When I first played “Boys Will Be Boys” off of Dua Lipa’s latest album, I misinterpreted her brisk, foot-tapping intro as a sign that the track would be a typical song about female empowerment. While the song was nothing short of that, it was also so much more. A far too honest bridge, No, the kids ain’t alright. Oh, and they do what they see. ‘Cause it’s all on TV. Oh, the kids ain’t alright, followed by the stirring chorus, Boys will be, boys will be, boys will be, boys will be boys, but girls will be women, left me quietly sobbing in my bathroom, the song still on repeat.
It took me a few plays to realize why it hit so hard. I was soon transported back to middle school.
At first, I had thought it was an accident. After all, the hallways were always crowded during passing period, and shuffling students sometimes bumped into each other. When it happened a few hours later, and again the next day, then the day after that, I began to wonder. I didn’t stop thinking about it for months.
I was 12 years old when I realized that my seventh-grade science partner was groping me from behind during passing period. It is a split-second, but forever scarring, experience to find yourself trapped, wanting nothing more than to both stand frozen and run away.
It began the last week before summer, so for five days, I walked into class and sat next to him as if nothing had happened. It ended just as suddenly as it began, but I always wondered if it would have continued had summer break not arrived.
In eighth grade, I prayed every hexter that I wouldn’t enter a new class and see him. For five hexters in a row, I was lucky. I winced that last hexter when I saw him, but at least my seat wasn’t next to his. I considered that good news.
I distinctly remember when the school counselors asked us eighth graders which high school we were attending. He raised his hand when I raised mine, and my heart raced. I had four more years ahead of me, plenty of time for me to find him sitting or walking next to me again.
I was barely a teenager, naive but not numb. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew that I didn’t sleep for months afterward. Only in high school, when the cafeteria TVs rotated between golf broadcasts and discussions over strings of sexual harassment accusations, was I forced to conclude what had happened.
Out of school with only weeks until graduation, I now find myself happy that I was never in another class with him. More good news.
Still, he never escaped my mind. Throughout the years, I periodically saw him from afar. This year, however, I faced my closest contact since middle school. When I repeatedly discovered him just outside my math class, I made sure to walk slowly so he passed in front of me. He probably remained oblivious to my efforts. Just like old times.
Since being painfully reminded of something I had nearly buried, my newfound time at home has become an opportunity for reflection. I find myself wondering how my 12-year-old self felt, how she dealt with a trauma I have apparently still yet to tackle five years later.
However, I am even more interested in how he feels. Time has a habit of eroding emotions, so the feelings I once faced—regret, anxiety, fear—feelings that he could have shared, likely no longer occupy his mind. I wonder if they still should.
I do not find myself vengeful towards him, but his blissful ignorance is offensive. It is difficult to forgive someone when they have yet to accept their violation. Still, holding out for justice that I am unlikely to receive prevents me—and him—from ever arriving at peace.
Besides the scattered entries I made in my notes app over the years, I never processed my experience anywhere but in my head. As I release this into the world, I accomplish what I have yet to do in five years: share a story once confined to my mind.