I was twelve when the neighbor’s visiting nephew put his hand down my shirt. We were sitting in the shade on the side of a hill just across the street from my house and had been laughing and talking about something interesting but I cannot remember exactly what.

A lightning bolt slammed me to the ground and I sat there stunned for dozens of seconds, wondering what to do. ”He likes me?” was the first thought but that one sprinted away almost before it had even been asked; the very idea was as shocking as it was frightening, for I had never been liked by anyone before, not even by my own mother.

Naturally, the next second my conscience accused: ”Did I do something to make him do this?” I was painfully shy and a people-pleaser, so I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to upset him. Still, I knew what he was doing was wrong, so after about thirty seconds (it seemed like forever and yet inexplicably it seemed also like an instant) I jumped up and darted across the street (thank God no car was coming!) thinking, ”I can’t believe I just did that/he just did that/I am doing this” and barreled into the house crying, hoping I could make it to my room unnoticed.

But Mom saw me and demanded, ”What’s the matter?!” I almost didn’t tell her because…(continues in first comment).

But Mom saw me and demanded, ”What’s the matter?!” I almost didn’t tell her because she had long had the habit of swiftly, remorselessly punishing me for things I didn’t do; I suspected this time I was going to get more than a single stinging slap.

Shame like fire melting icecubes had begun to shake me senseless, though, so I told her, head down, bracing myself to resist flinching (that always made her more angry). Surprisingly, she hit me with the third seismic shock of my day when she listened and, rather than yelling or swinging at me, she cursed and immediately charged to the house next door and confronted our neighbor with all of the furious rage I had fully expected her to lash upon me.

You could hear her screaming through the walls and across the gardens and fences. •

I have no idea what – if anything – ever happened to that boy; all I know is I learned that day that there was one thing my mother hated even more than she hated me, and I didn’t have to put up with it.

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