Not all my experiences have been with strangers in foreign lands. Some of my experiences have happened right in my back yard. Sometimes life is going along beautifully, and then something happens – someone happens – to knock you off balance and turn your world upside down, and not in a good way.
When I lived in the dry desert city, I found a haven in my studio apartment that was tucked behind the main house, with its own yard surrounded by lovely adobe walls, and a wooden gate that screamed “privacy”. Which is what I craved. It allowed me to think, to try and understand who I was becoming during those tumultuous early years of my 20’s. I rarely allowed anyone into my enclave and thus was surprised and shocked when one day a tall, attractive blond man appeared at my door. He was a few years older than me. It turned out he lived at the other end of the alley, and had noticed me. As with most men, when they think they have spotted a mark, they jump on it.
This wasn’t my first time feeling pressured because of my sex. As a senior in college I had traveled with my favorite sister to spend New Year’s Eve with her, her boyfriend at the time (who didn’t last long) and his cousin. Of course, I was the late Christmas present for the cousin, though I had no idea of this unspoken plan as my sister and I road tripped to the city where we would ring in the new year. It only dawned on me once we had met up with them at the hotel, and I was put in a room with him. He wasn’t an unpleasant man – but he wasn’t my type. He was short, hairy and wanted desperately for me to want him. He went all out, attempting to woo me with expensive meals, presents and drinks until midnight. I kept throwing my sister glares, but she was in her own Cinderella story, and for someone who doesn’t drink, she was tying one on hard. I became a fragment in her memory and found myself alone, in a foreign city, with a man I knew would pounce on me the moment we returned to the room. But I wasn’t old enough, wise enough, strong enough to stand up for myself and say no. I felt pressure to go along with it, because my sister was desperately trying to get his cousin to fall in love with her, and if I could help by bringing the other one along, the better for her.
Not so much for me. I fucked him. I made his dreams come true. And I hated myself the whole time.
The blond who appeared at my door in the desert city intrigued me at first. He was devilishly handsome (and knew it) and had a quick wit. I spoke to him in my yard for longer than I would have liked but I thought if I was “nice”, he would go away. Never be nice. It eggs them on. He certainly wasn’t following the custom “personal space” rules and I knew immediately that he was the hunter and I was his game. I was afraid and yet I was tempted. Not only had I been alone for months (my own choice), but here was a man who had sex coming out every pore and he wanted me. Who knows why I became entranced, at first. Maybe it was because he was blond and I had never had a blond man attracted to me. Maybe it was the mystery, or that “bad boy” feel about him. Maybe it was because he had hunted me down. Whatever the case may have been, I fucked him a few times, more than I wanted – not as much as he would have liked. He would show up at my door at the strangest times and my studio began to feel more like a prison than my haven. Anxiety racked my body. I was not interested in him, I don’t even think I liked him as a person. And yet, for one summer I played the game. I lost 15 pounds, dropping my weight to a dangerous level. But I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. My only outlet was running and writing. Writing when I could be assured that he wouldn’t pounce. Running when the anxiety got too terrible and I just had to get away. It was as if he was the cat outside my door, licking his claws and awaiting my arrival.
I finally got rid of him when I began to date the big asshole of my life and he heard us having sex one night, when I am sure he had come over to get some of his own. I heard him at the gate. And then he was gone – never to be seen again. It was a relief, but I would soon realize, too late, that I had exchanged one dick for another (and I am not talking sexual organs). The latter one became my business partner, which I quickly found out was one of the worst judgments of my life. He was emotionally and mentally abusive, but initially I thought I deserved it. It must be my fault that things didn’t go according to plans at times. It must be my fault that he would throw shit across the room and break it and then storm out, leaving me shaking and terrified of where I had placed myself on the chessboard of life.
But I was chained to him financially. We had pooled our money and were making piles of it from the merchandise we designed and hauled out of Mexico. We had a new Dodge Ram and trailer, and were prime targets for the Federales – the Mexican Federal Police who would “patrol” the toll highway we used (a road that only foreigners or rich Mexicans could afford to drive on). One day, as we we on our 24-hour ride back to the desert city we lived in, we were pulled over. Two trucks – one in front, one in back. Groups of men in black fatigues with automatic rifles emerged from the back of each vehicle. A man who seemed to have more “power” than the others came to the driver’s side and told us to get out. I stood on the side of the hot highway, the noon sun pouring down on my head, wondering if this was where I was going to die. If these men, who were all bigger and stronger than me, with more firepower than I had ever seen, were going to rape me and leave me in a ditch to die. I knew my partner couldn’t and/or wouldn’t help me. I could feel the perspiration roll down my shoulder blades.
“We are thirsty”, the man in charge told the asshole, as his group of black-garbed men rummaged through our trailer, our belongings in the back of our truck. “We are very thirsty.” I had heard this before. It wasn’t the first time we had been stopped – it was the first time that this many men had been involved. Without asking how much it would take to quench their dry mouths, my partner handed over several hundred dollars. The man in charge gave a sharp cry. Within minutes, they were gone, leaving us on the side of the road, our belongings astray, but our lives – and my vagina – intact.
