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    Guest submission: Overlooking

    Maarya Shafqat Adil


    I greatly acknowledge the assistance of:

    Grade 10 Health class discussions and work on sexual concepts and laws 

    The Standard’s Article on Sexual Harassment: Shattering the Silence 

    Writer’s note: This is not an account written from the perspective of myself, rather the collective evidence and experiences placed together in the form of this free writing piece from the perspective of one who observes these incidents, yet overlooks.  

    Look up. Look at the sky. Notice its clear blue colors. Notice the serenity of the clouds sailing by. Notice the warm summer air that touches your skin. Notice the sun’s rays, brightly illuminating your face. When summer comes, we ignore the heaviness of winter, its cold gusts of wind, its bonescalding chills and crippling frostbite. We forget about the way our roads get blocked, our blue-tinged lips and how nature disappears beneath the thick coat of snow. We overlook.

    For some, it started early. Even at the ages of 7, 8 and 9. When your mom bought you that skirt. You walked down the street without a care in the world. Noticing the sun’s rays, but slowly noticing the shadows. The glares. You’d get a glimpse into the future, your mom dragging your hand, quickening her pace. Malicious smiles from men you didn’t recognize. Covering your eyes with her soft palms. Silence. Your world turning pitch black. Your pulse quickening. Not understanding. Her purpose, shielding you from the dangers. The locked eyes. “Just don’t pay attention to it.”

    Seasons turned. Years passed. It was my friend’s 11th birthday. Taller. More independent. Her mom and dad gave her tickets to go to Winter Wonderland. Those rollercoasters bringing a rush, an excitement. The new year coming in soon. Fresh starts. Flashing lights illuminating her smiles. It all happened so quickly. Whether it took her long enough to realize what had happened or whether she was distracted by the screams of people on rides. Her heart dropped. A cold hand had touched her. Fastening the seatbelt on the ride, she was eager. Violation. Shame. That’s what she remembers. Burning hot chocolate scalding her tongue. She walked home, the bitter winds brushing past her red ears, her eyes tight, droplets trickling down. Leaving the bright lights behind into the dark black, progressing into the world of her future; inevitable.

    Then it got worse. Middle school. Groups of boys. Whispering, laughing, pointing. Casually throwing names out of their mouths. Arguing. “Slut.” “Attractive.” “I wouldn’t.” I would later go on to learn that girls’ bathrooms were heaving sobs, swollen eyes, makeup running down your cheek, jet black marks of mascara circling your eyelashes. Your first year of being a teenager. That ripe age of 13.

    You get older. Middle schoolers want to be high schoolers. You start going to parties. No face painting now, no apple juice stand. Someone turned 14. Shorter skirts, crop tops. Empty beer bottles, the beginning of headaches, the older sibling says. That’s when guys started dragging the girls to other rooms. Into the pitch black yet again. Head too heavy to get a glimpse of what’s happening. A few drinks. Whatever.

    Before you know it, you’re 15. World spinning. You shudder the next morning. Afraid to say. Afraid to speak up. Mutters. You see him at school. His friends were laughing. Cheering him on. And there’s that feeling. 

    Now 16. Notifications flood your phone. Especially at night. Those three meaningless words. If you send, you’re a slut, if you don’t, you’re a tease. The guilt of receiving that text following you down the hallway. Hearing those whispers yet again. She did it. She did it. She did it. The other girl. “No. No. No,” she said. No respect now.

    Summer comes around. You’re at ease. The warm blanket of summer protecting you. Your mom tells you to take off that dress that you’re wearing. “Too distracting,” she says casually. And yet again. There’s that feeling. Suddenly, the bathroom becomes school again. Jet black mascara streaming down your puffy cheeks. But you wipe it off anyway. You go to dinner. You wear something approved. Yet, it’s the look again. Malicious smiles from men you don’t recognize. The locked eyes. Mom, no longer there to protect you. You’re all alone in the pitch black.

    Junior year comes. Prom rocks around. Time to find a dress. Your friend starts dating. Her, a star student. National Honor Society, Social Justice Council, varsity dance. Her boyfriend. Varsity soccer. The rest is pointless. Locker room banter. The known laughter echoing throughout the showers. Joking. Imitating. Ranking. Texts. Pictures. Competition. Girls. Calling bets. “They’re just having fun, fooling around.” Coach says. Meanwhile, girlfriends eating celery sticks, standing on scales night and day, chugging water. Teardrops. Makeup remover. Back to applying mascara. “You’re so pretty,” her friends say. She smiles in response. She feels the heat of the radiator in the room. Her hands trembling.

    College. New York City. Big lights. Big dreams. For her. Bright lights illuminating her face. She caught on to the energy of the city. Fast-paced. Parties similar to high school. What can she say? She laughs about it now. On returning to her dorm, it is late. In the city that never sleeps, she walks along a silent sidewalk. Cars in the distance.  Before she knows it. A piercing, ear-splitting roaring noise deafens her. She spots a yellow taxi. A man grinning. She walks ahead. Into this pitch black moment of a night. Flashing lights.

    She found herself in the subway a few years later. She got a job. It was a Monday in January. Grey skies. Blurry vision. A few drinks, her friend from college said. Consent. Forgotten. You know the rest. Years later. Her son’s graduation. She found herself on the subway again. Trekking through multiple escalators. Yet again. Men laughing. Back to high school, she thinks. She holds her youngest daughter tight in her arms. She wears a long coat. 

    I’d forgotten about my friend. I never really knew her. It was just these stories of hers. Sometimes rumours, I may admit. No one ever spoke about her. No mention. My parents didn’t like talking about this stuff. I started noticing these things from a young age. I had an older sister too. Her experiences proved to be no different. I don’t want to mention mine. 

    So the reason I write this now. It was a summer’s day. I was looking up at the sky. Noticing its clear blue colors. A true artist’s pallet. Noticing the serenity of the clouds sailing by. My mom got mad at me. So I cried. It’s insignificant. The reason why. I walked into the blue tiled bathroom, strong aromas of lavender encompassing me as I entered. My mascara smudged beneath my eyes. I suddenly remembered those days in the bathrooms. What happened. All those stories. My friends’ experiences. It hardly gets mentioned anymore. We discussed it in class once, not sure if the guys paid attention. Their lips sealed as we talked about our experiences. I go back outside, lie on the picnic blanket. I look at my family. 

    So we rest on our backs and let our eyes gaze upward. Overlooking. Why?


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    About the Contributor
    Maarya Shafqat Adil
    Maarya Shafqat Adil, Media Director
    Maarya Shafqat Adil (’23) is the Media Director for The Standard. She aspires to be a prominent influence for social justice through her work on The Standard. Maarya is a junior at ASL where she has been attending school since 2009.

    Comments (1)

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    • B

      Bambi ThompsonJun 15, 2021 at 7:38 pm

      Lara this is too true. “We discussed it [harassment] in class once, not sure if the guys paid attention.” To our ASL guys, why so quiet on this matter? Call out your mates in those uncomfortable moments. Don’t allow harassment to continue in our hallways, our changing rooms, our lives. Just because it is common doesn’t mean it is right.