I’m in the fourth or fifth grade. In our small town, in the 80s, this makes me old enough to walk downtown without adult supervision. Which is what me, my twin, and our sister Debbie are doing.
A man in a red car drives slowly following us trying to lure us into his vehicle. We yell and run home.
The next time, he’s bolder. We walk toward home, luring him this time to where my Vietnam veteran, hyper-protective dad will hear our screams from the kitchen window, emerge from the house, and perform his most sincere and riveting version of crazy.
We get close to the side window, begin screaming at the top of our lungs, and buck 90 to the house. My dad, as we predicted, appears. He sees the car and is able to record the license plate number but not to capture his prey.
Police identify the man as a resident of a local apartment community, but admit that they “cannot do anything” until the potential (or practicing?) pedophile “does something” to us.
I’m 12. My breasts have passed puberty without me. Boys who used to be my friends are now my predators. They make sexual jokes to let me know it. One decides he would like to be my boyfriend. I am less flattered than I am nervous.
The night he calls to get my answer I drop a hot iron on my foot. I say no. I never explain my reasons and he never asks.
I also never explain what prompted me to drop the iron, though I am an avid ironer by 7th grade, until I am an adult.
He tells the boys I made noises.
I’m going to the ninth grade in the fall and this summer I am dating the boy my friends have selected for me to balance our trio.
In its pilot year, the summer science camp’s administrators have not worked out the kinks of weekend supervision. We have no class schedule; our RAs are college students who sleep in or go home; we are wild and free.
My twin sister and I are hanging out with everyone else at the boys’ dorm when everyone starts disappearing inside in ones then twos. The “big boys,” 2 seniors, dare us to go in to visit our new boyfriends. We hesitate.
We hear “immature” and quickly duck under their arms holding the side door open. We’re in. We giggle. We tell them the hall is musty. We giggle. We run out separate doors when a student reports that an RA is checking rooms. We lose each other in the dash.
Final destination for me is behind the building sitting on a rail. We wait for his grandfather to bring him a plate of food. We talk. I refuse to kiss him because the truth is: I don’t like him that much. I just like having a “boyfriend” like my girlfriends.
Curfew is approaching. The boys file past us sweaty after spending the day playing football on the lawn of the girls’ dorm. They congratulate my boyfriend.
I correct their assumptions. Boyfriend protests, “Shh.” It doesn’t matter, he says, what they say. The next day, I learn that I “made noises.” He apologizes; says he had to tell them something.
It is the summer before my 10th grade year. My new boyfriend is so cute. I’ve had a crush on him for a while. When he calls, I’m geeked.
His hands stay glued to my ass and breasts and he whispers lewd things in my ear when we’re double dating and everyone thinks we’re just innocent lovers holding hands walking through the neighborhood, swinging knee to knee, at the playground.
One morning I sneak into his father’s empty apartment and spend the day there.
He picks me up from a seated position on the living room floor, carries me into his father’s bedroom, and throws me on the bed. I refuse his version of seduction–he’s messing up my hair.
His brother appears in the hall on his way to the bathroom. “After lunch, okay,” he has me promise. We eat boiled hot dogs. After lunch, I braid his hair.
I read his aggression as attraction. By the next summer, he is in my summer class, tells me to call him when I tire of my new boyfriend and sneaks feels of my thighs under the table.
He is dismissed from the program for allegedly raping a girl in the library bathroom.
I am 16. I am walking through the shopping district of our small town. It’s a hot summer day but I’ve chosen a three quarter sleeved boat neck shirt and khaki bermuda shorts. This, I tell myself, is my preppy look.
A car circles a parking lot and returns driving close enough to me for the driver to ask me how much I would accept.
He asks me something innocuous first, perhaps for directions, to make me raise my eyebrows and slow my pace enough to hear the rest.
I don’t remember the details of my response nor escape. Maybe he just left the scene.
I am a university freshman. It is dark and my roommate and I are walking through the parking lot that connects Spelman with Morehouse.
We are summoned by a small group of local guys and respond that we can’t stop to talk, lie that we are trying to make curfew.
They continue their version of wooing, singling me out–“the one in the green jacket.” My favorite jacket. I turn my body slightly to tell the same lie and belie my dismissal of their advances. It doesn’t work.
We are sprayed with a slew of sordid epithets. When a glass bottle shatters behind us, we run. We’re caught by another set of males–Morehouse students who witness the exchange and come to walk us the rest of the way home.
I am at the end of my freshman year and on my way to Freaknic. Black College Spring Break. My twin and sister have flown down. We expect the weekend to be the “Whoot There It Is” video by 95 South. It is not.
We wear sleeves and pants. Atlanta’s spring is temperamental.
The crowd is so thick as we exit the Marta train at Piedmont Park that we fist each others shirts to avoid being separated. We are groped and grabbed everywhere. There is no fighting it. Girls dressed in less fare far worse. They are surrounded and stripped in the street. Handheld video cameras catch the public humiliations and assaults.
