When I was in 13 and in the 8th grade, there wasn't an episode of Pokemon I would miss. I had a Nano Pet, a Giga Pet and a Tamogotchi. The classmates I had were the same 40-ish or so classmates I had since kindergarten as we had all gone to a private Christian school. I also had a really pretty red spaghetti strap velvet dress styled a la 90s. I would pair it with a white mesh overlay that had a feather maribou trimming that made me feel really pretty, girly and glamorous. I was lanky and thought nothing more of this outfit other than these things.
I wore it once to an 8th grade mixer (our Christian school didn't allow dances) and then I wore this to a Vietnamese wedding reception one night with my family. It was the typical Asian wedding with the 8-12 family styled course meals served on top of a spinning tabletop so everyone at the round table could get their share without having to reach over or ask someone to pass it over. Everyone was having a jolly good time and I just hung out with my sister and other kids my age if I wasn't obligated to sit at the table with the family.
Some time in the middle of the night, I noticed two older Latino men working in the kitchen peek out and look at me constantly. At first it was just one guy, but I guess he must've told his friend because then the both of them would talk to one another and I had the feeling that it was about me. I couldn't avoid their stares from where I was sitting with my family. I still remember how far they were from me and it was about 20 feet or so. I felt weird but I wasn't sure what to make of it yet.
When we were finally able to move around the restaurant after speeches, they tried to get my attention. One winked, while the other made a "come here" gesture with his hands towards the kitchen door, as if they wanted me to come into the back with them. In that very moment, I felt bad about myself and I felt scared. When you're young, you don't have an extensive bank of vocab to fully explain how you feel. But "bad" and "scared" were simple enough for any child to easily pinpoint. I ignored them and pretended that I didn't see them as I scurried deeper into the party's dance floor so I could blend in with the guests.
After the wedding was over, and my family drove home, I threw the dress and my maribou trimmed cardigan into the corner of my closet, hated them, and never wore them again.
I never told anyone and I also never wanted to remember that particular moment of my life. I wasn't sure if it was something you would anyways. We didn't have Olivia Benson back then. And so I didn't. For over more than a decade even.
And yet, I don't know why all of a sudden, that dormant memory has decided to awaken itself recently. I cried for that Isabelle. I cry because as an adult, reaching to that stage where my friends are getting married and having their own children, I can now explain what that young Isabelle had felt.
I felt...creeped out,
disgusted and disgusting,
angry at myself,
Their efforts, lustful.
I felt like older, rather than the child that I was.
But more than anything, I felt violated.
Not just violated, but sexually violated and like some sort of little animal.
I was the prey. They, the predators. The kitchen, their wilderness.
Something frightening could have happened that night. But even little animals have instincts. And although I was unable to fully comprehend the situation, my instincts kicked in to stay away.
That Isabelle has grown up but there's parts of her that still remain with me today. I know, because she's still the same one that keeps me safe. Part of me wants to make this lead into my thoughts on women's issues. Because let's face it, this SHIT happens all the time. More of us deny it and will blame the victim than to really accept and understand it. The other part of me just wants to keep it as a reflection, meant to be shared and taken in.
I'm still trying to understand what I need to know from this memory. Maybe there's a reason why I'm supposed to remember it now.
Or maybe, it's meant for someone else out there.