As a young girl growing up in Allentown Pennsylvania, Hess’s Dept store was the place to go. It was ahead of its time with its high fashion models, over the top patio restaurant, fashion shows filmed in Paris and Rome, and the opulent Christmases. It was like small town 5th avenue in NYC created by the visionary Max Hess. The elevators even had an elevator man that guided one to every floor.
I remember playing tag with my friends throughout the stores 5 floors. we would run up and down the escalators trying to not be caught by whoever was “it”. On occasion, I would take the elevator to elude my pursuing playmates; even though it was taking a shortcut and we looked upon it as cheating. I jumped in and moved toward the back. As more people entered and the elevator became full, there was no room to move about. But on this day, there was enough room for a hand to reach between my legs and finger poke me for just a quick moment. I still remember the whole body/mind freeze I felt. I was catapulted into a place/feeling that was overwhelmingly scary. What had just happened to me? What is this terror that is pulsating through my body? I don’t understand this weird confusion that has just stolen the joy of my childhood game. As I poured out of the elevator, I felt a familiar bad feeling, but this time it felt more inside of me. Like it had found a place to land and begin to take up shop. I felt like someone had punched the wind out of me. It was a deeper level of shame. A new shame. A meaner shame. I was familiar with shame from my earliest memories. My dad dished it out with a big scoop, but that shame was verbal and physical. It was more on the outside and I could pretend it wasn’t hurting me. But this was deep inside me as if it was waiting there all along for someone to come along and recognize and give it its initiation. How could such a fleeting action envelop all of me out of the blue like that? What is wrong with me that I am not able to play tag right now? Why do I want to cry and run home and hide? Why do I know with certainty I can’t share this with anyone. I have to stuff it inside and keep it hidden from everyone and even myself if I can. Pretend to play again. Act as if…. pretend nothing has happened. run…smile….keep up the front….pretend. Hide this newer, bigger shame. Pretend it’s not there. Pretend nothing has happened. Pretend nothing has changed……..but everything is now different. Forever changed because I took the shortcut on the elevator. I never went back on it again. And I never got back that innocence of a simple game of tag with my friends.
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