My mom always worked. So did my dad. I spent a lot of time at the babysitter’s house. She was an old, fat, Trinidadian woman who babysat a bunch of kids from our building in her apartment. She was a terrible babysitter. She didn’t read to us, or sing to us, or take us outside. She just heated up Chef Boyardee for lunch, expected us to color or do work that our parents sent with us, and she watched Soap Operas all afternoon. This would have been okay, I guess, if my mom didn’t think Soaps were the Devil’s daytime television. I usually spent these afternoons trying to see or hear what Ms. Hardy was watching, and feeling guilty about it, or taking a nap, whichever was easier.
One afternoon, I laid under her dining room table to go to sleep. She was all absorbed in the television, must have been Days of Our Lives or something. There was another boy, Perry. I knew him from our building, but he never came to the babysitter. His sister did, but he didn’t. He was too old, about fifteen. My mom always said he was trouble. I think he stole cars or pocketbooks sometimes. He was a tall boy. Very fair for a black guy, but so was his mom and sister. I don’t know what he was doing there that day, but he came and laid down right next to me under the table.
We started kissing. His hand made its way up my shirt. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I liked the way it felt.
His hand went down my pants. He was touching my vagina. It was a crazy feeling. I felt ashamed but excited. Dirty but grown-up. His finger went in. We kept kissing.
I was seven.
About a week later, I woke up in the middle of the night with terrible aches going up and down the inside of my stomach. I was doubled over in pain. The tears streamed down my face. I inched my way out of my bedroom, clutching my lower abdomen, towards the living room where my mother slept on the couch. I usually slept with her, but she had gone out with her friend so I fell asleep in my own bed. It was around two am, when I looked at the clock, so I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t back yet. The tears came down more ferociously and my silent cries became sobbing heaves. Where was my mother? What was this pain? I called her friend’s house, at two in the morning, to be told that she was not there. I collapsed on the couch where I cried myself to sleep.
I didn’t tell my mom about my pain until she asked me why I called Sandra’s house early in the morning the day before. Once I told her, she got all excited and told me to follow her. She opened the linen closet and pulled out a bag of maxi pads. My eyes opened wide. I didn’t know anything about maxi pads, except that grown women wore them and I didn’t want anything to do with it. I was only seven and knew I didn’t need them. I pushed the bag back towards her every time she tried to hand it to me and shook my head vehemently from side to side. “Just take them,” she kept saying. “No, no. I don’t need them.” She put them back in the closet and we left it at that. I couldn’t help but think how little my mom knew about me.
I don’t know if it was the next day or the next week or the next month even, but I went to school and told my friend Heidi that I was pregnant. I don’t remember if I thought I was really pregnant, or if I just wanted some attention, or needed to tell someone what happened. I told her not to tell anyone, but she told her best friend Barbi, who called me at home, probably after discussing it with her parents, to tell me that I couldn’t be pregnant because I had never gotten my period.
Well, this was all news to me. I told her I did get my period, although, I had no clue what a period was. How did she know all this stuff anyway? After I tried to convince Barbi that I indeed was pregnant, and she tried to convince me that I wasn’t, we hung up. I didn’t know what I believed until my dad, who had been listening on the other end, decided to talk to my mom, in the middle of the living room, with my two sisters and younger brother present, about me telling the kids at school that I was pregnant.
I was mortified. “I didn’t tell them that,” I lied.
“You did. I heard you on the phone.”
“Why were you listening to my conversation?”
“Why are you telling people you’re pregnant?”
Why are we having this conversation right now, right here, in front of everybody? Why was fifteen-year-old Perry at the babysitter’s house? Why was Ms. Hardy watching those stupid Soap Operas while he touched me under her table? Why didn’t I know what a period was?
I started crying. I don’t know if the tears started to roll before or after the belt made contact with my flesh, but I imagine it was before since my body felt numb. I didn’t lie. I think I really thought I was pregnant or could be. Why was I getting beat for being molested? Who was going to beat Perry? No one, I guess, since no one would ever know what happened.