When I was 17 years old I started my first job. I wasn’t exactly excited to be thrown into the work force, but I was looking forward to the money. I started my job with a positive outlook, I would be getting free food while working, discounts on my day off, and best of all, I would finally be able to financially support a social life. On the first week I started working there, I noticed that I was heavily out-numbered by men, the only other females there were my boss and a few female chefs. I wasn’t used to be surrounded by adult males, so I wasn’t aware of what is considered appropriate behavior. On the first day, I noticed I was being stared at, but I thought it was because I was new. Soon the staring became a constant thing until finally one of the men approached me.
He was in his early forties, and I had just turned 17. I was young, and I looked young. I was cleaning my section, getting ready to head out for the day, when he came in. He gave me a smirk, one of those “I’ve been eying you” looks and immediately I became uncomfortable. As he walked by me to punch in, he placed his hand on my lower back and said, “watch out sweetie.” My heart dropped, I felt a queasiness in my stomach, and I no longer felt safe. I cleaned faster, hoping to finish before he talked to me again, but it was too late.
“What’s your name?” He said to me as he walked closer to me.
I attempted to slowly back away from him, finally muttering out my name quietly.
He leaned in closer, “what was that?”
“Dahlia…” I said louder, scooting back as I said it.
He proceeded to ask my age, and when I said I was 17, he said “oh dang, when do you turn 18?”
I told him I had just turned 17, and he made a joke about waiting for me to turn 18.
This may seem like an innocent conversation, I thought so at first, but soon the conversations turned more uncomfortable.
I tried to avoid him as best I could, it fairly easy because we worked opposite shifts. But that in-between period, that hour before he had to leave, that was my worst nightmare. Somedays he would keep it casual, small talk, asking me how I was doing in school. Most days he would make inappropriate comments. He would tell me I was beautiful, and that he wished he had someone as beautiful as me in his life. He told me his wife wasn’t satisfying him and that he was thinking about leaving her. He asked me constantly if I was 18 yet, and would act disappointed if I said no. One day he asked me if I had a boyfriend and when I said I did, he asked me to describe him. When I refused, he accused my boyfriend of not satisfying me. I did nothing to provoke him, in fact, I avoided him. However, he always cornered me and asked me uncomfortable questions.
One day he got me so scared, I never wanted to go to work with him again.
He cornered me and asked me “Hey Dahlia, were you born here?”
I tried to squeeze by him as I responded quickly with a “yes.”
He followed me and asked “really? That’s good to now. Now tell me, if you were 18, would you marry me?”
I shook my head no, to afraid to say anything.
I shook my head again.
I was frozen, all I could do was shake my head no.
“Is it because you have a boyfriend?”
“yeah” I finally let out softly.
He cackled and said, “dump him, I’d treat you better any way”
I didn’t laugh, I just awkwardly smiled and tried to walk away again.
In all the time I worked there, my relationship with my boss was not the greatest, I was too scared of her to tell her anything. I thought this behavior was my fault, that I had somehow given him the wrong message. I thought because I never stopped it head-on, I had given consent to him sexually harassing me. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if this constituted as sexual harassment as he implied he wanted to sleep with me, but he never straight out said it. I wasn’t sure if this behavior was inappropriate, but I was too afraid to tell anyone. I suffered for five months of this until finally he got fired for missing a shift. He was finally gone, so you would think I’d be relieved, but he left an uneasiness in my brain. He left me with a loss of enjoyment of my job because every day I was terrified he would show up to see me. I was terrified he would wait outside of the restaurant and attack me. I was afraid he would never stop trying to talk to me. And that uneasiness that I felt was not my fault. It was his. He sexually harassed me, and it was not okay. It took years for me to admit that, it took years to realize I was not the problem. And if you have been in a similar situation, you are not at fault. #metoo