As a 12-year-old growing up in NYC in the 1980’s, one might assume I was exposed to a lot of things that were not exactly age-appropriate. That would be correct. There were prostitutes on my corner; I smoked Marijuana with my step-father on the roof of our building and I was already spending weekend nights at clubs like The Limelight and The Tunnel. Yet, when it came to boys, I had very, very little experience. This was because, or at least I believed it was because, I was fat.
The Chinese Laundry (swear – that was the actual name) was around the corner from our apartment, in a tiny basement-level space that always smelled like bleach and sour milk. We had been going there ever since we first arrived in the neighborhood in 1973. It was run by a husband and wife who barely spoke English but always smiled and fussed when my Mom and I dropped off our sheets.
Over the years, they would say how cute I was and give me a lollipop or hard candy from behind the counter. But, as I got older and started gaining weight, they would say to my mother, “Ohh she’s getting so big! Nice and chubby!”
Despite that, I always felt safe there. They had known me since I was a little girl. They were like family.
I stopped by on that particular day to do what I had done many times before – drop off a few shirts before heading home. Now that I was 12, it wasn’t unusual for me to be running errands alone in the neighborhood.
The memory of it is blurry. I just know that he reached across the counter as I was turning to leave and grabbed my shoulders and kissed me hard on the mouth.
He laughed a little when he let go.
I told my mom and she was furious. She confronted him the next day and of course he denied it.
Today, I can still remember the feeling of his slightly damp cheek against mine and the sound of his laugh. Even though it was just a kiss.