“Well, my first thought is ‘boys will be boys’, but that’s not good enough."
March 6, 2020
I didn’t want it to happen, but I imagined it would. I knew it would, actually. You can’t have a body like mine, with the large breasts I have and not get noticed. I’m fat, but I’m stacked. I’m old and fat, but I’m still stacked. Guys and boobs. A timeless love story. Doesn’t seem to matter who they’re attached too. Big boobs are fascinating.
I was walking back to the unit from breakfast, new admit Lyle by my side. A kind young man, a man of size, with whom I had taken up conversation. We walked by the med line. Five men from the chemical dependency unit were waiting, some seated some standing. All eyes on me as I turned the corner and came into full frontal view. I heard one say, “That’s her.” And then there was laughter.
My face flushed. Adrenalin flooded through. I was ashamed, then angry. I got down the hall, close to the unit door, then I turned around, stopped and said, “Would you guys lay the fuck off me?”
“What! We didn’t do anything!”
“Just don’t do it again,” Lyle said. My champion my protector. The only gentleman present.
Then I asked him, “Was I overreacting? Did they laugh at me? The way I look?”
“No,” he said. “You’re not overreacting. It was just like you thought.”
I sat with that for a minute. Then I asked him again. “Was I overreacting???”
“No,” he assured me. “You were right to call them out.”
The day unfolded as the days in treatment do. Packed with group, then lunch, then lecture. I kept quashing down feelings about what had happened. I kept trying to stay in the moment, pay attention to lecture. I didn’t want to miss what I was in treatment to get. I didn’t have the time to make sense of what had happened. It would just have to wait.
After lecture, I turned the corner and saw a man from the chemical dependency unit, about my age, with whom I’d exchanged pleasantries in the hall. A few supportive words, here and there, over the previous weeks. Without thinking, I grabbed his arm and said, “Tell your guys to lay off me! Please!”
A woman from my unit behind me jokingly said, “No talking to other patients.” She meant nothing of it, knew nothing of what had transpired.
I started crying, horrified I had done what I had done. The poor man knew nothing of what I was referring. And we’re not supposed to have any contact with patients from other units. No eye contact, no talking and certainly no touching. I had grabbed his arm! I knew I had to tell the unit coordinator before she heard about it from someone else.
There’s always a wait to speak with the unit coordinator. So many needy people. I sat waiting outside her door, crying, those big loud hiccupy cries. I hate when I cry like that. When she let me into her office, the full on sobs hit. I explained what had happened, haltingly, fearfully. She listened intently, always calm and even in demeanor. The woman is a saint.
“I have a love hate relationship with my sexuality! A month ago, it would have been OK for me to be treated like that. I would have been smug, like I had something they wanted, and I was going to hold it over them! Like I was just the shit! But now, I just don’t feel that way anymore. That isn’t OK anymore.”
“Coco, if this had happened to your niece, what would you tell her?”
“Well, my first thought is ‘boys will be boys’, but that’s not good enough. I think I’d tell her to raise the issue, to advocate for herself.”
“Do you want to file a complaint?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’ll talk to the residential coordinator,” she said. “What would you like to do now?”
“I’d like to lay down for a bit. Calm down,” I said.
“OK, I’ll call up to the activity room and let them know you won’t be in class.”
“You know, God needs to give me a fucking break! I’m working through all this shit and he has to add this sex stuff on top of it?” I said, walking out of her office.
She smiled and suggested I talk to Him about it.
In my room, I prayed. I asked to understand what had happened and why I had the reaction I did. It started to make sense, how confusing the whole episode had been. I thought I might get my coat and wear it in the halls, hugging it tight over my breasts. I’d fold in on myself, make myself small. That seemed like a good idea at first. And I imagined myself going that route longer than I should have. Then I realized what I know for fact. I can’t hide the truth of my size. It is what it is. I can’t wish myself smaller. It doesn’t work. I’ve said that so many times.
Finally, I realized, I’m in the becoming. What was OK before isn’t OK now. I’m better now. I deserve better. I get it. I’m starting to get hold of the truth: I am worthy.
I asked Lyle to walk with me to and from meals from then on out. He agreed. He has. Every meal. I stand tall and walk proud. I lead with my chest. I can’t help but lead with my chest. I look the men in the eye. Most look away. Some don’t. Fine. I am Coco. I am a woman. I am a child of God. I am powerful. I am strong. Men can objectify me, but it won’t change the truth of who I am. I am a whole person. What you see on the outside is very much a part of who I am, a part of my identity. But what you don’t see in the halls, what you don’t see on the inside of me, that part is priceless. I am priceless.
I Persevere. And life goes on.