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When I was a young girl, an old man gave me a hickey.

I was about 12 — old enough to very interested in boys but young enough to openly joke about that stuff with adults.  I could have been younger. I could have been older too. Let’s say I was between 10 and 14.

I had never had a hickey before.  I’m pretty sure I’d never even been kissed.

It was at a campground and several adults were around.  What we were talking about? Nothing concrete comes to mind, except that me and hickeys came up.  Maybe I was saying I was nervous about having a hickey someday, or that I didn’t understand the point of them, or maybe that I was intrigued by them.  Or none of those things.

In the midst of this, suddenly, this man bent down and began sucking on my neck.

Afterward, my neck had a light pink mark, about the size of my thumbnail.

I recall very little for sure about this incident, but I remember that mark on my body.

It was light out, so it was during the day, but the month and year are lost to me.  I believe we were in front of an RV. I think I was sitting at a picnic table. But it could have been a chair.

Did he come at me from the right or the left side?  I go over it again and again — and always, I’m just not sure.  Even as I recall looking at my neck in the mirror afterward, I can’t remember which side I was staring at.

I can’t be certain how long the actual sucking lasted – 10 seconds, 30 seconds, minutes?  It seemed as if it lasted for a while.  Long enough to leave a mark, obviously.

Did it disappear within hours, or was I looking at it for days?  I don’t know.

I couldn’t even tell you for sure what state this was in.  I was around several different campgrounds around this time.  I think it was in Virginia. But it could have been Pennsylvania or or even someplace else I’m forgetting.

As for the man himself, my best guess now is that he was about 50 then.  But maybe he was even a decade younger or older. I couldn’t tell you his name.  My recollection is of a scraggy man with thinning hair, but his face is a blur: if I saw a picture of him from that time, I don’t even know if I would recognize him.

Did I somehow … indicate that I wanted him to do it?  My hazy memories of conversations in the aftermath tell me everyone around was astonished.  Yet I force myself to consider my own culpability. Was I complaining about being lovelorn? Did I confuse him?  Did he think he was helping? I didn’t ask him to do it, but did I … ask for it?

Did I see him after this incident?  Maybe a week or a month or a year later?  Was I friendly to him? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

Of the 5 people, including myself, who I am certain witnessed this, one is dead.

The man may now be alive or dead or anywhere in between.

For years, perhaps decades, after this incident became part of my past, I don’t believe I “spoke up” to anyone about it.  I certainly didn’t “report it” to any kind of authority. Who would I have told? And why? It was tainted with the confusion, shame, and embarrassment that layer over many such incidents women endure.

For huge chunks of my life, I’ve barely thought of it.  And yet, it’s popped into my mind frequently the last several years, and particularly lately.  Like most women, I’ve had several experiences like this — some less bad, some worse.

I hope that one day women will have no stories like this.

But it looks lately like that day is further and further off.

Photo: National Harbor, October 2017
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