just one girl

I was maybe 4 or 5 years old.  It was a holiday, we were at the home of a trusted individual. There were dozens of us there, loud and crazy.  While everyone else sat in the living room, I ran out to the bathroom. She was an adult, a person who should have been trusted, her bedroom was right across from the bathroom.  When I came out of the bathroom, she was standing in her bedroom door.  I don't remember her exact words, I really wish I could.  But she tried to get me to come to her.  I can remember the look on her face, her finger calling for me to come.  I took a couple steps toward her, I was almost to her room, but something stopped me. something didn't feel quite right.  Instead a ran off back toward the busy living room, loud and crazy, but safe.  It would be a many number of years later before people come forward, to tell their stories.  They weren't as lucky as me, they didn't run away.  I am 34 years old.  I have never told anyone this story.  Not a soul.  I have replayed it in my head a hundred times trying to recall details, trying to remember if it really happened the way I remembered it; so thankful that I knew to run, heartbroken that others were not able to do the same.  30 years.  30 years have passed before I ever mentioned a single word.

I was in third grade when I started wearing a bra.  My mom took me to target, in the little girls section we picked out a pretty white and lace one.  I was only 9.  The next day at school the boys noticed the straps under my shirt.  At recess they teased me and chased me, and Justin snapped my bra strap.  I yelled at him, I made a scene. I was hurt and scared and mad. My friend followed my lead. We were called to the classroom.  Justin got to stay outside and play.  I was given time-out.  I was told that I should try harder to not allow the boys to see my bra.  I was told that this was my fault.  Justin was never talked to.  He was never disciplined.  No one batted an eye as his behavior continued on that track for the next 9 years.  I never blamed him, I didn't stay mad.  I laid my head on my mom's lap that night and she stroked my hair while I cried.  I imagine she cried too, knowing this is how she would have to raise her daughter.  

In fifth grade I had a teacher with a live coral reef.  He was fun, and lessons were always active and involved.  My parents went on vacation, and brought me back a cheesy vacation t-shirt, there were ice cream cones across the chest.  I was much more developed than your average 11 year old girl, remember I had already been wearing a bra for 2 years.  I was wearing that shirt one day as we were working on a special project.  The classroom was loud and busy as we moved around the room to different areas to get what we need.  As I walked past the teacher, I heard "Your cones are melting." My face was hot, my insides jumped just a little bit.  "What?" I turned and asked him.  "Your cones are melting." he said again, the look on his face said he knew he shouldn't have said it, but here he was saying it again.  He pointed at my shirt, at the ice creams cones, at my chest, "Your ice cream cones, they're melting."  He was looking right at me.  I didn't know what to say.  I was trying to will my face to not turn red, I was thinking about what I should say, or do, or if I should do anything.  I think I smiled, I think I fake laughed, I think I turned and walked away.  Funny, I don't remember my response.  But I remember thinking he shouldn't have said that to me.  I was 11.  I am now 34.  I have never told anyone this story. Not a word, not a breath, 23 years have passed.

In 7th grade I remember walking home from school whispering about boys, and how they all liked Tara. When one of the girls exclaimed, "Melinda, boys like you too, I hear them talking about your boobs all the time."  "No, they like my boobs.  That's not the same."  They all shrugged, as if a bunch of horny junior highers talking about your boobs as inanimate objects wasn't all that bad.

In 8th grade I wiped silent tears from eyes as I sat on the phone with one of my best friends and listened to him tell me about being sexually abused by a person in trust.  I cried and prayed and listened to him and tried to understand how he must feel.  More people came forward, he wasn't alone.  A few months later I sat with him on the phone and we sobbed together when that man killed himself.  I think I said, "Good."

In college I knew a boy who continually cracked jokes about my boobs, and frequently gave me "titty twisters" despite my angry requests to stop.  He didn't do it behind closed doors.  There were always people around.  Other boys I knew, friends, family, they were witness to it too.  When Matthew and I started dating he would grotesquely ask him about our physical relationship loudly, in the middle of rooms full of people.  My husband would sternly but politely ask him to stop.  But what he deserved was a punch in the gut.

When I was 21 I was on an uncrowded train in Vienna when a man moved in very close behind me.  For a moment I thought he was trying to steal my purse, so I moved it in front of me.  Moments later, I realized that was not what he was doing at all; I could feel him against me. I thought I must be mistaken, I took a couple of steps ahead, closer to my friend Becky, but he moved closer too.  I clenched her arm, and looked at her, she understood, she took a couple steps more and I followed, but he still followed my steps.  I could feel him against me, my face red with anger and embarrassment, my eyes filling with tears, I clenched her harder and she whispered to the rest of our group that we had to get off at the next stop.  The doors opened and we waited just a second, then we ran.  We ran out the doors, and kept running through the subway stop, making sure he wasn't following behind.  The rest of the group didn't understand why we got off the train.  When I explained, I am not sure they believed me.  Becky and I walked hand in hand the rest of the way.

Later that year my cousin and I spotted a man, standing outside of a hotel window, in the snow, with his pants down.  We screamed and ran to tell a family member, but when we returned, he was gone.  They still tease us to this day about the "imaginary man at the hotel".

I worked at a restaurant when I turned and ran directly into a co-worker body to body, chest to chest.  I apologized, frazzled.  He winked, "That's okay, to me it feels good." 

I have had job interviews when the interviewer never looked at my face, and instead interviewed my boobs.  I have held friends hands as they recounted cruelty, assault, rape.  I have been privy to an unkind or off color joke, some of which I laughed at, some of which were not meant for laughs, but for instilling power and a sense of indecency over those being told.  I have been cat called, I have been oogled, I have been any number of things that every woman of my age would tell you was just a part of being a girl in this world.   

And yet, I am one of the lucky ones.

Every 94 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the USA. Just over a minute and a half.

1 in every 6 women will be victim to an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. 1 in 6.

I am only one person, but I had more than one story to tell.  I had more than one story, 2 of which I had previously been too scared, too confused, or too concerned about how it would it could change life to tell anyone about.  30 years went by, and I wasn't raped, I wasn't assaulted in any way, but the threat was there.  And I didn't tell.  When others came forward, saying they were abused.  I still didn't say a thing.

I am just one girl.

But I can do my damnedest to make this world a better place for just one girl.

So I will teach my boys to respect women.  I will teach them to treat everyone as if they are someone to be respected, someone to be loved.

I will show them, through my own actions, how to listen, how to learn.

I will teach them to speak up, when they see something that is not right.

I will tell them stories about the past, about my past.  I will tell them that things do not have to be that way.  That things should not be that way.

I will teach them to be aware, to be warned, to keep a watchful eye.  

And they will never be the negative part in someone else's story.

And maybe, just maybe, they won't have stories to tell in 30 years.

And maybe, they will help just one girl have a better story to tell.  The story about how one boy, showed her respect when no one else did.  The story of how one boy stood up for them when another cracked a joke.  The story about how one boy held her hand and helped her get away from a situation that threatened her. 

I believe we can make this a better world, even for just one girl.      


  1. Love you and your honest writing. Beautiful as usual.

  2. I am sad, hurt, angry and ashamed that I was unaware of some of these situations. I love you and your strength and willingness to be open. You are an amazing Woman. I am so proud of you baby girl!


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