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My Past Can’t Steal My Future

“Is this seat taken?” he asked as he sat down in front of me. He was a Latino boy in his late teens. He had a raspy voice. I was at McDonald’s and watching my friends’ bags while they were on line. I looked around and pointed at myself: “Are you talking to me?”

He looked around and chuckled. “There is no one else here, right?”

I looked down at my phone and nodded.

“Aren’t you a shy one,” he continued.

I looked up, trying not to show any emotion even though he made me nervous. In a strong voice, I said, “Don’t you see the bags on the table? These seats are clearly taken.”

I thought he was just flirting. He was cute, with grayish blue eyes. His shape up was perfectly straight, his dark hair was slightly wet, like he’d just come from the barber. Then he asked, “Are you a virgin?” He was staring at me as if he was trying to figure out my whole life.

That’s when I knew something was off about this kid. In a matter of seconds he’d gone from cute to creepy. I texted my friend Antonio: “I see you with my frappe. Come here.”

Antonio came over. “Who is this?” he asked me. The guy stood up, towering over Antonio, who was about 6’2”. “You don’t need to know that detail,” he said. And he walked away.

As my friends and I ate, I felt unsettled. I couldn’t stop thinking about that boy. When it started to get dark, I said goodbye to my friends and walked to the subway. When I saw that my train wasn’t coming for another 20 minutes, I decided to take the bus.

‘I Have You Now’

I walked out of the station and into the park and there was the boy from McDonald’s standing in front of a light post. He was on his phone. His light jeans sagged right below his butt, and his navy shirt clung to his body. He didn’t look like a creep, he looked attractive, but I felt afraid.

His cold eyes met mine and he smirked. As he walked toward me, I started to walk backward. He chuckled and said, “I have you now.”

I was pressed against the black park railing. No one was around and I thought if I ran away he might pull out a gun and try to shoot me. I thought it was better to stay still than run and die. I started crying. “What do you want from me?”

“All I wanted was a conversation, but you couldn’t give me that because you think you’re too good for everyone, don’t you?”

I cried as he pressed his cold chapped lips to my neck. “Shut up!” he yelled, and slapped me across the face. I cried silently. He laughed and said, “It isn’t good, right?”

Suddenly an older, dark-skinned man pulled him off me and started punching him. Moments later, creep kid was lying on the ground, his nose bleeding, his eyes swollen shut.

“Are you OK, sweetheart?” the man asked.

I nodded and he asked if I was going to the police.

“If I do my family will find out,” I said. “My mother wouldn’t be able to handle this.” He didn’t try to convince me to report it. He walked me to the corner, leaving the boy with a bloody face lying on the ground, and hailed me a cab. He handed me $30. “Get her home safe,” he told the cab driver.

Why Did He Choose Me?

In the cab I thought, “Why did he choose me?” My phone kept vibrating; it was my mom calling but I clicked “ignore.” I just watched the cars pass by. Finally, the taxi pulled up in front of my building. “Llegamos nena,” he said. I paid him and got out of the cab. It was hard to walk. My legs were too weak.

I opened the door to my apartment and my little brother, who was lying on the couch, screamed, “You’re in trouble!”

“Go to your room!” my mother yelled at my brother.

Sientate,” she said to me in a strangely calm voice. I sat down at the kitchen table.

“You think this is the time for a 14-year-old to get home?”

My curfew was 6 p.m. and it was 9:45. I’d had no idea it was that late.

Then she started with the same old sex lecture: “If you are going to be out having sex, make sure you know what you are doing.” I stood up from my chair as if it were on fire.

“Sex? That is what you think I was having? Every time I come home late you automatically think it’s because I’m having sex. I don’t know what went down in your time, but for me it’s not all sex. Like you said before, I am only 14!” I went up to my room and slammed the door.

image by YC-Art Dept

I knew my mom wouldn’t understand what happened, which was reinforced by that conversation. I didn’t want to tell my friends because I figured they’d just think I was kidding. They didn’t take anything seriously. So I kept it to myself.

