But I’m not saying it on social media. I’m saying it here. Because there’s more to the story, and me, than just a hand raised in solidarity.
For most of my life, though I’ve been aware of times in which my intelligence or appropriateness for a role has been questioned due to either my age or gender, I didn’t think I was a victim to sexual misconduct. I’ve volunteered in a sexual assault victim’s advocacy center, read through countless counseling reports for the juvenile court. I knew that victims and perps could look like anything, be employed any way, and cope however. I knew it, yes, but I was part of team reaction and recovery, not team in the trenches. So I thought.
I’m going to tell you a story, decades old and nearly forgotten, that snuck up on me the other day as I was reading the Harvey Weinstein reports and cringing at what he did to those women. It’s my “me too” story. I haven’t told anyone in my adult life this, not even my husband from whom I hide nothing. So deeply buried was it that only now am I remembering and realizing the impact.
I was thirteen, just entering middle school (which sucks no matter what, awkwardness + puberty + new school = total misery). We were getting in line for gym, a time when we had to sit in short, alphabetical lines of five or six for attendance. Our teacher stood before us, clipboard in hand, jotting down presents and absents. The boy in front of me turned and placed his feet in my spot. I asked him to move them. I was told to sit in line. I asked him to move them. I was told to sit in my spot. I sat, though he didn’t move his feet, which placed them on my ass.
I continued asking him to move, to turn around, to stop irritating me. He began to lift his feet, bouncing me up and down by my crotch. The other students watched me grow angrier and ask him to quit, though not in a loud enough voice to draw the teacher’s ire. There were witnesses. He didn’t stop until it was time to break out of our lines. I was angry, embarrassed, a bit confused why that had happened at all. My sitting parts hurt.
I waited until after class to go to the principal.
He listened to my story, his round face serious. He asked if other people saw this behavior. I said yes. He asked for names. I gave them. He said we’d talk later. I went back to class.
I was called back to his office for the verdict. The white haired administrator told me he’d spoken with my classmates, who’d all confirmed that I’d asked the kid to stop and that I seemed very upset during the whole thing. The principal, his name still remembered all these decades later, then warned me that these were very serious allegations and that the kid who did this would suffer. The cops would need to be called. This would go on his record. It was something called “sexual harsssment” I was accusing a fellow student of. Did I really want that?
Yes. It was wrong. It was my body that he’d decided to do that to, and I’d asked him not to.
The cops came and arrested the kid midday, in front of an entire student body moving through the halls. I saw, too. Hands behind his back, the kid sneered at me. It was my fault. That’s what the principal had insinuated and that’s what the kid’s face said to me and everyone else watching. My fault.
That sentiment was presented more than ever the next day, as my fellow classmates let me know what they thought of my getting the boy arrested. He was just playing. It wasn’t a big deal. Why’d I have to freak out? I was immediately and permanently a pariah, an exaggerator. I cried. At school. Awful.
The only person there to bolster me, a stranger I didn’t know, was another boy that’d experience on the wrong side of handcuffs. A “bad boy” who knew his way around a bong and had been enrolled in the “alternative” schooling program that partnered with my middle school. He’d been in the gym. He saw was happened. He told me it’d be okay. He, alone, made me feel like I had a friend amidst a sea of sneers and set downs.
Thats how he became my first “real” boyfriend and how I came to rely on him, because I was sure there was no one else who had my back like he did. He did everything he could to drive home that point, too. To say it started off unhealthily and progressed into darker waters from there is an understatement. It would take me the next four years of my life to permanently shake off that mentality, that this person who befriended me at my lowest point had a special kind of love for me, no matter how badly he treated me at times.
I’m so far away from that, and I’d willed the memories to fade so much that I had thought it was a thing I’d never experienced. I’d never been a victim. I’d never paid for my truths the way some whistleblowers do. But that’s a lie. I did. Maybe, despite what Mayim Bialik thinks, all women do at some point. It shouldn’t be like that.
But, I promise, that’s only one part of my, of our, story. We’re much, much more than that. And when we start standing together, raising voices together in support of one another, we’ll make the world see it as well.
This post originally appeared on Mandy Nachampasssack-Maloney’s blog.
Mandy Nachampassack-Maloney is the author of two full length novels, three feminist children’s picture books, and a mom of two. She writes about the triumphs and trials of raising these aspiring amazons while working from home at her blog at mnmaloney.wordpress.com.