Like many girls my age, I had a crush on the Bionic Woman while I was growing up. My bicycle was slathered with stickers that I had gotten somewhere, and I remember impassioned arguments with my older brother about who was better: the Bionic Woman or Wonder Woman. But as it turned out, the Bionic Woman was not my childhood hero. My childhood hero was tall, skinny, blonde, and about 9 years old. His name was Michael.
Michael and I were on a soccer team together in El Paso called “The Thunderbirds.” I was the only girl on the soccer team, something that had never been a problem until the day my old all-guys soccer team, The Braves, showed up to play us one Saturday.
I had played with The Braves the previous year and, though I never felt particularly welcomed as a girl on the team, it had been mostly okay.
Except for one day.
That was the day Abel, who went to my school, told my teammates about what he and other boys at my school liked to do to me on the playground.
How they would chase me, surround me as a group, and take turns humping me through my clothes. From behind, forcing me to bend over. As I was lying on the ground. Mounting me if I tried to remain standing.
In other words, they mock-gang-raped me, on a daily basis, for months.
And after hearing that, I was fair game for The Braves, too. Soccer practice became a Russian roulette of possible torture, of boys pressing themselves up to me from behind and pumping their groins against my bottom whenever we stood in line for some soccer drill.
I was eight years old.
I never told anyone.
On the day the Braves came to play The Thunderbirds, I arrived later than usual. Both teams were gathered together under a tree in Crestmont Park, the home field for The Thunderbirds. They all turned to watch as I approached, this line of boys, one team dressed in blue, the other in orange. Then, with one accord, they turned their backs on me.
I sat down and the teammate I sat down next to scooted away hastily as the other boys giggled, “Oooooohhhhh, gross.” My teammates and the players on The Braves stood up, moved quite a few feet away, and sat down again—leaving me very much alone under the tree.
I had no idea what the problem was, but it was clearly sexual in nature, something waaaaaaay beyond “cooties,” something that suggested they would be contaminated by my presence. The leering looks they threw my way from a distance made me feel dirty beyond belief.
I wondered if the boys on The Braves had told the boys on The Thunderbirds that they had “done it” with me. I wondered what they had said. I knew it was bad, whatever it was.
I held it in, because that’s all I could do. You don’t break down in the middle of a situation like this. No, you break down later. Privately. And you never, ever, ever mention it to your parents.
We only had half an hour before our game, though the way the boys were treating me made it seem like hours and hours and hours were going by. The coach tried to put us into lines to kick balls into the goal. Nobody would get into my line. If I stepped into a line, everybody moved to the other line.
I stood in my line all alone, bravely kicking ball after ball towards the goal. The two lines were supposed to take turns. So I took turn after turn after turn, returning to my invisible line, only to find a ball waiting for me.
The coaches tried to change the routine, suggesting we pass the ball to each other before we kicked it towards the goalie. But nobody would kick the ball to me and I was the only person in my line, so they decided we could keep doing what we were already doing.
Like the teachers on my playground who could have stopped the mock gang rapes I experienced on a daily basis, my coaches did nothing.
They heard the sexual taunting and they did nothing.
This went on, like I said, for what felt like hours. I was wondering how I was going to make it through the game. I was wondering about future soccer practices. For some reason, it never occurred to me that soccer, unlike school, was voluntary. If I had to endure the boys and what they did to me at school, I figured I had to endure it at soccer practice, too.
And then Michael, my shining angel of strength, deliberately moved from the other line to stand behind me.
My teammates were vocal and loud as they shouted at him, as they told him how disgusting he was to come even within inches of my flesh.
But he stood behind me in that line and jeered back. “You’re being stupid,” he said. And I have never ever ever felt so grateful for another person’s bravery as I did at that moment.
I don’t know what kind of person Michael became. But in that moment, at least, he bucked the crowd and became my hero.