There has been so much talk about “the 97%” on social media, and I’m gonna tell you my story. I don’t think I’ve ever told this story in its entirety. For the record, I am 47. This happened 31 years ago. Sometimes, people don’t come forward. Sometimes, it takes people ages. But I can tell you so many minute details about this. Little things have burned their way into my brain, in a way that good things do; this one only brings up bile and nausea and anger. Such. Anger.
Trigger warning: this is painful to read. Intimidation tactics, embarrassment tactics, and general disgusting behavior from a grown ass man, as well as an inappropriate touch.
See that girl below? She’s 16. She got a summer job, working in fast food. She was dumb, and goofy, and had all sorts of fun when she was off work. She was the kind of girl who always volunteered to go when shifts were being cut, because it was a part time job for spending money, and others were there working second or third jobs to pay bills.
She wore a crappy polyester polo (pic sourced from eBay), and some ill-fitting navy Dickies. Nothing says work comfort in fast food like some super breathable, lightweight Dickies! Oh, and don’t forget your stupid red visor; you’ll get sent home without it! She had already forgotten it twice.
She spent most of her time on the grill, so that she could work the same shifts as a friend. When the friend realized she was a privileged girl from a family with loads of cash, she quit. So our girl moved up to register/fries.
There was a core group of people who always worked the same shifts, so she got to be friends with everyone. A star football player from North Charleston, a Navy mom who was bored of sitting at home with her teenage kids, an old bat that was a shift manager, and a couple of others. There were three managers that worked shifts at this particular store.
She loved working the walk up window. It was always fun, and she often got to see her friends. She developed her first major crush on a kid from the rival high school. He tolerated her puppy dog eyes and was always nice about it.
One night, she had to take the trash out to the dumpster between rushes. She had to weigh the fries can, then take the bags out side. When she got to the dumpster, the manager named Mark (~29 or 30 years old) was out there, well, entertaining himself. Single handedly. She threw the trash bag at him and ran back inside and told the others. He never showed back up to work.
Then there was the other manager. The one whose name has escaped her memory, or has been blocked by some form of grace, but she can see his face when she even mentions anything about this. He was 27 years old; he’d mentioned it many times. He was taller, and bigger than she was. He had sandy colored almost spiky hair and always wore a gold chain; a wide flat one.
He decided one night that he had to ask her to hang out after work. He decided that she would say yes, because he was such a catch. He was a manager. He had expendable cash. And he could buy beer. What could possibly go wrong?
So that night, he waited til she was up at the front of the store. He sent the Navy Mom to take out the front trash. The Football Player was prepping stuff for the night shift. She had just handed out an order at the walk up; her friends were sitting at the concrete tables outside. It was late afternoon; about 6:00. They were literally 15 feet away. She could see them from the drive through window.
He walked up behind her, and immediately backed her into the walk-up space. He put his right hand up on the fry grill, as if to obscure what he was doing. He said “hey, you know you’re my favorite girl, right? How about you go out with me after work? We can grab some beers, and hang out at my place.” He put his hand on the side of her face, and brushed the hair from her neck. It felt hot and her neck was ice cold.
“I’m sixteen. You’re 27. No way.”
“Oh come on. Plenty of girls date older guys.” He moves a half step forward.
“Um, no. I AM 16,” she said, in a louder voice. No one was paying attention.
He leans in. “Come on. It will be fun. I’m sure we can figure out something to do.” His hand brushed down her shoulder. It kept going.
“If you don’t back away from me, I am going to kick you in the nuts. I’m not kidding. Back the fuck up.” She was terrified. That voice couldn’t have come from her. She felt frozen. The voice sounded like a scream from a million miles away. Panic. Breath. Panic. Breath.
“Whoah. Whoah. DID you think I was IMPLYING that I WAS ASKING YOU OUT? I said we need to COUNT OUT YOUR DRAWER. You’re getting cut.”
She pushed him out of the way and said “count it yourself. I’m going home.” And she went outside. She sat with her friends while she waited on her dad to come get her. She never said anything. She was terrified. And the crush was out there, and she didn’t want him to see her upset. Or crying. Or vulnerable, especially about something like this.
Her next shift, she went in. The Old Bat was manager. Old Bat said “you are suspended because you don’t have your hat. This is your third time.”
Then Old Bat told the girl’s friend who worked at Bojangles next door that the girl had been fired. “Her drawer came up short and she left without counting it out with the manager the other night.”
When the girl came in for the next shift, she confronted the manager. Her dad was still waiting in the parking lot. He knew she was going to quit, but he thought it was just about the drawer rumor. But she went in, confronted Old Bat, and said “don’t you dare lie about me ever again.” Old Bat denied it all, until the girl offered to go get the friend from Bojangles. Old Bat said “well, since you have your hat, clock in. You’re on grill tonight because Football Player has a game and we don’t have anyone else to cook.”
And the girl took off that shitty, polyester polo, and tossed it and the visor on the desk and said “my dad said I have to quit, since he doesn’t trust y’all anymore.”
And she walked out.
Some people ask where I get my bravery or my attitude from. It comes from my dad, who never took shit from ANYONE. And it comes from my mom, who taught me to be independent and be myself. It also came from me having to stand up for myself at age 16, from experiences with two grown ass creepy men. I know other women don’t have that strength. They don’t have the ability to speak, sometimes even to breathe at times like this. I don’t know where that strength came in that moment, but maybe I knew that not even for one hot second would my dad not punch that guy in the face. And I screwed up the most courage I’ve ever known in my life.
And you can bet I’m teaching my kids to know they are in charge of their bodies. And they can control the situation as best they can. And they can YELL. Or SCREAM. Or make a goddamn scene. And that they don’t have to take shit off anyone, no matter who it is.
I don’t have a good ending for this. In fact, I don’t even know what else to say. Just know that if you’ve ever been through something like this, or anything close to/worse, I love you.