I Didn’t Want to Cause Any Trouble
This week Jade Arroyo writes a special feature on sexual harassment, with interviews and testimonials of women who have suffered stalking and molestation by men. I join these women by sharing the story of my first harassment.
By Tania Noriz
My elementary school was not very nice. It was a very old building, which also served as the home of the principals, two old sisters who belonged, without being nuns, to a religious congregation called the Passionist Nuns. That same congregation was in charge of instructing students in religion for one hour a week, and if you were good and completed all your duties, you were awarded a stamp in your notebook: a heart pierced by a cross.
I was so happy to go to school because I had good friends and teachers I liked very much. Besides, I liked the smell of the orange blossoms from the trees that provided shade in the little communal patio.
The school had an oratory, which was usually closed, but when it was open, it released a cool and perfumed air with a scent of powder and rosewood, the fragrance of saints.
I studied in that school until fourth grade.
What happened to me occurred one day when I was in third grade, and my only real worry in life was learning the blessed multiplication tables. It happened in the morning, after the bell rang. The teacher did not arrive, and I was glad because that day she was going to ask me the nine times table—my biggest fear, the bogeyman. And then the sports teacher came along. He was also the behavior monitor and the husband of my third grade teacher, who was sick that day. I was glad because the sports teacher was nice and made us laugh with his jokes.
He was tall and had a thick black mustache. His smile was big and white, and he had black beady eyes.
“Tania!” He shouted my name as he motioned for me to come to the red wooden desk that was raised on a dais in front of the whole classroom as if to prove the teacher’s superiority over the students, mere mortals.
I walked toward him down the middle of the center aisle as surely as death row inmates walk toward the gallows because I didn’t know the nine times table. I still don’t know it.
The fear was gone as soon as I saw his frank smile and arms wide open, ready for me.
“Come over here and read this part,” he said pointing to some lines of the book and pulling me close to him with his arm around my waist.
I was a little surprised that he did that, but he was a very good teacher, and I was glad to know he liked me.
Then I started reading until I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. What’s going on? I remember thinking. A cold sweat was all over my body, and my heart was pounding so hard I was afraid it would come out through one of my ears.
The teacher’s hand was under my skirt over my underwear, stroking my butt to the rhythm of reading. He also whispered something, but I do not remember what. My body tensed, and I think the teacher realized it because he then asked me to stop reading and sent me to my chair with a little spank.
Whenever a teacher couldn’t attend class, the sports teacher replaced her and did the same thing. He called only me to the desk. It was not fear that I felt, but it was a weird feeling, a paralyzing feeling: the fruit of harassment. I was like a deer caught in the headlights with my innocence escaping through my bright, wide-open pupils.
I never told anyone until many years later when I told my mother. It was a Sunday, at the end of family breakfast.
“Why you didn’t tell me anything about this?” My mom said with a voice made high-pitched by the anguish my story caused her.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I didn’t want to cause any trouble,” I thought aloud, as I was standing up to go help her with the dishes.