TW: the content of this post is at moments graphic and personal and could be triggering to those who have lived through sexual assault.
My mother says he sat down next to her in the back of the bus. He made conversation. He slid his hand up her thigh. There was a small tear in the crotch of her pants, a hole where the seams meet, into which he slid his finger. She says she was stupid, that she should have yelled. She should have made a scene. He asked her in which stop she was getting off and whom she was meeting. He said he’d walk her there. She answered, “No, thanks.” He insisted. She told him her’s was the next stop. She got up. He followed her. He got off, waiting for her to follow, but the bus closed its doors. A few stops later, she got off. She ran to her cousin’s house.
This is what I remember from a conversation we had a few months before I went through my own abuse and many years before I understood being desired. How strange that most young girls are first desired by creeps in parking lots and men on buses.
I still have the chess set he gave me. It is in my basement, sitting on a shelf. It’s a shame. It’s a beautiful chess set, roman soldiers in gold and silver. They have a good weight, a solid heft. It would be a perfect gift for me if he were not the one who had given it. Funny how objects, smells, places and sounds have memories imprinted on them.
I still pretend to sleep for the few miles before we reach my grandparents’ home. I do not know exactly where the restaurant is and I cannot risk seeing the parking lot. So I close my eyes and I keep them shut until we arrive. At least this way I cannot be surprised by the sight. My grandparents still order from that restaurant for every family gathering. I pretend I am upset that they do not cater a vegetarian option. I tell them that is the reason why I want to switch caterers. The real reason is, of course, that on Christmas and birthdays I’d rather not think about certain experiences.
This all happened many years ago, long before I had my first period. By that I mean I was a young child, even if I looked much older. I remember realizing others’ desire for me because of this disconnect and the pleasant conversations and smiles that would turn into looks of disgust when the older boys and the men realized my age.
I opened the door for a young man in the last days before summer. He was fundraising for his baseball team and we began to chat. He told me that he didn’t recognize me and asked if I went to the other high school. I told him, “No, I’m a middle schooler.” His face fell, he wished me a nice day and moved on to the next house. This is the best case scenario. There are other scenarios: cat calls for preteens, relationships with large age differences that only seem justifiable in the moment, men who are not disgusted by their desire for young girls.
I was maybe ten years old. I went outside to catch my breath and gain some distance from the party. Just a quick moment outside in the parking lot. It started harmlessly enough as a kiss on the cheek for an elderly male relative. That is not where it ended.
These are just a few of my experiences. What is striking though, is for young girls, sexuality buds with unwanted attention. We begin to change and we catch people noticing. We see them staring. We are now told that our shoulders are distracting, that our skirts are too short, that when we look like this, we can’t expect others to exert self-control. No wonder our sexuality and our bodies are so tied up in shame.