We ran down the cobblestoned road, my friend and I, music and footsteps falling in rhythm.
It mirrored a thousand other jogs, a thousand other mornings, a thousand other songs played on the loop like a spinning, worn tire.
Until the rusty pickup truck rushed past, and the hand reached out and smacked me hard. So shockingly hard. My steps stopped, and the musical drumbeats were replaced by the harsh cacophony of men’s laughter. My heartbeat began to thump its alarm in my chest , as the stinging began across my backside, a one-two rhythm of a hurt and a handprint where it had no right to be.
Adrenaline turned into anger and then, as another hand, this time the touch of my friend, reached out in gentle comfort, anger turned into a sob.
I am not the first or the last or the millionth woman to be grabbed and groped, hurt and handled.
I am not the first woman to close a car door knowing that the person watching her leave was not safe.
I am not the first woman whose clothes have been ripped off by a man’s eyes.
I am not the first woman who felt sickening bile rise up like a tide when a man overstepped the bounds of what should have been friendly conversation and used her for a high, a hit, a buzz.
I am not the first woman who has had to hold her daughter’s small hand or her son’s still baby-fat-dimpled fingers and warn of dangers, all the while wishing that she could wrap them in their innocence like a protective, warm cloud.
I am not the first woman who wondered why wanting to look beautiful meant, in others’ estimations, her body held no more boundaries, that a sexy date-night dress turned her into meat hanging on a hook, waiting to be evaluated and assessed and categorized.
I am not the first woman who steered her ship around the debris, always searching for the fog-hidden dock of at last finding something more, something safer, some lifeline of a hiding place.
But I am also not the first woman or man to say no. To stop the hypocrisy that is spread when our tongues curl around the words which proclaim that all are created equal, while our hands or our minds use and own without another’s consent. To stop laughing at the jokes that turn a human being into a drug for our own pleasure, to open our stuck-shut eyes to the truth that we sometimes bear the guilt of being users and sometimes the shame of being used.
If you have been among those of us who’ve lived too long in the land of allowing someone else’s stamp of acceptance to determine our value…
If you have been among those of us who’ve allowed another the power to decide whether we have been found wanting, whether or not we are too little or too much on the scales of worthiness…
If you have been among us who carry the scars of someone’s selfish acts…Today you and I can decide that there is a new “us” to be among.
We are not the first women or men, but we can be the last…the last generation to pretend we don’t see the deeply-rooted standards whose vines wrap deep around us, choking us, carving cracks in the rock-hard roads as they try to hold us back. We can be the last generation to pretend we can’t cut a new path. We can be the last generation to swallow the fable of The Way It’s Always Been.
We can be the last generation to say that these prejudices and injustices don’t exist: Just as other generations stood up, we stand up. And we hold hands to comfort.
And we hold hands to become human barriers.
And we push hard against other hands that would bruise and harm the innocent ones.
And our held hands become a chain, a new tie that binds us to each other and to freedom.