by Nicolle Jaramillo
[trigger warning: sexual assault]
I could be a pretty girl
I’ll wear a skirt for you.
–Clairo, “Pretty Girl”
I’m 5 years old or maybe 6 already, it doesn’t matter. I’m in the first grade waiting in line, although I can’t remember why. For the first time I feel someone’s hands — someone else’s hands on me, moving around and feeling me. I turn around, furiously confused, to the kid in my class with the most atrocious bowl cut I’ve ever seen smiling at me. I know this is wrong. I know this is disrespectful, my mom told me to never let anyone touch me there–or anywhere for that matter –but still I can’t figure out why. I shriek and run up to my first-grade teacher Ms. Sullivan, who’s at the front of the line, and tell her what had happened. I remember that the boy was named Kevin, because her stern face called him over to her, after she told me not to worry and called me a “pretty girl.”
I’m 7 or so now, not much older than the first time Kevin laid his hands on me, but that’s not on my mind anymore. My mom and I are headed towards my friend Jimmy’s house; we were in the same class in kindergarten and our moms became friends through us. What I didn’t know then was that Jimmy had some kind of crush on me, and that his mother encouraged this as well. I would grow to hate this family so much over the years, for many reasons,while my parents got closer to them, until they couldn’t stand them either: but all of that comes later. Our mothers are in the living room chatting, and so were we until one of us got the idea to imitate Spongebob. Back then Spongebob was still something kids liked and wasn’t forced down our throats, as it is now for ratings. In the “Krusty Krab Training” episode, our favorite character Spongebob washes his hands continuously until they disappeared. We wanted to try this out and see if our hands would disappear if we washed them as long as Spongebob did, and for that we headed to the bathroom. After a few attempts of scrubbing our hands furiously and giggling and our mothers yelling to not waste so much soap and water, Jimmy decides to close the door.
“Nicolle, I want to show you something,” he says while tugging at his pants. Remember, I’m seven now: so I know a little more than I did when I was six, and I know that private parts are called private for a reason. I closed my eyes and yelled at him not to. After a moment of silence I open them and saw him holding “it” in his hand and looking at me with a serious face. I freak out. This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone else’s privates and I feel disgusted. I run out of the bathroom and look at my mom and his mom. I couldn’t tell them what happened. I knew he shouldn’t have done that and that it was wrong, but I didn’t know how to tell my mom. I say nothing and they assume we went on to play another game. I never end up telling my mom what happened in the bathroom and I stop thinking of Jimmy as a friend and more like a creep. That night when we leave, his mom tells me I’m such a pretty girl.
I’m now in middle school and I’ve had to withstand Jimmy’s gross passes, like hugging me from behind and grasping me so tightly; no matter how hard I tried to get out I couldn’t, while he made weird noises. His mother would laugh and talk about how “cute” we were even though we didn’t share mutual feelings. Her laughter would be heard over my screams of protests and when I acted out or tried to punch or pull my way free. I was the one who would get reprimanded for my actions. A kid in my 7th grade ELA class, who was often known for acting out and bringing attention to himself, would tell me while looking me up and down, that I’m “growing into such a nice body, pretty girl.”
Walking home from school or walking to school or on the train the neighborhood bums and drunks stare at a pre-adolescent girl with watery eyes, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. A short drunk almost my height calls me “hermosa” and blows me a kiss.
I’m now sixteen and starting my junior year in high school. Rumors start to spread about a boy in some of my classes, asking about me. I’d hear my name being whispered by the same voice but every time I’d turn around no one would say anything. The first time he talked to me, he asked if I wanted to buy cookies he was selling for his soccer team. A few days later my friend informed me that he was asking around for my snapchat.hen I got his request, I accepted to see what he had to say to me. After his attempt at small talk, he tells me I’m a pretty girl, and that he’s been asking around about me because he’s been too shy to talk to me. For the first time I believe that I am a pretty girl.
We keep talking for several weeks and become friends, until he abruptly kissed me while walking me home from the mall. I still remember the date, November 3rd. For the first time my feelings reciprocated those of another who liked me. Shortly after that we start dating and he is more comfortable and confident with me. He shares his misogynistic views on how women “can’t” drive and how men are smarter than women. I am no longer a pretty girl but rather “his” girl. He starts to talk to me about sex and I tell him I’ve always felt uncomfortable talking about it. He says he respects that. He doesn’t. He starts to bring up sex in everything conversation, so much so that I feel brainwashed into giving in to him.
The day that it happens I am late to his house from trying to avoid running into my mom on the streets, after she drops me off at the bus stop. He is restless; cmon babe hurry up I just wanna be inside you, be your first, he messages me. When I finally get to his apartment, I get a warm welcome from his dog Micky, who seems to be the only one who cares about my feelings. Not even halfway into the apartment, he starts trying to take off my clothes. Eventually what happens happens: because I think I am ready for it, I think he really loves me, I think we are in love, I think I am a pretty girl. I later come to blame myself for the hurt, because it was me who let him inside me. It starts to hurt like nothing else I’ve ever felt down there or anywhere else. I let out an agonizing scream and tell him to stop; I am not aroused, I am definitely in pain.
“It’s gonna hurt babe, it’s gonna hurt the first time,” he keeps repeating while pushing further as I keep screaming in pain for him to stop.
I think about the way I was raised, how I grew up being a good kid most of time, always calm and quiet and dependent on God. Please God please forgive me for this, don’t punish me, I think while turning my head to the side. It starts to hurt so bad my arms move by themselves to try to push him off, like a reflex.
“Stop trying to push me,” he says.
When it is over he tells me I am bleeding and gives me a paper towel. We walk to school like nothing happens and we miss AP English.
“That was terrible,” he says to me about it. Suddenly I am not a pretty girl anymore; I am not even “his” girl. I am terrible. We go on like nothing happened for the rest of the day. I get home and lay on my bed and turn on my music. I hear Lana Del Rey ask me: “is innocence lost?” And I don’t know if it is, or if it already has been.
I haven’t felt like a pretty girl in a long time; so long that I can’t remember when I haven’t been thinking about how big my nose looks, or whose makeup looks better than mine. When I don’t put on makeup to go out, the whole world makes a big deal about it. My grandma motions to me to at least put on some lipstick by running her finger around her lips. My mother scolds me for going out on family days looking like death for not “fixing” myself.
“You’re going out like that?” my aunt asks me when I’m headed out the door bare-faced.
“Asi te ves bonita,” my grandmother says with a smile, when she catches me putting on makeup, on the days that I feel like trying.
I can’t look at myself without staring into my eyes for a while. I don’t know what these experiences mean in terms of how I am perceived as an actual person, but I do know that to everyone else I’m only a pretty girl for a while. I’m only pretty when I get male attention, I’m only pretty when I let things slide, I’m only pretty when I wear somewhat revealing clothing, I’m only pretty when I have something to offer, I’m only pretty when I fix my face with makeup. I’ve been called a pretty girl so many times for different things; but I truly do not know what it feels like to be a pretty girl or to be called one, without the feeling of disgust running through me.
Nicolle Jaramillo is a second-year student at LaGuardia Community College who will be transferring to Hunter College in Fall 2020. She is currently studying Childhood Education with a concentration in English. As a childhood education major with a concentration in English, she has trained to perform highly in different fields such as journalism, creative non-fiction writing, and creating lesson plans.
Born and raised in New York City, she is of Peruvian descent. She grew up absorbing the different cultures around Queens. Her hobbies include guitar playing, writing poetry, and knitting. Authors and poets such as Lang Leav, Emily Dickinson, and Oscar Wilde inspire her to keep pursuing poetry as well as trying different genres of writing.