Author’s note: Some of the contents of this piece may be emotionally triggering and I have changed all names in the interest of privacy.
“But I kind of was asking for it, though.”
That’s the thought I come back to on the very rare occasion that I am forced to think about that one time I was molested. I’ve even had trouble deciding what to call the thing that happened to me on the purple and gold “Rooster Booster” bus, which was aptly named after my high school’s mascot. I was 15 and he was my peer. I had a crush on him. As far as I knew, “molestation” was a term reserved for small children that were groped by much older adults. No, that’s not what happened to me. Was I simply felt up? Maybe, but that didn’t seem fitting either. So, for about five years afterward, I never had one word to describe what happened to me. Which meant all I could do was describe what happened to me, the long way.
It was nearly the end of my freshman year of high school and I was a size ten. I remember because I had never been that size before and most likely never will be again. I was a size ten, I was a shoo-in for the school’s award-winning show choir, and I was leaving a successful forensics (theatre nerd) competition wearing the only shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch I could afford and that fit over my boobs. I remember changing into that tight blouse and even tighter denim skirt in a bathroom with my friends, talking about how I was totally going to get Jason, whom I had crushed on all year, to sit next to me on the bus ride home. I even remember the underwear I had selected: white Victoria’s Secret briefs with bright pink roses printed on them. “See, Lauren? You wanted it,” is what I’d tell myself for years. He totally did sit next to me on the bus.
At first, it really felt like he was just being cute. I’d never received much attention from boys outside of being mooed at in the hallways, so I had no clue what to expect. We were in the backseat, of course, a safe distance from my theatre director. Jason cuddled up next to me and set his head on my shoulder. This was the opposite of rejection and I was blissfully content with even a modicum of attention. It was what I wanted. But then he started talking about how soft I was and touching the inside of my thighs with his fingertips.
“You are the softest thing I’ve ever touched.”
That is what he whispered, like it was supposed to be romantic. I still feel his breath sticking to my ear and it’s still almost paralyzing. I was stuck in that seat while his hand was up the size-ten skirt I had been so proud of. By the time we turned the corner onto the street leading to the high school, I was both terrified that someone would see him and hoping they would so that he would be forced to stop clawing at my underwear.
Apparently my perpetrator felt this was a story worth sharing with others, and the next day I was told by a friend of mine that he couldn’t believe I would “let” someone do that to me. So, from then until I walked the stage three years later, before I had even held hands or been kissed, I got to wear the slut badge at school. But, I never let myself really get upset about it. It could have been worse, right? Jason moved to a different school the next year. Some women have to see the person that hurt them every day for decades. And I hadn’t been raped. There was that. I could never really grieve over something that seemed so trivial compared to rape.
In Ruth Behar’s “The Girl in the Cast” the author recounts her time spent in a full-body cast—almost two years—from injuries she received in a car accident that had paralyzed and killed others. She was explicitly told that she should be happy about her forced, if temporary, invalidity because it could have been much worse. In my case, I managed to do the same to myself from the inside out. At the same time, though, I managed to victim-blame in the same manner. Never in my adult life do I think I could have the capacity to blame the victim of violence, except, it seems, when the victim is myself. Through a combination of minimizing and self-shaming, my molestation only occupied a small, silent corner of my memory. Rarely called upon for reflection or questioning until the least convenient moments.
Outside of a speakout that I attended my sophomore year of college, I’ve only told anyone about what happened on the bus for two reasons: during foreplay and when an older male friend compared dating me to pedophilia and molestation after I admitted I was attracted to him. Sometimes any man’s hands are my perpetrator’s hands and sometimes it takes telling my story to a partner for him to understand why I’m not okay with being “fingered”. Even the term makes my skin crawl. As for my not-really-a-friend, I guess he thought it would be a humorous way to add some levity to his rejection. I did the mature thing and asked that he never speak to me again.
I know what happened was wrong, I do. He never received permission to touch me and I am not at fault for it. But I had wanted his attention, when it comes down to it. Just not that way.