Putting on my apron
When it takes guts
Content warning: explicit sexual assault and harassment
Putting on my apron
When I say this is the hardest thing to write, I am making no intentional exaggeration. I am not baiting. I am not seeking pity. And most importantly, read this with an open heart before an open mind. Whatever your stance is on this, please be mindful of survivors, victims, and whatnot human being that had a piece of their soul taken back and never returned. At the end of the day, this piece is for everyone willing to shut up and listen.
I am not going to write in my usual style. I am going to copy paste my experience in my own words. This is my story and to hell with one saying differently. If it feels out of place, if it feels too emotional to read, if you know what is coming as unbearable, unbelievable or unrealistic, please stop reading. Seriously, exit my blog right about now and I wish you all health and happiness. However, if you want to keep reading, I invite you, whoever you are, to be taken back to my first encounter with sexual abuse to the present as a teenage girl to a grown woman in the 21st century. Thank you for taking the time to read. In the end, I hope it is worthwhile everything I will put down here.
I will excuse myself for lacking enough bravery to publicly humiliate certain persons that would normally deserve this due to the fact that this could happen to anyone. Names are irrelevant at this point. I did not come here to ruin people’s lives, though they did ruin mine.
I am a student worker at my dorm’s dining hall. I started at the beginning of October because it is a flexible job and Wellesley failed in proving me a work study job as it promised me. Yes, Wellesley, you are at a big fault in this as well. Take a seat, now, the damage is done.
I felt welcomed like never before. My two managers (X & Y) have been nothing but kind, fun, and comforting. Whatever I needed, they made sure they could accommodate me in any way. Bottom line, they wanted me to feel safe and comfortable in my working space.
Let’s not kid ourselves. This is an easy job. One that other Wellesley students would probably look at you with outmost pity (you know who you are) since you weren’t able to get a better job, but I couldn’t care less if I clean your table or order you from above in a fancy internship. It made no difference to me. I needed the money and I was willing to put in just as much effort in washing dishes as in working in a lab doing what I am passionate about. My mother taught me that I need to put love in everything I do, otherwise it is for nothing.
I felt like home in the first two weeks. At the end of the day, I am an immigrant in the worst country you could be an immigrant in. You start late for the race and there is nothing you can do about but work harder than 90% of all the people around you. So, I shrugged my shoulders in false despair and picked my apron. My co-workers, in the beginning, have been shaping as this second family of other immigrants, mixed languages, races, accents, backgrounds, and sad and tired smiles. I could relate and I was at peace. Each one would come and introduce themselves, we would try to find similar words in our languages, laugh at how students treat the food in the dining hall, underline why we left home and what brought us here. Some are still trying to pursue academic degrees, some are trying to provide a better future for their children, some have family medical bills hovering their head, some simply wanted a brighter future. Everyone had a story worth hearing. While I would put new rice in the window, I would listen to another personal bearing and would nod in complete understatement. This job was everything I had, besides my two other jobs, which one of them goes unpaid, since my resume needed polishing, too. Yes, this semester I worked three jobs. Wellesley, let me remind you yet again, this is very much on you as well.
But then it all started with silly comments. Jokes. Statements. Then, touch.
I am turning my attention to one man in particular. Late 40s. Unmarried. Full-time staff in the dining hall. Has been here for quite some time. Race – minority. I will not provide specifics because there are people who can very easily identify him and I cannot let anyone retaliate on my behalf. If it helps, this is my retaliation, though I hardly believe it encapsulates such a thing.
The one time he got so close to me I thought he was going to kiss me, just to let me know “I smell nice.” I smelled like burnt stake and sweat. I thought it was a compliment.
The one time he called me pretty several times when we were alone. He snuck some fruit for me, since Wellesley has a fetish for gross fruit in general. I thought it was a nice gesture. He went on to let me know he has no wife to go home to. Just him.
The one time he was my supervisor, last week.
Him: “Put your apron on, you are going to get your clothes dirty.”
Me: “I know, it is just too long and I look funny in it.”
We both laughed.
Him: “Let me show you how I put mine to look normal.”
He showed me how he folded his in half and tied it at his chest.
I tried to follow his instructions, but somehow failed. I laughed again.
Me: “It’s fine, these are my work clothes. I don’t really care if they get dirty.”
No warning, everything happened so quickly. He took the strings of my apron and went on to tie them behind my back, properly feelings my breasts.
Him: “There, done.”
I called my best friends and told them about it, emphasizing I wasn’t going to report it. There was no use. Then another friend who lived in the same dorm as me, who shall not me named, again due to privacy reasons, identified him with what I just prompted you.
“Oh, it’s Q, isn’t it? He hugged me really tightly out of nowhere last year.”
I gulped again.
The next thing I know I was in X’s office trying to contain my tears.
And today, 23rd November, I was in Y’s office trying to contain his.
Me (talking about another co-worker): He has been making jokes and comments I have let slide. They weren’t enough evidence to bring to Title IX.
Y: What did he say?
Me: It began by us telling each other what we were doing Friday nights. He always said he is just going to stay in, smoke a bong, and watch Netflix. I wouldn’t understand why didn’t he just go out and had fun, he seemed young, but he wouldn’t give me any reasoning. I didn’t give it much thought. He then stopped me at the elevator once, and inquired my age “because him and other co-workers were talking about me and were trying to guess my age.” All of a sudden, two weeks ago, I see him with a little beautiful girl holding his hand. I ask “Whose is this?” He replied “Mine.” I was in disbelief. “You have a child? You never told me you have a child.” He said he “actually has three and was married.” I asked “Why did you never tell me? It all makes sense now that you would stay in on a Friday night.” He replied “I wanted to string you along.”
