I am eleven or twelve, old enough to ride my bike to the park by myself, but too young to know what to do when the man approaches. He asks if I like movies, I answer a tentative yes. He asks if I would like to go to his house and watch movies with him sometime, I say “uh….I can’t do that.” He asks why not. He asks for my number. I tell him I have to go and he follows me out of the park. I’m glad to be fast on my bike and I make it to the busy shopping center a block away before he can catch up. I walk my bike into the lobby of Little Caesar’s Pizza, apologizing, fumbling with my pocket change. “I don’t have enough to buy anything but there’s a man following me. Can I wait in here until he’s gone?” The woman behind the counter looms up, her face darkens, and she says, “Point him out to me.” I point through the window to where he is standing, pacing back and forth and occasionally glancing in our direction. “That’s him,” I say, and she marches around the counter, brushes past me, shoves through the door and heads straight for him. I can’t hear what they are saying and I’m afraid to look. I focus on the blinking lights of the Simon Says game that I play in here sometimes, when I have quarters to spare. I feel small and stupid. When she comes back, she puts a bag of bread sticks into the basket of my bike and tells me to ride straight home. “He won’t bother you again today.”
I am 13 years old. I’m flying alone to visit relatives in New York. We are seated together, and he’s friendly. I always try to be friendly and polite to strangers. He asks me questions about my life, and we have a nice conversation. I don’t know when it turns sour, but it does. He tells me he would like to fly me to New York for a ski trip or just a nice weekend together. He tells me he has money, more than most 27 year olds. He asks me for my number, and I give it to him because I haven’t learned how to say no to this, or to replace one of the digits. I recite my number obediently, by heart. I’m even still smiling at him, because I don’t know how to stop being friendly and polite to strangers. We get off the plane together, he says he’ll call me and I hope that he doesn’t. He does though, weeks later when I am safe at home in my bedroom. My mom hands me the phone and he’s asking me questions I don’t know how to answer. I finally try lying to him, because maybe he’ll stop if he thinks I don’t like men. I tell him so and he answers, “Are you a lesbian? Let me ask you, what do lesbians do? Tell me about the things you do with the other girls, I’m just curious.” He knows I am 13 years old because that is one of the only questions he asks that I know how to answer.
I am 14. It’s my first year of high school and I’ve joined the orchestra. After our first concert, a friend of mine tells me he saw me play, and was trying to figure out whether or not I was wearing a bra the whole time I was onstage.
I am 15 and two weeks. I don’t call it rape for a long time, because it was my choice to go to that party, and drink those beers, and kiss him back. The next morning he drops me off at the house where I’m grounded for leaving my bed empty all night.
I have trouble focusing in Saturday orchestra rehearsals so at lunch time I sneak out and walk down to the main street of this neighborhood, stand outside the book store and play the handful of songs I know by heart over and over, while strangers throw money into my case. I make pretty good money at this, enough in two hours to buy cigarettes and coffee and cds from the record store across the street. I meet a lot of people and a lot of interesting opportunities come up. This time he is a middle-aged filmmaker, working on a small indie film having something to do with the mythology of spiders. He wants me to compose the soundtrack and play it on my violin. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I tell him I doubt I’m qualified for this. He doesn’t care, he wants to collaborate and maybe I can just improvise some stuff. He’ll pay me of course. He treats me to coffee and we discuss his film. When I go to his house to record some tracks, I never get my violin out of the case. He wants to talk more about his film and then he notices I’m so tense, I could use a massage. I sit, stiff and quiet, like a statue on his couch while he touches my body with shaking hands. I feel smaller when I leave, like he’s peeled off a layer of me to keep for himself. Like he’s bundled me up in quivering, spidery, filaments of something that won’t unstick. I am still 15.
Still 15, I’m riding the bus and it’s packed full, so I’m standing in the aisle. I actually prefer riding this way, it’s more fun and I can practice balancing. The bus lurches around a corner and an old man puts his hand on my butt, flashes a toothless smile. “Careful sweetie,” he mutters.
My best friend and I are hanging out downtown, and one of the street kids asks if we want to see his penis. He doesn’t wait for an answer. “Hold on, it looks better when it’s hard.”
I am hanging out at the beach, chatting with a homeless man who lives in a tunnel under the railroad tracks. He starts masturbating in front of me. I pretend nothing is strange about this, because I don’t know what else to do.
I’m 16 and my friend’s stepdad is a crack addict. They convince me to ask him for a cigarette, and he asks me how old I am. I answer “eighteen” because I think he’s asking if I’m old enough to smoke. He’s not. He looks me up and down, slowly, says, “good. That’s really good,” and grins. I take the cigarette and leave.
