By Pia Guerrero
I lived on a tree-lined street, had a dog and a cat that I liked to put bows and hats on, and walked to my local elementary school a block away. I liked to walk to the beach holding my mom’s hand. Most of all, I loved to bike ride around the block stopping at the local store for a Klondike bar. After school I took ballet and art classes; and walked to my piano teacher’s house for piano lessons I detested. I also played with a number of kids on the block, spending summer days walking down the creek looking for tadpoles.
This was a normal childhood.
My free time was largely unsupervised, like most kids in the 1970s. The neighborhood kids would climb trees, put on plays, and explore the creek for hours until sunset. Our neighbors were our community and served as the “village” that helped raise us when our parents weren’t around. My favorite neighbor lived two doors down in a tiny converted garage. He worked as a waiter and substitute Jr. High-School teacher. His name, as I knew it was Tarzan. His little black dog: Cheetah. I loved exploring his little home as every available surface from the side arms of the sofa to the top of the stove was covered in sea-shells. I loved visiting with Tarzan. I always got candy and a hug.
If I sat on Tarzan’s lap, he would give me a penny to insert into the silver slot of a bright red gumball machine so that juicy balls of gum would pour out.
One day, my mom expecting an empty house, found Tarzan riffling through my sister’s underwear drawer. I don’t know much about what happened after that, but the cops came, my mom wouldn’t let me play with him anymore and I wasn’t supposed to talk to him. All I knew was that this nice man was being badly treated. I was 7 years old.
That didn’t stop him. Eventually, my mom had a restraining order put against Tarzan, for he tried to break into our house and claimed it was under “good neighbor” pretenses. My mom had no power to get him to move out of the neighborhood, so his stalking persisted. It was only until he had a violent altercation with his landlord that he was finally evicted.
Through-out my childhood it was not shocking for me to walk by a car and see a guy jacking-off, to sit at the beach and see a guy spreading his legs so his penis casually hang out of his shorts, or to walk with friends and see a man standing naked in the middle of a large picture window.
This was my childhood. And this was normal.
I write this, because this is not normal. It is not normal for me, at age twelve to take a self-defense class. It is not normal for me to be suspicious of my father’s love and affection, because another relative molested me when I was 5 years-old. It is not normal to be stalked, harassed, conditioned to think that men just act this way and “boys will be boys”. It is not normal for men to feel they have every right to a woman or girl’s body on the street, at school or in their home. It is not normal for a young man with mental health issues to murder young women and others because he believes women won’t give him the sex he deserves.
This is NOT normal. But it is accepted and it has got to change.