This is an excerpt from a longer piece from the My Street, My Body, My Right tumblr. To see the full piece, click here.
I’m fourteen, running late for Global Studies. Breakfastless, I bolt out the door to catch the six. Instead of turning right as usual at Lexington Avenue, I take the shortcut to the station. They’re sitting at the front stoops again, right where the houses end and the deli begins. It’s humid, but I’ve put on my baggiest sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt, so maybe today they won’t say anything. I look down at my feet and try to look preoccupied, or sad, or unapproachable, or something. And I walk faster. But they turn around and stare, all of them together, and don’t move, blocking the sidewalk. They make me push through them. I can feel them, bigger, older men, looking down at me as I approach. My entire body is tensing up, dreading an unwanted touch, a crude word. I want to crawl into a hole. “Hey, come back, China doll,” one says. Something in his voice makes my stomach turn. I wish I had simply woken up on time.
I’m fifteen and sweating under the June sun. The subway ride home was sweltering, and the ice cream truck beckons. Naturally, I order a vanilla milkshake. Then—a touch to my back, an ugly whisper: “you’re so sexy, baby.” I freeze. Was that someone’s breath on my ear, or just the heat? I turn around and see a fat, balding man strolling away into the crowd. As though he had done nothing wrong. My skin is crawling everywhere. Instinctively, uselessly, I am rubbing my ear, but I cannot get rid of his awful, lingering presence. He takes his time in walking away, and I know that he knows I am watching him and that he knows I am too scared to say anything. I hate myself for being a coward. I hate myself for being scared. Families around me chatter and laugh, enjoying the beautiful day. The ice cream truck lady leans out. “That’ll be $2.25.”
I’m seventeen and plastic bags of bai cai are killing my arms. My mom and I speed-hobble downstairs at the Flushing station, only to find that the train’s not leaving for ten minutes. Great. Dropping our groceries, my mom opens the weekend edition of the World Journal and I turn to my copy of Life of Pi. A man boards and sits across from us. The rest of the car remains empty. He immediately begins staring at me. Intently. Willing my mom not to notice, I read. And he stares. He stares and doesn’t stop and I’m trying to muster the courage just to look him in the eye, but I’m scared. What if that encourages him to do something else? What if my mother sees? I wish that he would just look away, even for one second. But he doesn’t. After a few minutes, I put down my book and look up at his face. He is old, older than even my father. I expect him to put his hand on his crotch, to grin obscenely, or to lick his lips, or maybe all three. Instead he just stares. Should I be relieved? People start filtering into the car. Eventually, he looks away.
I’m eighteen and refreshed from an afternoon run in Central Park. I’m calling my boyfriend to let him know I’m coming over. The man walking across the street towards me is leering pointedly in my direction, but I figure he won’t say anything since I’m on the phone. I’m wrong. He makes a point of brushing past my arm and sneers: “I like the way you show off them legs.” For once, I react quickly. “No, it’s just hot.” I’m walking away as fast as I can, trying to put distance between us, when he yells, “fuck you, bitch.” I turn around. He looks angry, surprised, embarrassed. I should be angry also, but all I can feel is satisfaction, an unfamiliar and fervent satisfaction. “Say it louder!” I scream across the street. “I don’t give a fuck.” I’m aware of how stupid I look and everyone is staring at me, but it’s true.
Finally, I just don’t give a fuck anymore.
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