I’m 17 and I ask one of my teachers if I can have some old stage prop that I found in the storage closet. He tells me that I can, but only if I give him a kiss on the cheek first. It seems innocent enough at the time.
I’m 17 and a half, and I have a wildly age-inappropriate boyfriend. I don’t know how he did it, exactly, except that I didn’t feel safe before and now I do. I live in his house and absorb his identity for my own. He tells me that his greatest fantasy is to watch a squad of cheerleaders eat bananas. He tells me that he loves when teenage girls eat ice cream. I can no longer eat ice cream or bananas in front of men without shame.
I’m 18 and I play with a band. We are on an artist residency to rehearse our next show. We’ve all been assigned to prepare meals in shifts, and I’m making PBJ’s for lunch with a few of the guys. I make sure to spread the peanut butter over the entire slice of bread and one of them says suggestively, “She’s all about that full coverage.” The others laugh and it takes me a few years after that to understand what he means by this.
I’m 19 and I’m sad all the time. I feel small, dark, overwhelmed, and tired. I cry on the bus. Older men still hit on me, but they don’t separate into distinct moments. This is just one long uncomfortable bus ride.
I’m 20 and I’ve moved to a smaller place. I feel safe again, living in a house full of college students. We laugh and have fun. We go to parties. I play my violin at an open mic — some back-up harmonies for a boy I have a crush on who plays guitar and sings in a heartbroken voice. We are gathered in someone’s apartment afterward, laughing and drinking and playing more music together, when a friend of a friend calls me “Kendal Wood”. I ask what he means and he says “Your new stage name is Kendal Wood, because when Kendal plays, everybody gets wood!” After this I feel self conscious whenever I perform. I hesitate, blush, apologize. I try and take up less space, be less of whatever I am.
I’m 21 and I’m trying to break up with my boyfriend. He stalks me, he calls repeatedly, he finds my friends and I at whatever bar we’re hiding in. Sometimes I cave in and take him back, out of exhaustion, because he won’t quit harassing me. It’s easier to pretend this is my choice, this relationship, than to try and twist out of his grip. We fight at his house and he won’t let me leave. He blocks the exit, begging. He pins my arms. I tell him okay, I’ll stay, I’m just going to get my cigarettes out of my car and I do, but I lock the passenger side door and stick the keys in the ignition just in case. This is how I escape, by tricking him and jumping into the car before he can stop me. He tries the locked door and comes around to my side as I’m pulling out of the driveway. He is dragged several feet before he lets go of my window. I have nightmares about him and the one time my roommates leave me home alone, he knocks at my bedroom window as I shiver in the dark for 20 minutes, the phone endlessly ringing. We upgrade our service to include caller ID. He leaves notes on my car with words like “whore” and “succubus.” He makes one last effort to win me back on Halloween but when I don’t go home with him at the end of the night, he waits for me in my house and then slashes one of his wrists in my kitchen. “You did this to me,” he screams. The knife nicks the tip of my thumb, he’s so close. My friend shoves him away and pushes me into the bathroom, locks the door behind us. I stare at my bloody thumb as she calls the police from my phone. He is still screaming at me as they wrestle him into an ambulance and finally he’s gone.
I’m 22 and I live with my friend and her boyfriend. Our bathroom door doesn’t lock. I’m taking a shower when he comes in to “get a toothbrush” and peeks behind the shower curtain. He actually pulls back the curtain and says, “Peek!” He does this more than once, but I tell him to knock it off. I’m finally getting a voice.
I’m 25 and I share an apartment with a friend. We leave the back door unlocked most of the time, in case one of us forgets our keys. I wake up in the middle of the night and a man is crouched by my bed, just behind the clutter of books and a milk crate I use as a desk. “Hello?” I ask him and an unfamiliar voice answers, “Hi.” I ask what he is doing in my room and he says, “This is not my apartment?” I tell him it is not. He asks how to get out and I say through the door you came in and then he does, miraculously, leave. I lock the door behind him. Later a neighbor will tell me about him. He lives upstairs from us and he tries things, with everyone.
I’m 35 and I’m out for a walk by myself. It’s still light out so I cut through the park, enjoying the play of twilight on the grazing flock of geese, walking past the sparkling lake when a young man runs up to me and asks for a hug. “You’re pretty,” he says, “can I have a hug?” When I say no, he asks why not, why can’t he just have a hug? I yell at him then, as I walk quickly away, “Don’t you know how you’re making me feel right now, when I just want to take a walk and now I don’t feel safe anymore?!” He says sorry and I walk as fast as I can all the way home. I always walk fast.