I share these recollections, not because they are extraordinary – but because they are commonplace. They are tame compared to many of my peers. The events of the past few weeks have dredged these up and I felt like the only remedy was to leave them in the light.
I’m eleven, delivering pennysavers two blocks from my home. A man sitting in the driver’s seat of a nearby parked car calls me over. He shows me a magazine and asks me if I know any of the women in the pictures. The photos are crude amateur porn. I understand that the question isn’t a real one, but I play along and tell him no, that I don’t recognize them. He then asks me if I’ve ever seen a penis and I answer with more bravado than I feel that I have – because I have a baby brother. He pulls the magazine away to show me his. I’m careful not to flinch. It seems very important not to appear scared. He tells me to “watch, because something is going to happen.” I tell him politely that I need to finish my paper route. He watches me for several minutes as I walk house to house, then drives away. When I finish my deliveries, I go home and tell my parents. My mother tells me that the same thing happened to her when she was a girl. For her, it was the ice cream man. My dad has me get in the car and we drive around looking for the man. He’s silent but I can tell how angry he is. I am secretly relieved that we can’t find him. I can’t remember any of the details about the car, but I could pick him out of a lineup today.
I’m thirteen and it’s the first really warm day of summer. I unpack last year’s shorts and go to see a friend. Later, as I’m walking home for dinner, a middle-aged man in a Cadillac slows down as he passes me, unrolls his window and honks the horn. He doesn’t say anything, just holds his fingers up to his lips, flicking his tongue between then. I ignore him and keep walking. After a few minutes of driving alongside me, he drives away but he loops around the block and follows me again. By the fifth time he comes back, I’m frightened. I take note of the license plate, slip though a hole in the chainlink fence at the high school, and cut across the football field. When I get home, I call 911 but the dispatcher tells me there is nothing he can do. The man is rude, he tells me, but he hasn’t done anything wrong.
I’m fifteen and I’ve gone with some friends into the city to watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It’s very cold so we’re bundled up and packed tightly into the jostling crowd along the parade route. Suddenly, a woman standing next to me taps me on the shoulder, looks behind me and scowls dramatically. I turn to see that the person behind me, a tall man in business clothes, has his pants open. He’s been rubbing himself on the back of my coat. I shriek. My friends turn to see and they all scream with laugher as the man disappears into the crowd.
I’m sixteen, and I say, “no” but my boyfriend doesn’t stop. A half dozen of my guy friends are hanging out in the room below us, easily within earshot but I stay quiet. I’m not entirely sure what will happen if I call for them – if they’ll help me – or join him.
I’m seventeen and living on my own. I ride the A-train into the city every day to go to work where I’m a receptionist. The rush hour train is packed with people and I rarely get a seat. Standing in the middle of the crowded train car, men put their hands on me nearly ever day. It never occurs to me that I could confront them. I pride myself on how stoic I am, not letting them know how much what they’re doing rattles me. I stare straight ahead and grip the metal pole as tightly as I can. “It’s just my body”, I tell myself, “It isn’t ME”. I am still four months shy of my 18th birthday.