I find myself thinking about all of the times I have tried to make myself forget.
I think about that time at a friend’s quinceñera when an older boy moving through the crowd squeezed by me, his hand brushing my crotch. No, not brushing. His hand didn’t slip; he pushed his palm against the peach taffeta of my dress and between my legs. I was two weeks shy of turning thirteen.
One of my father’s friends told me I was beautiful after he forced his tongue into my mouth as we stood in the entryway of his home. He was in pajama pants and an undershirt. I was in jeans and an oversized men’s shirt. It was my first day of high school.
“She’s fuckable.” That’s what a boy said about me when he heard I had a crush on him. I was sixteen.
I think of how when I spoke of my assault at 14—because I know now that it was an assault—I was silenced by some of the women and girls in my life. “No one wants to hear about that…”
A colleague, someone I considered a mentor, tells me over dinner about how he met his wife. When I say I hope for that kind of longevity in my own life, he tells me that my problem is that I am too independent. Then he tells me that there is something about me he cannot shake and that he is all caught up in it. I spend the next hours, weeks, and months, feeling anxious whenever I encounter him, wondering what I did to provoke him, rather than wondering why he thought it was OK to say that to me in that moment. Or ever.
As I get ready to leave the house every day, I check the mirror. I think I look nice, but I also know that somewhere along my walk across town a man will make a comment that I am supposed to take as a compliment. It is not vanity; it is fear.
I think of the time a man asked me my ethnicity as I passed him on the street. And when I apologized (!) and said I could not speak to him because I was late for an appointment, he followed me down the crowded city street, berating me for half a block.
I ignore a catcall on my way home from work and am followed, my “admirer’s” words escalating. I have to seal myself off, steel myself, and hope that the light does not turn red before I can get to the intersection.
I think about all the times I walked home alone after a night out with friends and made it safely to my apartment. I think about how my girlfriends and I text each other to say we are on our way to the meeting place or that we have made it home from the meeting place safely.
I think about how I make a point of meeting dates at a restaurant or bar where I know the staff.
I think about the night I sat at the opposite end of a bar from another single woman during happy hour, both of us waiting for friends who were running late. I think about how the man who sat between us is the reason she and I became friends that night.
I think about how the women I am closest to all have stories like these. I think about how we recognized that silence in each other for months or years before we were brave enough to share our experiences. I think about how those friendships have been deepened.
I think about the guilt and the shame that comes with the silence and how this movement has brought all of that noise back to my surface; how it has allowed me to reevaluate and remind myself that none of it was my fault.
I think about how thinking about all of these things tonight makes me frightened of trying to date again because although all men are not “like that,” all women have experiences like these.
I think about believing that I can still be fearless with my heart while protecting my body, my being.