As a kid, my mantra was, “When I’m an adult… ” I had big plans. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t feel like an adult the day I turned 18 years old — or even three months earlier when I’d moved into the dorm at school.
The first time I felt like an adult? I had to go to a supervisor at my job to report sexual harassment.
I was 18 years old and worked at an amusement park. While most of the employees were college-aged, some of them were older. Like Brett*.
At the end of one summer night, a group of us were walking toward the manager’s office to drop off our radios. I’d just finished telling a story about how some morons had broken beer bottles outside the apartment where I was staying for the summer. I hadn’t noticed the broken glass when I’d pulled away from the curb. Two flat tires led to a car in the shop, and they had to order new rims for my truck, too.
Brett tried to split me away from the group, and he kept talking about a dresser he was getting from a friend that he’d need help moving. Even though I’d just said my truck was in the shop, he kept asking if I could help him with it.
He kept getting closer and closer to me, ignoring everything I said. One of the guys realized what was going on, stepped between us and told him to beat it.
Two days later, I was alone with Brett during our shift, and he was suddenly right next to me. Before I could back away, he informed me my name-tag was crooked and had a hand under the name-tag – right over my left breast. He squeezed.
I was on break five minutes later and went straight to a manager.
It didn’t go well.
The supervisor informed me that with nobody around us, it was “he said/she said,” and there was nothing he could do. I brought up the earlier incident, and he said Brett was just asking for help. If I was uncomfortable, that was my problem.
I felt lost, alone and abandoned by everything I thought I knew about companies and policies.
Strangely, that’s when I felt like an adult.
As a kid, life is about rules and the consequences that come when you ignore them. As an adult, that’s supposed to be the same. Sitting across from that assistant manager, I realized the policies are only as good as the managers who are supposed to enforce them.
The manager helpfully suggested I take some extra time before going back on shift. I had a cup of tea to think about how to handle what had happened. When I went back, I decided to speak in the only language I knew Brett would understand.
I told him he would never touch me again, that I had a number of male friends and a boyfriend who would gladly beat him up if I told them to do so. It was a bluff. They might have, but he had no idea. I’m only 5’3,” and at the time looked like I was 16 years old — at most. But I did something right. I could see the look in his eyes, and he was scared.
He could barely look me in the eye after that day.
This wasn’t the ultimate turning point, like the moment where I became completely in control of my life. I’m 35 years old now, married with kids, and half the time I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. But in that moment I was powerful, and I felt like I actually was an adult.