Age 18, from I Am Yours
Age 18, Bangkok, taken during the time I was being stalked by my high school Psychology teacher.
He would send me three-page long letters, written entirely in red ink. Every word was capitalized, his handwriting so uniformly erect that it seemed like font. He figured out my class schedule, and would wait until I was in Biology, Physics, Calculus to call me on the classroom phone.
"I'm recording these calls," he'd tell me. "You're a naughty girl. You deserve to be punished."
This for him was power. Sex. Hunting. Tracking. By 18, life had taught me that for many, the trapping of girls' voices in small boxes, metal or otherwise, was a favorite pastime.
This same teacher was infamous for cracking lewd, sexual jokes in class. He gallivanted throughout Thailand hiring "girlfriends", his preferred age, 13-18 year old girls.
Everyone knew of this. The teachers. The administration. The parents.
Of all the adults around me, only one believed and stood by me when I came forth with what was happening. My honors English teacher.
He valued my voice.
Everyone else recited variations of the same tired song: "Chi, chi, chi," shame, shame, shame in Bengali. "What did you do? No man would behave like this unless you provoked him."
Life is an exceptional education. Scour your story and you'll find the tools you need. This wasn't my first brush with sexual aggression. At 11, a cousin had tried to rape me. I was told "Boys will be boys" and left to fend for myself.
So by 18, I knew that we girls, to survive and thrive, must look within. This lesson was handy as well when at 23, I was raped. Again, without a person to turn to or lean on, I knew to trust my wellspring of female resilience.
So often, we girls who are born fiery or become fiery are asked, "Why are you so driven? So vocal? So impassioned? It's as if you're angry."
You and I, we fiery girls, torches in the deep, inky stillness of night, we ignite our own revolutions. We roar for without us, there is only silence. Occasionally, a true teacher appears. But rather than wait or fall off our paths should such a teacher fail to arrive, we alight our own way forward with the burning brilliance of our audacity.
In a few weeks, I'll be 34. One day, this girl could be my daughter. She could be yours. We have two options. One, do our all to murder her fire. Two, value her voice, get out of her way, and leave her free to rise. She will turn fury into function and pain into poetry.