An invisible gang of boys followed in my wake.
Their piercings and Manic Panic hair were unseen to me.
I didn’t hear their bawdy skater mouths and the jingle of the thick silver chains clipping their wallets to their baggy jeans as they encircled me.
But they ruined any chance of me having a love life from 8th grade on.
My brother and his friends would watch the other boys in school. Anyone who spoke my name or looked my way was pulled aside in the boy’s bathroom, the locker room, the hallway and told in no uncertain terms that Kim Is Off Limits.
They never told me they were doing this. They never told me why.
Without a love life to distract me in High School, I grew into myself. I learned, I tried new things, I found a voice that would not be softened with worry about whether some cute guy would like what it had to say.
Yes, there were others who read me well and gave me what I needed. A few teachers, my track coach, good men who knew I was a girl who needed space, respect and encouragement to be who I deserved to be after years of silence.
But despite what some assumed, there was never a void to fill.
My brother and those boys were filling it without saying a word to me.
I was adult when my brother revealed what he and his friends had done. I was so blind-sided, my head literally shook in response, trying to find a way to register this.
Then I realized my brother was peeking at me, uncomfortably awaiting a response.
And I knew.
Every boy they kept from me was another protective hug from them.
Every threat they muttered in my shadow and physical shield of protection they wound around me was a collective grasping of my hand.
Yes, their backs were to me all those years, but it was because they wanted to see who was headed my way. They wanted to get between them and me, so no one could hurt me like I had already been.
They cared about me enough to protect me where they could, when they could, in the only way they knew how.
I smile when I think of that rag-tag group of troublemakers. Those boys who thrashed in mosh pits at all-night raves, who were quick to fight or risk broken limbs trying new tricks on a bike or skateboard at the half-pipe.
Beneath the punk bank t-shirts, leather studded wrist cuffs and crazy hair were boys who thought no one was good enough to be with me. Boys who felt I was family, knew what I needed, and knew I wasn’t going to ask for it.
Boys who taught me, many years later, how quietly love and affection can lay in one’s heart.
They never laid a hand on me, but boy, was I touched.
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This post was written for The Red Dress Club Memoir writing prompt.
The prompt went like this:
This week we would like you to write about how the show of affection has played a part in your memory.
Choose a time when either the abundance or lack of affection (either by you or someone else) stands out, and show us. Bring us to that time. Help us feel what you felt.
When I was in 8th grade, it was part of the High School. As soon as I arrived, I felt a shift. I felt safe all the time, despite being the youngest class in the building. I couldn’t figure out why, but just accepted it.
I also never wondered too much about the lack of love life, since my best friend was gorgeous. Everyone fawned over her, which was fine with me. She was awesome. Besides, I was a guy’s-girl, and no one ever made a move to change that. So I focused on school, sports, movies, figuring myself out.
My older brother and his friends didn’t hang out with me despite the fact that we were less than 2 years apart in age. Yes, we interacted when we were sitting in the same room by chance, or we’d say “Hi” in the halls at school. But we lived different lives.
That these guys who were treated like crap so often for being “different” found a kindness in their hearts to carry out this agenda of keeping me safe from other guys for years? It made my personal definition of Affection richer, more accurate.
For me, Affection is the expression of concern and care for someone else, whether they know it or not. If my brother or any of his friends tried to be all hands-on huggy or whatever with me? I would have freaked out. They read me well and took care of me in the perfect way for me, without needing me to know what they were doing.
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