*TRIGGER WARNING* This piece contains accounts of sexual harassment.
The boys on my cross country team have an offensive sense of humor. After practice one day, the team was talking and playing Frisbee. A freshman boy started making jokes.
“Oh hey, George, I’m going to rape you if you don’t run faster! Run faster! Run! Run!”
The atomic clock on the scoreboard couldn’t seem to move any slower as George ran away.
“I’m going to rape you! I’m going to rape you!”
The black numbers of the clock turned from 8:13 to 8:14 to 8:15. With each change of the numbers, I felt the tears creeping up to the sides of my eyes. I refused to take the taunting anymore.
“Okay, stop, rape jokes aren’t funny! Rape isn’t funny!” I asserted firmly.
“Um, no, rape is hilarious,” George replied, chucking me the Frisbee.
I fumbled with the Frisbee. It’s never been easy for me.
The tears started threatening me again, but I refused to let them control me. “No, rape is never funny. It’s used to dehumanize people,” I challenged as I gripped the Frisbee tighter and tighter.
“Why are you so emotional about this,” the freshman idiot taunted. “Men get raped too!”
Incredulous, I snapped, “I never said only women are raped!”
“Were you ever raped?”
“What? No! Of course not! And that’s not a question that you ask other people!” I half-screamed.
“Then why are you so upset?” George challenged me with a taunting sing-song tone.
“Because rape isn’t funny,” I replied coldly as a chill ran down my arms.
“Whatever. Wanna play some Frisbee?” the ignorant freshman asked.
“No thanks, I have to go home now,” I replied calmly, placing the Frisbee on the field and walking to the car.
But why was I really so upset?
I had a crush on this guy for the entire year. He was best friends with one of the nicest, most hard working boys on the cross country team. He was smart (or so I thought), he was kind (or so I thought) and he was trustworthy (or so I thought).
I was a sophomore. He was a senior.
I was 15. He was 18.
At the end of the long evening, as we were standing in line for the coat check I could feel the ugly red blisters forming on my pinkie toes from my high heels. I stood patiently with my arms over my chest, making small talk with him. He stepped out of line and turned to face me. He opened his mouth in the way that people do when they have something of vital importance to say.
“Um, were you going to say something?” I asked, raising my eyebrows, confronted with a date whose mouth was gaping like that of a fish whose bowl had shattered.
He hung his head, embarrassed and sheepish. “Oh, it’s nothing.”
I took a long breath in and stated, “Okay, well, if you change your mind, I’m right here.”
After a few seconds of distraught contemplation he blurted out, “Can I kiss you?”
HERE? NOW?!?!? IN FRONT OF ALL MY FRIENDS?! UH, HELL TO THE NO!
Appealing to his sense of decency, I reasoned with him, “In front of all these people?”
He shrugged and leaned.
Every alarm in my body was screaming. The flashing red lights blurred my vision.
“THINK! WHAT DO I DO TO AVOID A KISS?” I screamed inside my head as his lips came closer and closer and closer. His eyes were closed. I could just run for it? But he was my ride home!
I suddenly remembered a book in which the character turned her face to so the undesired kiss would land on her cheek instead of her lips. I tilted my head too late. His lips landed half on my cheeks, half on my lips. I felt the dull thud of a lead weight being dropped on my heart. Seventeen Magazine lied to me. Everyone lied to me. My first kiss didn’t make me feel like flying, it made me feel like crying and running away. I went into survival mode. I needed to send the signal that I wasn’t interested. I stood with my eyes locked ahead, focused solely on obtaining my purse.
“We need to try that again. That one wasn’t good enough,” he demurred.
I pretended to not hear.
Three agonizing minutes later with my purse finally in hand, I made my way to the door. But first, he tugged me into a corner.
“Hold on a sec,” he purred, his hand on my lower back, corralling me towards his body. He closed his eyes and leaned in, closer and closer and closer and closer.
I pulled him in for a hug and whispered, “No, no. I’m sorry, but no.”
He finally relented.
As we walked out of the hotel ballroom, he kept trying to apologize.
“I hope this doesn’t ruin our friendship. I really like you. I want to keep seeing you. I really like you. I hope this doesn’t ruin our friendship. You know, I am going to college close by, so I hope we can keep seeing each other.”
All I was able to say was, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” as I hobbled from the long night while chills ran up and down my body in the warm air on the May night. My repetitive speech of it being “okay” was mainly to myself, only partly to him. I would most definitely not being seeing him over the summer or while he would be in college nearby. Or ever.
His father picked us up from the hotel and we drove home. As my date and I sat in the backseat, I noticed he hadn’t bothered to put on his seatbelt. He simply pouted and stared out the window with his empty head held up by his enormous fist.
We finally parted ways forever when I broke up with him the next Tuesday. It was the right thing to do. The lead weight I felt on my heart was lifted. I felt like I could fly.
Though one thing remained. My first kiss was forced.
It’s been a struggle for me to define what happened. Was it assault? Was it sexual harassment?
Assault has too many implications for me. It implies that the coercion was violent. But sexual harassment is perceived to be trivial and unimportant, so I need a stronger word to embody the anger and sadness and anxiety I felt and even occasionally still feel. I need a word for the amount of Nutella with warm toast I consumed afterwards. I need a word for the hours I spent talking to my best friend. I need a word for the panic that washed over me when he appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. I need a word for the joy I felt when my friend reassured me that I could finally defriend him. I need a word for the worry I feel that made me not write this under my real name.
I can’t call it assault if he went to my school. According to the media, assault is only supposed to happen when you don’t know your attacker. To call it assault makes the experience real.