An Unwanted Kiss

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 Alex 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. He just decided he didn’t like him… 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 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 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 don’t know how 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.

Hair Dye

Sometimes I like to consult the childhood version of myself. She is the badass that I wish I could be. Unruly blond curly hair, overalls with one strap unhooked, mud streaked face, practicing how to spit, wearing boys clothes, wrestling till someone’s nose bleeds.

She is fearless.

I admire her for her confidence, her independence, her cleverness, her energy, her imagination, and her ceaseless optimism. She doesn’t know it, but she is a damn strong feminist.

I look to her for advice on a lot of things, even mundane ones. Sometimes, when I get in the mood to color my hair, I think about how she is always confused by hair dye, almost as if she doesn’t trust it. She would say “what’s wrong with the color it is? why do you think you need to change it? that isn’t who you are.” It’s stilly to talk to a 7 year old for beauty advice. I, and my opinions, have grown since then. But truthfully, every time I dye my hair I regret it. A couple years will pass, I’ll forget my old remorses, I’ll get bored with my usual cut, and I’ll dye it again. And then I’ll remember how much I hate spending all that time in a salon, what a stupid waste of money it is, how frustrating it is when the color immediately fades or the bleach just wont grow out, and how my actual color is just fine. It’s a minor thing, but I do always think – I should have listened to her, I should have listened to me – and somehow I know in my gut that this is about so much more than hair dye.