pounded on the door because dinner was ready.
It was three days later before I told her. We were at the dinner table and I couldn’t stand to stare at the pork chops and macaroni with cheese for another moment.
“Mom.” I stabbed my dinner with a fork. “Something really bad happened the other day.”
“What happened? Lilly Allen decide to leave the music scene?”
“Are you still upset about, Toby? Maybe if you give him just one of those dozen letters you spent forever writing he’d forgive you.” She threw me a grin, but it faded away when our eyes met.
“It was the worst fucking thing, ever.”
I knew my tone had hit her hard when she didn’t reprimand me for cursing. “Tell me, Caroline.”
The word died on my lips. Unable to let the word ‘rape’ enter our house because then it would never leave. “I was at the restaurant…and this guy from school…he…you know…like when I was trying to leave.”
“Did he hurt you?”
My brain refused to form words.
Her voice became darker than myself, “What did he do?”
I looked back down to my fork and thought about how much better life would be if I felt less than an inanimate object. “Everything.”
That night she insisted we go to the ER, even if it was no longer an emergency. I was handed some pills, blood was drawn, every opening of my body was swabbed and photographed. But, the questions were the worst because that was when I was forced to say his name. As if he deserved a name. He didn’t deserve to see a sunset, have a birthday, or drink water much less to be recognized as a human being.
“We’ll have to call the police and you’ll have to give a statement, Caroline,” the doctor said. She handed me back my clothes.
“I don’t want to talk to the police.” It was the first full sentence I’d said with such force since it happened.
“You’re a minor, it’s not up to you.”
I turned to my Mom, who’d insisted on being present for my continued humiliation. I hadn’t fully appreciated her presence until I begged, “Please, don’t make me talk to the cops, Mom.”
The doctor moved closer to my mother. “Your daughter might not be the only one.”
But I was seventeen, and I didn’t care about any other girls. I only knew that I could never say his name again, much less see him at court. Besides, then everyone at school would know, and it wasn’t as if he didn’t have more friends than me. No one would believe me over the popular jock who could get any girl he wanted. Years later I’d wonder if it would have been better if I had testified, and he ended up in jail, even if it was only juvie. I just couldn’t handle being crucified during my senior year along with actually being a teenager.
The next day my mother insisted that we go to my boss at the very least. When all three of us sat down in his office above the bustling bar and grill I felt as if the room was shrinking in on me. The only way I could get it to stop was to pretend I was back in that gazebo with Toby. I looked across the desk littered with papers, pretended he was my first love, and we were talking about music, not that a guy we both knew had raped me. I told the whole story, sparing no detail, at least up until the doctor. The middle aged overweight man reverted to himself when he turned from me toward my Mom and asked,
“Would it be all right if we spoke about this alone ma’am.”
She nodded and I was sent to sit outside. As if their conversation didn’t concern me, or might hurt me further when nothing more could hurt me since I’d become a shell of a person. Sensory overload had caused me to shutdown. I never realized how flimsy his office door was until I heard the conversation.
My mother started. “So, what do you plan on doing about this, firing him I presume?”
“Well, I’d have to talk to him first…”
“There are two sides to every story, ma’am.”
“Are you accusing my daughter of lying about being raped by one of her co-workers?”
“No.” He coughed. “Not saying that at all. It’s just that there are channels we have to go through before anything can be done.”
“Well first I’ll bring him and his parents in. I’ve known them for years. His mother is the head chef. I need to talk to her once we’re done here.”
I almost smiled when I heard my mother’s voice turn into the hiss of a viper. “When we’re done here? Is that what you’d want someone to say to you if YOUR daughter had just been attacked?”
“No.” He coughed again, louder. “It’s just that it’s going to be her word against his, I mean, she destroyed all the evidence.”
“You’re telling me she’s a liar because she took a shower after some animal…” But my mother didn’t continue. She didn’t need to. After all my boss didn’t feel Satan’s fingers tugging at his underwear, a tongue on his collarbone, or taste a sweaty palm when Satan covered his mouth as he finished.
“She’s so young ma’am, maybe she got confused.”
My mother rushed out of the room, pulled me out of the chair, and dragged me to the car. I’d been electrocuted by his words. It was as simple as: A teenage girl simply couldn’t be trusted.
The sedan pealed out, and without looking at me, my mother growled. “You’re never going back there, Caroline.”
My heart restarted. “Fuck that. I didn’t do anything wrong, Mom.”
