Big headline. Got your attention, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Maybe because I’m not sure of anything. Anyway. It’s provocative, I chose it for a reason: to draw attention to those who have experienced and suffer, and ask what can you do to help stop this epidemic of people who think it’s okay to touch, grab, and thrust themselves into anyone they want:
Life was lived in and around a complex of brick buildings surrounded by parking lots, grocery stores, a busy highway, a few green courtyards and parks, some way cooler than others. Ours had a giant willow in the back, a maze of sidewalks that linked building to building, and two small concrete parks. Ours had a slide, monkeybars, a basketball hoop, and a showerhead that gave water only once in a while during the summer. It was surrounded by chain link fence, concrete benches for moms to sit on, and bushes that were full green at the top but gray and naked as they disappeared into the hard-packed earth below: perfect hiding spots, forts, space commands, and anything else we needed those bushes to be. God it was fun watching the neighbors walk past, unbeknownst to our silent, peeking eyes in the bushes.
I was in the park when he called me over. I didn’t know who he was, but I went. It was just a short hop over the chain link fence into the high dirt hill behind the hoop hidden by a bit of brush and scrub trees. We talked for a while. His friend sat up on the higher part of the hill. I was maybe ten or younger. He was maybe 18 or more. We talked and then we kissed. Deeply. He was lying down and then I was lying down. I liked how it felt. His friend clapped and said some things like wow, I can’t believe you got her to do it. They left eventually and I hopped back into the park. I never told anyone because I didn’t think it was a big deal. Weird, but not something I should tell mom. They never came back.
I was taught to be afraid of many things in those days, like that guy over there that mom made us cross the street to avoid because she said something wasn’t right with him. He used to talk to himself. She warned us about another guy who liked to come around, said he was dangerous and told us to come inside if we ever saw him, but us kids liked him. He was older than us, a teenager really, but he was always cool. Once he lit smoke bombs in our secret bushes and it was awesome! But he never did anything to us. Mom taught us to fear bandoliers of fireworks smushed in the mud on the path between our house and the grocery store. She said it was dangerous, never touch it, and her word about danger was gospel. Once I scared me and my brother to death by throwing rocks at an “Amityville Horror” billboard that was on the way to our Catholic school. I can still feel our legs running down the block and up the stairs, lungs seeking to replenish the hot fearful air we’d accumulated.
Turns out, I was taught to be afraid of all the wrong things. To be on guard for all the wrong things. I was taught guilt and shame for the human condition, but not how to say no to people putting their hands on me, like my boss, a woman, who loved to massage all us girls in her department. I should have stood up and told her keep your hands off me, I don’t like how this feels, but I stayed quiet because she did it to all us girls.
Danger doesn’t always come with a warning label. We have to figure it out for ourselves, and it’s hard to speak out when we realize we accepted something as normal. There are some who will say we brought it on ourselves. I want to tell you that you didn’t ask to be cat-called, touched, groped, assaulted, raped, physically or mentally. I want to tell you that the world is starting to hear and believe. I want to tell you that you don’t have to speak out now, right now, if you’re not ready, but there are a lot of people who will believe you and can help. I want to thank everyone who speaks their truth, brave in the face of unbelief and shame and pain who gave us ground to grow and walk upon.
#MeToo is the hashtag on Twitter if you want to share what happened to you. I hope the conversation will help open a blind eye from the abuse. Thank you.