By Brianna Morin
I am nineteen, and the harassment I have received from men is a continuous cycle for me. It saddens me to have to admit that this harassment is normal and that it’s no surprise that I have had to deal with this. I had to learn how to handle it from a young age. My tolerance for this harassment is low, and finally I was taking a stand for myself.
I was ten years old. He was my grandmother’s husband. She had remarried after her first husband, my father’s dad, had passed away. Before my grandmother and her husband moved, they lived in a small, one-story home in Mendon, Massachusetts. My grandmother was always repainting their walls various yellows that all looked the same to me but were all slightly different to her. Every wall was covered with some sort of photo, whether it was photos of family, religious photos, or decorative paintings that had no meaning and just fit the theme of her country home. My brother and I spent some Saturday nights there when my parents would go out since we weren’t old enough to stay home alone. My grandmother’s backyard was massive. My brother and I would walk up the enormous hill and make our way through the woods. In the woods, there was a huge rock that you could climb. It was the same rock that my father once played on. The neighbor’s son would meet us at this rock, and we would play games until it was time for dinner. Playing with two boys was never an issue; it was my grandfather that singled me out and made me feel self-conscious when he began with the comments.
There was only so much for my brother and I to do when we would sleep over. Our nights consisted of watching TV with my grandmother and her husband until it was past our bedtime. Some nights when I couldn’t sleep, I would walk down the hallway that seemed never-ending and find my grandmother’s husband sitting in his brown chair watching TV still. As I grew older, I realized he found more comfort in this brown, raggedy chair than he did in his king-sized bed.
I enjoyed dressing up in the glamorous clothes that my grandmother owned. I would try on her heels even though I swam in them. One night, she let me try on her red lipstick. My grandmother was a religious woman; for her to let me try on her red lipstick was unlike her. She always wanted me to stay young and pure, and applying this red lipstick would give her a glimpse of the adult I would soon become. I walked out to the living room to show my brother, though he couldn’t care less. Her husband was sitting in his brown chair, staring at me. He said, “You look like you could be a model.” I took this as compliment because it truly didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I started doing a fashion show for everyone. The last outfit I tried on was a dress that my grandmother had owned for years. This time, her husband said to me, “I love how long your legs are.” I didn’t have a response, and at the time I didn’t understand the inappropriateness behind his words. I grew up to hate my legs.
In middle school, girls dressed a certain way in order to stand out to boys. I tried my hardest to fit in by forcing my mother to buy clothes from Hollister and allowing me to straighten my hair. At this age, I was taller than most of the boys in my grade, and even some of the girls. My legs were what made me so tall. I didn’t consider having legs like mine to be defined as “beautiful.” The only person it was beautiful to was my grandmother’s husband, but I wasn’t fully aware of it.
In high school, I dealt with boys who were going through puberty: their focus was deciding which girls had nice bodies. I transferred to a vocational school and barely knew the boys who discriminated against girls, which included me. My freshman year, a list of girls with nice bodies circled around my class. My name made it on that list. Not many girls were sure who started the list, but I heard from someone that it was a kid in my math class. So I confronted him and asked him to throw the list away. It was obvious that he had never been confronted before. I intimidated him, and, surprisingly, he listened to me and threw the list out. Other than this one incident, it was out of my control if a boy stared at me when I walked by. It was labeled as “natural” for men to stare at women in more ways than one.
When I was eighteen, my friend Liza had a small gathering at her house that consisted of her and her boyfriend, another girl and her boyfriend, and me. I decided to extend the invite to a friend I had known for a long time. Our friendship consisted of an ongoing cycle of him having feelings for me, but the feelings weren’t mutual. I always found a way to ignore his feelings and still be friends with him. So, I sent him a text inviting him to come over, play games, and have a few drinks if he wanted to, but he would have to stay the night or find a ride home. He responded, “If I’m still in the friendzone then I’m not coming.”
I was shocked to receive this type of response, so I wrote back, “Well then don’t come.” Two hours passed and he texted me saying he was coming. He got there and immediately searched for hard liquor. I wasn’t entirely sure why, considering I had made it clear that this night wasn’t anything crazy; we were just playing board games. I watched him in the kitchen as he chugged a bottle of Fireball. He was soon wasted, and we all concluded that it was time for bed. In the basement, there were two bedrooms and a pull-out couch. I said, “You can sleep on the pull-out down the hall.” He was stumbling right before my eyes, and it made me uncomfortable. I was sober.
I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and to get away from him, but he insisted on following me. I shut the door before he could make his way in, and as I left, I rushed into the bedroom, shut the door behind me, and got into the bed. Unfortunately, there was no lock on the door. I tried to fake sleeping so maybe he would just leave and find his way to the couch, but it didn’t matter to him that I was “sleeping.” I heard the door squeak open. Immediately, my heart dropped. I reached for my phone to text Liza, who was sleeping upstairs, and warn her about what might happen. I could hear him fumbling to get into the bed with me. I just froze, unsure of what my next move was. He started caressing my leg and tried to get my clothes off but was too drunk to complete his task. Luckily, I could hear Liza walking down the hardwood stairs. She reached the bottom, knocked once on the door, and opened it. That squeak from the door added to the anxiety I was already feeling. Liza said, “Hey, I need your help upstairs. Can you come with me?” I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast. I left him there, and I’m positive he fell asleep by the time I got to the top of the stairs. Liza asked, “What happened?” I didn’t really have much to say and that was okay. I slept in her king-sized bed with her and her boyfriend. The next morning, Liza’s boyfriend woke up and kicked him out of the house. We haven’t spoken since. This situation made it more difficult to find any emotional connection with another person for a while.
It was Christmas, one of the most joyous days out of the whole year. The day was going according to plan; my mom was cooking dinner while we all chatted in the living room. My grandmother’s husband was obsessed with film cameras, and every holiday he had one handy. My grandmother’s husband was sitting on the couch, watching everyone take photos in front of our fireplace. My mother bent down and asked if he would take our photo. He responded by saying he would rather take a photo of the cleavage he just got a glimpse of. He didn’t even hesitate to say this; it sounded rehearsed. I was baffled, as was my mother, but my grandmother didn’t find it disgusting. In fact, she laughed. I could tell my mother wanted to crawl into a hole. Her face was filled with sadness, considering this was potentially the last holiday she would have with her own mother. It was, in fact, the last holiday we had her. Moments passed, and randomly my grandmother’s husband looked at me and told me—again—that he liked my long legs. He sounded like a broken record. I just walked away.
I was nineteen when my grandmother’s husband made his final comment. It was my grandmother’s birthday, and we were celebrating at her house. It was warm, and I was excited to wear this pink dress that I had owned for some time. It had little flowers and was a blush pink color; it came right above my knee cap. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the length, so I wore a pair of Nike Pros underneath just in case it got windy. My mother told me that I looked adorable and that made me more excited to wear it. The day consisted of eating pizza, drinking a few beers, watching college football, and laughing uncontrollably. We watched my grandmother open her presents, and afterwards we lit the candles on her birthday cake and sang “Happy Birthday.” One by one, people filed inside for different reasons, and suddenly I was alone with him. I was aware of his tendencies, so I got up and was going to follow the crowd. Before I could escape, he looked at me and said, “I like your dress.”
“Thank you,” I said. I thought if I was quick enough, that would be the end. It wasn’t.
“I like how short it is,” he said.
I just stared at him, and I could feel the tears filling up in my eyes. Everyone knew he was a disgusting monster who wouldn’t change. So were we just supposed to ignore his words?
I told my dad as soon as we got home, and I could see him get sad. Eventually, he told my grandmother what had happened and that he would no longer tolerate it. Her husband denied saying anything to me; he was “too drunk to remember.” And—according to my aunt—my grandmother even asked, “How do we know she’s telling the truth?” That was the problem right there: women got accused of lying. Men weren’t accused at all.
I finally built up the courage to tell my mom. My dad and I had agreed not to tell her due to the recent passing of her own mother and other various reasons. I think we were finding excuses to ignore my grandmother’s husband’s behavior and attempt to move on with our lives. We were sitting in the same living room where he had once harassed my mother. I was beating around the bush at first, but finally I confessed to what had happened to me. My father joined our conversation, and as a group we unanimously decided that he would not be welcomed at our house or to any family gatherings in the near future.
I attempted to gather my feelings as my parents continued speaking. I just sat there and felt numb, unsure of what I was truly feeling. I don’t recall half of the things they muttered. Typically, you’re relieved to admit the terrible things that happened to you, but I couldn’t feel anything at all.
I could tell my mother was devastated to know that I was going through this alone. I knew she was angry that we kept this a secret from her, and I almost wished we had told her sooner. I had never felt more alone than after that conversation.
My father spoke to me a few days later and asked if I had given any thought to possibly having a conversation with my grandmother. She wanted to apologize. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had no desire to. I wasn’t mentally ready to deal with this, knowing that the conversation might consist of anger and sadness intertwined in one.
I dealt with another incident just a few weeks later when I was at work. A man came in and was chatting with me. I’m a bank teller, so most of the time I know the customers’ names—that, or they provide me with an ID. I was waiting to receive his name so I could help him out, but I started to realize that he didn’t need help after all. He was staring at my crystal necklaces, and slowly I could see his eyes trace my body. He was no longer looking at my jewelry and was now admiring my body. He kept complimenting me, and I think I nearly blacked out.
I was absolutely disgusted and drove home in silence. I told my father what happened to me at work, and he comforted me and told me that if I needed anything he would always be there. I went and had a similar conversation with my mother shortly after. I told her that this incident reminded me of my grandmother’s husband and immediately I started hyperventilating. She held me in her arms, and we just stayed there. She played with my hair, and it brought me back to my childhood. In that moment, I felt a bit better knowing that both of my parents supported me during these last few days. But even after the conversations with my parents, I still didn’t feel whole. I felt as if there was something taken away from me that I couldn’t get back.
I knew I would have to give in and find some sort of strength to have the conversation with my grandmother, for my father’s sake. It saddened me to know that she was all he had left, but I struggled to put aside past events.
I was getting out of work on Saturday at noon when I received a text from my father asking when I was getting out. I found it strange, but then it made perfect sense when he followed up by stating that my grandmother was coming over to have a conversation with my parents. He gave me the option to grab lunch and waste time while she was there, but I figured I’d rather get this over with than continue waiting and allowing it to eat me alive.
When I got home, my parents and grandmother were all sitting in silence in my living room. I walked to my kitchen and placed my bag and jacket down, trying to give myself more time to gather my thoughts. I didn’t really know where to begin. She had tears streaming down her face, and all she could say was, “I’m sorry.”
My parents had warned her ahead of time how I felt so she wouldn’t feel completely blindsided. I sat there on our footrest and immediately could feel the tears filling up in my eyes. She expressed to me that her husband felt sorry for what he said and that it was eating him alive. I called bullshit on that. I think he felt as if his mission to get some sort of satisfaction out of me wasn’t accomplished and was pissed that someone had called him out on his behavior. But I just sat there and nodded my head. I struggled to piece my words into sentences because I truly didn’t know how I felt. It was difficult separating my grandmother from her husband, but I tried understanding that it was challenging for her to leave a marriage when he was so dependent on her. She did everything for this grumpy old man; she just couldn’t find it in her heart to completely abandon him. I didn’t necessarily give a shit what happened to him.
She also confessed that she did believe me, explaining my aunt had lied in order to create her own plot against my grandmother’s husband. I believe my aunt had build-up emotions from the loss of her own father that she never tended to, so this was an opportunity to lash out at both my grandmother and father, saying that she didn’t want to be a part of a family that was like this. She used the painful chain of events that had happened to me and created this sob story for herself. That added to the numbness in my chest.
My conversation with my grandmother was about two hours long. I agreed to move forward, and yet my grandmother continued to apologize for the things that were done to me and the emotional damage they had caused. As a family, we agreed that she was welcome at the house. He was not. She said that it may take her some time to adjust, and we understood.
I haven’t necessarily recovered from this, seeing as these inappropriate comments were numerous events that were intertwined in one. As cliché as it sounds, I’ve concluded that it does take time to fully heal from something like this. I felt a little less numb as the days went on.