There is a block in Buffalo that I cannot walk down without being harassed. It used to be unavoidable. I would have to walk through there on my way to take the subway to work. I would keep my head down and pretend I could not hear the hoots and hollers, the propositions. Now that I moved and have a new job, I do not walk that block unless absolutely necessary. Thinking about this makes me mad because it feels like defeat.
I know the thoughts of many, because I have thought them, too. She is backdoor bragging. She should be flattered that she is attractive enough to garner that attention. Take it as a compliment.
A few months before my first year of college, I walked by a bar on my way from work back home. I was eighteen, working a the GAP in Lake Placid, a small mountain town in the Adirondacks. Men were standing outside the bar on that summer night, drinking and laughing, a decorative bobsled next to them. As I walked by I heard them shout, "Hey! Hey you! Pretty girl! Come over here!" I did not make eye contact. I quickened my steps. I did not give them a response. This made one man angry. As I was a pace or two ahead of them, he screamed "Oh what? You're too good? Bitch! Fucking slut! I'm gonna make you--come here now!" I did not know if I should walk or run, because running could aggravate him further and cause him to go after me. I'm not a fast runner. I did not have any weapons on me, no pepper spray, just a stubby house key. I think I held my breath the entire way home, nails digging into my palms.
In "A Letter to the Guy who Harassed Me Outside the Bar," Emily Heist Moss describes this negative attention that has been so accepted in our culture that it is commonplace. She references comedian, Ever Mainard's bit where she explains that women are always aware of that "their rape" could happen at any moment. In that moment, walking home from work, and so many times since, I have gone through it in my head, 'Okay, I was raped by a group of men who shoved me into a bar-side alley. I was so frightened that I could barely scream. My voice was lost in the terror and pain. They held me down on the rough cement floor and tore my tights and my cotton flower undies, the ones my mom bought me. They laughed and cheered each other on as the blood dripped down my thighs.'
I know that some would call that explicit fictional depiction over-dramatization, but it is in my head. These are scenes that I cannot avoid imagining as a woman in our society today. They are there because of what I see and hear. Every woman has her story. I have heard too many narratives of women scared for their lives to recount. And because there are so many instances of women being tormented, we are taught to shut up and take it as a compliment. I should not have to read articles about how to avoid being abducted. I should not have to be scared to say "Hello" back to a man who greets me on the street. The solution to this problem is not easy, but like most diseases, it begins with awareness and with you.
My New Year has been spent in solitude and introspection. So many dreams and stories have filled my head while I've waited for the storm inside my stomach to pass. Just like any other time I've had lengthy periods of sickness, the moments of being unable to do everyday tasks--to write, clean, eat, and wander--eventually give way to sensations of gratitude when I am well again.
Eating again, after immediately expelling any food hitting the lining of my stomach, is like re-learning a process I have spent my whole life depending on. It's a gamble deciding what food I can depend on to settle and make its way through my digestive track. I savor the thought of spicy and acidic foods, roughage, and filling legumes. I dream of Ethiopian and Mexican foods. I wonder if the French press coffee I am sipping right now will undo the good I've done in eating homemade applesauce and corn crackers for the past two days.
In the first stage I was not well enough to do anything. I did not want to see moving images or digital interfaces. I closed my eyes and let dreams take me for hours, escaping reality while I could, often waking in a rush, sprinting to the bathroom, grateful that I live alone. I experienced the embarrassment of calling a friend, an ex-boyfriend of all people, crying, with instructions to pick up Imodium, lemon-lime Gatorade, and toilet paper for me from Target. My feelings of humiliation neutralized by my gratitude for his act of kindness, dropping everything for the well-being of a friend.
As much as medicine and rest have done their part in healing me, so have the well-wishes of friends and family, their love, support, and desire to be the cure to my pain. My physical isolation has been crowded with their ghostly presences. Cuddling with Nico and Atticus, my two cats, in my bed, and listening to hollering and midnight banging on pots and pans to celebrate the New Year, my jealousy in missing this opportunity to bring in the New Year with others is quickly extinguished. Even though this sickness is having its way with my body, I resolve to appreciate the kindness of a friend, the love of family, the taste of savory food, and the ability to write it all down.
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