I’m young. 14 years old, growing into my body.
It’s spring, the sun finally warming up the ground after months of frost. I’m dressed up for the warmth: black high-waisted shorts, black and white crop top, with a black tank top to cover my belly. Appropriate for a 14-year old girl.
I’m walking home from a small festival being held in my small town. I’m close to home, about three minutes away. The festival was on main street, center of town, five to six minute walk from home.
My guard is down. I know this walk, I do this walk often. I’m safe here, in my small town Midwestern home. The bogeyman is not going to get me.
I’m walking on the left-hand side of the street, knowing soon I’ll need to cross over to the right side.
My guard is down.
A white truck approaches, going the same direction as I am. Nothing unusual. Until I notice the driver staring at me as he passes, and see the “Jesus loves you” written in duct tape on the back of his truck.
The hairs on the back of my neck raise, my heart beats faster. The truck reaches the end of the road and turns right. I tell myself it’s fine, there’s no reason to be afraid.
I cross to the right-hand side of the road and continue heading home.
My heart beat slows, I relax.
The same white truck reappears, now driving toward me.
My heart races and anxiety sets in. I’m young, but have good intuition. I know when something is not right.
The man stops his truck next to me, smirking at me.
“Can I ask you a question?” he says.
You’re worrying over nothing, Emma, I try to convince myself. My Midwestern hospitability wins out over my fear, and I ask what his question is.
“How old are you?” he says.
Wrong. This is wrong. Get out.
“Why?!” I snap.
His smirk turns mocking. “Just wondering.”
“Not old enough,” I say before walking away. The truck pulls away, putting distance between us. I’m shaking, panting, on the verge of tears as I walk as quickly as I can away from that man in his white truck.
I reach the end of the street, and see the large patch of grass behind my house. I break into a sprint, running, running until I reach my back porch, bound up the steps and shove my key in the lock. The key won’t turn, and my hands are shaking too violently for me to get the door unlocked.
I pound on the door with my fists, looking desperately at the street behind me, terrified of seeing that truck again, terrified he’ll see where I live.
My dad opens the door, and I fall inside bawling. I was tall and toned, but that man easily could have overpowered me if he wanted. I was lucky.
I’m 17, a junior in high school, doing my final drive to get my driver’s license. The instructor directs me where to go, and I stop at a red light. The instructor has his window down. There’s a man at the bus stop right next to us. He’s yelling at me through the window; degrading, insulting, vulgar things that shouldn’t be said to anyone, ever. Something among the lines of, “You learning how to drive? Take this dick for a spin!”
I stare at the red light, silently begging it to turn green. I ignore that man, refuse to give him any sense of satisfaction.
I’m 18, a senior in high school. I’m on senior trip in New York City. I’m already overwhelmed with the sheer volume of people, used to my cornfields and green seas of soybeans.
I do my makeup and dress up, wearing a black cold shoulder shirt with golden bees decorating it, black leggings, and sparkling golden strappy flats. The only skin visible is my shoulders.
I’m in Times Square with my best friend. A man nearby stares at us, repeatedly saying “excuse me?”, more and more insistent each time. He’s a large, large man; I don’t want to insult him, potentially causing a scene. I finally look over at him, giving him permission to say what it was on his mind.
“Y’all both have beautiful eyes,” he says to me. I mutter a thank you and my friend and I move on. He wasn’t dangerous, I was fine.
We go to get pizza. The middle-aged man behind the counter winks at me.
We go to check out. Another man talks to me, commenting on my makeup, saying I look cute, he’d photograph me. Every encounter made me think of that man in his white truck. I did not want the attention.
A day or two later, still in New York, I am dressed down. Hair in a braid, no makeup, glasses on, dressed nicely, but comfortably. No skin showing but my arms. Not dressed in a revealing way in any way, shape, or form.
My entire class of 2017 is crossing the street, looking like a row of ducklings following their momma.
A group of men walks by. One of them repeatedly yells out, “That redhead is fucking SEXY!”
I am the only redhead around.
I’m 19 years old, a sophomore in college. I’m walking to my 9 am class wearing leggings, a hoodie, and moccasins, my usual go to for when I’m too exhausted to put any effort in my appearance. My hair is undone, I have no makeup on.
The street I’m walking has no one else around except for one guy on his bike, on the other side of the street. He sees me and makes a beeline toward me.
Not this shit again, I think.
He reaches me and stops. “Do you go to Ball State?” he asks.
It’s 8:30 in the morning, I look exhausted, and I’m wearing a backpack. What the fuck do you think.
I glare and say yes and continue walking, not humoring him. I’m over this.
I’m reminded of the man in the white truck and think about how this street is always empty other than the occasional car. Not somewhere I want to be by myself.
My friend picks me up after class and drives me home so I don’t have to be alone on that street.
I’m almost 21, finishing up my junior year in college. After years of encounters with men I don’t know, I’ve almost learned to be afraid of men. I don’t want to be.
Clearly, I’m not going to have a heart attack being in the same room as a man I don’t know. I do that every day at school and work. It’s fine. But it doesn’t take much for me to become uncomfortable in a conversation, even if it’s with one of my male friends. Everything reminds me of the day I thought I was going to be kidnapped at 14 years old. I see news stories of women being found murdered, the culprit a man that the victim rejected. I see women share their stories of being sexually assaulted and receiving no justice. I see women share their stories of being stalked, degraded, insulted. It may be easy to think that I’m overreacting to certain things, besides, isn’t being told that you’re sexy a compliment?
Not when there are women who are being harmed for not returning the compliment.
Not when there are women being kidnapped and thrown into trafficking.
Not when there are women who are being drugged, then being victim blamed for not watching their drink closely enough.
We should not have to live in fear of our male counterparts. We should be able to walk somewhere without being yelled at or approached. We should be able to live without fear. We should be able to walk home without being stalked by a man in a white truck with the words “Jesus Loves You” written on the back in duct tape.