By Kimberly Zapata
As soon I stepped out my front door I heard it. I heard him.
“Hey babe! How ya doin’?”
It was our neighbor.
His tone was sweet. His words were innocent, and I knew he was just trying to be warm and welcoming. And I knew that, beneath his thick New York accent and bro-like demeanor, there was a genuinely kind and good-hearted guy. But those words — those damn words — upset me. They got under my skin; they downright infuriated me. Because I am not his girlfriend. I am not his lover, and I am not his babe.
My daughter is sure as shit not his babe, either.
Of course, my kiddo was unfazed by his greeting. She didn’t think twice before running toward him. She giggled and laughed and gave him a hug, all before muttering “hello” or answering his question with a coy and quiet “good.” But I did because I still wasn’t sure how to handle it.
I wasn’t sure how or even if I wanted to address the matter.
So I ignored it and moved through the moment and I continued the conversation like nothing had happened. But I didn’t forget his words, and as the day wore on I became more upset — at him, and at myself.
I should have asked him not to say that. I should have told him not to call me that. Not to refer to me, or my daughter, as “babe.”
Why the hell didn’t I speak up?
Of course, part of the reason was that I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to find the right words before bringing it up. Before addressing the matter in front of, and with, my daughter. But I was also slightly afraid. A lifetime of sexual degradation and intimidation had taught me to be afraid…