Needing to Hide

In the weeks that followed, I’d rush home after school so I could lock myself in my room. I wanted to be there with my tears and my secret. Even though I’d been saved from possibly being raped, I still felt unsafe.

School ended. I mostly stayed in my room and stared into space. I lost weight; the thought of food made me nauseous. When I thought about what happened, which I couldn’t stop doing, I felt disgusted with myself. What could I have possibly done to make him think doing that to me
was OK?

My mom didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. She thought it was good that I had slimmed down; in her words, I was “chubby.” I was still on punishment for coming home late that night so she didn’t wonder why I wasn’t seeing my friends.

Dulling the Pain

When school started in the fall, I started hanging around people who did drugs. I started smoking weed after school. When I was high, I felt relief; it made me forget about the assault.

However, on my sober days, I would feel angry and disgusted at the world. I hated the fact that I had been put in that position and that even though I wasn’t raped, I was assaulted and still affected by it. I would scream at my younger brother for no reason and disrespect my mom by talking back to her. This wasn’t the normal me.

When my mom realized my constant anger was more than just a passing phase, she suggested I see a therapist. She got a recommendation from my aunt.

I started going every week. At first, I didn’t tell the therapist anything because I thought she’d tell my mother.

But after about three months, I got tired of sitting there for an hour saying nothing. She looked at me and crossed her legs. “Are you ready to talk, or is this going to be another pointless session?”

Although she was snotty, I was tired of keeping it in. I told her everything through a lot of tears.

When I was finished I expected her to be sympathetic, but she said, “You’re not the only one this kind of thing happens to. You can’t live your life obsessing over one event. You want to live your life just staying in your room thinking about a man that did so much damage to you? Is that how you want to live, stuck in the past?”

My Adviser Reaches Out

I didn’t expect to get scolded, so I walked out of her office knowing that I was not going back. If this was therapy, I’d rather deal with it on my own.

I told my mom that I felt better and that I could change my behavior without a therapist’s help. She agreed because all she wanted was for me to feel better. A few months went by and I began to notice the memory of what happened fading.

But I was still smoking weed. One day I had smoked before school. My adviser, who I’m close to, came up to me and told me to come to her office later. I nodded and giggled, “Yes ma’am.”

When I went to her office she didn’t waste any time. “I know you smoke weed and now that I see you’re coming to school high, it’s gone too far.”

“You don’t know what I’ve been through. I’ve had to use drugs to help me cope,” I said.

“I don’t need to know what happened to you, I know what will happen to you if you don’t stop,” she said sternly back.

“What are you going to do? Tell my mom? Go ahead,” I said, bluffing.

“Telling your mom is not the point of this conversation. And you’re right I don’t know what happened to you although I am here to listen if you want to tell me. But I do know you are a smart person with future goals that are important to you. If you keep doing drugs that future won’t be yours.” Then she stood up and walked away.

After that, I never touched a blunt again.

I’ve Got Big Plans

My adviser was right. I had dreams: I wanted to attend Duke University, get my master’s degree in business, and be the chief financial officer of several different companies. I couldn’t let a troubled boy rob me of my bright future.

I took a babysitting job after school so when kids would ask me if I wanted to smoke I’d be busy. On weekends I studied so I could bring my grades back up and maintain them. It took a lot to stop smoking cold turkey but every time I felt tempted, I would remind myself that I had a big future ahead and smoking would ruin it.

After a while, I noticed that I’d stopped thinking about that day. Time helped the memories fade. Looking back, it would have been good to have a better therapist, but fortunately, I did have my adviser who cares about me.

When I finished writing this story, I felt like I wanted my adviser to know what happened. I read her the story because that was easier for me than telling her. She said she was proud of me for going through that and being able to get back on track. Her response was so supportive I decided to tell my best friend, who is my cousin. She couldn’t believe what a strong person I am.

My cousin is right, I am strong. What helped me the most was putting my thoughts on paper—all of my emotions about that day poured out of me, like they had been waiting to do. Once I had written the words and saw a strong person reflected in them, I was able to tell people I care about what happened to me. I’ve realized that even when you can’t talk about difficult things, it can help to write about them.

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