1. The Basics
Don’t walk home with headphones on. Carry pepper spray. Spread your keys between your fingers. Hold your bag in front of you. If you have tits or an ass, hide them. Don’t get on empty buses. Cross the street. Save 911 in your iPhone favorites.
2. If You’re Planning To Drink Even A Little Bit
Make sure your dress isn’t too short or your top too low. Don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t drink too much. Always watch your drink. Be friendly, but not too friendly. Don’t give any man a reason to take advantage of you.
3. If You Call An Uber (Or A Lyft)
Don’t engage too earnestly with your driver when he tells you stories of his two daughters and their upcoming school play. If he calls you once you’re upstairs to tell you he thinks you’ve forgotten your sunglasses, don’t rush down to claim them. Don’t lean in to identify the sunglasses once he procures them. Don’t scream when he pushes you down through his open car door and gets on top of you—or he’ll press his thick, slippery lips over your mouth to silence you.
4. If You Get A Massage
Don’t presume that just because the masseuse is state-certified with ten years of experience and employed by a popular nationwide massage chain company that he will hesitate before slipping his hand between your legs as you lie face-down, naked, isolated, exposed. Spend your afternoon wondering how that aforementioned pepper spray is supposed to help you once you’re crouched in an alleyway, shoulders still glistening with massage oil, with your hands clasped desperately over your stomach, heaving between tears until you finally vomit.
5. If Your Car Breaks Down
Thank your AAA driver profusely—in that moment, on the side of the 5 Freeway past 1 AM as smoke rises from the engine of your car and it shakes violently with the force of every passing SUV, he is your savior. Thank him when he loads your burning car up with impressive speed. Thank him when he tells you he won’t charge you the full cost of towing your car twelve miles home. Sink into his pleather passenger seat, relieved as he tells you how lucky you are to have made it out of that in one piece. Tell him no when he asks you if you have any tattoos. Nod when he asks if you’re sure and reaches his meaty hand over, lifts up your shirt to check, squeezes your tit, and wags his tongue.
6. If You Want To Be Social At A Party
Make sure you look good enough to get in over the other clamoring freshmen in bandeau dresses and high ponytails. Wear your new black skater dress, overpriced from Urban Outfitters with the low back and the high neckline. Smile at the producer of that interesting BFA film with the unruly curls that are so fucking cute. Say, “I’d love to” when he asks you to accompany him to the rooftop to see the skyline. He’s sweet and thinks you’re special. When he kisses you in front of the Citgo sign, let yourself melt into him. When he lifts your skirt and you like it and you want it and you want him, let his fingers move until you moan. When he tells you it’s your turn and to give him head, laugh and think it’s a joke. When you realize it’s not and his grasp tightens around your arm, pull away hard. Leave the party. Avoid eye contact at the crew call that Monday. Try not to care when they hire someone else to grip.
7. If You Want To Be Antisocial At A Party
Curl up in the spare bedroom with a new friend to watch SVU reruns. Grab all available blankets. Get cozy. Turn the volume up to drown out the music. Agree when your sweet classmate ducks in and asks to join (even though you were hoping to get in some quality SVU bonding time with your girl). Let him curl under the covers with you two. Don’t do a double-take when she goes to the bathroom and he takes the opportunity to push your head down into his crotch. Pause the episode so you won’t miss anything.
8. If You Take The Bus Home
Don’t offer your Google Maps app when a lost guy asks you which bus he needs to get to Somerville. Don’t open your mouth when he follows you onto your bus and tries to force-feed you soggy French fries. Don’t engage him when he asks why you aren’t friendlier and grit your teeth when he tells you you’re a cunt for not replying. When he follows you off the bus and tells you he’s going to have his way with you, run into a drugstore and beg the clerk to distract him with antifungal cream so you have a chance to slip away. Run the whole ten blocks home. Don’t look back.
9. If Your Best Friend’s Dad Offers To Walk You To Your Car
Thank him. He’s right, the neighborhood isn’t the safest. Laugh awkwardly at his awkward dad jokes. Acknowledge his words of advice about going off to college. Tell him (when he asks) that you’re taking a global economy class and two literature classes, and yes, you’re excited about living in a dorm. Smile and try not to dart your eyes away when he tells you he’s going to miss you and you realize he’s closer than he normally is. When he gives you a hug goodbye and gropes your ass, dig, dig, dig, through your purse for your keys (if only you’d had them between your fingers!). Apologize sweetly as you purposefully set off the car alarm to startle him as his fingers creep, creep, creep beneath your shorts and brush the hem of your underwear. Affirm him as he asks if you have all your schoolbooks.