And yet, perhaps the most insane instance I have been in was when I went to Kosovo on a government grant to help one of their industries get up and running after years of civil war. There were a group of five of us and we had friends there, those that we knew because they had come to learn from us in the states for a period of time, and through the correspondence that kept us in touch over the ensuing months before we landed. I adored these people. I landed and my feet barely touched the ground. I was in a new country, I was traveling again, and I was in awe of the air, the smells, the sights of a city rebuilding itself after years of terror.
I had a dear friend who I would be working with closely. He took me under his wing, wanting to show me all that his country offered. The first few nights we were there, we all celebrated – we were together again, the city was our playground, and we stayed out late going to clubs, wandering through the dark streets, catching a last drink at a bar. One of the first nights I was there, I ended up at a night club with my Kosovar friend, a dear friend of mine from the states and one of the other Americans who had traveled with us. I knew about this man – my friend had been with him on a previous trip to the country, and they had a brief dalliance. She was not over it. He was. He obviously was. She was married, he was engaged. My goal was to protect her from doing something she would regret again. I did not realize until later that evening what a sleaze this man was. And when I did, I felt so bad for my friend, who was sheltered and wanted to be adored, and he had promised her that for a night, but she could not handle letting go. We sat, the four of us, in an insane nightclub (nightclubs in Europe are amazingly bizarre and I love them). As the evening wore on, my friend grew tired and left, but I was in a manic mood. I was in a new place, my eyes feasted on all I saw and the drinks continued to flow. I didn’t care what day or time it was – I never wanted the party to end.
When my friend left, with my Kosovar friend giving her a ride back to the hotel before he returned, the dickhead she had the affair with stayed. And as the minutes ticket by, he moved closer and closer to me, his arm curling on the back of my seat, a leg touching mine and I could feel his breath on my cheek – with the sweet, high smell of alcohol filling my nose. He began to say things to me, things he wanted to do with me, things he thought I would want to hear, as if these would make me open my legs to him and beg him for sex. I don’t know if it was the alcohol, or the anger I had over what he had done to my friend, but I extracted myself from him and it was a relief when my Kosovar friend returned and I could focus on him. Later, as the nightclub was winding down (but we were not), we returned to my friend’s apartment, where he became occupied in the kitchen as he was a great host, preparing drinks and snacks, leaving us alone in the living room. Again, the snake began to uncoil and his hissing began anew. “You know why you’re here, don’t you?” he whispered, too close to me.
“I’m hanging out with my friend,” I said, moving further away.
He grabbed my wrist. “No. Don’t you understand what happens to girls like you that come back to apartments that only have men? Don’t you know what is expected of you in countries like this?”
I don’t know if it was being in my 30’s and having lost my husband, a man who would never treat a woman as such, let alone think that way; being pissed that this asshole was coming onto me after what he had done to my other friend; having a lot of alcohol in me to give be the chutzpah; or simply because he was insinuating that because I was there, I was a slut – his slut, anyone’s slut who happened to be in range, and I would allow them to use me in whatever fashion he/they desired. I was enraged. I do not know if I have ever been that offended or angered in my life.
I turned on that motherfucker so quickly. I threw in his face that I knew everything he had done to my friend. I told him I knew he was cheating on his fiancee. And I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he would never, ever touch me, let alone speak to me. I got up. I truly had no idea where I was in this foreign city. I think my Kosovar friend was shocked, as he had missed the entire exchange, and although I know he would have stood up for me, I didn’t need him to get involved. I needed to get out.
I blew out the door, down the flights and flights of stairs, both men following me. I told the American to go fuck himself. I walked out and was hit by the cold January night air, but it didn’t matter. I wanted the hotel. I wanted safety. I wanted to get away, as far away as I could, from that dickhead. I simply started walking. I lost the asshole, but my dear friend found me and took me back to the hotel in his car, making sure I was safely inside. I didn’t see the dickhead for the remainder of the trip – I don’t know if I had shamed him, or what had happened, but he mysteriously “came down” with something and holed up in his hotel room the entire time. My other friend, the girls he had had the fling with was a mess as well, and I think I spent more time on that trip consoling her about what a dick he was, than thinking about what he had done to me, or how narrow my escape had been.
Since that time, there have been more. But I’ve gotten stronger. I haven’t succeeded every time (those stories will come). I have realized that I will stand up for myself, and I won’t take shit from men who think they own me because I have a vagina and breasts. I own me and don’t forget it. Sadly, as women, even in our own country it does not always feel this way, it does not feel as if we are protected. But we can fight back. Whether with words or our strength or whatever will comes through so we are not victims. We can take back our bodies. If nothing else, we should all remember this.
© Sorrow & Kindness