Too Little, Too Late

I was 10 years old the first time I felt it. The creeping sensation on the back of my neck, going lower and lower. I had no idea what it was. I turned and looked, but all I could see was the pavement behind me and a few strangers walking in the distance. I did my best to ignore that growing sense of something bad and uncomfortable forming in the pit of my stomach. But there it was again, that sensation. That feeling of being watched. Of being perceived through an entirely predatory lens. I couldn’t ignore it. It scared me. Even then, I knew enough to be afraid.  I turned and looked once more, focusing on the origin of the feeling. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he appeared. I had never seen this man before, and yet he looked at me as if he knew me, as if he owned me. As if I were a piece of meat at auction. He wasn’t tall, in fact he was rather short. He was a plump man with a balding head and glasses. He was very average looking. Just a man, like any other, who was walking on the street. However, this man had a hunger about him, and an anger. You could tell the world had done him wrong in some way or another. This anger and hunger were then released on whoever was closest. And I suppose that whoever was me. This man looked at me as if I were a prize for the taking. A flower to be picked. Something to be consumed wholly and unabashedly. He knew what he was doing. Knew who he was looking at. He could see the youth on my face, could see the bounce I had in my step, the innocence that I exuded. He knew I was a child and looked on anyways. Seemed to enjoy it, get pleasure from it. I could see the way he yearned for me in my pre-pubescent state. I felt that creeping sensation and saw for the first time what it was. It was his eyes. Those dull and boorish things that were trailing a path down my body, stopping occasionally to look at my flat chest or lingering on my stick thin legs. And that pit that was forming in my stomach grew, it doubled in size. Because now I knew where that sensation was coming from, and I hated it. I felt guilty and small. I felt as if I were doing something wrong, something to attract his gaze, when in reality, all I was doing was walking down the street. I could still feel his gaze and so I looked back once more, but this time, we locked eyes. He knew. He knew he had been caught. He could see clearly the confusion and dread that was written all over my face. However, instead of walking away or turning his gaze, he began to speak. It was almost as if he were spurned on by my noticing him. He saw that I knew what he was doing, and then doubled down. He called out to me, calling me names, saying things my young ears didn’t know how to process. Said he wanted to do things to me, with me. I was confused. I had never heard these things before and yet he continued to spew them at me as if it were his right. My father, who I was walking with, sent the man glare and told him to leave. However, it was too late. The damage was done. From that moment on, I could no longer see myself as simply a child. I was a woman, an object, a piece of meat. I was all of these things, but not a child. No. That man had decided that for me. Took my innocence and tore it to shreds. From that moment on, I walked with a trepidation to my step. Because from then on, I was scared. Terrified of what and who the world had to offer. I was 10 years old the first time I felt it.

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