In a family that rarely, if ever, spoke to each other, ones children learn how to be humans from the world around them. I learned what was acceptable early on. I wasn’t told what was socially acceptable, no, i saw it. I deduced it. My mother never told me how to be, she expected it from me, and i picked up the cues.
I knew about sex since I could remember. Nobody had to tell me, i knew. I saw it. I learned it. Sort of experienced it. I knew where babies came from and about the menstrual cycle since very young. When i got my first period, i faked surprise and fear but my mother quickly told me to stop acting stupid. She knew i knew too.
I remember the time my favorite uncle came to visit and i was maybe 6 or 7, and i sat on his lap like usual, but the whole room got quiet. That was the last time i sat on a grown mans lap as a child. My parents never told me it was socially unacceptable, i could just see everyone’s displeasure with my action. The palpable uncomfortable air in the room. I read every social cue.
I knew early on that i needed to act and look as innocent as possible in every space, in every sphere, for others to accept me. For girls to take me in like a child they needed to protect and boys to find me desirable. I got good at it. I was great. A real bonafide actress. No one knew my real personality. No one knew the real me. Shit, i was so good, i even fooled myself for years. At first it was all an act but then i just became submersed in it; i became it. Suddenly i wasn’t more alert and didn’t catch social cues. Suddenly i missed everything and really became “innocent” and naive. Suddenly, i was the dumb one. The one being manipulated and lied to. The one on the receiving end. Shit. How did this happen? How could i let it get this far? I was better than this. Fuck.
Thinking back, i remember instances where i faked an emotion or deliberately made a gesture in front of another person in order for them to form an opinion of me being innocent or good. One time, in high school, i was being walked to my next class by the boy who was actively pursuing me at the time and we passed by a large window leading to the outside. It was late November and there was snow falling and the ground was white. The window gave way to a picturesque winter wonderland themed canvas. And there I went, reaching toward the glass with a deceptively sweet smile on my face and glassy eyes, trying my hardest to look enthralled by the beauty of it all so my companion would believe that i was so enamored with the view that it illicited a sweet child-like version of me that was somehow still attractive and alluring. I remember thinking “focus, girl, think that you love it so your face will follow along with your thoughts and you can pull this off.” I went into character...and eventually i became the damn character. Sigh.
Cue B.O.B in the background, “I'm out of my fucking mind, gee, gee, golly, oh my. I was doing fine, once upon a time. Then my brain left and it didn't say bye.” Sadly, I was never innocent. Sadly, i always knew. Sadly, i couldn’t get away from reality. I could play the part but I never fit it. My body was too grown as a child for me to fully live as one. My hips too pronounced. My ass too round. I was a woman even before I was ready. Just thrown into adulthood too soon.
So when plagued with two choices, showing it off or covering it up, i chose the latter. My clothes were always too big. I was always hiding. Always on alert. Always playing the game. No one could know. No one could see. I couldn’t blow my cover.
When i was 13, my brothers and I were sent back home by our parents for the summer, and my older cousins invited us to the beach with their neighborhood friends. I was excited. For the first time ever, it would just be us kids and I was finally old enough to hang with my older cousins. I was ready. This was my chance at a new experience. But that trip too was soon ruined by my too grown body. My cousins boyfriend, a 20 year old boy, wouldn’t stop stealing glances my way. I could sense it. I knew he was looking. It made me uncomfortable. I wanted to hide. I wanted to make myself as small as i could. I tried to stay away from him throughout the trip, but somehow he found me, and he came on to me. That’s when everything broke. My brother hit him and my cousin fought with him. “She’s only 13 you asshole!” She screamed. He was surprised. “I didn’t know! I thought she was older!” I know. Everyone thinks so. I look like a woman. It’s not his fault. I’m the one who’s like this. He didn’t know. Never again did i wear a two piece to the beach.
I needed to change my appearance. I needed to cover myself up. I needed to hide. The baggier the clothes the better. The more sweet and innocent i seem, the younger I’ll look. I could pull it off. I was great at acting. I was great at hiding.
And i could tell you all about how victimized I’ve been growing up sexually, which i believe most girls are. It happens. Girls oddly somehow transition from child to woman abruptly and somehow we end up becoming sexual objects. It’s disturbing as fuck, honestly. I knew these dirty old men, whom leered at me and made obscene comments, understood i was a child mentally. They just did not care enough to not imagine or fantasize about my inducing sexual pleasure their way. It was disgusting. I hated it. Had i not learned early on that sex and seduction were taboo, maybe I’d have reveled in it, but since i knew it wasn’t acceptable, it repulsed me.
There were also very many instances that also put me on guard. That showed me older men could not be trusted and, thus, must be avoided. From very vague instances of sexual exploitation towards me and my female peers by neighborhood boys as a young child, to very vivid moments of nausea inducing harassment (verbal or physical) during my pre-teen years. Older boys and men, have always found ways to victimize me. To get things straight, i wasn’t ever raped - not that i can remember anyway. I have just experienced a lot of sexually aggressive touches, comments, looks from relative strangers.
To be more specific, that same summer - when i was 13 - we visited my old neighbors house just to catch up. I loved being there seeing her and her husband again, and meeting her son (my childhood friend) again. He was like an older brother figure to me. I love them. However, her oldest son - lets call him Damon - always gave me the creeps. I have vague recollections of when i was maybe 4 or 5, when he would touch me inappropriately and then remind me to not tell anyone. Even that summer, when he was in his mid twenties, he leered at me unobtrusively and made comments about my “womanly figure” and how “grown up” i was. It was disgusting and i had to sit through it quietly until our visit was over.
Another vivid memory of my objective/physical violation by an older man, was in my 9th grade year of high school. I was walking down a very packed, overcrowded, stairwell toward my next class when i felt foreign fingers press deep into my vaginal walls through my flimsy khaki uniform pants. The hand was strong and fast, and i could not get it off me in time to avoid the obstruction. It happened too fast and next thing i knew, an older boy quickly ran away laughing as he positively evaded being caught.
But regardless of my countless negative experiences with men, i wasn’t wary of all of them. The men in my family were safe and boys my age or younger were safe too. Younger boys were deemed non-threatening and meek, i was always defending them against a bigger bully. I was their defender and, as such, they were safe. I could let my guard down around them.
However, the small portion of young men whom seemed redeemable from the rest of them, i knew would someday grow to possibly inflict some form of sexual invasion of another girl/woman. And, as if invoked by me, this became a self-fulfilling prophesy when one of those said “safe” young men not only physically assaulted me later on during my college years but also later sexually assaulted another.
Men. Boys. Society. Even women. All of them play a part in the victimization and dehumanization of girls. All of it is disturbing. All of it is disgusting. All of it makes for the inception of adults whom go about the world trying their best to hide, suppress - and in several instances - inflict egregious harm.
I’ve known this for a while now. Possibly, for my whole life. I know how humans work. We like to think of ourselves as inherently good creatures that just sometimes make mistakes. Sure, we may cause others harm, but it’s not on purpose. We just miscalculate the repercussions and implications of some of our actions. We don’t account for the ripples created by our mistakes in our lives and others. We live by the mantra “Don’t ask for permission, beg for forgiveness.” That is who we are. That doesn’t make us horrible. If anything, those mistakes make us human right? We go about our lives tricking ourselves and the world around us into believing this. We constantly trick ourselves and those around us. And honestly, if we trick ourselves into believing the lie, doesn’t it become truth eventually? For all intents and purposes i tricked myself into believing that i was the very picture of childlike innocence for years. Was that all a lie, or did i turn it into my truth?
Thank You, Carmen Hernandez