Trigger warning: If you have been assaulted/violated, this may trigger you.
I’ve never loved public transportation, my greatest fear was always that I was going to get off on the wrong bus stop and be lost. This was the early 2000’s, I had graduated high school a few years prior. Cellphones back then were not the smartphones of today. So getting lost always felt like a real danger, even if I was just going a few miles to the community college I was attending at the time.
What I wore that day is seared into my memory. I remember it was a black off the shoulder top, a denim skirt and black flip flops. I even remember what eye shadows I had on: Urban Decay Midnight Cowboy and Grifter. I was feeling cute, a rare moment of feeling good about myself. My self-esteem has always been shaky, at best. But on this rare day, I felt pretty.
The bus stop was not far from my house, 2-3 blocks. Most of it was in residential areas, you just crossed 1 main street to get to the stop. I lived in Whittier, a slice of suburbia in the San Gabriel Valley. In my immediate area, it felt like a safe neighborhood. I sat there at the bus stop, knowing me I was probably reading or on my phone. The large bus stop ads were to the right of me, so I didn’t see the car stop.
Suddenly, a man walked up to me. He said, “I just had to stop and tell you how beautiful you are.” I was polite and said, “Thank you.” He said, “Can I give you a hug?”. Alarm bells went off in my head, a hug? That’s clearly not a normal request for a stranger. I said, “No” I think he asked me again and still declined. He said, “Aw ok, well I just wanted to stop and tell you that” and walked away.
I was so relieved he was gone, maybe I started going through my backpack? That part gets fuzzy. But what I do know is that before I knew it was back and he grabbed my thigh and said something like, “Oh let me just get a little touch”. I grabbed his arm and said, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” He told me to calm down. I don’t remember what he said after that but I do know he walked away.
At this very moment, I am shaking after having written that. Shaking like someone who is terrified… and crying. A lot of my peace was absolutely shattered in that moment and it changed how I would operate in this world forever. What if I had let him hug me? What if I hadn’t grabbed his hand and showed him I was ready to fight back? WHAT IF, WHAT IF. What if I had just stayed home that day?! Was it my outfit?! Was it my makeup?! WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE IT?!
Everything after that moment is blacked out in my mind. I think I walked back home and called my sister Mercy. My mother at this time was in the hospital so telling anyone else felt like a burden. My sister ended up telling my father what happened, unbeknownst to me. But when he asked me about it and I told him what happened he basically said, “Oh, that was it? I thought it was worse. So you are ok?” Mind you, we are sitting in a hospital…my mom is very sick…and I don’t even know how to process this. I said I was ok, and that was that.
In that moment, unfortunately I fully metabolized, “It’s not that big of a deal”. So, as I did with most things in life, I sucked it up and soldiered on.
At the time I was actively keeping a daily livejournal. I wrote EVERYTHING in it. I was in a terrible relationship at the time, so when I’d write about really bad things I’d make the posts private and rant or cry away. I went back looking to see if I posted something when this happened, I didn’t. This was so shameful and dark I couldn’t even write about it to myself. And I wrote about some DARK stuff back then. But not this, this didn’t get to see any light. Shame 101.
Anytime I am tasked with being in public alone, I am terrified. I failed all my courses that semester because I could no longer get myself to ride the bus. It’s probably why I quit school eventually, as I could not consistently get myself to go to classes. Every time I did go I would LITERALLY wear pants, a hoodie (EVEN in summer) and keep my backpack in front of me. I’d stare at every car that passed by to make sure it didn’t stop, I also never wore makeup.
Flash forward to me as a full fledged adult in 2016 getting a new job. A job that required me to take public transit because we have minimal parking. EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY was a struggle. Getting on that Metrolink felt like war, walking to work from the Metro station felt like walking through a warzone. I STILL only wore pants to work, I STILL wore hoodies, I still paid attention to every fucking male on that train/in the street and tracked their every fucking move. I walked with keys in my hands, ready to fuck up anyone. I also never wore headphones on the train or my walk…I needed to be 1000% alert.
If my friends were out for the day at work and Adam wasn’t available to talk to me through my entire walk on the phone, I would not go anywhere alone. I would eat out of vending machine if I happened not to bring my lunch. I’d rather eat a lunch of Doritos and a Snickers then put myself at risk walking alone. This is 2020, this is NOW. I wore a skirt to my current job once and a man on the street told me I looked pretty, I don’t think I ever wore one again until I started parking at work.
When I moved in with Adam, my need to take the metro stopped. But my need to walk to lunch or Trader Joes did not. My co-worker has invited me out so many times. But it literally takes so much mental strength to take an uber/train alone anywhere. And everytime I do, I am texting someone the entire time. Telling Adam, “I’m leaving now” so he can watch me on find my friends. I AM ON CONSTANT ALERT when I am alone.
I told myself if it ever happened again, I would scream, I would raise hell, I would stab the person. NO ONE was ever going to get away with violating me EVER AGAIN.
All my best laid plans were to protect me, in public, were to protect me from strangers. The boogeymen, the people lurking around corners and in the streets. I didn’t have a plan in place mentally for someone that I knew.
It was Thanksgiving 2019, I was somewhere I had been many times, with people I had been with many times. All guards were down, why would I need them?
Adam had stepped outside, but I was still in a room with 15+ people. They had just called us to take a group photo and I felt someone run their hand slowly across my ass. They said something to me before they did it, so I know who it was. I remember I just walked away and took the photo and smiled. I didn’t tell anyone, I acted perfectly normal, I was a guest in this persons house and it was fucking Thanksgiving. Once again I was left saying, “WHAT DID I DO TO DESRVE THIS” Once again, I no longer felt safe, it shattered me.
I kept it in for a few days until I finally told Adam what happened. I honestly didn’t want to but I also know enough about what happens with shame when it hides in the dark. It turns into an even bigger monster.
Even after I told him, I still could not shake the feeling that I had fucking failed myself. I HAD FAILED. This moment that I had been prepping for for over 15 year and I blew it. I fucking blew it, I didn’t scream, I didn’t yell I didn’t punch him in the fucking face. I walked away. I absolutely fucking failed myself. I had learned nothing.
If you knew how many times I’ve cried since this happened. If you knew how many times I have beat myself up for both these incidents…but mostly this one now. Because this time, I fucking knew better and I failed myself and all fucking women who have been through this.
I’m shaking less at the moment, but I am still crying.
We were once again talking about this, and Adam told me something that really, really resonated with me. I was once again beating myself up about not fighting back and he said, “Our natural instinct isn’t to automatically fight, we assess the situation and will usually choose to run before we choose the fight.” I’m well aware of what fight or flight is, but I hadn’t put it in that context. I wasn’t walking down a street or sitting at a bus stop, I was not in fight mode. So when it happened it went into flight and shock. That makes me feel like less of a failure.
If you have ever experienced anything like this, or worse, you are not alone. You are not stupid and this is not your fault. I can tell you that with 1000% conviction. But it’s a lot harder to say that to yourself as you look in the mirror, I’m also well aware of that.
This is why I don’t go running, or walking or do much of anything alone. Prior to last year I had gotten to a point where I could ONCE in a great while go for a walk/jog alone. But since this last incident transpired I’ve regressed. It will probably take me along time before I am able to attempt those things again.