“That’s what she gets,” one of the boys said in between laughs. “Pa’ que aprenda que no se tiene que meter con los hombres.” That’ll teach her not to mess with men.
I was taught to think that boys were tougher, rougher, stronger, and meaner than girls. Boys were loud. Boys fought each other. Boys were not to be messed with.
Because I’m the oldest, my parents also taught me to protect my younger siblings at all costs. My brain was programmed to automatically step up and fight any battle necessary to fulfill my duty as their older sister. There were no second thoughts, no questions, and no hesitations on my part.
As the youngest, my brother was to be looked after the closest. Unfortunately, my brother received the same oversimplified information about gender roles, which meant that he tended to get into fights. Physical violence was just the way boys expressed themselves. To me, this meant that my brother might need physical protection–something that I wasn’t prepared for.
So, on one particular day, we were all downstairs, playing in the “playground,” (actually a patio, read The time we started to build our own playground) when I heard a commotion. My little brother was being teased by a group of boys and my brother looked sad.
This was my cue.
I walked over and said “Hey, leave my brother alone.” The boys barely even acknowledged me. So, I took it to the next level. I walked up to the main culprit and said, “How would you like it if I did the same thing to you?” And for some stupid reason, I began kicking his foot.
I have always been much smaller than everyone else; I have always been much quieter than everyone else; and I have always been much more afraid than everyone else. The mere sound of my name made my heart race and my face flush. And yet, here I was. I was kicking this boy’s foot with no doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing.
I stopped kicking him and looked at him, hoping that he had learned something. That was my mistake, though. Sure, I had spoken to him; tried to reason with him; tried to teach him that it doesn’t feel good to be teased. But, he was a boy. And I had gotten physical.
His face turned bright red. His nostrils flared. He began taking fast, deep breaths. He clenched his fists. The rest of the boys began to circle around me. Still, I wasn’t scared because I was defending my brother, just like my parents taught me. The main culprit stepped inside the circle with me. But before I could even begin to wonder what would happen next, he punched me in the stomach.
I couldn’t breathe.
I was hunched over, holding my stomach, gasping for air while the group of boys laughed at me. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even cry. I looked over and saw my brother outside of the circle. He still looked sad, but at least the boys had stopped teasing him.
Eventually, the boys grew bored of my dramatic scene and left.
After I was finally able to get some air in my lungs, I immediately went towards the stairs to go home. I didn’t start crying until I got to the third floor.