I take a deep breath and continued.
This happened 5 minutes ago before me recounting it in Y’s office since he was the one on duty today.
Me: You saw he came to my station telling me everything about his wife. They are divorced. I didn’t know. I empathized and listened.
Y: Yes, I saw, but it seemed like an innocent conversation and I didn’t want to send him back to his station.
Me: It was. Until 5 minutes ago when he came back and said “Oh, so you thought I was married and that’s why you didn’t want to come to my place and smoke a bong with me?” I told him I seriously do not remember when he asked me that. “A month ago. I asked you if you wanted to come by my place and smoke a bong and you didn’t say anything.” I was at a loss for words. “I didn’t know you said that. I didn’t hear you.” He got awkward, went in for a clumsy fist bump and left to his station. I call Y and this is present day.
My manager clenched his fists. He is always the most down-to-earth, child trapped in a man’s body, merry-go-round man I have ever met. I didn’t see that anymore. He was angry.
Y: You will have to excuse my emotions.
Me: Y, I just came from a Title IX meeting a few hours ago talking about Q. I advocated him not getting charged with anything, not even knowing he got reported. I said that all I wanted was an ASAP training for the entire dining hall staff with me present. I believe in second chances.
Y: Why would you do that? He will learn nothing from it!
Me: You have to understand. (Now I was getting emotional). He is a minority, he is an immigrant. The whole MeToo thing hasn’t reached our part of the world. I honestly do not think he understood what he was doing or the intensity of it all. I do not want to see another minority getting stomped on instead of, say, a white male. Everyone would say they already expected this. I cannot think about it otherwise.
Y: Julia, this is a mistake. He should be punished.
Me: That is my decision to make.
But is it, though?
Is it my decision to put up with this nonsense and sexual harassment at my work place because I am thinking about this guy’s three kids and this guy’s country of origin and how all hell would break loose if I gave names at Wellesley? Is it my decision to be treated like an object instead of a student worker being constantly put on the spotlight in my own home? Is it?
To become vocal about this was and is one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. Why? Because you, as non-dining hall student workers, talk to them about your day, they smile at you, wish you well. But they get visibly angry at me if I don’t stop and tell them why am I dressed like that when I am going out, where am I going, what am I doing, why didn’t I stop and say hi instead I just smiled because I was in a hurry. They demand explanations, they make fun of me when I am serious, they treat me like a damsel in distress.
So yes, here I am, putting on my apron to defend my fucking self.
I know this is an abnormally long post that may or may have not cost you your boredom, but I needed to put in as much details I can publicly state so you can understand. There are still so many more encounters, comments about me, silly jokes I shouldn’t take to personally, and such that I decided to leave out for my sake.
Why did I decide to do this? This should be an easy one, but it is not in any shape or form.
When I got raped at 19, I decided to shut my mouth because it would do nobody any good. I could barely sit, my abdomen was torn apart, I was bleeding from my vagina. I couldn’t feel my tongue. The best part of this is that I could barely remember it at all because I was way too drunk to defend myself. Nobody was going to believe me anyway. It spiraled into an uncontrollable depression and self-loath.
When I was 18 and a man I thought was my friend accelerated way too fast to make his point in a quite old car because I made a joke that made him mad. He couldn’t brake in time when the light turned red and wanted to avoid collision with the car in front so he swerved on the opposite lane. I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. We missed a truck by an inch when he crashed into the side walk.
When my now ex-boyfriend went through my texts while I was away and misinterpreted everything he found. He waited for me home and punched my salad and started screaming at the top of his lungs. He denied me talking to any male friends again if we were to be in a relationship. I obeyed.
When I was at a Halloween party last year at an MIT frat. I was dancing with this guy when the lights turned on and my girlfriends left. I wanted to follow through, but he took my hand and demanded I kiss him. As per usual, the excuse us, girls, use on the daily, I said I have a boyfriend because simply saying no doesn’t do this refusal justice. He looked around. “I don’t see him here.” He wouldn’t let go of my hand, accentuating his strong grip on mine, and I began seriously struggling trying to push him off. I only escaped out of this because my friend turned around, saw this, ran towards me, and pushed him off of me.
To the man that took his cock out and masturbated in front of me in the streets in broad daylight.
To my ex-boyfriend who whispered in my ear “You are a woman now” when he forced himself on me for the first time.
To the Harvard guy I had the pleasure of meeting a month ago and offered to pay for everything every time we would go out, spoil me with gifts and whatnot. He didn’t see me stable enough to support myself as working in the dining hall. He said we were going to have kids until we have two boys. It was our first date. Also, our last.
And these are the ones that I can remember from the top of my head. I never speak about them but only in a joking manner. I never give them much thought only when my psychologist points out how men have been treating me. How I still allow them to treat me to this day. You see, it is a pattern. A pattern I endorse because I know no differently and I have been scared to raise my voice every. damn. time. I now seek refuge in my words. I am a survivor.
So today, I put on my apron and call every sick man that did this me out. I don’t need to give names if you find yourself in the words I have described, even remotely, even just a paragraph, even just an instance.
Thank you for listening to my story. My apron has strings long enough to cover all the victims and survivors from their abusers and allies. You have a safe space in me now and forever.