I was 13. How could you?

TW: sexual assault, harassment

Dear the 1st,

I was 13. How could you?

At the time I enjoyed playing soccer, traveling and eating cotton candy. My best friend and I had even come up with a secret society that we thought was funny. I was just beginning to have my first real crushes. I was innocent. I didn’t know what it was like to be touched. I was widely naive. I assumed every stranger still saw me as a kid and just thought I was the most adorable child. Yes, I was a little self-absorbed. I assumed that people smiled and waved me on the street because they thought I was cute in a childish way. I didn’t know that people thought I was pretty or had the perfect curves. I COULDN’T HAVE KNOWN. I thought you were being friendly to me as we walked home from the movies since we lived in the same area. We had mutual friends. I thought you were being cute. But you weren’t. You were taking something that wasn’t yours to take. You took my trust. You took my smile and my joy. I would never trust another stranger again. How could you? How could you distort my reality? Touch me and then call me a prude and a sl*t in the same sentence? How could you change my opinion of myself?

But I let it go. I didn’t think it mattered. I thought that’s what being 13 was. I though it was normal. I thought I led you on and that I just had a flirty personality. I thought it was my fault for walking home with you. I should’ve had my mom come pick me up. I thought to myself it really was not that bad. I thought I was to blame or that it wasn’t that big of a deal. After all, these moments were just part of growing up.

Ahhh! What I wish I could tell young Willow!! That her body belonged to her and not to others. That you, the first, had no right to touch it. That other people did not have the right to touch her even if they wanted to. That her feeling scared was valid and not a sign of weakness and that she didn’t need to start drinking “to be brave” but that her feelings were valid. She had been hurt and her pain was valid and so is everyone else’s pain. The fear I felt meeting any new person was valid. The fear I felt going into a dressing room or walking home was valid. But I didn’t validate them I brushed them off as weak and so did others. I was told that you were nice and I was being paranoid… But because you were “nice and friendly” but anxiety would be invalid according to others I would be forced into meeting new people or told my anxiety was real or sent on trips where all I can think about was being hurt. While my peers would develop their first crushes, I would be afraid of liking someone. I didn’t want to let anyone in.

At 14, I moved and thought living in a new place I could trust again. I thought I had escaped the scars you didn’t leave. I thought I could trust myself. But I very quickly learned I couldn’t . I quickly learned that looking older than my age was not a fun blessing that got me into parties. It made me extremely vulnerable. I quickly learned that being the new girl meant people labeling me and putting me into boxes and I was scared. I was afraid of what people were going to say or what people would try to do. What other people thought of as jokes in gym class were my reality and led me to deep fear.

At the same time, I desperately wanted to make friends and be popular. I based my opinion of myself on what others thought of me. In my head I rationalized your treatment of me I assumed that my previous experiences were normal and so I let people treat me that way. Being close with boys when you’re 14 made me cool (at least I thought I was) and so I put up with whatever. I didn’t know that the the insults and jokes were actually harassment. I just lived in constant fear thinking this is what I got being ‘pretty” and for being in classes with juniors as a freshman. I thought they were welcoming me into their group but they weren’t. I now know they were taking advantage of scared 14 year old. I didn’t need to know better that wasn’t my responsibility. I was still growing up. But I had no one to trust. I was in a newer city and was constantly being taught purity culture and so I thought everything was my fault. I took on the identity that was slutty and boring and that’s why people liked to mess around with me. I thought it was my fault for being so athletic that I threatened other peoples masculinity and strength. I thought it was my fault for becoming wild and drinking at the age of 15. I thought it was my fault for constantly being scared. I just constantly thought everything wrong was my fault. I grew anxious and scared but I desperately wanted to be liked and so I put on a happy show.

I took on looking a certain way for control and because I thought that’s why people liked me. I thought that was the only thing I had going for me. It was all ever people commented on and it was something I could control. I thought it was because you the first made me feel worthless.

I wish I could go back and remind 9th grade me not to let that one boy change me so much but I can’t. I can’t. I can only acknowledge the pain and hurt and begin to believe in myself as a whole person again and not just an outwardly body. This process will take years and your treatment of me will affect me to this day. It will take me a long time to even acknowledge my pain. Dear the first you convinced me that the only thing good about me was my physical appearance but I now know that I am so much more.

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