Take your favorite hand and raise it, then drop every finger but your biggest. Some people may leave up the middle finger because it’s the biggest in height and others may leave up the thumb because it’s the biggest in width. Young Jessica picked the thumb. She was highly intelligent, mature for her age and elated to have gotten the answer right. Imagine her surprise when he told her, “No, that’s wrong”. Imagine her shock when he pulled out the real big finger and it was his penis. His name was Reecie and this was my first encounter with sexual assault.
He was a good friend to my older brother, someone who was trusted and allowed in my home. He was not a stranger. Statistics say that 93% of juvenile victims know the perpetrator. I’m in the 93%.
Thinking back on the story, there are so many questions that arise. I was keenly aware that my private areas were just for me. Proof of this was an incident where my mother was called into my Pre-K class. We were doing full body portraits but once they got to tracing near the thigh area, all systems stopped. I immediately started to scream, outraged, because every part of me knew that this should not be happening. My mother came in, they showed her the picture, and she knew exactly what happened. She explained that I knew no one was supposed to go into my private places. I knew this but why wasn’t the game with Reecie also an all systems stop? Why didn’t I freak out? These questions are unfair to ask the younger me because this game should have never been played with me.
Anyway, back to the game.
Imagine Jessica’s surprise when she got the answer wrong, while knowing all her fingers. She wasn’t wrong, he was, but they played again. This time Jessica knew she was going to get it right because if it wasn’t the thumb, it obviously had to be the middle finger. “Surprise”, he told her. She was wrong and again, he pulled out his penis. This time it was followed by the request to touch it. Jessica knew that her parts were private, but not quite sure about male parts, she touched it out of curiosity.
My brother was like my best friend even being nine and a half years apart. We did everything together even if it wasn’t his choice. It was how we functioned, and I felt safe, protected, and loved with him. Despite knowing these things to be true, I am still questioning the younger Jessica. Why didn’t I ask him what the big finger was?
Anyway, back to the game.
Jessica was made to hold and rub it. Although she had never done this before and probably couldn’t even tell you what was happening, everything in her didn’t like the way it felt. She knew something was wrong. When he called her again and attempted to repeat the game, she stopped playing. If only that was the end of it.
We face things like sexual assault and sexual misconduct, not even knowing when or how to explain what happened. We believe that if we don’t talk about it, it goes away and that if we’ve been in situations and it hasn’t come up then we’re good to go. I also believed that if I made it to 25, 28, 30 and this thing hadn’t broken me or hadn’t popped up again, then I was free and clear. I was wrong.
Anyway, back to the game.
Jessica wasn’t playing anymore so she stopped answering when he would call out to her. Unfortunately, he still had more games in him. When it was time for Jessica, her brother and Reecie to head to the pool and her brother’s hands were full, he offered to carry her. Even though Reecie had introduced the game that she no longer wanted to play, it didn’t occur to her that she should stay away from him all together. They headed out, her brother carrying all the bags for a day at the pool and Reecie carrying her. The new game involved him introducing his hands to her private place.
I can't quite remember how far the walk was from 1301 Bushwick to the train station, but I can vividly remember the fact that he kept using his hand to not only feel the inside of my thigh, but to press against what was my private place. I remember the pressure, the poking, and him almost breaking through the fabric covering my private place. His roaming hand happened for what might have been a 10 or 15-minute walk.
I know that what I’m referring to has a technical term. Yes, I’m an adult that can say what her private place is but something about having to put these words to paper and filling in that spot with the word ‘vagina’…while speaking of a five-year-old? Makes my skin crawl.
Jessica made multiple attempts to adjust herself and keep his hands out of reach, but she was unsuccessful. They got to the train station and she asked to be put down. He resisted, but Jessica knew if she insisted her brother would make Reecie put her down. So, she did, and he was forced to put her down. She told her brother she wanted to walk and that she would stay close to him if she didn’t have to be picked up again. He asked what was wrong and she said nothing because she knew her brother. If she told him what was going on, he might have gotten himself in trouble or at least that’s what she thought.
