Let’s just get into it.
When I was 15 years old, I was washing dishes in my 10th grade Home Economics class one day. Since I was barely passable during the cooking part, but bomb when it came to suds and plates, I was very comfortable at the sink. A boy in my class, Mario, approached the other side of the sink, adjacent to me, and started to “play” around with me while I washed the dishes. Trying to touch me, attempting to tickle me. I told him to stop, to leave me alone. He certainly didn’t listen, ignoring my protests and continuing with the touching and “playing” around. I repeated that I wanted him to stop. He continued. So I sprayed him in the face with the water gun. He smacked me across the face.
Growing up, my sister and I got into some physical altercations. Being sisters close in age who shared a room, every pair of socks looked the same and therefore had been stolen by the other and deserved some kind of retribution, every eye roll needed to be avenged, so on and so forth. The few times my brother and I got into it officially ended when my mother reminded me that he was no longer a five year-old. “Quit it,” she said sharply, focusing on me as the eldest sibling. “He’s a growing boy and you’re a young woman.” I got her drift. Here’s the point: we were family and therefore not actively trying to hurt each other. We succumbed to physical displays of anger and irritation, trying to prove our respective (largely juvenile) points when words failed us. After a few years, we grew up and dealt solely with words. Mario wasn’t my brother. He wasn’t my sibling. We weren’t family. Looking back, I specifically recall how inexplicably calm everything was, how calm I was. As the right side of my face burned with shock, as tiny stars floated around before my eyes, I continued to wash the dishes. I remained there, glued to that spot, my hands repeatedly drowning in warm, soapy water. After hitting me and demanding what was wrong with me, Mario eventually walked away. I finished my task, wiped down the counters, and returned to my seat. No teacher was summoned, I didn’t run screaming to a friend with tears in my eyes. (In case you’re wondering, apparently none of the students or our teacher saw this. If they had, no one said anything or intervened.) Prior to this, we had been somewhat friendly in class, sitting at the same table at times. After that day, I never spoke to him again.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m so sensitive to tales of domestic violence, why the thought of one person violently attacking another joined to them by marriage or relationship leaves me disturbed and shaken. Eureka. I’ve never forgotten the feel of his hand against my face, the way my cheek stung, how it hurt. I can’t imagine the thousands, millions, of women and men who have dealt with more than that and beyond in their relationships. Might be why I whisper “leave, please leave” when I hear about this happening, especially to women. It’s never justified. Mario’s actions weren’t justifiable. I don’t care about the spray of water dripping from his face.
As with other things that happened during those tenuous teen and adolescent years, I told no one about what happened and suppressed all the emotions that came with it. (I literally just told my sister about it a few weeks ago, when the memory randomly made itself known.) I don’t think I even wrote about it in my diary. I shoved it away as I was prone to do, youthfully unaware of all the little explosions that these events were causing inside of me. But those are the benefits of getting older and working on yourself: I’m talking about it now. I acknowledge the pain, anger, confusion, sadness, and shock I felt in that moment. I acknowledge that I did begin to hate him. And yet I can also say that hate is not an emotion I will presently allow. Wherever he is, I simply hope he’s no longer responding to situations the way he did when we were 15.
It constantly and honestly amazes me that I made it through those strange, long years, dear reader. But with healing comes memories, revelations, conversations. And we shall have them.