When you say ‘not all men’ all I can remember is:
The winter of 2014. I’m nineteen. My best friend and I are walking down seventh avenue. The sun set long ago, as we chased sweaters and boots in SoHo. The darkness hides bodies as we dash for Penn, desperate to make the train back to our suburb. We’re close to one another, hovering in each other’s spaces. Our mothers drilled the idea of traveling in groups into our minds long ago. Girls don’t grow up like boys do. A group of men appears from the darkness. They crowd us, surround us, shouting about my best friend’s ass, pulling her hand, yanking her away from me. A man comes up on my right side. I grab my best friend’s other hand, hold tight, and pull hard. We spend the rest of the walk to Penn breathless.
It’s crisp outside, dark, once again, too. This time I’m 21, traveling home from a concert in Brooklyn where I ran into an ex. Against his advice, I take the D train uptown alone. I’ve done so for so many nights, I no longer remember the last time I cared about the weird noises and long winded glances at my kinda frumpy feminine form. The post concert headache settles in. An hour later and more subway stops than I can remember, I ascend onto the street. The streetlights illuminate the cracks in the paths below my feet and the group of young men in the distance. They see me. I know they have, but my mouth is dry and the bodega on this street always has the best gatorade and plantains. I don’t care that it’s almost 2AM. I never let my gender dictate where or when I took my body into the public sphere. I’d been catcalled and harassed daily for years; these boys meant little to me. They follow. All five of them. They crash into my body as I enter the bodega. They peruse the aisles, making comments about my jean skirt, my pretty face. I’m not scared, just annoyed. The man at the register gauges the situation, mouths at me, “are you okay?” What I want to say is “no, I’m tired of dealing with these every day. I want to live unbothered.” What I say is, “yeah.” I open my plantains and leave. They follow. They follow for blocks. They follow for so long I no longer feel comfortable walking home, and seek refuge in the subway, waiting for my ex to arrive at the stop, on a separate train, to walk me home.
I was on my way to a job interview, my body jolting left and right as the train gained and lost momentum. A man notices. A man with long, curled fingernails; the type with decades worth of dirt hidden in his cuticles. My earphones in, I still notice as he begins to talk. He asks me my name, my age, where I’m from. The only question I answer comes out as a lie. At 19, I was legal, but I wanted this man to stop. I tell him I’m 16, this doesn’t faze him. The train speeds in and out of stations. Strangers look at me as they escape onto platforms. He keeps on, asking me if I want to go to a casino with him. I tell him I can’t, I’m 16. He doesn’t care about my age. I can’t stop staring at his nails. No one on the train stops this man as he gets closer and closer to me, as he asks and asks and asks. I get off a stop early.
The crowd’s overwhelming at the annual Halloween parade. Throngs of people are smashed so close together, they morph into one gargantuan being that occupies the entirety of the West Village. Unprepared, deciding to attend with my sister and best friend on a whim, I wasn’t in costume. As we enter into the crowds, the bodies become too much, my lungs shrink and my heart speeds up. Our three bodies seek an escape, coming together and forming one smaller being as we backtrack out of the masses of robed bodies. I feel someone grab my ass and grab it hard. I whip around, furious. A man quickly backs away, seeking the anonymity of Hallow’s Eve, wanting to be swallowed whole by the crowd. His friend lingers, smiling. I yell. It means nothing. It never means anything.
I’ve known this 28-year-old man for two years. In the same small major and minor, our classes and lives overlap constantly. Consistently, for four semesters this man lets it be known that one day I’ll be his. He hugs too long and his greetings always include kisses too close to my mouth. My Instagram DM becomes nothing but clothing posts from fashion accounts he sends me, telling me he wants to see me in the clothes pictured. A “creative,” this man wants to photograph me, write about me, talk about me, disguising his fetishization and manic-pixie-dream-girl complex as art, much like Woody Allen and Terry Richardson. He tells professors and peers we’ll one day end up married. Everyone laughs, everyone loves him. My anger, my aggressively bitchy jabs at him are “sexy,” my “intimidation” a “turn-on.” I don’t save his number. I turn down invites to hang out. It doesn’t matter. Last night I got numerous texts from a number I recognize detailing how we’ll marry in 3-5 years. I don’t answer. I never do.
