I’ve gotten used to the laughing, especially from boys. Whereever I go, it seems to be the most hilarious thing for the local children to poke their heads out their adobe windows and shout, “Hello, how are jou!” It’s not really a question, it’s just an exclamation, followed by a host of giggles, especially if I respond. I’m used to the men gawking. I’m tall, pale, curly haired, my eyes are blue, and I almost always carry a backpack of schoolwork. When my hair was shorter, complete strangers would walk up to me to touch my curls, bounce them of the palm of their hand and smile at me. Others will say in passing, “Que lindos, sus ojitos.” I often find myself blushing, but there’s no real way to hide your eyes.
I’ve stopped being afraid, most of the time, when it’s dusk, and drunk men walk too close. Or sober men, with that nagging in their eyes, that begging that makes you wonder if they’re going to keep going, or if they’re going to stop. They usually don’t touch me.
There’s a part of me that feels like that’s what men will do. Not that they should, or that they are entitled, or that they all will, but I never find myself surprised when the line is crossed. I think it says too much about me.
It says too much about my history, that two young boys can be snickering, and I ignore it, that they let me pass them, and I think nothing, and that one can run up from behind, reach his hand between my legs to stroke me, and thank God my skirt was long and denim, and run into the dark path down the stairs to the street below. I still don’t respond. I don’t react at all. My only response is to immediately shut it out and pretend it isn’t happening. What would a normal person to do in response to that kind of violation of privacy?
They’re just stupid kids, they don’t know that I can’t respond because I was trained, at a young age, not to. Not to say anything, not to cry out, not to react, and never to let other people know. That their touch is just another unwelcome, but seemingly unavoidable, touch to a place that lost ownership long ago.
I had thought I was beyond feeling that way. That I only reached that primal place and responded off my childhood instincts when I’d had too much to drink. But here I was, sober, 8 o’clock at night, shutting down as though the 13/14 year old boys behind me were the same as the 300 pound monster of my nightmares. Feeling as though a reaction would be putting my life on the line, or asking for another beating. Just kids.
They won’t know that the coldness comes back. That a part of me grows hard, quickly rebuilding those walls so they don’t come down. Don’t react. It’s my unspoken mantra. One I don’t even believe in, but can’t seem to break out of the trance. Don’t be upset. Don’t speak. This is what happens.
And it’s that cage, that final captor, that has allowed for the others. That has left me with the invisible mark of victim. Only some can see it, like an infared mark most never notice. Hidden in ambition, lost in personality, but those who can see through the covers all do, and they all find me. It doesn’t have to be this way. I refuse to live with it being this way.
New mantra: This is not what happens.