When I was thirteen my friend’s mom sent the two of us to pick up some parsley from the grocery store two blocks away. We set out, happily chattering about whatever we were planning to do that evening and enjoying the warm spring air. We crossed the busy street, found the parsley, made fun of the tabloid headlines, made our purchase, and started walking home. However, right after we crossed the street, we passed a man, who reached out and grabbed my bottom.
But instead of screaming, calling the cops, confronting the man, or even mentioning it to my friend, I kept silently walking, convinced that I had imagined it. After all, who hasn’t accidentally swung their arm and hand into someone at some point. I once gave Leigh a pretty bad bruise on her face while gesticulating wildly. These things happen. And I did not want to falsely accuse anyone. Bad things like groping children don’t seem to happen in our part of town. It’s a very safe place. It just had to be an accident. Of course, I was wrong to think anything of it.
And then I didn’t say anything about it to anyone for years. I was so scared of making it into a big deal, if the contact had only been an accident. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. What happened could hardly be compared to sexual abuse. It felt like offensive to people who have been sexually abused to raise any sort of alarm of my own.
Almost exactly a year later, I went to France by myself and had four very frightening events happen within two days. I got chased down a street by a much older boy on the program who “just wanted to hug me” even when I said no several times (I got caught outside of a grocery store and he wouldn’t let go), hit on by a man in his twenties with a disturbing leer, grabbed around the waist very suddenly by another guy on the program, and woken up at one in the morning by two drunk roommates who were throwing condoms filled with water at my head. (This is not to mention the fact that I got attacked by a very large dog less than a week into the program and all of the bullying from the other Americans.) Once again, I said nothing because they were just “little things.”
When I was sixteen, I got cornered in a supply closet by a guy with several mental illnesses, and a slew of other things happened that I also didn’t mention to anyone because they didn’t seem like anything serious.
But I thought about these incidents constantly, at least five times a day. Sometimes they make me cry. I freak out when people touch me and I can’t see them first. I do not like to be alone with adult men, and I’m very distrustful of guys. The anorexia has left my arms weak enough that I can’t carry my one-year-old cousin if he isn’t resting on my hip. I am not physically strong enough to stop any sort of attack.
It wasn’t until three weeks ago that I tried to very casually drop the first grocery store incident into a conversation with my mom, who brushed it off as an accident and that “there are just some guys out there who are creeps.”
Maybe that is the truth. There is a large possibility that all of these things are comically trivial and that I’ve just built them up inside of my head, but I’m inclined to think that even if that’s the case, I do have a right to my fear. Feeling guilty about it isn’t right. None of these things were my fault. It’s alright if I’m scared. I’m allowed to cry.
And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.