What I Lost When I Was 9

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Getty / Photo Illustration by Mike Kim

The following post includes language regarding sexual assault that may be triggering.


“Lil nigga, you probably ain’t had pussy since it had you!” my camp counselor Heavy breathed into my ear, squeezing my nine-year-old shoulders and pushing me through the cabin door, into a dim-lit room. “Don’t come out until she tell you to come out!”

I slowly stepped forward into the room. A song I heard too many times—at block parties and cookouts—whispered out of a small black-and-gray plastic radio with a wire-hanger antenna sitting on the dresser.

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Back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now…

“Boy, stop lookin’ all stupid and close the door,” a raspy voice shouted over the music. “Lock it.”

I followed her directions without facing her, holding the thin door, wiggling it shut, latching it. And then I stood there, paralyzed, waiting for another order. She brushed past me on her way to the bed, bumping my shoulder. Finally, I saw her. She was a woman, but about my height. Her thighs thicker than my torso. Her odor, like stale minty-musty sweat, filled the room.

“Won’t you sit down?” she asked, looking at me. I looked away. “What cabin you in?”

She was brown, almond. Again I noticed that she was a woman, not a girl; double my size and my age, I thought. Her big white teeth poked out when she spoke, half of them separated by gaps so large that I could probably have fit my thumb in between. She was wearing a loud neon pink tennis skirt that floated above her upper thighs. She sat with her legs open wide in front of me.

“Thirteen–fifteen,” I responded.

The older guys, the ones who hung at the top of my block—they loved women. They laughed with them, drove them places, showed off the things they’d bought for them. They fought with them, and told the women that they loved them. I didn’t love this lady. I didn’t want to do anything for this lady. She was a stranger.

“Oh okay, well, how old is you, boy? You look like a little baby,” she said, with one eyebrow raised.

“I’m nine and a half,” I replied, looking away.

She laughed so hard a mist of spit sprayed from her mouth. Holding her stomach, she laughed some more, each chuckle carrying her head up and down in a rupture, with her long cleavage jiggling in waves with each movement.

“Yeah, okay, boy. I know ya big-ass self older than that. Come over here, boy,” she ordered.

My heart sank to my feet. Beads of sweat stretched across my forehead and drizzled down the side of my face. My shoes felt like fifty-, no, seventy-five-pound weights, and I trudged toward her.

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“Nine and a half years old,” she laughed. “Boy, you silly.”

I stood about a foot away from her as she started to pull me toward her. I felt myself being sucked deeper into her world. A world of sweat and stickiness. She smelled likeAshland Avenue. Or like what Grandma meant when she’d put her face close to mine, and say, “You smell like outside, go wash up.”

She stuck her hands up the bottom of my basketball shorts. And rubbed me.

I looked away. I wanted her to stop. Or did I? I felt as bad as the room smelled, as bad as she smelled, like chewing gum and eggs. Crickets screamed through the window as blood rushed into my fingers, my toes, the tip of my penis. My body clearly did not want her to stop.

The older dudes from the top of my block…I thought of them. They’d pin her to the bed, flesh thirsty, fearless. They’d rip her panties off with their teeth and dive in. They talked about it all the time on the block. I was their lil homie, I was supposed to be like them.

So why am I scared?

Why isn’t she scared?

The older dudes from the top of my block . . . They’d always joke that one day it would be my turn to fuck, to taste it, to“Dip my head in the devil’s ass,” they’d say. I never imagined it like this…with a girl I didn’t know…who was older…a girl who was not my girlfriend…a girl I never had a crush on…a girl I never wrote notes to or drew pictures for…a girl who smelled like outside.

She rubbed me. And for the first time, I was being touched; it was strange for a Black boy like me where hugs, kisses, and “I love you”s at home were rarely traded, if ever at all. Now the only things separating me from this stranger touching me were my fear and the smells of Isoplus OilSheen, Speed Stick, Big Red chewing gum, and Pink Oil Moisturizer.

“Don’t think you fuckin’ me,” she laughed. “I gotta man back home from up Park Heights, da-hahaha.” One warm clammy hand was on me, squeezing me; her other hand was searching for the radio dial, turning up the music.

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However do you want me, However do you need me.

“You got long eyelashes, just like a little girl,” she laughed, squinting her eyes and focusing on my face. “Heavy told you how this work, right?” she asked, smiling. I caught a glimpse of her round face again. Her forehead was way too small for her eyebrows, they almost touched.

“Some of my lil girls look out for him, and some of his lil boys look out for me, da-haha. You scared, ain’t chu?”

I imagined her boyfriend, a twenty-something-year-old with a mustache and a real chest, not a frail chest like mine, but a fully developed one, like those on the action figures my mom bought me, that I never played with. Her man probably had a car, a Benz, or a 300Z with a T-Top, or a Nissan Path-finder, or a 4Runner. If she had a “man,” what did she want with a boy like me?

“Sit on the bed,” she ordered, pulling me by my dick until it hurt, until I was closer to her.

She flipped her skirt up and caressed herself, pulling her panties to the side, looking at the ceiling. I looked, even though I felt like I shouldn’t. I had never seen a vagina before—well, a real one. I saw them in magazines that my older cousins had. They would fuck every woman in between those pages, they’d declare. But they’d never meet those women, and if they did, they wouldn’t even know what to say to say them.

I couldn’t really see hers, the room was dark, but I could smell it. Her crotch was dark and hairy. There were fingers, and smacking sounds, and stink, and moans.

I stood still as the moment blurred.

What if someone walked in? I wished someone would.


Author, professor and activist, D. Watkins, unfortunately, has a deep understanding of the assaults that pummel and degrade Black lives. Whether through his all-too-familiar dialogue seen in The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, or unearthing traumas and triumphs that sit in the crevices of Black life, as seen in The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black, Watkins gives color to the dark spots that threaten to blind Black life.

In his forthcoming opus, Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments, Watkins gets deeply vulnerable by showing how a boy who is physically and sexually abused becomes a violent drug dealer before discovering the superpowers that come with his love of words.

Pre-order Black Boy Smile here.


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