I’ve thought a lot about why the next part of my life happened. I’ve questioned it, I’ve replayed it, I finally talked to a therapist about it, and I think a lot of people who go through these situations do. However, I can trace a lot of my mixed feelings about my sexual worth back to one incident. So, I’ll take you back to 3rd grade now.
It’s recess and I was queen of the monkey bars. I loved them. I had great upper body strength and could spend all day on them if I was allowed to. Our school had a large playground. There was a section for younger kids with smaller jungle gyms, a section with much larger jungle gyms that had the swings that you would go on that would make it feel like you were never going to return to earth, and then there was a field for kickball, baseball, etc. I spent my recesses on the large monkey bars. They were tall and long and I loved them.
This recess was no different, I was in 3rd grade and like all 3rd graders I was a stick figure and my only interests were NSync, monkey bars, and whatever I watched on tv at that age. I was wearing a plain tshirt and a khaki skirt and I was showing my skills on the monkey bars with my friend Kayla. Skip one bar, skip two, could I skip three? It was so fun.
Then we heard it, “Let me see your underwear!” A boy, Zachary, bellowed from underneath us.
I was shocked!
“NO!” Kayla screamed back. “Get away!” She was furious.
I was embarrassed and confused, why would he want to see my underwear?
Then he moved. He was right underneath us. Kayla was in a skirt too and Zachary, started yelling out what color our underwear was and singing a song about how much he wanted to see them.
I was bright red with embarrassment and stuck in mid-air hanging on the monkey bars with confusion. Kayla hopped down and I followed suit, she seemed to know what she was doing.
“You’re gross. I’m telling.” Kayla stated firmly, looking Zachary directly in the eye, she turned on one heel and walked straight to the building. I was stunned but followed her as her shadow. I knew what he did was wrong, I think, and Kayla seemed to have a plan and I was on board.
Kayla and I as her shadow walked directly to a teacher and told them that Zachary was trying to see our underwear. She walked us to the counselors office where we (Kayla) recounted the story to him and I agreed emphatically.
Later that day, Kayla and I were called back into the counselor’s office, we will call him Mr. R. We walked in the room with no windows and sitting on a chair in the corner was Zachary who looked like he had been crying and was still slightly blubbering with a tissue held up to his nose.
“Now girls,” Mr. R said in a tone that was condescending and sympathetic at the same time. “I’ve spoken to Zachary and he is sorry for what he did. He is embarrassed and had to be pulled out of class.”
Zachary wailed a little in the background.
“It is extremely embarrassing for him to be called out in front of his peers and brought in here. He didn’t touch you and was just joking around and now all his classmates think he did something wrong.”
“He did.” Kayla said. She was strong and sure of herself. I said nothing.
Mr. R continued, “Zachary is sorry, but you need to apologize to him. It was just a joke and look at the repercussions of you telling on him. I will also be calling your parents to let them know what you did and the scene you caused.”
“I’m not apologizing to him,” Kayla said. “Call my parents.”
Mr. R. excused Kayla, I assume he saw that he was not going to get through to her and so he would let her parents speak to her.
Then it was just me sitting on the flannel couch along the left wall of the windowless office, Mr. R sitting in a chair in the middle leaning forward, his arms resting on his legs and his hands entangled in a knot between his knees, and Zachary sitting in the chair in the right corner of the room, tissue to his nose.
“Tori, you need to apologize to Zachary.”
I was mortified. I never meant to hurt his feelings. It was just embarrassing and I didn’t understand why he wanted to see my underwear and now he was embarrassed in front of all of his friends. I felt terrible for him. How could I have caused him pain like that? I never meant to.
“I’m sorry Zachary.” I said tears streaming down my face. I hated the idea that I caused someone else pain. It hurt me, I never meant that.
“Sorry for what?” Mr. R said prodding.
“I’m sorry for telling on you. I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” I was squealing through tears at this point.
“Thank you,” said Zachary.
Mr. R. excused Zachary and I was left in the room sitting in the same position as we had been before.
“You know, you get nowhere in life by being a tattle tale. You need to take a joke and think about how your actions affect others.”
“I will, I’m sorry Mr. R.”
“I’ll call your parents and let them know what happened. You can go back to class.”
Snot and tears streamed down my face as I left his office. How could I have hurt someone else? I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
That afternoon after school, I knew I had to tell my mom what had happened when I got home. I was sure Mr. R already called her, but I had to tell her myself. I began telling her the story through sobs so heavy my chest and back were aching from the motion.
“He made YOU and Kayla apologize to him?” She was furious.
“Yes. She didn’t apologize, but I did Mom. I told him. I feel awful.”
“No, you shouldn’t have apologized. You never apologize for standing up for yourself. Kayla did the right thing. You should have been more like her.”
I was more confused than ever. Something in this story set my mom off, I knew that. She was dialing on the phone as fast as her fingers would move. She called Kayla’s parents and they were in agreement on how horrible we were treated. I assume she called the school and complained too because a couple days later I was back in the windowless office but there was no Mr. R.
Mr. R had been replaced by Mr. K. Mr. K brought me into the room and told me that Kayla and I were right for telling on Zachary and that I shouldn’t have apologized to him. He told me that what Zachary said to us was inappropriate and we shouldn’t allow boys to talk to us like that.
Mr. K made me feel better about being Kayla’s shadow in story. He assured me that what happened was wrong and told me never to apologize for doing the right thing.
I felt better, but the damage was done. Mr. R had put it in my head that boys were allowed to talk to girls however they wanted, that asking to see their underwear and taunting them about it was ok. Mr. R. had ingrained in me that telling on this behavior was wrong and caused more pain to other people, and I certaintly didn’t want that.
I wish I could go back to that dark room with Kayla, Zachary, and Mr. R, and tell Zachary and Mr. R to Fuck off. I would unapologetically look them in the eye and tell them how disgusting their behavior was. Then, I would high five Kayla and tell her to keep being a rockstar and sticking up for herself and I would hug younger me and tell her that Mr. R. and Zachary were assholes and there is never a need to apologize to an asshole because they are being an asshole.
But I can’t go back in time, and that lesson was one that I took to heart in the wrong way. I did however begin wearing pants, shorts, or skorts (skirts with shorts under them), that way I could be on the monkey bars and no one could see my underwear.
I modified my clothing so that I wouldn’t be sexualized. I was told how standing up for yourself causes other people pain, and I learned that sometimes victims needs to apologize for being a victim. In third grade. How fucked is that?