A man tells me, Darling, if you’re gonna wear that pretty red lipstick, you should at least smile for me.
A man twice my age asks, How long do I have to stand here before I get to see you bend over again?
A man finds it necessary to put his hand on my shoulder, my waist, my back, as he’s asking me a question, like I can’t already see him standing next to me.
And as he walks behind me, as if I’m not already hyper-aware of his existence in the first place.
A man finds out I have a twin. Asks where I’ve been hiding her. Makes a vague comment about a threesome that’s entirely too inappropriate for him to say to a sixteen-year-old.
A man writes his phone number on the back of his receipt. Waits until my line is clear before coming back into the store to give it to me. He leaves with his young daughter.
A man tells me, unprompted, that I’m too pretty to have tattoos. That at this point, my best option is to cut off my arm. That it would make me so much prettier.
A coworker writes his number on a napkin and manages to slip it into my pocket without me noticing. He gets aggressive when I don’t call him that night.
A coworker finds out I’m underage, finds out I’m five years younger than him, continues to pursue me regardless.
A family friend looks at my chest and tells me I don’t look sixteen. Tells me he wishes I wasn’t. Tells me it’s a real shame that I am.
A man calls me baby. Calls me honey. Calls me sweetheart.
A man doesn’t know the word no. Doesn’t know the word boundaries. Doesn’t know what overstepping is. Somehow doesn’t realize that he’s constantly doing it.
Somehow doesn’t manage to understand that he is the reason I am clutching my keys between my fingers in my own neighborhood, before the sun has even finished setting. My parents make me text them the second I leave one location and again when I arrive at my destination, and I don’t blame them.
I haven’t learned how to transform my nails into claws, my tongue into fire that would hurt men the way they want to hurt me. The truth is: I’m terrified of pushing back— I’ve seen what happens to women who’ve said no. Women who’ve made their dislike clear.
So instead I duck my head. I step away from the fingers that press against my spine and laugh at the comments that are nowhere near funny. I pretend that I am not furious. That I am not absolutely terrified of what might happen to me regardless. I wait until he is gone, until I am alone, before letting myself fall apart with disgust, with fear. I take three showers in one day, because I can still smell his cologne on me, still feel his hands on my arm.
And I wonder: How is any of this fair?
And in the same second, my heart tells me: it’s not.
I hope that one day, I become strong enough, brave enough, proud enough to stand up for myself. To bite back even harder. To draw blood in my defense. But still, I hope that one day, I won’t have to.
At this point, I’m not sure which one is more likely.