This was my first encounter but unfortunately it was not my last; there were the foster daughters of my biological father’s wife and my cousin. Always references to five-year-old Jessica and questions that arose about sexuality and trust issues. There was being comfortable in a body that may have curved early but drew adult attention too soon. Also, the risk of being oversexed while absolutely wanting to be undersexed.
Remember that idea I had of feeling like I was free and clear if I had made it to the 30-year mark? Imagine knowing someone for a few years, being friendly, building a friendship and eventually dating. I trusted him, so sex was included in our relationship. One day, he decides to just randomly whip out his penis and suddenly, I’m five-year-old Jessica and he’s Reecie. In that instance, I remained calm and had a conversation about it, letting him know that it’s uncomfortable for me and what he did is a trigger. I saw him not listening because he didn’t understand what it was like to be five-year-old Jessica. He continued with what he wanted and for him to finally get the picture, I put my fist to his chest and pushed him away. 30-year-old me relived the five-year old me with a man I trusted. He didn’t understand until he saw my reaction. He made tried to make me feel wrong about my reaction. That is the effect, consequences, backlash, and the results of sexual assault.
While I’ve never been in denial, I haven’t freely spoken with many people because it’s not something you just share over tea. For the first time in my adult life, this incident presented itself to me and I realized the affect that sexual assault has on a person’s psyche. It may never go away. When something like this happens to us at such a young age, we may not remember every single detail. There's also the unfortunate likelihood of triggers we don’t even know we have, putting us right back in that horrible moment, mentally.
Being a private person, I’m particular about what I share so when the #metoo movement came around I almost refused to even mention anything. I didn’t want to be so openly attached to that public display. I began to think about the women and girls who weren’t here anymore to write a hashtag. I thought about the fear I had for my sisters being a hashtag and that keeping something silent and letting it eat at you gives it power. I wanted to reclaim my power.
Writing this has been one of the hardest things I've ever done. It has caused me to relive moments in time that will never make sense. I’ve also had to openly acknowledge that I will always have a story to tell no matter how old I get or how much I think I've moved past it. I’m now a mother of a teenage boy who I have repetitious conversations with about what no means, what's inappropriate and who has the right to determine that.
Sexual assault is unfortunately present. It's done by our neighbors, friends, coworkers, those we trust and vouch for. Sexual Assault Awareness month is about getting stories out that we can discuss with our friends, mate, children and whoever else we’re comfortable around. This awareness is to prevent the Reecie’s and to empower and support the Jessica’s. It's so we avoid judging the survivors and stop blaming the victims, develop more empathy, and have space to discuss prevention. So, here’s to acknowledging the narratives, ending cycles, and the process of healing.
Jessica Marie is a native Brooklynite with a deep love for her son, music, and words. She also hosts a podcast, God, Grits and Hips. When she's not writing, you can find her working for The Man, daydreaming about tacos, and trolling her friends.
To keep up with Jessica Marie, she can be found on Instagram under her personal profile (at request) and her podcast profile.
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS/PITCHES:
The month of May covers Lupus Awareness. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that's rarely easy to diagnose, extremely challenging to treat and live with, and currently has no cure. We are encouraging people to gain a better understanding of this illness so we're accepting submissions/pitches from people who have it, and those who have family members/friends who've had it or currently living with it. True understanding opens the door for compassion and empathy and with any chronic illness, this is always necessary. This is what we hope to achieve with your stories.
May is also Mental Health Month. We already devote every Monday to mental health so of course we're going to acknowledge and highlight post for this throughout the month. As a country, we focus a lot on our physical appearance, leaving our mental health to fend for itself. However, there are some people who take it very seriously and maintain their mental health on a daily. We're interested in hearing what your support groups and selfcare look like, what your battles involve, and how we can all be more empathetic towards those living with mental illness.
Please send all pitches/submissions to email@example.com by May 23, 2018.
We look forward to hearing from you!