This is the story of a time machine specially made for anyone who’s been sexually harassed or denigrated.
In this time machine, I blast by the statute of limitations.
I’d start at the tender age of 12. A friend and I hung out unsupervised at a playground, hurling silly comments at each other. At one point she called me a test-tube baby — not that we had any idea what that was. We were hanging upside down on monkey bars, oblivious to the outside world, when my friend dropped and started hyperventilating. There was a man hiding nearby, masturbating, peeking in and out of the bushes. I helped her up after she tried to form words in between panting awfully and clutching at her chest. If I had a mobile device back then I would have dialed 911 not for him but for her. She couldn’t speak because he took her words away. Just as she caught her breath, I hooked her arm as she limped and once she caught her breath; we ran. We looked behind us all the way back to her house. He’d disappeared.
We told her mom, and she said, “You girls are not going anywhere anymore unless it’s to each other’s houses.”
I walked everywhere. We didn’t wait for rides. We went to “Sev,” aka 7–11® to play video games and get some Slurpees.® With a different friend, we found bus routes to get our 13-year-old selves to the mall. A man passing us on the sidewalk thought it would be fun to have his appendage hanging out as he got closer.
Being traumatized by the earlier incident, my face turned red. Not from embarrassment but shock, repugnance, and humiliation. This guy was so smug about showing off to two teen girls. “You fucking pervert asshole!” I yelled, thinking he would continue on his stroll merrily, as there was a confident gap between us and him. I was wrong. He turned around and hobble-ran after us, packing himself in as he chased. I told my friend, “Run, now!” We made it to “Sev,” barely breathing, avoiding odd looks from patrons. A familiar car pulled in — it was my Dad. I told my friend, “I’m not going to tell him. Don’t say anything.” She nodded, forcing herself to stand upright as me, though my chest burned.
“What are you two doing walking so far from home, it’s dangerous. Why didn’t you just ask for a ride?”
“We just wanted to get snacks,” I said. I knew if I told him, he would scrutinize our teeny-bop distractions and put me on lockdown.
Some job stints later, I worked at a famous chain of Italian restaurants as a hostess. It was great pay for a 16-year-old.
Depending on the day, I worked under two middle managers who both had a similar Harvey Weinstein physicality. It used to amaze me they were married.
One of them was named Tom. He would take turns with us teenage girls and get real close so no one else could hear him. He’d whisper, “You're doing such a good job, keep it up.” I’d nod and say thank you politely.
Within the month, he began revealing his sexual fantasies after complimenting always stellar work. One of the things about having an auditory memory is you recall a lot of what they say and you can repeat scenarios verbatim.
“I had a dream you were ‘spread eagle’ in my room,” he said. I had to ask my guy friends what that meant because I had never heard that before and we didn’t have Google yet.
I recall being confounded. What the hell? What do I do with that? My shift was going fine and then bam! I’d walk off in a daze, wanting to go home. I told the pasta maker. Back then, the restaurant would give out fresh pasta dough to the kids. “Yeah, he’s so disgusting, he does that to all the girls,” he said. It shouldn’t have made me feel better, but there was at least comfort in not being alone.
On another shift, Miguel would correct me in a very nonchalant way, as if he was trying to help me and nothing was a big deal. He refused to use my name. He called me “Legs.” Hey Legs, get over here, hey Legs, go get some more menus,” etc.
I complained to my female supervisor, Lorraine. I was told, “to just put up with it because Tom and Miguel were dirty old men.” She literally told me to ignore them but I saw she was tired of it, a lot longer than me.
When I quit that job, my father asked me why. I said it was keeping me from studying well. What a crock. But I knew it would silence him. I was afraid of what he would do or say. I didn’t want an irate Broken English-speaking man to cuss out these guys; they weren’t worth the time of a man who worked two jobs.
I got nothing but time in my fantasy time machine. Steam hisses and the door to my machine opens. I step out the age I am today and lend witness to my younger self. I get to see them tell me, tell us, that they’re sorry.
They’re worth outing to their wives. I don’t have to say what a grown man should or should not do to a teenage girl. They know. They’re men. They’re emboldened by their physical dominance. I see they may have a daughter or a niece and to avoid proper punishment by law, they must endure facing these women in their lives and confess what they said in the manner in which they spoke. They confess to grooming or trying to groom too.
God, I hope no one harasses my daughters. Not for them, I’ve galvanized them somewhat. They’re ready for this time.