We run into the brother of one of my friends who drives us to get food. The traffic on the highway is as thick as the bodies were on Marta. While in the gridlock we watch two girls. Today we would call them tweens. They gyrate on the hood of a stopped car. A woman tells the men gathered for the show that they may not touch without paying her because “these is my hoes.”
The girls look nervous as the crowd thickens. She rushes them into the backseat of the car on whose hood they danced. But not before one of the men, a toddler hoisted on his shoulders, takes the child’s hand and places it on one of the girls’ genitals: “this is what pussy feels like.” Another man records the act as other men guffaw.
I am a college sophomore. My friend and I are walking to the A&P a few blocks from campus. We’re chattering when we approach the church on the corner.
A man is sitting in the partially hidden stairwell. I mindlessly greet him, barely glancing him when I realize he’s holding his penis in his hand.
My friend and I gulp and continue to the store. She chastises me for “speaking to everybody.”
I am a university senior. My classmate is kidnapped at gunpoint while making the same walk my friend and I had made.
She is on her way home from an evening class. She never wears bras and her nipples are pointing at me right now in class as we discuss her plan to take some time off from school to recover.
She is shoved into an alley. An old lady sees her struggle with the kidnapper: “Is y’all alright?”
The kidnapper tells her not to worry, “It’s just my babymama.”
My classmate escapes when a police cruiser’s flashing lights alarm him. She runs.
In class that day I learn that out of the 7 of us, 3 had been raped, including my professor who had awoken in her own home to a stranger in her bedroom one night. She encourages us not to live in fear.
I am a graduate student living as far away from campus as I can afford.
I just picked up my girlfriend from the train station and we are heading inside when we’re greeted by two men sitting on the steps of my building.
One tells me he’s seen me before and compliments my “style.”
They ask if we want to hang out on the steps later. It is a beautiful spring evening. We’re bored. We agree.
As we talk, my admirer calls me the wrong name multiple times. He apologizes the first time. By the third time, he is visibly annoyed that I, jokingly, tell him I will not answer him if he does it again. I’m not joking anymore when I tell him his failure to remember my name is dismissive and disrespectful.
His friend agrees, but his explanation also goes unheard. The admirer launches into a tirade and finishes with some dismissal like, “Whatever,” before announcing that he’s leaving. Which he does promptly and without looking back.
His friend is visibly perturbed but stays and talks for awhile before we agree to go our separate ways.
He’s drunk. I can hear it in his unwarranted excitement.
We’ve been friends for several years. We lose touch periodically, but he’s my “brother-from-another mother.” I’ve never had reason not to believe that he believes that.
“I will come down there,” he says, “and I will get you. You know I have people.” He tells me that he’s tired of talking about my love life hit and misses; that it should be him. Didn’t I know all along? That it will be him; that he could rape. Me.
I hang up the phone. He rings it back and apologizes, admits to being drunk, and hangs up.
The next day he calls to say he doesn’t remember the conversation but that I should not hold against him “whatever he said.”
“I bet your man ain’t got this,” he says while holding his penis in his hand.
I am in front of my apartment building on a bright Sunday morning in late spring.
A man I’d identified as “strange” when I first pulled up has chatted me up since I got out of the vehicle.
I refuse to go in the building when I realize that he’s changed direction since I got out and is behind me. I sit on the stoop and wait him out.
It doesn’t work. He asks for a single, pretends to be waiting “for a ride” and leans against the building, asks to be “my friend.” I’m not interested, and have turned away by the time he gets my attention to tell me–to show me–what “my man” lacks.
When I identify him in a line up I learn that he has recently been released on drugs, weapons, and murder charges–the latter of which was dropped. He has been terrorizing women throughout the neighborhood with increasingly more personal attacks. I am the first to alert authorities. I am not subpoenaed until I press for one. The list of victims is long; I am one of two women who show up to court.
I hear the yelling, “Excuse me miss,” but have no reason to suspect that I am the “miss.” After all, the call seems to be coming from blocks away.
It is a warm fall Sunday in the kitschy, busy shopping district called Carytown and I have just come through to pick up lunch.
The yelling stops and simultaneously there is a young man walking beside me. I realize the summons was directed at me by this one.
He asks my name first then “what I’m doing tonight.” Finally, he wants to know, “if I have a phone.” To the last question I answer no. It apparently agitates him.
He tells me that he will kill me and everyone on the street. He is close enough that I can smell his breath; close enough to make good on the promise.
There is a burly guy walking towards us who has watched the entire exchange and likely saw when the young man approached me from behind.
I look into his eyes silently pleading for help. He averts his attention to the window his girlfriend is shopping. I continue to look straight ahead and walk with purpose. The potential killer is gone by the time I can trust my peripheral view.