When I Was 16

[Content Note: Rape culture; description of sexual assault.]

While Roy Moore continues to defend himself, and is defended by others, on the basis that "dating" teenagers is no big deal, another woman has come forward alleging that former president George H.W. Bush grabbed her ass during a photo op, when she was 16 years old.

Says Roslyn Corrigan, bluntly: "I don't know, maybe it never really hit people that I was a child at the time and that goes beyond a guy being inappropriate in the workplace to a peer or somebody in his age range. I was a child."

She was a child.

We were all children, those of us who remember 16 as an age where things happened.

Sixteen was, for me, the year in which I learned that lots of men who, given any kind of power over me, would use it to sexually harass and/or assault me.

Three things stand out very clearly in my mind. They were not the first incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault I'd experienced, and they were not the last. But they comprise a series of formative events, at an age at which girls are often thought not to be children anymore.

The Politician.

I was invited to a luncheon by some local civic group, chosen as part of a group of students being honored for our community spirit or some bullshit. I can't even recall what the group was, or what the recognition was. All that remains is the memory that the luncheon was held in an event hall at a local park, and that each student was seated at a different table with members of the civic group.

I was seated at a table with all men. (It may have been a men's group.) One of the men at my table was a local politician. He was in his 50s. He had a booming voice and an imposing figure. He wore a brown blazer.

The entree was beef stroganoff. He asked me before my meal arrived, leaning in so close that I could feel his hot breath on my cheek, "Do you enjoy beef stroking off?"

I remember my face flushing with embarrassment. I remember feeling scared. I remember telling myself surely I'd misheard him.

When our meals arrived, he leaned in again. "How are you enjoying that beef stroking off? I like a good beef stroking off myself."

I ate in silence. My knee bobbed up and down anxiously.

After our plates had been taken away, he leaned in once more. "Did you like that meat in your mouth?"

I couldn't even look at him. I stared down at my hands.

I was a child.

The Teacher.

The junior drama teacher at the high school had a reputation as a "flirt." That's what adults said about him. What my teenage female peers said about him was that he was a "creep."

Girls in the upper classes dutifully warned freshman girls not to get trapped with him alone, in his office or backstage.

"He doesn't touch you," they told me, and I would tell girls in turn. "He just kisses you."

One night, after the Variety Show, when two of my friends and I had performed a medley of 60s songs in beehive wigs and white knee boots, we came offstage and he corralled us to "congratulate" us. Each in turn, before we even had a chance to register what was happening, he grabbed us by the shoulders and planted an open-mouth kiss on our lips.

His hands wandered, ever so briefly as he did it. It was fast; we were shaken. His mustache smelled like an old sandwich. He smiled at us — not a sinister smile at all, but a friendly one.

Like it was the most normal thing in the world for a teacher to try to French his students.

I was a child.

The Medical Assistant.

I grew up in a small town in Indiana that didn't have its own hospital. When I was around 11, we finally got our own permanent clinic, but it was small and didn't have much in the way of diagnostic equipment.

One day a week, or a month, or whatever, a portable MRI would arrive at the clinic, and everyone who needed a non-emergency MRI, and hadn't already traveled to a nearby facility with a permanent machine, would show up to get their scans.

I don't remember why I needed an MRI. Maybe it was because age 16 was when I started getting stomach pains that wouldn't go away, and yet seemed to have no discernible cause.

The medical assistant who was working the machine that day was a young man. He walked me out of the clinic into the mobile unit, and told me to lie down. I was wearing a turquoise cotton turtleneck. It was my favorite. It was the last time I wore it.

While I was lying down, he commented on the size and shape of my breasts. He touched them. He told me he couldn't believe I was only 16.

I was a child.

* * *

This is what I learned: That sexual abusers are the most selfish fucks on the planet.

They will steal anything and everything from you: Pride on a day when you are supposed to be honored; happiness on a day when you are meant to be happy; your good memories of days that are meant to make good memories; your trust; your sense of self; any semblance of safety.

Your childhood.

These three incidents are not the worst things that have happened to me. They're not even the worst cases of sexual harassment and/or assault that have happened to me.

But I don't engage in abuse ranking. They're still bad. It's all bad.

That is a line from the second season of Tig Notaro's One Mississippi. Kate, her producer played by her real-life wife Stephanie Allynne, is discounting incidents that happened to her as a child because they aren't as bad as what happened to Tig. "It's all bad," says Tig.

It's all bad.

And I was a child.

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