By Taylor Simmons
Trigger Warning: This piece has depictions of sexual harassment.
This piece portrays the beautiful beginning and the maimed ending of a relationship I had with a man. It began with admiration and innocence. It ended with a sexualization that caused disappointment and confusion. My want to share this story is rooted in a warm winter morning not to long ago, when I learned that other women close to me have experienced similar sexualized relationships with men who have the power to take advantage. Here is the story.
I admired her. I had been told her story. She would tell the school what he did to her. As I listened to her parents talk about it as though it was a distant event, one that was done to somebody other than their daughter. Other than the girl they were responsible for keeping safe. From the huge hurts of the world. Sure the little hurts were inevitable. Heart breaks. Lay offs. Experiences becoming memories. But the big ones they assumed they could see coming. The big ones were going to be brightly colored and have warning labels on them. They would be able to save her from those. If they focused on the fact that she was their daughter, they would not be nearly so composed. They would blubber as their daughter has blubbered about it. Upset was natural under these circumstances. But they remained calm. Both sets of parents remained calm. Both daughters had had similar experiences.
I was one of them.
They sat on our distressed leather couch, the parents of this childhood friend. It did not come this way, our various pets helped it achieve this look. They talked about what had happened to her. I was sitting on the white, tile hearth in front of the fireplace. It triggered thoughts of my own experience. I thought about the emails he had written me telling me I was so interesting and intelligent and beautiful. How he would give me a hug if I were to see him again. I cringed at the thought of feeling the bulge in his pants when he hugged me tight. Feeling his pelvis thrust slightly into me.
I will not share her story. That is for her to do. I can share mine.
We sat outside in the warm summer air. The past was so perfect. We were working on a farm together. A bunch of nomads talking of their experiences. His daughter and wife were there. They were a second family to me. They had saved me from a dull summer of harvesting almonds and cucumbers. He was my second father. It was a romanticized time of manual labor, lightning bugs, and sunrise horseback rides.
Fast-forward 1 year. I traveled to England for a semester abroad. He and his family lived there. I would visit when I needed a break from school or from my friends. We would watch football, not the American kind, or eat dinner, or watch weird independent films they had rented. They had a bookshelf filled with Lonely Planet Guide books detailing the places they had already visited. Their next place would be Japan. I fell in love with this family. They had risen up from a past as refugees from a conflicted country, and now they thrived in their little condo in North London. They were a novelty to me.
I wanted to soak them in. His wife made jewelry that was featured in Vogue. She got to travel the world showing off her artistic ability. He was a teacher of Anthropology.
“Teaching is all about making up stories.” He told me one night before our relationship was anything but innocent.
Their daughter had a style all her own. She was three years my junior but she knew herself better than I do now. She wants to be a vet one day. I have no doubt this will happen unless her goals change. However, she seems unwavering.
It was the day before my birthday. 21. I would be leaving London soon. I was staying at their house, having been kicked out of my apartment and having a flight three days later. The family was watching football. His daughter went out with friends. His wife went into the other room. He stood up. Half way out of the room he turned around. It was as though he had decided tonight was the night that everything would change. He offered me a drag of his blunt. He was insistent. I walked over to where he was standing. He wrapped his hand around my hip. His tanned, middle-aged hand, with a tattoo on his ring finger, began to stroke my hipbone. I was confused. As though reading my mind he made his intentions clearer. Moving his hand to my lower back and then down even lower, taking a chunk of the flesh of one butt cheek. He looked at me, curious as to what I would do. I was frozen. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to do. It evolved from there.
Originally I was flattered. A man who I admired very much was attracted to me. Maybe I was attracted to him? Things progressed, and while I always stopped it before nudity and sex, he continued to roam my body when an opportunity presented itself. I continued to let him. Not “let.” I continued to not resist. Finally, it was time to leave London. He continued sending emails that took a whole new meaning when he ended it with “a big hug and kiss,” I continued to respond, not wanting this friendship to end. He was important to me.
The emails fizzled when I realized what had happened. And he realized I understood. There was no closure. I realized that he had taken advantage of me. I realized I had allowed him to. I realized blaming myself was not an option. But as I blamed him, it began to affect my relationships with other men. Any men. Friends of the family became sexual predators. Men I dated would be kind and patient, and in bed they were the same. But as I became more vulnerable with them, triggers would appear more rapidly. Eventually paralyzing me. The kind, patient men would not understand, making me feel guilty all over again. It was a cycle.
It is a cycle.
I used to laugh when I told this story. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t have actually happened to me. I was not grown up enough to have this happen to me. He was a grown man. I was still a child. At moments I felt proud. An excuse. An excuse to act screwed up. I liked the attention it got me.
I started going to therapy 3 weeks ago. I am tired of this cycle. I went after the parents on the distressed leather couch explained to us what had happened to their daughter that warm, winter morning. I blubbered to her, my therapist, the first time I told her what had happened. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t act strong. I blubbered.