I am an athlete. I have always been tall, strong, quick, and competitive. At age 12, I was a nationally ranked swimmer, and in high school and college, I was tough enough to compete on the men’s water polo teams. Occasionally I’d incur a punch in the face or grab of my ass when I’d score on male opponents with my strong backhand shot.
Virtually all of the teammates were both proud and protective of me, aware that I faced a different kind of challenge in the pool. One friend, M., even became a partner in helping me found and coach my University’s first women’s team which went on to beat powerhouse schools like Norte Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, and Indiana University. Overall, my relationship with water polo was a life-giving, confidence-bolstering experience.
Except for K.
I’d known K. since kindergarten, a detail I remember because he punched me in the nose one day on a brightly-colored, alphabet carpet. My teacher told me he thought I was cute.
In high school, we landed on the same swimming and water polo teams, attending nine practices a week together and traveling to meets and tournaments on the same bus. In spite of this time together, we weren’t friends. I never liked him, mostly because of the ways I heard him speak about fat girls in bathing suits and the physical assets of his girlfriend of the week. I had enough sense to keep my distance.
Until I couldn’t. We played opposite positions in water polo: the hole. Playing the hole, or center position, requires a lot of aggressive, physical contact, but the contact is always intentional towards getting the ball. Overly aggressive fouls above water are grounds for an ejection penalty.
Below the water’s surface is another game entirely, and for K it meant free reign to grab and poke me in places I’d never been touched. He was invasive, unchecked, and violating in all ways possible while still clothed.
We played on the same team for several years, because being his match in skill and size meant enduring his harassment. I fought back every time we scrimmaged, punching, scratching, and elbowing my way free of his illegal holds.
I never told the coach, because I thought everyone already knew how K played defense in the hole. But mostly I didn’t tell because I was ashamed that — even to one person — I was nothing more than tall, strong, and up for grabs.
— Anne Hofmann