I was lucky. I just forget that part sometimes. I was lucky when I was 11. Walking home with my friend, holding hands, we were carefree kids. That is, till a grizzled guy offered to buy us. He reached out and touched my hair, "Silky," he said. Then followed, hot on our heels, block after relentless block. She, luckier by far, peeled off at 96th. I had another 10 to go, ducking in and out of stores, asking for help. No one cared. No one even looked my way. Stupid girl, that's what they said, but even that they didn't say aloud. "Go on, get out of here," was what they said aloud.
Sweating, terrified, I lurched into the apartment. Told my wise and infinitely weary mother.
"That's why I always carry a hatpin," she said. And left it at that.
I was 11.
Twelve. Seventh grade. Nestor Santiago with an incipient mustache above his lip. And a persistent desire to get me alone. Trap me near the lockers. Talk to me at the back of the elevator. And one day, get his friends to stand guard while he had me, alone in homeroom. There, he cornered me for good, by a desk and stole a kiss, would have copped a feel and a little bit more than that. Right through the undershirt my mother made me wear, because what did I need a bra for? I was size triple A.
Twelve. It was a very good year. My best friend dropped me, she sided with Nestor after I got him in trouble, she said, so did everyone else in junior high school. No one would even talk to me there.
Of course strange men would talk to me. "You look good, baby. Let me show you something." It wriggled and sang. It was out of their pants and alive. Almost. A one-eyed snake. One man hid it under a briefcase and caught me alone in a subway car. I made sure never to get caught like that again. But how could you escape when they were everywhere? In the park, they surprised me when I walked the dog. Big help that old dog was, no bite and no bark. I had to learn how for the two of us.
Thirteen. Thirteen was great too. I played defense. On the rush hour subway to my new school, strange hands moved up my skirt. You couldn't get away no matter how you squirmed and tried. I got tired of that and one day I punched the guy hard. My friends, older boys said, "What did you do that for?" I couldn't explain it to them. "Nothing," I said, like I was the crazy one.
Fourteen going on well... 14 and I was kissed on a real date. I fell in love and was dumped unceremoniously when his girlfriend wanted him back. I day-dreamed about someone saving me from the boredom of tenth grade. I was young for my grade, but old for my age.
Fourteen. I took photography classes after school, and my teacher groped me in the darkroom. He was over 30. He and his best friend, an ex model ,would hang out with us, us girls. His ex model ran the bar Oren's. Later on, when I'd go get a drink there, I'd remember that.
On the street, the guys would whistle. Call me names. I ignored them. Other girls with red and blonde hair got beat up by the girls from the tough, all-girls high school. But they never messed with me because I was lucky.
Fifteen. The year I was assaulted by my poetry teacher. He stuck his tongue down my throat. He tried to feel me up in class in front of everyone else. I pulled away and yelled at him. "Why did you do that?" they asked. I declined to testify on the grounds that it might incriminate me. Why did I think that? Fifteen, the year I was assaulted by a stranger at a party. He had me down on the ground, if my friend hadn't come along and pulled him off me, who knows, I was lucky. Really, really lucky...
There wasn't a week that passed when a guy didn't have something to say to me, on the street, in the park, at the movies. They followed me if I went alone to the movies. One guy stuck his hand up my skirt and I tried to get away and the matron told me to go sit down, I was being disruptive. I should have carried a hatpin. I guess I forgot. I should have carried a knife. Or a gun. I should have cut their balls off.
I hitched a ride, stupid, with another girl as protection. The driver told us he was going to take us to his house and rape us real good. I talked him out of it, somehow, I don't even know.
What's the point of explaining when it just goes on and on and on until... oh right, the time it's over for good.
The last time a guy groped me I was pregnant. He reached out and grabbed my breast. I was so surprised I didn't even get a chance to do anything.
What was he thinking?
You tell me.
What were they all thinking? Oh yes, I know, that they owned me, that I was theirs forever and always and they could do whatever the f*ck they wanted to me. That no one cared. They could hang me from a tree after they raped me. They could throw me into a ditch. They could say I asked for it. They could say it was because of how I dressed. My skirt was too short. That cleavage. I was too beautiful for words. I made them do it. It was my fault. I forgot. That's right. A hatpin would have done it. Or a megaton bomb.
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