Armed with only the essentials in my bag: A book, a journal, far too many pens, water,
a credit card, and some headphones,
I explored the coast.
This was the last time I remember feeling safe without a weapon in my possession.
I had not yet become the type of person that found it necessary to travel in pairs
or bring pepper spray to the bus stop.
I was the type of person that went out of my way to smile at strangers,
I was the type to strike up a conversation with anyone near by.
I was the type that felt the most peaceful in the city late at night.
I was the type that got annoyed when friends didn’t want me to wander off alone.
Call me naive.
Call me ignorant.
Call me young.
It doesn’t matter anymore because I haven’t been the same for years.
I’ve had too much trust in everyone for as long as I can remember.
And I used it all up that summer, and I don’t know how to get it back.
Call me naive, but when that man moved over on that crowded bus,
I assumed he was being polite.
Call me ignorant, but I didn’t notice he was looking down my shirt
until my sister pulled my arm up and told me we had to go.
Call me crazy, but I swear I didn’t even flinch when he put his hands between my legs.
It had happened so many times before that I almost didn’t notice.
I almost didn’t even say anything but so many people saw it.
My sister’s girlfriend has so many more guts than I do.
She slapped him and followed us to the back of the bus.
She’d been flipping off the douchebags harassing me and defending me all week.
Even though I grew numb to it, she only grew angry and I loved her for it.
She had more respect for me than I had for myself.
He followed us back there, she was the smallest girl of all of us
and she was still standing up to him, telling him to leave me alone.
Call me naive,
But I was not expecting him to paint her face black and blue when all she did was defend me.
I just stood there paralyzed while he punched her multiple times on a crowded bus in the middle of the day.
I just stood there paralyzed while he tried to do the same thing to my sister.
I woke up that day.
Everything numb became angry and scared and suddenly I cared about harassment.
If he hadn’t hurt people I loved, I don’t know if I ever would have woken up.
I never cared enough about myself to get angry at the wounds until he left them on my family.
Fuck that guy.
And fuck the bus driver that acted so bothered that he had to take an unscheduled stop to kick this man off.
And fuck everyone that raised their hands when the police asked who saw what happened,
But didn’t raise their hands when the police asked if anyone would be a witness.
Fuck the first stranger that shoved his hand up my dress when I couldn’t see anything,
and made me think it was normal.
Fuck the guy at Stella’s at 2 am that invited himself into my booth.
He put his hands everywhere he wanted in middle of the damn cafe I can never go back to.
Fuck him for taking so long to leave when I said over and over I wasn’t leaving with him.
Fuck all the men that followed me, and yelled at me, and made me feel like a bitch for not smiling at them.
You took so much more than my skin.
Now I trust nothing.
Now I notice everything.
Day or night,
City or small town,
Walmart or the sidewalk,
If a man walks near me,
I can’t think straight.
I take the next turn,
I bike so fast I can’t breathe,
I take the long way home,
Because of them, I can no longer embrace my independence.
Because of them, I am afraid of people that would never hurt me.
Because of them, I live in fear.
April Dawn is a twenty-four year old poet living in the middle of nowhere Kansas. She works at a non-profit cafe where she pretends she will quit coffee every week. She also teaches poetry and nutrition to kids part time. She loves reading, writing, exercise, and cooking in her spare time. Her husband is the kindest man she’s ever met, and he is proof that God writes the best love poems. Read more of her work at artofaprildawn.com.