It has been a hard thing being forever vunerable. My biological father long gone and my dad not being quite aware of the void left, I have been attacked multiple times by multiple men. Hear me: grown ass men were coming for me, coming at me like I was a grown woman as early as 9 years old.
I had gone to spend a rare night at a friend’s house. I did not like to spend the night at people’s houses, but she was my bestest friend and she had asked me to for her birthday. We had big fun, laughing and running out in the yard, playing pretend, eating snacks her mom laid out, being little girls. Everything was cool until that night. My mom had packed me one of those two-piece sleep sets with a kind of long t-shirt and capri pants. I had already washed up and changed and sat waiting for her to do the same. Suddenly, the air around me changed. My heart dropped into my stomach. Out of my periphery, I could make out the silhouette of a man standing in the doorway. He never said hello. He never smiled. He never moved. Just stood there staring at me. I did not move either, instead sitting graveyard still pretending to watch t.v. I knew if I twitched the slightest bit that he would take that as an invitation. The sight of my friend busting out the bathroom door yelling, “Daddy!” brought the kind of relief people only dream about. After giving her a hug, he left out, taking the time to carress my shoulder on the way out. I never stopped watching t.v. And I never went back to her house again.
I was 10.
I remember being at church one Sunday, getting ready to do my job as a musician. The guest minister for the day come over to the piano where I sat waiting for service to begin. With the piano acting as a wall and his body blocking anybody’s view, he leaned over me as I was playing some hymn to fill the dead time before devotion. I thought he was getting ready to tell me what song he would sing before he preached; instead, he leaned over and ran his hand up my thigh. I froze in hot shame before practically falling over the bench to get away from him. If anybody noticed me running for my life, they never said a word. He did not even flinch, just smoove walked away like nothing had happened, then proceeded to preach about sin and hell.
I was 13.
I remember it like it was yesterday. An older man was harrassing me at the county fair, totally disregarding my unambiguous nos and forceful yet futile attempts to escape the colonization of my body by his invading hands. The words he used to “entice” me made me feel dirty and sad. I was in tears trying to just get him off me. Those couple minutes felt like forever. My boyfriend (who had gone to buy tickets for the rides) rushed to my side, and challenged this much bigger man on my behalf. Not with the “That’s my girlfriend, you’re peeing on my property” kinda thing that men do–but in a genuine “you are a pervert and you don’t do that to girls” way. Up to that point in my life, no man had ever stood up for me. Not one. And until it happened, I had never realized what it meant to be even a little protected.
I was 15.
In college, I took another job playing for a church in the county over from Lafayette. Besides not paying much, being there gave me the queasies. The pastor was a pretty chauvinistic individual, patronizing to all the women of the church in some way or the other. It was a small Baptist congregation, so that type of lowlife patriarchy was normal. I had already determined that I would only play there for the rest of the month when that particular Sunday after service, the pastor walked behind me down the center of the church aisle and squeezed my butt. No subterfuge, no cover, no warning, no words–he just grabbed me ever so casually as I stood there talking to a mother of the church. I did not stay to get my last check.
I was 20.
These are 4 times that stuck with me vividly, but they are not the only times. I can recount moment after shamefilled, embarrassing moment when I had been violated in some way. While no one has ever forced themselves on me completely in an act of rape, the damage was just as real.
I never knew what to do or how to respond to the vulgar words, the unwanted touching, the outright leering…I just wanted it to stop. To get away from them and to figure out why they thought it was okay to come for me in this way.
I have never been abused in anyway. I never did anything remotely sexual as a child. I never dressed or acted sexually. I rarely played up anything about myself that could be considered attractive. I wore plaits until I was nearly 16 years old. Being grown up, being seen by anybody as a “woman” never crossed my mind.
Still, men would violate my space. Say things to me that you don’t say to any woman or girl. Touch me without regard for my self agency and wellbeing. Watch me greedily until I wanted to fade away. I never gave any outward sign that I welcomed or wanted that type of attention, yet something in them clued into the fact that I was vunerable, a fortress without walls that they could plunder at will.
“Featured image: Vulnerable Girl.” http://www.saatchionline.com/benon