“I know that, but they don’t. Do you really want to work with someone who thinks you’re lying. Someone who thinks some kid is above assault just because he knows his mother?”
“If I don’t go back, then he won.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“I can’t believe this shit…”
“You aren’t going back, ever. And stop cursing so fucking much, Caroline.”
There was nothing between us until we pulled into the driveway and I said. “I love you, Mommy.”
She turned to me, her dark eyes a monsoon of tears. “I love you too, baby.”
The next few weeks of school were particularly annoying, mainly because I was forced to be conscious for such an extended period of time. If I wasn’t doodling on all of my papers then I had my head on my desk blocking out the world. I didn’t think my actions were too far from the norm until my English teacher held me after class.
“Caroline, you haven’t turned in your term paper.”
I stared at the mustard stain on Mrs. Jennings’ blouse until I remembered what book I was supposed to read. “I haven’t finished it yet, I’ll get it to you on Monday.”
“It was due yesterday, and ‘Of Mice and Men’ is only one hundred and seven pages.”
“I’ve just been really busy.”
She smiled and I saw wine colored lipstick on her teeth. “I know that seniors like to party, but usually you’re tearing through books left and right. Now you’re either asleep or daydreaming. What’s going on with you, Caroline?”
For some reason a fire ignited in me and fury overtook my body. “My life just sucks, so feel free to fail me, or whatever.” I turned and walked toward the door.
“We’re not done talking!” She called after me, but I was already on Saturn.
“So there’s this show on Friday that Jason can’t go to because he has to pick up after someone that quit” Margo stared at me as if she were attempting to look through me. “So since I know your free, wanna be my date?” She speared her salad and shoved the leafy greens into her mouth.
“Maybe.” I shrugged from across the lunch table at her.
“Are you at least gonna eat?”
I tore off a piece of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich my Mom forced me to take to school, and tossed it into my mouth. “Happy?”
“That’s the most I’ve seen you eat in weeks.”
“I’m on a diet.”
“Stop with the bullshit, what is up with you?”
“Nothing.” The girls at the far end of the table cleared their trays and walked to the bathrooms for their after lunch cigarette.
“Did you give Toby the letters yet?”
“No.” It seemed like another person wrote them, even if every word were still true.
“Well you should, at least then you’d know if he still loved you.”
Margo’s hazel eyes doubled in size. “Who are you and where is my bestie?”
“I’m right here.”
“No, you’re not. It’s like you’re a damn ghost, it’s like, totally freaking me out.”
“I’m fine.” My voice turned into a razor I wanted to slash against her throat. “Just PMS.”
She rolled her eyes. “Nice try, but that’s next week. Jason told me you quit, for like no reason, and everyone at the restaurant is talking about it.”
“Glad I can be entertainment for someone.”
Margo leaned closer. “If you just gave him the letters, maybe you could get over him.”
“I don’t want to talk about Toby right now.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. He’s all you’ve been thinking about for months, and you are just giving up, without a fight. The real Caroline would never do that.”
I stood up and slung my messenger bag over my shoulder. “Maybe you just don’t fucking know me then.”
I ate lunch in my car for the rest of the year, I couldn’t bare to look at her until I learned to lock it up in a box, and hide the key from myself.
The idea that anyone at the grill took notice of my absence was unsettling. I wasn’t completely sure that my ‘story’ had been leaked to my ex co-workers and classmates until Jason came up to me at school later that day. He stood next to me as I pulled books out of my locker.
“I thought you should know what people are saying about you at the grill.”
I didn’t. I wanted to continue to live in disbelief, like it happened to someone else. But, curiosity got the best of me. “What?”
Jason looked me dead in the eye, as if he were diving into my soul, and crushed me. “He’s saying you wanted it, but you didn’t want anyone to think you’re a slut, so, you lied.”
The only guy I’d been with was Toby, and that had become a completely alternate universe. “That’s a fucking lie,” I hissed.
He moved closer to me, his voice lowered. “I know. I see the way you still look at Toby and Margo seems really concerned. I know you wouldn’t have sex with that asshole.” Jason attempted to pat my shoulder, but I jolted away.
“Sorry,” we said in unison, but only I continued speaking as my heart pounded in my chest. “I just…you didn’t tell Margo did you?”
His dark eyebrows furrowed. “I thought you did, but she didn’t ask me about it because of girl code. You two are like, inseparable.”
I turned, averting his gaze. “It’s whatever.” I threw my pre-calc book in my locker.
