An eighteen-year-old high school graduate is ready to align herself with the strong women and girls who are tired of being victims and want to be survivors.
By Zaria Harrell
I am five years old. I sit behind my sister and my cousin as they play on the computer and wait eagerly for it to be my turn. My sister leaves the room and I ask my cousin "Can I play?" She tells me I can if she can do something first she tells me to close my eyes and lay down on the bed. Me, being the mindless, oblivious five-year-old I was, did as I am told. I feel a tug on my pants, but I can't understand what's going on. All I know is that when it's over I can play on the computer I feel weird afterward, though. This isn't the last time.
I am five years old. I feel a tug on my pants, but I can't understand what's going on. All I know is that when it's over I can play on the computer.
I am eleven years old and I start watching the news more often, actually paying attention to what they're saying. The news is the scariest thing you can watch. I see pictures of missing children and I learn of a thing called rape, something called sexual assault.
I am eleven, walking with my niece to meet my mom when a group of guys in a black van stop me. I remember those girls I saw on TV and stand in front of my niece as a man, who is old enough to be my father, starts to yell out obscenities as his friends in the passengers' seats egg him on. I nervously laugh it off and keep walking. I was wearing bedazzled shorts and a tank top that day — I never wore those items again. I was eleven years old, but I felt like I was five.
I can't remember how old I was, but I remember the schoolboys. I remember them staring at my breasts, I remember the crude gestures and the whispers. I can't remember how old we were when a boy violated my best friend. I want her to know she is not alone, so I tell her my story. I hope she finds solitude in it.
I am thirteen years old in therapy. I talk to my therapist about all the stuff I can't tell anyone else, but I cannot bring myself to talk about what happened when I was five. I write about it in my diary then rip those pages out and shred them, I hoped that by doing that I could erase all memories of that event.
I am fourteen years old standing at my locker with a friend, a boy comes behind me and smacks my butt. I am five years old again and I have no idea what to do. My friend does what a good friend would do, and she finds her voice when I lost mine.
I am fifteen years old, alone on a crowded train, and a man is getting too close to me. I hope someone sees him, tells him to stop. I blame myself for not waiting for a less crowded train.
I am fifteen years old, alone on a crowded train, and a man is getting too close to me. I feel as if I am five again. I hope someone sees him, I hope someone tells him to stop. I blame myself for not waiting for a less crowded train.
I am seventeen years old and my sister is having a baby, so she throws a baby shower. I am sitting alone when she, my cousin, walks in and I turn around slowly hoping she won't notice me. She does, and she comes over and hugs me. I wondered if she even remembers what she had done to me. I wonder if she wonders if I remember. I wondered if this really happened, if it did, she wouldn't act so normal around me. It had to happen, I remember everything so vividly.
I am seventeen years old and I cannot log onto Instagram or Twitter without seeing rape allegations against powerful men. Behind those allegations are even more powerful women, women who have found their voice after all this time. I am seventeen years old and #MeToo is trending on Twitter, thousands upon thousands of young girls and women have shown the world that they too are survivors of sexual violence, they too stand strong and remind all the girls too afraid to say #MeToo that they are not alone, and they never will be.
I am eighteen years old and I am sitting in class when my teacher tells us the prompt to this year's Mohbat Prize for Writing. I am not paying attention until he mentions the #MeToo movement and after he says that I space out again. I am home now and staring at my laptop. I am five again as I am at lost for words. I am five again as I break down in front of my laptop. I am five again, as I try to bury what happened to me in the deepest part of my mind.
I am eighteen years old, not five anymore. I am eighteen years old and I am ready to confront this. I am eighteen years old and I'm ready to align myself with the strong women and girls who are tired of being victims and want to be survivors. I am eighteen years old and I have found strength in women I have never met before, but who have already given me so much. I am eighteen years old and I am finally saying #MeToo.
#MeToo is more than just a hashtag, it is more than I ever thought it would be to me. #MeToo and the women behind it have shown that five-year-old girl that she is not alone. #MeToo has shown this eighteen-year-old girl that she is so much stronger than she could fathom, that she isn't a victim, she's a survivor. #MeToo has given me strength in ways that I never thought could be possible and it has done the same for thousands of other girls who were once too afraid to say: "Me, too."
Zaria Harrell is a 2018 graduate of Clinton Hill's Benjamin Banneker Academy and the 2018 runner-up of the prestigious Mohbat Prize for Writing, an annual award in memory of journalist Joseph E. Mohbat and Brooklyn student Verdery Knights that honors exceptionally gifted Brooklyn public high school seniors.