I am fourteen and I am still handed children’s menus for ten and under.
I am fourteen and I still shop in the children’s section, because everything over size twelve hangs off me like an ill-fitting drape.
I am fourteen and in the library, arms full of book about talking cats and fae made of metal and girls who go to school for spies, and a man ten years my senior tells me how pretty I am, and follows me from the children’s section like a shadow until I am at my mother’s side, and at last he fades away.
I do not tell her, because I don’t have words to describe the feeling that he gave me, the way the smile twisted his face, the way he looked at me life a wolf looks a deer, small and harmless and innocent. I have no words to describe it, because I have been warned of dangers that come from strangers but this danger felt different, somehow.
I am sixteen years old and walking down the street in a pretty dress with a skirt made to be twirled. The taste of ice cream lingers on my lips and I have music in my ears
and I’m happy and smiling and boy my age stops and drags his gaze up and down my body like it is his right too and he leers and tells me even though I have small tits he’d still do me
and he looks at me like he expects me to take it as a compliment.
I am seventeen years old and waiting for the bus, wrapped in scarf and snow boots and a coat big enough to hold the wind at bay, and the group of boys in the car that drive past whistle out the windows and
“Hey, babe? Need a ride?” and “fine, b****!” when I do not respond.
I am eighteen and in my third quarter at culinary school and he is thirty-five and in his second.
He stands to close and looks too long, and even though my uniform hides my body I still feel like he is undressing me with his gaze, but I tell no one
because he can’t be, because he knows how young I am and he can’t be, because there are others around.
I am eighteen and I am alone at lunch and two weeks away from summer break, and he sits across from me at the table and asks me for my number
and I tell him no,
and it’s the first time those words have left my lips, spoken to another human, and there’s sour milk curdling in my stomach and a panicked animal in my chest, and he smirks and leaves.
The bathroom is cold and empty and there’s the threat of tears in my eyes but i can’t cry.
His eyes still follow me as I walk, he still stands too close, but I don’t tell Chef
because it couldn’t have been that, right? even though there’s the small, terrified part of my brain that tells me yes, it was
and I remind myself of the knife, sharp and solid in my coat,
used for cutting fruit and removing buttercream flowers from rose nails, now a potential weapon just in case.
I remind myself that there are others, always, and should I need to I could scream, I could kick and hit and the women who I’ve spent the last nine months with would come to my aid without question.
I am eighteen and it is two weeks until summer break, and I make sure to walk to the bus stop with the boy I have made friends with every day, just in case. I no longer go to the bus stop at the bottom of the hill, off campus where it’s sure I’ll get a seat, just in case.
I buy a keychain that looks like a cat with ears that are sharp enough to draw blood, it’s eyes are holes for my fingers just in case.
Just in case.
I am fourteen and he follows me through the library, I am sixteen and my body is made to be commented on, I am seventeen and I am a b**** for ignoring them and I am eighteen and I am made to feel small and terrified and I curl my fingers around the cat on my keychain and stand at the bus stop surrounded by people and I still do not feel safe.