Jason’s voice turned stern, as if he were my big brother about to kick someone’s ass. “You should tell both of them.”
“No fucking way.”
“I’d want to know if you were my girlfriend.”
“But I’m not.” The reality that Toby and I were completely over hit me like a hammer. “I’m not his anything anymore. I have no right to like, talk to him, about stuff.”
“You guys have a history. A lot of history. He’d be there for you, Caroline. And Margo, too, she’d want to help you.”
I slammed my locker shut. “Don’t ever tell a soul, Jason. Especially Toby and Margo.”
“Why don’t you want them to know?”
I needed to tell the truth. Just once. My words were as quick as my courage. “Because if I start telling people then everyone will know and think that I lied about the whole thing just to get back with him.” And in the darkest parts of my brain I was worried Toby might think the same thing as well. “Besides it doesn’t matter, it happened, I just want it to be over.”
“Whatever you want.” He nodded, and backed away. “You have my number if you need it.”
But, I never called Jason, Margo, or Toby for that matter. I picked up the phone a thousand times, and dialed his number, but I hung up before it even rang once.
Later that week, at school, I saw the devil. He strolled down the hallway, mixed with a couple of guys, and stopped at his locker that happened to be a few feet from mine. Even though we were surrounded by hundreds of other kids, to me, it was only the two of us. That was until I saw Toby and Sara walking hand in hand toward me, although oblivious of my presence as he gazed at her, she at him. The hall was so quiet I could hear my own heartbeat. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, punch him, throw books at the devil. Instead I was still.
Then, he winked at me.
Again, I had the exact opposite response I’d always assumed I’d have in this situation. I raced to the nearest bathroom, and threw up everything I had eaten, ever. I didn’t bother going to class because I didn’t want to see Toby in the hallway. I couldn’t be sure he didn’t see the wink. I couldn’t be sure of anything anymore.
The next few days of school, little changed. I made my self fully insulated, solitude became my reality. Toby’s new girlfriend still taunted me only now I truly believed that I was a whore, bitch, and a cunt. Normally I would have wondered why she bothered. After all, she won. I deserved it.
All of it.
Satan had taken everything from me in that parking lot, including my second chance. It didn’t matter if I gave Toby the letters, because I could never tell him what happened. Could never tell anyone, ever, because that just made me feel it all over again. I couldn’t be the ‘that girl’. The one so stupid she got raped. If the experience taught me anything it was: Trust no one.
So, I took an empty coffee can out to the woods, and burned every sweet sentence that I’d written to my first love. The curvy script that spelled out every thoughtfully chosen word would live only in my memory, along with his smell, his laugh, and unending intellect.
I saw my perfect boy in the hallway a few days after I’d burned our hopes deep in the woods of our town. Toby leaned against the brick wall surrounded by a group of what used to be my friends too. He threw me a smile, he lifted his left hand and gently waved his fingers. A part of me found joy in the fact that I would, to him, always be the girl that he fell in love with at fourteen- strong, daring, and sarcastic. That was the only way that girl lived on. Instead of going up to Toby, standing on my tiptoes and French kissing him in front of the entire senior class, I bit my bottom lip, and rushed in the opposite direction.
“Where the hell have you been?” Margo scribbled equations in pencil on our group assignment.
“Got caught up,” I took the seat next to her and opened up my history textbook.
“Caroline,” She tapped her eraser on my desk. “This is physics.”
“Oh.” I closed the book, dug through my bag, and realized that I didn’t have the right folder either. “Can I look off yours?”
“Sure,” Margo adjusted the book so I could read it as well. “What’s going on? You’ve been acting weird for a while now.”
“Nothing, I’m just tired.”
“I’m your best friend, you can tell me. I’ll love you no matter what.”
So much of me wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t bring myself to trust my only friend in the entire universe. “I just really fucking hate physics.”
Her face brightened, letting me know I’d successfully acted like myself, as if we were in a play, and I finally got my lines right. “I know, it’s like when the fuck am I gonna use physics, in like, everyday life?”
I smiled, until Margo’s stare reverted to the text, and drifted off to nothingness. When our teacher began talking, I internally recited my new mantra: Caroline is dead, Caroline is dead, Caroline is dead, Caroline is dead, Caroline is dead, Caroline is dead.
Then, I took a breath.
-If you or anyone you know is a survivor of any sexual crime then please know you’re not alone. Please get help and/or donate to RAINN-Rape And Incest National Network