The Creepy School Janitor: a staple of many horror movies and Lifetime dramas. Such a tired stereotype. And yet there he is in my memory, 1978.
Back then, the greatest honor that a 2nd or 3rd grader could possibly have bestowed upon them was a place in the cafeteria serving line, spooning mashed potatoes and cubed peaches onto plastic trays. Dressed in our little plastic aprons and our little hair nets, we really thought serving lunch to our fellow students was a big damn deal. Not exactly sure how or when that particular form of brainwashing took place. Lunch lady shortage? Hell with it, we got free child labor!
So there I was one fine day, positioned at the end of the serving line, ready to hand out little cartons of milk or apple juice. And there he was, the janitor, a diminutive little man with dark hair, oily mustache and coveralls. He stood on the other side of the counter, just staring at me. He didn't blink or look away, or turn his attention to any of the other 8 and 9 year old girls in line with me. He didn't smile. He just kept softly talking. "Wow. You are so pretty. Such a beautiful little girl. Do you know how pretty you are? Wow, you're going to be so beautiful."
If he'd made only one remark, I probably wouldn't have started feeling nauseated. But when he wasn't talking, he was staring, and that was somehow worse. Staring in stunned amazement, like I was some fucking alabaster cherub in a cathedral. My stomach dropped right down into my feet. I started to sweat. I said: "Thank you" very quietly and hoped he would stop and go away now. But he didn't. Just kept staring and calling me pretty, beautiful, gorgeous.
I was ashamed. What had I done to attract his attention in this way? Why wouldn't he stop and leave me alone? There was no one nearby to help me. No teachers, no lunch ladies, no anyone. I looked to my friends for help. They were donning their little gloves and talking and laughing and poking at the fried, breaded fish cakes and making crude jokes about the string beans or something. I was stuck with this embarrassment, this humiliating attention that I did not want.
And that's when he reached out and tried to take my hand. I saw his tanned, hairy knuckled hand reaching for mine, and I instinctively recoiled. I snatched my hand away and backed up a step. I flinched and shrank and cringed, pick your adverb. I couldn't allow him to touch me. I reacted as if his hand were a tarantula: pure disgust and revulsion. And he looked angry. Insulted. Spurned and frustrated.
It could have been so much worse. I could have been molested/kidnapped/raped/murdered, etc. I wasn't, and in telling this tale, it doesn't seem like such a big deal, does it? But that was the first time I felt confused about adults and their intentions. I felt ashamed to be a "pretty little girl." Some of my innocence died that day. I felt dirty and sullied and I didn't know why. I never volunteered to serve lunch again. And I avoided the janitor like the proverbial plague. It never even occurred to me to tell anyone about his creepy advances, simply because he was an Adult and I was a child. Adults didn't DO bad things. It was a completely alien concept to me.
And at the time, there really wasn't much talk about predators. Oh sure, we'd been told not to go off with a stranger in his car, or accept candy from anyone no matter how nice they were. But this was a school employee. Surely a school wouldn't have Strangers working in it?
He was the first man to make me feel shame. He definitely wasn't the last.
#strangerdanger #predators #childmolestor