Next year I am going to be forty. I am going to tell you the story and the first and most recent time someone put their hands on my body.
The first time, I was nine. I remember what I was wearing, blue shorts and a matching blue and white striped tank top. I was excited about the outfit. Our clothes were regularly hand me downs or purchased on layaway from Kmart. Layaway meant waiting for the clothes we had picked out and by time we would get them, I had usually forgotten what I had picked out. I was the type of kid who HAD to wear their new clothes immediately. So there I was in my shiny new outfit at my neighbor’s apartment.
We were there a lot. Our parents were depressed single mothers who commiserated over Yahtzee and cigarettes. Me and my sister, Danny and his brother. We played games, watched GI Joe or Voltron. Danny was the older between him and his brother, like my sister was the older among the two of us. I tended to be quieter and was always the odd one out. I didn’t want to watch wrestling or sports or GI Joe, like the three of them. On this day, we were playing in the bedroom that Danny and brother shared. The door was proped open with a bag of matchbox cars. My sister and his brother had just walked out. We were headed out to play hide and go seek or some outside game, when Danny said come here. He was older than I was, by 3 years, but I was tall. Almost as tall as he was.
When I came over to him, I was trying to ignore that weird feeling when you know something is off. He shoved one of his hands down my shorts. He moved his hand into my underwear. I froze. And then I left. My outfit didn’t seem so exciting anymore. Playing outside didn’t seem so fun anymore. I pretended on the outside like it didn’t happen but inside I wondered why it happened. I never said anything to our parents. I felt awful for letting it happen. Why didn’t I punch him or push him? Why didn’t I stop him? Why did I freeze?
A few years later, because yes, our parents still hung out, so we still were around each other…but years later, he was angry and ranting about the fact that his sister was raped. His sister was a lot older, lived in another state and I had never met her. He was telling us that he wanted to find the guy raped her and smash his face on a curb. By this time he was wearing all black, buying the anarchist cookbook, regularly tried to shock us with violence. He told us in detail how he was going to hurt the man who hurt his sister. When he was done, I turned back to the television.
There is a photo of me in that outfit somewhere. Sitting in the room that I shared with my sister. The bedroom that was across from the bathroom which shared a wall with Danny’s bathroom. This is because when you get section 8, kids of the same gender can share a room. So you get a two bedroom apartment. I am sitting on my bed holding a my tropical island Barbie and so very tan from hours of play. I had not yet begun to look uncomfortable in photos, because I did not yet feel uncomfortable under the gaze of others.
* * *
Once I was in my thirties, I believed I had mastered the face that keeps men away from me. Not from their stupid catcalls, but from thinking they could touch me. I don’t let strangers get close to me. I am not big on hugging just because we know each other. I am protective of my body.
The most recent time was a few years back at a friend’s house. We were invited over to celebrate a her birthday. We arrived and we were greeted in the dinning room by my friend and her husband. They were big on hugging and had always insisted on it. I was starting to get over my avoidance of it. My husband was in front of me so it was a line of greetings as we walked around the table towards the kitchen. My friend’s husband was obviously drunk.
He hugged me. I made a joke, something about cooking or food. He grabbed my breasts. With both of his hands.
I backed up immediately and he threw his hands up in the air. He knew what he had done. He offered to get me a plate of food. I said no angrily. In the kitchen, I wondered what I should do. It was my friend’s birthday. So I waited. I sat at the table pretending like everything was fine until I got into the car. I told my husband what happened. I was pissed.
I called my friend for coffee and told her. We are no longer friends. I decided. She decided. We mutually agreed to be friends but stopped speaking to each other. We were part of a friend group.
Some of the things I have heard about his behavior:
Just grab his balls and you’ll be even.
He was drunk. He doesn’t even remember it.
Why didn’t you say something earlier?
He is like that with other women but they are the kind of people who don’t get upset about it. It’s just a joke.
I asked myself harder questions. Why do people think they can do that to me? Should I have not hugged him? Did I send signals that it would be okay? And then I asked myself why I was questioning myself. I don’t have to question myself. These are two events that I like to think of as book ends. I’d like to believe the last one will be the last one, but I don’t believe it wholeheartedly. But even if they are bookends, there are many stories between them.