I was fourteen when an older man stared at me for the first time
You know that look when they devour you with their eyes?
I was wearing a dress, kind of short, kind of tight
Enjoying the late spring sunshine on the platform of the 1 train
I felt eyes on my back and turned around
And there he was
Staring me up and down and smirking
I haven’t worn that dress since
I was sixteen the summer I learned to hate construction workers
They were fixing the catwalk of my apartment building
Leaving their cigarettes smoldering in the stairs and the street
The acrid smell lingered for months
More often than working they were calling after me, whistling
Burning with shame I shut my mouth
And walked away
I was seventeen when the boy who wouldn’t stop texting me
Starting following me around
Showing up in the library whenever I happened to be there
It took me weeks to stop responding because I was worried about being rude
I had to send a lookout to feel safe before I entered a room and I was worried
About being rude
When we spoke my heart pounded for all the worst reasons and I was worried
About being rude
I know I am privileged
I know I am sheltered
Trust me, I know I am protected by the color of my skin
And the “upper-middle-class” neighborhood I live in
They were just looks, just words, they didn’t touch you, right?
But let me ask you this
Why is my safety a privilege and not a right?
Why am I still so angry when I realize
That with my experiences, I’ve had it light?
If it were your daughter, your sister, your friend,
Would you have the audacity to call it a compliment?
Why should I shut up? Why should I have to settle
To make you feel more comfortable?
My story is not unique, or haunting, or interesting
Mine is a story of one thousand small moments
That did not feel quite right but were normalized just enough to be called inconveniences
And yet they settled under my skin like so much dust swept under the rug
Until it loomed so large I couldn’t ignore it
I had to do the scary thing and get angry, get really fucking angry
To the women, countless women, who have suffered so much more than me
The women with a voice and those still silenced
I hear you
I know by comparison I’ve had it easy
But that does not make it right and that does not make it okay and that does not make it excusable to normalize the behavior, the attitude
Of those who would have me settle for the “luck” I’ve had and shut up
So I will not settle
I will not be silenced
My anger will burn on
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