It’s fall of 2016. I sit in a line outside of the Bowery Ballroom with my sister hours before a concerts even planned to begin. Girls my age, girls younger, and women older sit around me. First I smell the weed, then I see the man, as he makes his way down the line of mostly minors, harassing them. There’s something not right with him. He seems violent the way I’ve only ever seen on street corners and in movies. He looks feral and even I’m scared. He lays down on his side, his head propped up by his hand, right in front of my sister and I. He compliments us, verbally harasses us and moves closer. I know one day my mouth will get me in trouble, but I can’t let him bother my younger sister. I tell him to get the fuck up and leave my sister and I alone. After a few more times, he listens and moves on to the minors next to us; girls who seem suburban and skittish, afraid that if they make the wrong move, the city will swallow them whole. My sister chastises me for speaking up, afraid that one day I’ll end up dead because a man can’t take my “no” and “leave me alone” for an answer. I know one day my mouth will backfire on me. The man lays down in front of the suburban teenage girls and begins harassing them. I watch them for ten seconds become so scared they do nothing but switch between ignoring the man before them and nervous laughter. I stare their way, grabbing their attention. They’re scared, so scared. I ask them if they want the man to leave them alone, they nod aggressively. My mouth tells the man to get the fuck up and leave those girls alone. He listens. One day my mouth will get me in trouble.
He’s a guy I trusted. A friend I’d had since elementary school. Home for the summer, I begin dating this guy’s male friend. He’s sweet and tall and funny in a way that isn’t offensive. We laugh and watch Masters of None. My friend doesn’t, he avoids us, taking to the perimeters of rooms the three of us are in together. He hates that I’m with him, whispering windows into my past in this boy’s ear during gym sessions. He plants insecurities into this boy’s mind. He tells him I’m not bi, that I’m a lesbian, that I’ll leave him for a woman. He lets him know just how fat and ugly I once was; shows him pictures from our shared past as proof. I cry, even though I don’t like to, even though I once held in my tears for so long it hurt to breather. When the boy and I break up, he asks me if I’m leaving him for a woman. I know he got to him.
I’m fresh out of a relationship, one that died a slow death, leaving us both emotionally freed long before we officially broke ties. I know who I want to be with and I know this new guy wants to be with me too. We start up, a collection of silent moments centered around a guitar, too much honey in tea and timid smiles. His hand on my thigh and his arm around my shoulder, I feel warm. The glances of his friends mean nothing, I know this person’s finally opening up. He tells me I’m beautiful and sings all the songs I request, even the embarrassing boyband ones. But I soon learn I mean nothing. He likes attention, likes getting it from any girl he can. He manipulates and uses his quiet persona to attract us. He tells me this. Months later he invites me to his room. He doesn’t know I’m aware of his pretty girlfriend, the one with the voice of a siren. He stops me in the hall, smiles at me and lures me in with talk of MBTI types. He correctly guesses mine, telling me all he knows about me and how he guessed right.He tells me all his favorite people are my MBTI type. I belong in a small group with his mother and best friend. Confused, I flee to the safety of my room and call my best friend. I want him to stop/I don’t want him to stop. I feel a small pang, not in my chest, but my stomach, when he wears the t-shirt I gave him all those months ago to our two shared classes. I can’t be hurt, I knew before that men devour women whole.
I’m so tired at 22. I dart down streets, make trains, dodge traffic and engage in half-assed conversations with people I love. My mind’s always elsewhere as graduation and adulthood loom over my head like a greased guillotine. Schools kids coalesce on sidewalks as their last bell rings and I get caught up in crowds of middle and high schoolers while booking it down 124th street. My mind three days away, mentally writing an essay I have no time to do while sitting down because of work, I see a group of teenage boys taking up the entire width of the sidewalk at the last minute. I mutter excuse me and wait for them to carve out a small space for my body to flit through. Nothing happens. Tired of men not moving for me, often walking straight into me after I decide to not move to accommodate them, I continue on hurriedly. My shoulder knocks with the shoulder of one of the boys. I continue on down 124th , my mind days away writing mental essays. Thirty seconds later, I feel someone yank my from the handle of my backpack. I’m jostled backwards, then forwards into a four lane busy intersection. The grip on my backpack gets stronger, my body shakes harder, not from fear but because I’m at the mercy of an angry teenage boy. Two boys come from behind me, as I’m being assaulted. They laugh and taunt me with all the gendered slurs their malformed minds can come up with on such short notice. Their ‘bitch’ doesn’t penetrate. I know I’m a bitch. I know one day this’ll be my downfall. No one stops the five boys from the sidewalk as they force my body left and right, forwards and backwards, in and out of oncoming traffic. Finally, the boy lets go of me. I run at them and scream. I curse. There’s a mother walking her young daughter in front of me. I apologize for the expletives as the teenage boys flee. I get on with my day and continue crafting paragraphs in the confines of my brain.
These are small vignettes; a fraction of the collection I store within the marrow of my ribcage. Do with these what you please, but know: Men have hurt me. Men are hurting me. Men will hurt me.