Eileen R. Tabios: My Torrance

For “Filipino American History Month”—October 2018.
And for the “Why I Didn’t Report” Movement.

I’ve never been raped. But it’s not because no one tried.

I call it attempted “rape” today but at the time it was happening, I wouldn’t have known to use the word.

I was walking home from elementary or middle school (why can’t I recall my exact age?). I was a latchkey kid: both my parents worked and I’d been told to always go home immediately after school and stay there until they returned home. I don’t know if there were after-school programs in our area, but there wouldn’t have been money to spare for such things. I didn’t yet know to disobey my parents, so I usually walked home.

Before I would turn right on my block, there was a stretch of two to three blocks (why can’t I recall whether its length was two or three blocks long?). There, one day, a car pulled by my side to slowly accompany me as I walked down what suddenly became a long, lonely stretch of a street. The driver kept asking me to enter the car and join him for a drive.

For years—decades—I would consider that long moment: it felt like time stopped. I kept walking down the street and yet couldn’t reach the end of it where I could finally turn right onto where my house was located. Once, I thought, “But there’s no one home and he could follow you right home, too”—the thought didn’t last long because it was overridden by how the street was suddenly so long that I couldn’t seem to get to the end where I could turn right towards home…

He was soft-spoken. Perhaps it was that soft tone that prevented me from sudden movements—a sudden movement like suddenly running away from the edge of the sidewalk where his car kept pace, running away to one of the nearby houses and banging on its door to ask for help.

His soft voice kept me by his side and I was suddenly talking to him softly, too. I was trying to explain why I couldn’t enter his car and go for a drive with him. My mind was awhirl as I tried to think of various excuses that would explain why I couldn’t enter his car—from “someone waiting for me” (no one was waiting) to “I had homework to do” (possibly) to other statements I can’t recall now. While my body felt sluggish as it struggled to walk “normally” versus rapidly-as-if-there’s-something-wrong down the street, my mind was frantic trying to imagine more excuses for not entering the car.

We finally neared the end of the street. He pulled his car over and in front of me so that he blocked my ability to continue down the street and make a right turn onto where my house waited. I paused and stood still. I watched him get out of the car. He opened his door, stood, and reached inside for a blazer that he put on as he started to slowly approach me. His blazer had a plaid pattern—I recall light green and grey as part of its palette. He put his blazer over a grey shirt and dark pants. But he also put on the blazer as if he was doing so to hide something else like a weapon on his body, perhaps a gun by his waist (or at least that’s what my tumultuous imagination was speculating).

While he was still in his car, he had kept crooning for me to take a ride with him. I spoke back with whatever excuses I could concoct on the spot. The structure of that engagement meant that we had a conversation. It was a conversation where both of us knew what was going on but our words never touched on that matter. The words kept up the front that what was being discussed was a matter of me just “going on a drive” with him, nothing more, nothing less.

But it was a conversation that lasted two to three blocks. Thus, when he was out of his car and approaching me, it didn’t seem as if he was a total stranger. It was as if we knew each other a little because we already had engaged in conversation.

Perhaps it was that unexpected nuance that made him pause while there was still a few feet between us. We looked at each other. I don’t know why I suddenly thought, “He’d never done this before.” He paused, looked at me more intently, then turned around to return to the driver’s side of his car. I don’t know why I suddenly thought, “He just broke out into a sweat.”

He opened the door to enter his car, but paused to look at me once more. Without prior conscious intent on my part, I spoke. I said, “Thank you for not hurting me.”

I remember the clarity of my tone. I wasn’t soft-spoken anymore. I spoke as if I wanted my message to be clear, as if I wanted him to understand the significance of his return to his car. That is, he didn’t, at the end of the day, end up hurting me. As if, as if, … he didn’t have to be the kind of guy that hurt women and children.

I don’t know, of course, if he understood what I was trying to say. At my words, he only entered his car and drove away. He drove away at a much faster speed than when he was pacing his car to fit my steps down that long street.

I’ve never told this story to my parents. But I do know one thing for sure: I didn’t want my parents to know. Because I didn’t want my parents ever to feel guilty that they had to have jobs whose hours extended past the end of the school day so that they could not afford to be home for me. They worked so hard …

We were new immigrants. My parents—whose teaching credentials were useless in the U.S.—were still trying to secure jobs that would support our family of six. I didn’t want them to know what else migration was costing our family: the premature end to their daughter’s childhood as I, while still a child, suddenly understood the world to be a dangerous place.

I share this story now after hearing of the “Why I Didn’t Report” movement. I’m relieved I can share it now because both of my parents have passed. Hearing this moment would have been wrenching for them. They were good people—I didn’t want them to live through that moment like I did. That’s why I didn’t report.

I share this story now because this story and others’ experiences like it are also part of the diaspora, thus Filipino American History.

Eileen R. Tabios is a poet, fiction writer, visual artist, editor and critic. She has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. She invented the poetry form “hay(na)ku” whose 15-year anniversary is celebrated with exhibitions and readings at the San Francisco Public Library and Saint Helena Public Library. Translated into nine languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.com