The year I turned twelve, all the little girls were sent to a self defence class
just in case.
The first thing we were taught was how to get away.
The second was how to fight.
I can’t remember the first time hearing about rape
even though it’s been around longer than human history has been recorded
but I remember my classmate telling us about her uncle
and I remember watching, shocked stiff,
as her shoulders shook and her mouth broke around,
‘he wouldn’t stop.’
It was the first of too many stories I overheard
of girls getting ripped into.
(Last year, a girl told me about her first time at age 13
when she woke up from her debut with alcohol
and someone was inside her.)
We grow up with built-in warning signs:
Don’t lead them on.
Don’t show too much skin, lest you provoke them.
When walking to your car at night, hold your keys like weapons
and walk like you’re prepared to fight to the death
because so many girls have to be.
At the end of her time with us, our self defence teacher told us
what had happened to her when she was our age.
I remember being twelve and the hyper-aware kind of scared
the kind of scared you get when you’re on a school camp
and you hear a ghost story for the first time
and they end it with, ‘you’re next.’
I remember being twelve and looking around the class full of girls
and seeing some of them with a look like they already have their own version of her story.