One of the earliest memories I have living in this beautiful, lively, charming mind of mine is of a man exposing himself to me in the middle of a clothing store. I wandered through the rings of hanging clothes, searching for my aunt when I came upon an old man, holding a little girl’s dress by a hanger. He had the clothes draped in front of him and as he got closer, he moved the hanger to the right, showing me a wrinkled hand, slowly stroking an erect cock, right there, in the middle of the aisle.
When I found my aunt, I didn’t say a word about what I had seen. Because he was an adult and, to my knowledge, grownups didn’t do bad things to little girls wandering through rows and rows of pretty outfits.
I wouldn’t recall this event for years, but when it came rushing back I held the pang of confusion in my throat in the same way my six year old self had on that day.
When I was a teenager, a friend’s older brother climbed into the bed I was sleeping in, pinning me between him and my then-almost-boyfriend. As he tossed and turned in his drunken state, he moved his hands across my side, my belly, my breasts, my ass.
I stayed in that bed for mere minutes, an eternity longer than I wanted to. I spooned my then-almost-boyfriend tighter and closer, hoping somehow the unwelcome guest would vanish into the darkness behind us.
But he didn’t.
He continued to grope a trembling body as I dug my nails into my then-almost-boyfriend’s arm, pleading silently for him to wake.
But he didn’t.
I twisted and turned, trying to pretend I was asleep—embarrassed of the situation I had somehow put myself in, dying and screaming inside, wishing I was home with my mom.
And when I finally found the courage to break free of that wretched center, I ran out of the room, down the stairs, and sat alone in a dark living room until my then-almost-boyfriend stirred awake.
That monster of a man yelled to him as he made his way down the stairs to me, incoherent somethings of admittance. “I touched your girlfriend, man. Yeah. Sorry, man. I was just trying to touch her, man.. my bad. That was my bad,” as if the injustice belonged to then-almost-boyfriend and not to me.
At 18, I asked for permission to use the restroom—a code so many of us used with the ‘cool teacher’ when we wanted to excuse ourselves to the dark room for a smoke. The cool teacher obliged and joined me a few moments later, lighting up inches from my personal space.
He spoke of his desire, of my appeal, of our could-be-amazing future fuck. He used his ‘cool teacher’ hands and ‘cool teacher’ lips to graze parts of my body I had hoped to reserve for a suitor at least 30 years his junior.
I didn’t scream or hit him, I didn’t do any of the things I would imagine and reimagine for every day after that day. Instead, I froze—not wanting to make things awkward for my assaulter. Because he was my teacher and, to my knowledge, students weren’t supposed to be disrespectful in such violent ways.
When the ‘cool teacher’ finally made his triumphant steps toward the door, he stopped with his body halfway over the threshold. He didn’t ask if I was OK, but made a final plea for his student to “consider making an old guy really happy.”
I didn’t consider it, but I did consider his wife and kids when I made the heavy-hearted trek to find help. Because all I wanted in that moment—in those moments before, in every unwanted-advance of a moment since—was help.
And what I got when I finally cried out was disbelief.
What I got were stories from people who knew better than me.
What I got was a teacher pledging public allegiance to my attacker.
What I got were uncomfortable stares.
What I got were deafening whispers.
What I got was time—so much time—to feel broken and tarnished and tied.
I know my stories aren’t unique. It’s what makes this moment, this reckoning, so painful to witness. I know a mere 2% of rape and assault accusations are eventually determined to be false.
Two. Fucking. Percent.
I know I believe women when they stand up—however shaky, however timid, however long after the attack took place—and ask for help.