The first time someone kissed me without my consent, I was about 5 years old.
At that time, my best friend was my neighbor, Allen, a boy who was at least twice my age (I imagine him now as a pimply faced preteen). My brothers and I played with Allen the same as we did with all of the other boys in the neighborhood, but to me Allen was special. He was nice to me. He always greeted me with a hug and a smile. He never complained about me tagging along. He was my friend.
But then my older brother told me he didn’t want to play with Allen anymore. One day he just decided he didn’t like him anymore… But that wasn’t my problem. Allen was still my friend, so he still came over and we played by ourselves while my brother kept his distance.
One day, while my brother sat alone on our swing set across the yard, Allen and I crawled underneath the back deck. Even though it was cramped, dark, and probably infested with bugs, I liked being under the deck. I liked that I could stand up to my full height in between the floor joists while everyone else had to hunch over and waddle around. It was one of the few places where my small size was an advantage. So Allen and I sat there, cross-legged, drawing dirt lines in the cold gravel. He asked me, “do you know what a French kiss is?” I told him no, but in my mind I was picturing some foreign kind of Hershey’s kiss. Maybe like the white chocolate ones that come in a silver wrapper with stripes. That seems French. I remember thinking that. He directed me: “close your eyes and stick out your tongue.” I was expecting chocolate, so you can imagine my surprise when instead I got his slimy wet tongue.
I didn’t know what exactly was going on, but I knew it was not okay. Without hesitation, I screamed, threw a fistful of gravel in his face, and ran out from under the porch. He tried to play it off as a joke, to reason with me, but I didn’t listen. I kicked him in the shins as hard as I could and ran to my brother. That was the last time I spoke to Allen.
For years following, every so often our yard would be victim to some minor neighborhood mischief. We all knew it was Allen – he was growing into a troubled kid, and he was at this point an outcast in our neighborhood. My parents didn’t understand why he chose our property to occasionally defile, but I knew.
I think now about all the times as a teenager, as a college student, as an adult, that men tried to kiss me without my consent. I think about the strategies my friends and I used to discreetly slip away from the guy sitting too close, to evade the handsy guy at the bar, to shake off the drunk guy who wanted to follow one of us home. I think about how polite we were. I think about how, as an adult, I could not, or would not, stand up for myself.
And then I think about my 5-year-old, badass, little self. What happened since then? How did I lose that instinct, that confidence, that strength? I didn’t even know what was wrong about what Allen did, but I acted anyway. I wish I had remembered this sooner. I wish that I had kept kicking, kept screaming, and kept standing up for myself, even if all that ever happened was an unwanted kiss.