10. If You Make Plans To Work On A Group Project
Don’t be surprised when you wake up and he’s sitting at your desk chair, watching you sleep. Smile and nod when he tells you your housekeeper let him in. When you ask what part of the project he wants to do and he shrugs, assume he means that he wants to push you against his car as you head to Staples for poster board and kisses you hard. Assume he doesn’t care when you ask him to stop. Nod with understanding when he confides in you that he’s been dreaming of doing that all day and goes to kiss you again.
11. If You Decide To Study Abroad
Don’t go away to a friend’s beach house on Long Island with all of your high school friends as a final goodbye the week before you fly away to the Netherlands. Don’t fall asleep reminiscing with your best buddy about the weird gang of misfits you headed in middle school, or about the first time you got drunk (together, age thirteen, with a really shitty bottle of gin in his dad’s basement). If, by chance, you do wish to trade memories with a close friend before your life’s first big departure, don’t be surprised when you wake up with his hand in your unzipped jeans. If you look at him, eyes cast with horror, and push him off, assume his reaction will not be of apology but of disdain. Understand that you deserve to be shamed for not accepting the “going away present” he assumed you’d love. Fly away. Wonder who you’re supposed to smoke weed and dick around with now. Smoke alone in Amsterdam and wait for an apology that will not come.
12. If Your Ex-Boyfriend Texts You On Valentine’s Day
Don’t turn on the college radio station where he is hosting a dumb noise-pop radio show. Ignore it when you hear him mumbling a cryptic love-thing over staticky airwaves, and playing the song you shared (that you’re now embarrassed to admit you loved, but still feels sort of sweet somewhere in your heart). Don’t accept the sugar cookie he offers you in a crumpled wrapper when he comes to your dorm the next day. Don’t watch Ren and Stimpy episodes together on your laptop, breathing in his familiar scent until you fall asleep. If you wake up suddenly, in your darkened room, and he’s on top of you, inside of you, glassed-over eyes inches from yours, remember to look away when he grunts that he Loves You, or else he might notice the hot tears you’re hiding behind dull eyes as your body continues, slowly, to fracture.
13. If You Want To Be A Woman
Learn to be a storyteller. Each time you tell the stories they will be different, even if the words stay the same. Different to your younger sister, when you divulge in response to her self-conscious tale of a marching band-mate fingering her on a school bus. You look her hard in the eyes, try to wipe that bashful shame from her expression, try to instill in her that ownership that was never instilled in you. Different to your mother, who fixes her sad gaze on you and you see her pain but all she tells you is to stop wearing such provocative red lipstick. Different to your college, hard, resound, with an even jaw and hard facts running across your mind, an even jaw even when they review his family’s endowment and tell you firmly that it won’t be so hard if you just resign yourself to crossing the street if you see him coming.
When you tell these stories, they will be with varied, excusatory phrasing. “We were drunk,” you’ll say. Or—”I shouldn’t have gone back downstairs.” “I technically didn’t say ‘no.'” “I shouldn’t have smiled back at him.” “I shouldn’t have complimented his haircut.” “He didn’t know I didn’t want it.” You will never call it as it is. Assault is such a difficult word to fit through the mouth. It tangles the tongue, hits open, unsuspecting ears with that hard, hard T. It’s too rigid of a word. It doesn’t belong in lunchtime conversations with your mother, or in your sister’s sweet virgin ears. It makes school officials scoff—”This girl is taking herself too seriously,” you see them thinking behind their heavy desks.
So you tell them you aren’t sure, you can’t quite remember, maybe, perhaps, that’s certainly possible. And they smile, relieved, Uncertain Girl equals Case Closed, and you slump your shoulders and accept the panic that fills your chest whenever you walk down Boylston Street, and sometimes you break mid-conversation with friends to cross through traffic into the graveyard, sit between tombstones with your head between your knees until you see his lacrosse stick disappear in the crowd. You take deep breaths to steady yourself and try to exhale the story that will not go.