Beg your pardon.
Take off your hat, dip your crown just enough to let me know I am respected and acknowledged.
Let me pass without trial.
It’s an easy thing.
Let a girl walk past without trial.
But not this past Sunday. The Lord’s Day.
I keep finding myself telling myself it was a small thing. But small things don’t make you feel sick or shamed. Small things don’t linger days after.
Perhaps because it was a small thing connected to a larger thing. A larger thing buried deep until it is not.
He was, he is, an old man. Probably late sixties, early seventies. I met him a week before—the uncle of a close friend of mine who was in town for bereavement. We all had drinks. Talked. Laughed. It was an evening. It was fun.
There are questions now:
Was I too nice?
Was I too friendly?
Did I smile too much?
Did I say inappropriate things?
These questions always turn to statements:
I was too nice.
I was too friendly.
I smiled too much.
I said inappropriate things.
I didn’t see him again until Super Bowl Sunday. The same friend’s house. The party you could hear from the street.
He caught me outside. I was alone. I am always alone in these moments. Even when there are others present. Even when they are standing feet away. It is an invisibility that somehow infected me.
Infected me so early.
He stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. His hand went on my shoulder, and he stopped me.
I could tell he was drunk by how he spoke too close to me.
“I like you because of what you said in there.”
When I tried to step back, his grip held.
What I said in there was nothing that came out of his mouth next.
What came out of his mouth was not the most horrible thing I had ever heard. I have heard horrible things. But what came out of his mouth spread immediately over my skin. His intense proximity. What came out of his mouth was paired with his hand holding my shoulder.
It was all of this. It was not just words.
The words were only:
“I like how you said, ‘Even split-tails like sports.’”
“I like how you said, ‘Even cunts can like sports.’”
Stand back from this scene.
Raise your camera. Take a photo.
Do not ask anyone to smile.
Look at the photo. Look at it all.
Later in the kitchen, when I turned and he was there, and the small herding of myself back towards the sink. Away from the crowd. Away from everyone. But still so close.
He changed what he said earlier. He dropped all formalities. I did as I had outside. I stayed polite. I smiled. I even laughed. Do not upset the monster. Respect your elders. Do not acknowledge anything real is happening. Cave yourself.
I have a motto. A motto I built early in my life. It’s not written down, but I see it on flags sometimes. The flags are only raised in moments like these: If you make it less than what it is, it is not what it is.
That is what my brain does. My little girl brain.
The flags make everything okay. They make big things small. Small enough for a little girl to not be as scared as she should.
“You split-tails love sports.”
“You are a sports cunt, aren’t you?”
I went back to the place I always go. I don’t know where it is, but I know it is there because I see myself coming out of it. It’s a blind spot. I don’t remember what happens there, I only recall “the getting away.” I remember “surviving.”
“Surviving.” I want to laugh.
Even now, so far from girlhood, I feel so dirty. This thing that happened that was nothing (WHYDIDNTYOUSAYANYTHING) that I had no part in (YESYOUDID) that was with someone I “knew” (YOUWANTEDIT) sent me back to a place I’ve visited so many times. It is a cave. A time-cave filled with little girls, bigger girls, teens, young women, and old women like me. We all bump into each other in the dark. Nobody can see each other because nobody will let the others see. We all think we are alone in the cave, but we are not. We are, sadly, never alone. The cave is the place we go in our blind spot. The cave wants to help us, but it cannot. It can only cry and watch.
Photograph by Lev Radin.