We were fourteen, in bell bottom jeans and flowing psychedelic silk shirts. People at school called the three of us dirties, but we washed our long hair with Herbal Essences every day.
Nothing to do in our boring Midwestern town. We hit a seedy bowling alley. Spinning, we giggled, we danced. We rocked our bowling balls as we sang about how all that someone wants is another baby. We chased our balls up the lane.
You girls need to stop acting like this, the manager said. I’m warning you.
We gave solemn nods, but rolled our eyes when he turned. We better stop acting like this, we mocked. He’s warning us.
The guy in the next lane laughed, rubbed his blonde beard. He was old like our dads. You girls must be pretty horny, he said.
We ignored him. At school when we pretended we weren’t bothered, people usually stopped teasing.
Come here, girls, I’ve got something to show you.
It felt like a dare—what does this gross guy want? His skin was flaky, like he washed it too much. Curious, we plodded over in our bowling shoes, but he reached for his zipper and pulled out—
We screamed. Pervert!
The manager charged toward us. What’d I tell you girls?
But he flashed us.
I don’t care. You need to leave. I never want to see you here again.
Heads down until we were in the parking lot. Dark, no moon in sight. Street lights aglow. A motorcycle vroomed by, engine revved.
I can’t believe he did that— And one of us gagged, threw up. I patted her back. She wiped her mouth. No one can know.
Why? I asked.
They’ll think we deserved it.
But he should be arrested. He’s probably a sex offender.
Don’t even tell my sister. She’ll take us home, but don’t tell her. Don’t tell anyone.
I was fourteen when I broke the first promise I remember making. At home, my mom so furious she was silent, pointing to the clock.
She called my friend’s parents. She called the police.
Back at the bowling alley, this time with our moms. I stared at the floor, my mom yelling at the manager.
He crossed his arms over his puffed up chest. Yes, they told me about the guy.
One of the other moms said we did the right thing.
These girls are troublemakers.
My mom’s finger pointed right at him as she called us something else.
Victims? he scoffed. More like menaces. I lost customers because of them. They were screaming and running up the lane.
My friend pressed her combat boot onto my Converse, stepping on my foot. She would ignore me for a week. Our other friend would take her side—they’d been best friends since kindergarten. I’d have no one to eat lunch with, no one to laugh with about being called a dirty.
When the police officer arrived my mom called what happened sexual harassment.
He turned to the manager. Do you know the man?
Oh yeah, he’s a regular, bowls in our Wednesday night league, nice guy. Left an hour ago, but he’s no trouble, they’re the trouble.
The officer pulled out his pad, but didn’t write down the bowler’s name. He wanted our names. The manager was banning us.
Our moms argued more, but the men had spoken.
On the drive back to the bowling alley, Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” plays on the radio. My mom doesn’t sing along, even though it’s her favorite song. I’m annoyed when she sings but I’d rather have that than her muttering, I’ll cut off his dick. She runs a yellow light, which she only does when she’s in a hurry. Her hands at three and nine on the steering wheel, which she only does when she’s mad. But it’s okay—everything will be okay—her fierce driving feels like protection. She and the other moms will stand up to the manager and we’ll make a police report. Justice will prevail. The police will reprimand the manager, and haul the man away in handcuffs. My friends won’t be mad that I broke my promise. And right now I feel good that I did. I sing along about things being able to change, about things going my way—I just need to hold on.
Rachel León is a writer, editor, and social worker. She serves as Daily Editor for Chicago Review of Books and Fiction Editor for Arcturus. Her work has appeared in LA Review of Books, Electric Lit, the Ploughshares blog, Split Lip Magazine, Entropy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn,