Kerry Mack
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Sexually Harassed

A Personal Narrative

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

It wasn't my fault. I don’t care what the lawyers say. Sometimes things happen that are not our fault. I was standing there waiting for the bus like I do everyday. It was cold that day, the first day of spring break. I had on a sweater, some jeans and boots that all the girls wear, not misleading or provocative in any way. I’d just missed the bus and it wasn't coming again for half an hour.

“Hey!” I turned saw my classmate walking up behind me with his arms open and a big smile on his face. We've been in the same drama class for three months at this point and had never spoken before this day. “Your speech was great!” he called out. My speech had been gone well that day. I read an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

“Thank you.” I waved graciously but he kept coming towards me with his arms still out. Then he was right upon me. Before I knew what was happening, he wrapped his arms around me “You did such a great job!” I stood there frozen in shock as he puckered his lips and leaned his face down towards mine. I tried to take a step back but I couldn't get far — his arms trapped me and caged me in. Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God! I thought and at the last possible moment I turned my face away. Not to be deterred, he pressed his lips to the side of my neck. I tried to pick my jaw up off the ground, my face was burning, heated by embarrassment. He had a powerful smell, like alcohol or some type of astringent. His grey facial hair was prickly and painful as it rubbed up against my skin.

He withdrew after what felt like a long time and grinned down at me. My neck was wet. Unsure what to do, I started looking around. Is anyone else seeing this? I locked eyes with a short Latina woman sitting on the bench beneath the bus shelter, two young kids crawling all over her lap, shouting in Spanish. I had never seen her before. She watched me from the corner of her eye then turned away.

“You so beautiful,” he told me “You're so quiet in class but I bet you can get mean too, can't you? Yeah, you're really beautiful. How old are you?” I stood there for a moment, trying to remember how to speak. My brain was struggling to process the everything that was going on. I blurted out “Sixteen.” But I lied, I was seventeen. I opened my mouth to correct myself but shut it immediately. Do I really want this guy to know more about me?

“Okay.” His smile never left; he didn't seem surprised. I briefly flashed back to the first day of school where the drama teacher made each of us stand in front of the class and introduce ourselves. “My name is Kerry, I'm seventeen and I’m a junior,” was the first thing I said. He had been there that day along with everybody else.

“I wish I'd met you when I was seventeen,” he said. “We'd get on the bus go to the park, I'd grill up some hotdogs and hamburgers and once we turn eighteen…” He chuckled and shook his head. “I’d never let you go.” I backed away slowly looking up into his his beady little eyes as he kept talking. “You'd make a great wife, you're wife material. Anywhere you go I'd follow you. New York, Taiwan, France, Charlotte. . .”

I tuned him out as he continued listing cities and countries he'd follow me to. I looked around for a way out of the conversation as I took another step back, having never been so uncomfortable in all my life. I quietly planned my escape.

“I'm waiting on my brother-in-law. He’s in building ten,” he told me pointing across the street “I gotta wait for him so we can catch the bus and go home so we can…” on and on he talked at me. At the time, I felt that I could only get away if only he would shut up. I stood on that sidewalk wondering what I’d done to deserve this. It took me a moment to process what he’d said and a whole nother wave of horror washed over me as it registered in my mind that he planned to get on the city bus with me. The bus was coming any minute I quickly made up my mind I wasn't going to get on it with him.

I was not impressed. He went off on a tangent about being in the Army and how many medals he'd earned and being a volunteer firefighter and how he was getting his law degree and how he was accomplishing so much for a 60-year-old. 3.529411765 times my age. I thought, Is this really happening?

“These young boys out here think they want to join the Army but they don't know what it's all about,” he boasted loudly. I took another step back, I was four yards away by then, halfway down the street. He didn't seem to notice or care. He just kept on talking. I was so far away I could barely hear a word he was saying.

“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he finally said. I nodded stiffly, turned, and fled into the nearest building. I rushed into the bathroom and hastily pulled some paper towel from the dispenser. I wiped my neck down with soap and water and scrubbed at my skin. Maybe I imagined the itching and burning of my skin in the spot his lips had touched me, but not crawling, that was was real. I went back to the entrance and watched the bus come and go. I stood, watched and waiting for forty minutes to make sure he was gone until the next bus came. I got on, went home, got in the bed and fell asleep immediately.

I told myself countless times that I should be grateful I wasn't raped and I leaned away just in time to avoid being kissed on the lips, which would have made for a far worse experience, but these reminders didn't stop me from reliving the moment over and over again, imagining different scenarios. Like, what if I hadn't leaned away? What if I became so frozen in shock I couldn't even turn my head?

Within the course of twenty four hours, I experienced helplessness, rumination, distortion of time and space, disorientation, fatigue, exhaustion, increased lack of faith in humanity, feat of trauma reoccurrence, existential questioning and, of course,  shame, all of which, I recently learned after attending a Tramatic Experience: Impact and Recovery event (on the same campus my experience took place), are typical reactions to a Trumatic experience.

The speaker, who also happens to be my sociology professor, explained that, "While victims react differently and have unique symptoms, there are patterns."

The things I was feeling weren't unusual and I will always remain thankful for that knowledge.

I went right to sleep that afternoon and slept through the night so I didn't get a chance to tell anyone until the next day. Then came the legal proceedings...

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