[Trigger Warning for Sexual Assault and Rape]
Sometimes I feel like I have molten lava boiling right underneath the surface of my skin. It’s been building, and waiting, and accumulating all things toxic. It wants nothing more than to burst through the fortified layers of propriety that society has done its damnedest to levy it with.
You know, rather than finding some way to abate the pressure in the first place.
It is a rage that comes in an instant, but is taking longer and longer to leave me be. I will be walking, and I’m relaxed, so relaxed I am almost singing out loud to the music piped into my ears alone and about to make a damn fool of myself”¦
And then I’ll see them. A group of three or four young men, ages 20-30, standing in my path. My shoulders tighten, I can feel my face change, morphing into its trademark Bitch Face. My hand goes to my purse, my pace gets stronger, and I brace. I literally brace for attack.
And then it comes.
“Hey, sugar tits.”
“Come here, I gotta secret to tell you.”
“Can I take a picture of you?”
Fear literally seizes my brain. My thoughts start to swim, and I swear for a moment my vision blurs. I keep my head rigidly forward, I do not flinch or move a muscle on my face. “Don’t show weakness!” my father would tell me. And so I do not. I become a seething pillar of strength, tightly wound and ready to spring loose years of accumulated fuckery.
Today when I was sitting in the metro station, a man came up and sat next to me. He put his arm flush with mine, so I moved my arm and turned my body ever-so-slightly away from him. He leaned forward and then looked back at me, a long stare after a long day of dealing with bullshit coworkers at a bullshit job. My eyes barely contained my petulance as I met his gaze and held it. Willing him. Asking him silently to give me a fucking excuse. Today. Today I am strong enough. Today I will be able to unleash the extent of this inequitable fury on the next motherfucker who bothers me, so come on, kid, what do you got?
He stood up and walked away.
But I am still bristling. I can feel my skin literally getting thinner. As I age, I am no longer able to just let shit go.
A man stared at me on the tram ride home. I took off my hoop earrings as I thought, “If I have to fight this asshole off, I don’t want him to cripple me with something so obvious.” I placed my earrings in my bag and watched him as he got off the tram behind me. I walked down the dark street made glistening by the evening rain. He followed behind. I stop. I stand. I don’t pretend I am busy or that I am reaching for something. I just stand and wait.
He walks by. I let out my breath. I wait a moment, look behind me, and then continue my way home. I wonder about the girl, out there somewhere, who has the same habits as I. Taking her earrings off, not letting men follow closely behind. I know she must exist somewhere. Really, I know she exists in all women, but even alone in my head, admitting widespread fear as normalcy feels like a punch.
And so I grow. Exposure has not thickened me up; rather, I can feel the cracks forming, and I know where the lava will spill out first. My mouth, my fists, my eyes. It will attempt to destroy anything in it’s path. It will do everything it can to melt and make null what once stood proud.
A friend of mine had a man follow her and attempt to rape her on the beach a few months ago. He got so far as put her on her back and place his hand down her pants. That’s when she stuck her thumbs in his eyes. Once he gave up, he actually tried to help her stand and even attempted to brush the sand off her, as if she could just forgive and forget his childish imprudence. She told me, as she looked at him cowering, she knew she was capable of murder. Not in an abstract sense, but in a very real and concrete way. If given the tools and the space, she would have taken his life from him. Luckily for both, a couple happened upon the dune and aided her as he fled.
Still, I know of what she speaks. When I was younger, an army ranger attempted to break my hand and place me on my knees while I was visiting an Army base. I fought back and was picked up and thrown to the ground. Another ranger saw this and stepped in, throwing the man off me. I was relieved until I heard him say, “Don’t fuck your life up for some bitch.”
I’ve been threatened. I’ve been hurt. My friends have been threatened and hurt. I regard any man invading my space and disrespecting me as a direct threat to my well being. Every single time I get verbally accosted, every single time a man sits too close on purpose. Every single time I catch a man, out of the corner of my eye, sizing me up as bait, I feel that same rage. I am there again:
I am holding my friend’s hand as she tells me her boyfriend raped her while she was bent over the toilet and throwing up from the flu. He got one year in jail. I am crying as she tells me how he pried her legs open. He goes to our high school.
I am shaking my head as she quietly whispers to me, “I don’t remember what happened, but I woke up with him on top of me.”
I am sobbing as they tell me, “She was bleeding really badly, apparently he was really rough. She’s in the ICU.”
And every cat call, every time a man follows me or peacocks for affection, he is tapping into this history. He may not know it; he may be just some clueless kid who can’t even begin to imagine the horror that is woven into the tapestry of so many women’s lives.
But it is there. And he is reaching for it. If he is not careful, that history could come spewing out. If I am not careful, it will come out.
One more motherfucker slides into my booth uninvited, one more asshole corners me while I’m waiting for a friend on the street, one more douchebag doesn’t take, “I’m not interested,” as the final word”¦
It will come out screaming.