It’s just that sexual harassment began in my life when the word harassment was taller than me, and I wouldn’t have understood that there was a “too” to be initiated into. In fact, I would have not know how to differentiate between “to” and “too,” one being for direction or part of together and the other involving also, for a bit to come. I would have known “two.”
In the first grade, it was two boys who rubbed my rear end any time we were in line to go to PE, to walk to the bathrooms, to the lunchroom, or to assembly. They called it something specific that at thirty six, I can’t quite remember. I do remember having to sit with my mom and the vice-principal on the cement steps that faced the playground and explain what was happening to me. So, my “me too” begins at six or seven given that my birthday is in October.
It was my first time in public school having spent two years of kindergarten at my church. That first classroom on the right with the heavy wooden door when you walked into the school held heaviness in so many other ways. I had been kissed on the cheek by a little boy in my class, which I suppose is cute and fine, when you’re both small and you’re a pretty little girl who is scared about being away from her parents and in a big school where the teacher got on to boys (just boys) by putting them over her knees behind the reading chart and spanking them. Fear. Fear is real and so big when your six, small, and sensitive. Another little boy who I vaguely remember exposing himself when the teacher was out of the room, liked to pick his nose. One day he teased me by attempting to wipe a booger on me. I believe I was reprimanded for making noise or squiggling around, and I was so scared that I would be brought behind that chart. Only boys. Once we had a tornado drill, the kind where you shuffle out and put your nose to the floor and your hands over your head, so that when the tornado comes and the lockers topple on top of you it won’t hurt — at all. In first grade, the little boy to my left tried to kiss me, and I elbowed towards him. His tooth fell out. When he told on me, I was afraid of going to the principal’s office. I’m not sure if I had seen that paddle carried around the halls yet, but I said to the teacher, “He told me it was already loose.”
My heart has hurt for her. That tiny girl with the knobby knees. Her grandmother called her “skeeter” short for mosquito bite because she had been so small. Growing up she was surrounded by grown-ups and grown-ups in training — closest sibling 9 ½ years away. Smart, funny, kind, and brave in a family where she was deeply loved but not quite normal … though she walked life like it was normal — she walked it with a slight limp. Diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis a year or so earlier, there were times she had been forced to crawl. She was hospitalized after being overdosed by a medical professional. The teachers in kindergarten had carried her when her body attacked the joints on her skinny legs. In first grade, she had to stand up in the back of the class when sitting too long caused pain and her legs to start drawing up. This girl who was emotionally abused at home while being loved deeply and treasured all at the same time. Who was scared of the dark, whose daddy was beginning to be a little too dependent on pain medicine after hurting his back, and a mother who was overworked and overwhelmed. This first grader who felt so much. She felt tiny hands rubbing her rear end when she was walking on her own. She was just a “me” then. Me.
When I was in the sixth grade I was across the street at a neighbor’s house when his cousin who was visiting for the day, grabbed my butt. I believe I told him not to touch me there and when he did it again, I picked up a combination lock that was close to me and threw it at his crotch. When the lock made contact, it angered him and he punched me in my mouth. It was mouth still tender from being busted at gymnastics when a front handspring made contact with another gymnast’s handstand. My teeth had gone through my lip. That day I stood up for myself and a boy’s knuckles met an already tender place. Tenderhearted.
When I was sixteen, I began to be nauseous in the mornings. I was itchy in a tender, private place, and I was trying everything I could think of to make it better. Earlier that year, my parents had divorced and my mom and I were living in an apartment where our rooms were on the opposite ends of the hallway separated by two bathrooms and a tug of war rope that often stayed tight with tension. A tightrope walked without a net. Me. Walking. My mom took me to the “girl” doctor for the first time. I was afraid but I made it through. It turned out that I had a bacterial infection and somethings small that had to be biopsied that the doctor cut from my labia. Later that week, my mom came to my high school, checked me out, and sat me down on our couch. She seemed scared? Nervous? Upset? I hadn’t had sex. In fact, I’d never even had a real boyfriend and hadn’t even really kissed a boy yet. She was afraid I had been raped and that I was keeping it a secret. I couldn’t. I couldn’t remember anything. Yet, I had an STD. I couldn’t understand it. The pediatrician’s nurse later told her that you could get a wart on your private area just like any other place on your body and for her not to listen to the gynecologist who was saying that I had HPV. (You know before it was so rampant, had its own commercials, and was controversially vaccinated) I tried to forget about it. In my early twenties, I once again began to have a lot of ovarian and vanigal issues. After a biopsy of my cervix, a rather esoteric daughter hurried us back to her office, scaring us into thinking I had cancer, to spill forth a long scientific word that once again meant — genital warts. HPV. The medicine they gave me made things worse and my HPV never looked exactly like the sample photos. I found myself crying through painful acid treatments by a doctor that never quite believed that I’d never had sexual intercourse before. I lay flat on an examination table as she poured acid on that tender place and a nurse held a fan toward my vagina to soothe the burn. Tears streamed down my face because I felt so ashamed and dirty and I didn’t know why. Tenderhearted.
I remember the first time I cut myself on purpose as clear as I remember the last time. It’s a time in between, that took away her breath. Mine too. Me too. On one occasion much removed, I referred to her as my guardian bull dog angel. She may have been the strongest woman I recognized before I began to see myself in the mirror correctly. Straight through my eyes to my heart, like God does. She was the viewer of the aftermath sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, and always I know wishing she wasn’t seeing the dark and warm red that became larger and more scary. It was SGA picture day. My hair was dyed dark and my sleeves long and black when I pulled that one back in her office to reveal over hundred fresh cuts on my left wrist. It took her breath. She may have held my arm. She looked at me.
“You’re sure no one has raped you?”
Her too? It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked the question. Not even the first time she had asked me.
I knew the meaning of “too” by college. That wasn’t a group I remembered being initiated into. No, not me too.
Because I’m not of the ones who can remember.
*** I have a wonderful family and God has redeemed my life in beautiful ways. I am thankful for the love I had growing up, but I also believe being honest and real is the only way to help others who may feel alone. The artwork belongs to me. It is from my journals and assignments when I was in therapy for depression, self-harm, and an eating disorder. God’s timing and plan is perfect. I have so much good now because the things that have been overcome from my past. Stories are powerful. Share your story. ***