I Spent Twenty-Two Years Trying To Be Nice About It
The first time a man slaps me on the ass,
I am fourteen years old, bussing tables at a family restaurant.
He asks where I go to college and laughs.
I laugh too but the sound gets caught in my throat.
I haven’t even been kissed for the first time yet.
I have always been told that “boys will be boys”,
so when I come to accept that men will be men,
nobody corrects me.
He wraps his arm around my waist,
hand warm on the place my work shirt rides up
above my khaki shorts—
and frowns when a waitress shoos him away.
I thank her nervously. I’m worried that she’ll think poorly of me.
I trap the word slut in the back of my throat with the laughter.
She tells me that the customer is always right,
so I have to be polite, but I can still say no
if I do it quietly.
When I first learn that no does not always stop
slipping lips and wandering hands,
I am sixteen years old in a plaid miniskirt.
I am told that it is my fault for being tempting;
and it feels like the truth.
I already refuse to wear shorts outside of the house.
It makes me nervous to be alone somewhere with another person
when I have a dress on.
I throw out my miniskirts and I apologize.
By this time, catcalls make me jump out of my skin.
I never figure out how to take them as a compliment.
I always get uncomfortable when men make jokes
about why women go to the bathroom in groups.
Nobody likes to hear that we are taught from the youngest age
that we should never go anywhere
The second time that no does not stop someone,
I am nineteen years old in the passenger seat of a pickup truck.
My date pulls up in front of my house
but hits the door lock instead of letting me out,
wraps his hand around my throat
because I told him I just thought we should be friends.
When I cry later to my mother about it,
she only asks if he’d been drinking
because you know how men can get sometimes.
And I do know how men can get sometimes.
On another date, I am told by a man
that it will be my fault if he ever goes too far
because his brain is wired like an animal.
I want to say that even my dogs recognize the word no,
but I am afraid of how he might react so I don’t argue.
I sit through the rest of the date with a smile on my face.
We even kiss afterwards.
And it is not the last time I try to make kissing into a bandage
for something that never should have happened.
The third time is only a few months later.
The third time is the worst time.
When I first say no, I think maybe he doesn’t hear me
but it has nothing to do with volume.
It takes me years to lay on a hammock again.
Spring might always remind me of bursting instead of blooming.
I carry my keys just to walk to the mailbox at night.
I’m too paranoid to jog down my street alone.
I am groped on the sidewalk,
I am groped on the bus,
and even once at the grocery store.
Newly twenty-one years old,
I am followed all the way to my friend’s car
by a group of men who stand around
laughing and jeering and banging on the windows.
It is the last time I ever let a man buy me a drink at a bar.
I have men in my life who call themselves my friends
who put their hands on my hips and my thighs
without my permission.
There is no question.
They do not think they have to ask.
They laugh when I bristle.
They call me bitchy when I tell them to back off
but it takes twenty-two years for me to realize
only I have a right to my body.
I used to bite my tongue, but I do not say NO quietly anymore.
I bark my discomfort like an old dog,
weary and uncomfortable even in its sleep.
By Trista Mateer
Trista Mateer is a writer and poet living outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She believes in lipstick, black tea, and owning more books than she can ever possibly read. Known for her eponymous blog, she is also the author of two collections of poetry. More of her work can be found at: tristamateer.com