I was 14 years old walking to meet my ride to school. A sunny spring day and I was wearing a sweet baby blue dress with puffy short sleeves that my grandmother had designed and made for me. And on my feet, white Dr. Scholl Sandals, the wood bottomed slip on shoes that clacked when I walked. I weighed all of 95 pounds and didn't even wear makeup. It was 1971 and I cannot get the clarity of that day out of my head even now.
Because there was no bus service to my parents home 3 miles from school, I walked a mile and a half to my friend's home to catch a ride, her brothers and sisters had a car to drive them all to school and there was a spot for me if I made it to their house by the time they left for school. The first part of my walk was a half mile that was more like a road through a tunnel of trees than a regular street. Then there were scattered houses and twisty climbing streets until I reached my friend's home.
On that day as I entered the tunnel of trees part of the walk, there was a pale blue VW bug parked on the side of the road. I walked about 200 yards into the tunnel clacking my new white Dr. Scholls on the road. Then there were footsteps behind me, that was unusual I remember thinking. But being a shy small 14 year old, I kept walking. Until the footsteps caught up to me and I heard a man's voice say "Do you have a match?" I turned around to answer...the man had his pants down and was exposing himself to me. I turned to run and just like in every bad dream, it felt like my feet were in cement. I must have somehow managed to take some running steps because I can still feel how hard it was to run in those pretty white wood bottom sandals of mine. I heard him start to run after me, and I ran as fast as I could manage although it felt like I wasn't moving fast at all. Then his footsteps sounded farther away as for some reason he stopped chasing me and ran the other way.
I burst through the darkness of the tunnel of trees to where the scattered houses were. He was gone. I now know I was falling into some kind of shock mode and I stood by the driveway of a house shaking for what felt like hours. And then because I didn't know what else to do. I finished my walk to my friend's home. I got in the car like always and rode to school feeling like I was going to throw up. I didn't say anything, I didn't know what to say and I hadn't fully processed it all.
When I got to school, I went to a couple of classes and then the tears began. I found my way to a pay phone and called my mom. Who called the police. And they came to school. The police called me out of my class and walked me to the office in front of everyone. Then they interviewed me. It was awkward and horribly embarrassing. And not once did anyone offer any degree of comfort or anything I could grab onto as concern. The police left me at school still reeling and on the verge of falling apart. I believe I confided in a couple of close friends but the rumors had already started swirling as the entire school saw two officers walk me through the campus. I may have shared the details with people who weren't close friends but I was being asked over and over why the police had been with me. And then older boys started looking at me in the hallway and I was asked over and over again "Do you have a match?" I suppose they thought it was funny. I supposed the Juniors and Seniors who asked me out on dates thought I was the kind of girl who had asked for this to happen. I don't know. I had never even been kissed. I was beyond naïve and they wanted to take me out.....
I got a ride from my parents the next day to school, but the day after that I walked the tunnel of trees and every other day until my friend told her mom what had happened and that mom had her kids drive towards my house and they picked me up at the entrance to the tunnel of trees road. Nobody really spoke of it afterward. Nobody including me. It wasn't how it was done back then. I felt unsafe and afraid every single day. Nobody asked if I was okay, nobody told me I was safe or that it wasn't my fault. I never wore that baby blue dress again and I certainly didn't wear Dr. Scholls sandals. Because you can't run in them.
I was terrorized and afraid for my life because a man thought a 14 year old was someone to assault and victimize on a dark deserted road when she walked to school. I had pushed this memory down where it was hidden in the deepness and although it surfaced once in a while, I worked hard to leave it hidden. I hadn't thought much about it lately until I started to run into words being thrown around lately about men who can take what they want from women. My memory and how it felt to be at the mercy of a stranger who inflicted so much damage with his actions came shooting to the top of my consciousness. The minimizing of this kind of thinking and talking and behavior has shaken my sense of safety and calm. Men joking about locker room talk or people saying that those who speak this way are just joking. It doesn't feel like joking, it feels like some people's true thoughts showing up. It doesn't feel okay. It makes my stomach hurt to be honest.
I am sharing my story now because I am compelled to speak out for anyone who feels minimized and afraid. Silence isn't how we heal, silence isn't how we stand for what is good. Pushing down a memory of assault and fear isn't how we go forward for it will always come back to be talked about and dealt with. I believe it's time for us to stand for what we believe in, that we should gather strength to stand for what matters. Hold ourselves and others to a higher standard. Find a way to connect so that we see the humanity in everyone. I'm just a girl writing a small blog, I don't have answers to what is waging right now. I know it feels unsafe and everyone seems to be on high alert. For me, I'm going to do for others what my 14 year old self needed in 1971. I'm going to check in on people, I'm going to make sure we are okay and I'm going to make sure I'm okay. I'm going to protect those who need it, stand up for what needs to be stood up for and love the fear right out of the space I am in. If you need someone to check in on you, ask for it. Don't stay silent, reach out. Take care of yourself, take care of the people around you. Give and receive compassion, listen more, rant less. Let your light shine bright so that it is a beacon of goodness. Love deeper. LOVE more. LOVE ON.
With Love and Hope