By Nicole Hilton, February 15, 2020
Going into your school years as a trauma victim can make you feel like raw meat thrown into a lion’s den. It strongly reinforced my programming that I was broken and alone. Even so, when I could turn my experience into empathy to protect and serve others, I found myself.
When I turned seven, we moved from Salt Lake City, down to the bottom left corner of Utah—to a city called St. George, a land filled with red rock and blue skies. I was excited for the move. I had, seemingly, an unlimited amount of friends in Salt Lake, and I knew I would make just as many in St. George…right?
After my first night in our new house, I hopped on my bike and went exploring the neighborhood. I passed by a house where a little boy was out front, playing in the yard. He seemed about my age. I stopped my bike, waved my hand and said, “Hi! I’m Nicole, I just moved here and—“
But right when I started talking, the little boy looked up at me, then made a bee-line for his front door, slamming it behind him. I was shocked. What could account for his strange behavior?
Well, after second grade and all the programming being cemented in my mind, I thought I knew why that little boy ran inside at the sight of me.
In third grade, because of the trauma of the rape and the stress on my body, I went into puberty. I remember being shocked at my first period. I learned not only from my mom, but from various online sites what I had to expect for the rest of my life. I remember opting for the large pads (made for adult women) instead of tampons at first.
I was swinging upside down from the monkey bars one day, wearing my blue and pink floral gymnastics shorts, when I heard her.
“Ew! Look at Nicole’s pants! What’s she got in there, a pillow?”
I looked around from my upside-down point of view. There was Haley Danes*, the most popular girl in third grade, pointing at the bulge in my shorts created by the pad. A crowd of girls quickly gathered around her and started laughing.
“Nicole wears diapers! Nicole wears diapers!” The crowd took up the chorus. I quickly righted myself, hanging from the monkey bars before I dropped to the ground, and grabbed the book I’d dropped by the corner of the playground set. I headed straight for the school. I’d beg the teacher to let me sit inside. Maybe this time, she’d let me.
When I got home that day, I went straight to my mom. “I need the smallest size of Tampons. Tonight, before school tomorrow.”
A few months later, I saw a crowd of boys giggling and laughing at me. They would talk behind their hands, and something besides the diaper theory spread like wildfire among my classmates—Nicole’s got “mosquito bites”. The boys watched my progress very carefully, until one day on the bus, a boy from my neighborhood proclaimed loudly that I had a nice “rack”. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it probably wasn’t good.
I felt like an object around my classmates. It didn’t matter if they were boys or girls. Around boys, I either felt like a sexual object, or someone to be spurned. Around girls, I felt like an alien who was out of sync physically and socially. I didn’t find anywhere where I belonged. Until 6th grade, that is.
In 6th grade, a girl named Maria Juarez* was in my class. She was short and plump, and had a beautiful smile and laugh that I admired from day one. I so wanted to be her friend, because I noticed there was something different about her. But I was afraid to reach out too much. What if my efforts at deep friendship were rejected yet again?
One day, our entire class was herded down the hallway to the library to listen to a short story. The teacher sat on the chair in the spacious part of the library, surrounded by windows. The rest of us—about 20 of us—sat in a wide circle on the floor. Maria was sitting straight across from me. She’d worn banana yellow leggings and was sitting with her legs straddled outwards, creating a “V”.
I was probably the only one listening to the story. I was so engrossed in it, that it took me a full minute to realize about half the class was laughing—and the laughter was getting louder and louder. When the two girls sitting on either side of me started to laugh, I noticed.
I snapped out of the movie in my head that was being created by the story, and looked around at everyone to see what was causing the laughter. I then saw Maria across the circle from me, her legs wide open, and a dark red stain at her crotch blossoming across the yellow fabric.
I didn’t hesitate. I jumped up so quickly, a girl to the side of me emitted a yelp of surprise. I strode across the circle to Maria, and reached my hand down to her.
“Come with me,” I said.
She looked around, confused, and saw everyone looking at her and giggling. She looked up at me, and I saw a flicker of trust in her eyes. She grabbed my hand, and I put my arm around her and walked her out of the library. The teacher didn’t even notice.
I walked her straight to the nearest bathroom. “Maria, I’m so sorry…but you’ve started your period,” I said, squeezing her shoulder.
“What?” She checked her pants, and then she started sobbing. I swung open a stall door and she went inside, then gently closed and locked it.
She cried and cried. I leaned against the stall door with my right shoulder and I heard everything in those sobs. I heard the embarrassment, the shame, the sense of terror, the injustice of it all, and the sorrow.
All I could say was, “I’m so sorry, Maria. I’m so sorry.” And I meant it.
I thought about everything—all the taunting and teasing I had been through at the hands of my peers in elementary school. It was all dark. And parts of me seemed to have given into that darkness…but this darkness was the source of all this pain. It was the source of the pain Maria was going through right then.
I vowed to stand against that darkness—that I would never add to it or be a part of it. I never wanted to hurt others like those kids had, and if I had, I was sorry.
I turned towards the mirrors near the line of sinks on the far wall, and I saw my reflection. I didn’t look like a little girl anymore. I was standing tall—without any of my prior shame or misery which had drawn my shoulders in and my head down in the last four years.
While I had been feeling everything Maria was feeling, I now felt something else. I felt…was it elation? Accomplishment? Joy.
As I hit upon that word, I was confused. Am I just a messed up person to be feeling this way, while this girl is going through this? But then I saw myself standing tall and strong in the mirror, and I realized something. I had been so alone during the past four years, and had turned inward. Yet, I had stumbled upon something—quite by accident. It was something that was taught in church, but never had it been more real to me than this.
To have friends, I didn’t have to give into the darkness and participate with the girls and boys who were hurtful to everyone else. I could have friends by reaching out to those who were hurting exactly like me. And even if Maria didn’t want to be my friend, I realized that rescuing her today was a beautiful experience in itself. I could serve others. Nothing made me feel more alive—more like my true self again.
I turned back towards the door and put my hand on it. “Maria, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry they laughed at you. I’m sorry they did that to you. I’m sorry things had to happen this way. But I’m here for you, okay?”
Between sobs I heard, “Nicole…thank you.”
We became best friends after that, and I was so thankful to have a friend.
*name has been changed