I am 22 and I go running at night I am armed with pepper spray and wield keys like blades I text my friends, tell them to check on me in an hour And most nights pass without issue, Some dogs scare me, some dumb teenager wolf whistles at me out his window One night, I am followed Who knows what he really wanted, maybe he was just going in the same direction But I run like hell, I am so scared. I lose him in shadows and darkness and I make it home But when I tell people what happened, the response is immediate “Why are you out by yourself at night? Are you stupid? Are you crazy? You shouldn’t be surprised.” This is the first time I learn the night is not owned by women Yes. I am stupid, I am crazy It’s my fault. My fault, my fault, my fault I’m 17 and a boy has a crush on me I tell him no, I don’t want to date right now I didn’t actually like him at all, but I told him now just wasn’t a good time He follows me for weeks, at lunch, after school, at football games Sends me messages on facebook asking why I can’t just give it a chance It escalates into a formal issue with the school administration I tell him I’m not interested at all, he says I led him on But I didn’t, I didn’t. I said no, does it matter why? The school administration tells me I needed to be honest about why, I was lying, being cruel. He goes unpunished This is the first time I learn that my “no” requires context to be valid Yes. I am a liar, I am cruel. It’s my fault. My fault, my fault, my fault I am 13 and I’m swimming in the neighborhood pool It’s a hot, summer night, there are no adults around And I’m surrounded by boys, my brothers and their friends They rough house and are rowdy, and being a tom boy myself, I join in One boy takes a particular interest in me He pulls me in a corner, holds my wrists tight, body pressed against my own Hard upon the slick pool walls in the shallow end Clearly overpowered, I say “Okay, you win. Let me go.” But he doesn’t let go. He grips tighter as I squirm to get away And instead fastens his lips onto mine, the taste of chlorine and terror filling my mouth He breaks away from the kiss, let’s me go and grins as I splash and push him and scream All the others then take note while I yell what happened, clambering shakily out of the water But they tell me, “Why would you play with the guys at the pool, in a bathing suit, if you didn’t want that to happen? You were flirting, playing like that! It’s fair game when you wrestle!” This is the first time I learn that my body is a fair piece for the taking in war Yes. I wanted him to do that, I was flirting. It’s my fault. My fault, my fault, my fault I am 6 and playing at the daycare jungle gym I have on a black top with purple flowers And long sleeves that are a sheer, flow-y material from the shoulder to the wrists It was the 90’s, style was weird but I loved that shirt An older boy comes up from behind me Tells me he can see the skin on my arms And girls who wear see through clothing are dirty He pushes me into the sand to prove it And when I tell the teacher, tears streaming down my face, I am told Little girls shouldn’t wear see through clothing If they don’t want to be picked on This is the first time I learn that my clothing consents to actions I may not like Yes. I wanted to be pushed to the ground. It’s my fault. My fault, my fault, my fault I think about that word a lot, fault We learn it young, it places blame But it also traces cracks upon this earth, there are maps and theories and movies about them We live on fault lines, drawn invisibly beneath our dusty, bloodied concrete The places with the faults, they tremble and shiver so frequently we don’t question it But sometimes, the pressure becomes too great And they fracture, break, shake, quake Suddenly, no warning and leaving destruction all along their lines And do you know, this happens to people, too? We draw line after line of fault up to a person Harassment, abuse, neglect, assault My fault, my fault, my fault And then they break Burning bridges of destruction they crossed to claim use of words they do not own No. It’s not my fault. I did everything right. I said no. I called the cops. I bought pepper spray. I told my friends. I ran. I hid. I cut my hair short. I held my tongue. I covered up. I was good. Fuck risky behaviors. Fuck bathing suits. Fuck sheer sleeves. Fuck flirting. Fuck mixed signals. Fuck honesty. Fuck night time. They are excuses used to trap us, draw lines on our map so that we know our place Well, I broke like the earthquakes that tremble beneath our feet And I drew new lines on this earth I am bruised and beaten but I sure as hell know my place now And that place is standing right here with a message stop the breaking, stop the blaming, stop the war I don’t care if it’s as simple as a kid pushing you in the playground Or as complicated as saying no for reasons different than the ones you truly feel You do not have to destroy yourself Because I promise you no matter what happens to you, no matter what they say It is not your fault.
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