Maybe It's Not Butterflies, But a Fear of Further Violation
When I was 13, I had a crush on a one of my friends, James. He was kind and witty and we used to debate politics on the way to class. We often worked on projects for school together, and for our end of year math project, we had to design a mini-bridge and then build it from scratch. I was partnered with him and two girls, one named, Eliza, and the other, my best friend, Olivia. The four of us got along well together and after about two weeks, our bridge was almost fully designed. One day, the four of us were sitting in the hallway, drawing our blueprint. We had some questions, so James went back into the classroom to ask our teacher, Mr. Philips.
My back was to the door and I was seated, hunched over a large piece of graph paper and talking to the other girls. As I worked, I didn't hear him come back, but suddenly, I felt his hands on my chest. He squeezed for a few seconds, and then said, "I think your bra is too small." Then he walked over to his spot and continued working. I felt my face grow hot and I ran down the stairs and sat on the landing. No one came after me, the other girls stayed with him and continued to work. After about 10 minutes, I came back and sat down with the group. Eliza suggested that we move to the library and so we packed up our things. When we got there, the three of them sat by a big window and I sat by myself near a bookshelf. I remember thinking it was odd that no one had come after me, not even my best friend. Alone, I told myself, I must have been overreacting. That I was just sulking for attention. I went back to the group, and James asked me what was wrong. Eliza said, "isn't it obvious, you embarrassed her." He made another comment about my bra not fitting right, but all I could think was that I didn't feel embarrassed. The thing I felt most was inadequate. Before this point, I thought he liked me back, but after he made the comment about my bra, I told myself I wasn't good enough for him. I blamed myself. I felt ugly and unlovable. I spoke to Olivia after and asked her what she thought. She told me that he was a flirt and it was no big deal. I still felt uncomfortable, but unfortunately remained on the project with him. I felt so ashamed and didn't want to go to my teacher or anyone. I am now 15, and to this day, I haven't told my parents or most friends. A couple weeks later, we were assigned to another project, for science class. Over the weeks, he never mentioned it to me, and it was obvious that he didn't consider it to be a big deal, but every time I saw him, it was all I could think about.
The weirdest part is, I still liked him, and since the incident, though there was no way he could like me back. Now, I realize my nervousness around him was probably out of fear of violation, not butterflies.
Following the incident, I am weary of male friends. James had seemed to care about me and about women's issues, but clearly not enough. I find myself going after boys who are mean to me, and I think it is a direct result of this traumatic event. For a while, I didn't connect my relationship towards men to this experience, but just this year I went to a Take Back The Night rally and listened to a woman tell a story about being sexually assaulted. She described her landlord grabbing her chest and squeezing. I started to think it was like what James had done to me. Then it finally hit me, there was a reason I had felt so violated, a reason I had shut down and run off. I wasn't overreacting. It wasn't until I heard her speak, that I understood.
I had been sexually assaulted.
I know that there are many women out there who have gone through much worse. I wasn't raped. I wasn't abused. But I experienced a loss of control over my own body. I want to share that things like this stay with you. Even if it feels small, it can shape the way you behave for a lifetime.
I have been catcalled more times than I can count, but there are some specific times that stay with me. For example, when a grown man, carrying his 3-year-old daughter, told me to "bend over good, cupcake" as I picked out a Father's day card. I want girls and women to know that their feelings are valid. Only you know if you felt violated. It took me so long to understand my feelings because no one around me had treated it like the assault it was.
James still sends me articles and has tried to FaceTime me, but I don't pick up. I have since moved schools, but still can't get it out of my mind.
I don't know if I ever will.