When I was a very young teen, a man who was a close church friend of my parents repeatedly hugged me in an uncomfortable way, leered at me, gave me “holy kisses,” and clung to me as he said things about my body and my “looks.” This happened every time I saw him, which was at least weekly. It was creepily intimate as if we were colluding in a quiet, private act.
A few days ago at our small coop, there he was. He looked 100 years old. His wrinkles had settled in to his face, creating valleys and hills across his facade. At first he walked past me, then he stopped mid-stride to look me up and down. I stood there. I fucking stood there. I didn’t turn in a disgusted huff, rushing away. I. Stood. There.
And then he hugged me. I hugged him back.
I apologized. I fucking APOLOGIZED for being sweaty from the gym. He told me he’s been praying for me for years. I smiled. What the fuck is wrong with me? I smiled.
An older man took advantage of his power and took from me. He took from me something that was already fragile. He took my trust. He took my ability to form my own narrative about my body and my worth. He took my safety.
And I hugged him.
I’m nauseous writing this. I’ve put years into self work. I’ve read the books, I’ve worked with the teachers. I went to the doctor; I went to the mountains. But here I am. A grown-ass woman who still smiles when she wishes she could stand tall; who hugs her abuser even as her mind screams out. In the end, after all the work and all the years, I’m still 14 years old gritting my teeth, willing the moment to be over quickly.