I was on a podcast this week.
Tom brought me home the most amazing ice cream from the HEB that I now need in my life forever.
Got an amazing deal on a beautiful bench and a chrome studded side table at the warehouse sale of a fabulous local event rental company.
I painted my toenails NARS Soup Can red instead of the black I alllllways use.
I was also assaulted.
That’s how it feels now, a few days detached, trying to square what happened to me with the ‘normal’ happenings in the past week, to shuffle it in with all the other cards in the deck of my life.
It was broad daylight at 10am, and I had just come out of a CVS (I needed eyeliner) on the busiest street in downtown Austin on a Wednesday.
Lots of men and women standing around me waiting for the light to change so we could all cross the street. Cars stopped at the light, a street full of people.
Two men walked past me on my left, and as they passed, faster than I could even react, the one closer to me cocked his left arm back, hand in a fist with his index finger pushed forward, knuckle up above the other fingers, and punched my left breast, drilling that knuckle into my nipple. He just as quickly opened his hand and gave it a strong squeeze.
It happened so quickly, I didn’t react until they were around an arm’s length behind me. I spun around and started screaming. “WHAT THE FUCK, asshole? ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? HE JUST PUNCHED ME! WHAT THE FUCK!” As I clutched my hand to my chest and started to scream, he turned his head to look at me and I got the only view of his face – eyes void of any real emotion with a slight twitch, an unmistakeable smirk on his lips. I registered that the dude was probably high, which made my gut tell me not to follow him or push our interaction any further than I would with a sober attacker, which wouldn’t have been a great idea to begin with. After yelling obscenities for about a minute, the people who had been right beside me when it happened were now walking away, people were brushing past me indifferently, cars that were witness to it were long gone, and the pain and the shock kicked in. Feeling embarrassed (why?), scared, hurt, ignored, helpless, and utterly alone, I walked as fast as I could across the crosswalk, then froze on the other side of the street. “THEY CAN NOT GET AWAY WITH THIS. I AM A WARRIOR!” my brain screamed at me. I turned on my heel, again considered running after them, decided against it, grabbed my phone out of my purse, and started snapping photos of them walking away nonchalantly.
These are my attackers.
After taking these photos, I realized it was all I could do. THE WARRIOR herself, helpless. It wasn’t smart for me to chase them. No one else stopped them or spoke to me in any way. The buck stopped there, and I was just another woman they could touch, that they could attack. Nothing would happen to them. They would most likely do it again and I could do nothing to stop them. Once that utterly awful idea settled, I immediately wanted to get THE FUCK away from there, so I turned back toward home and started speed walking, dazed, looking around for help – a sympathetic eye, anything, from a passing stranger? Nothing. I started crying behind my sunglasses and didn’t stop all the way home. Pretty sure anyone I passed could see the tears rolling down from behind my big black sunnies. No one said anything.
As I was walking, totally in shock, I texted Tom at his doctors’ appointment and told him what happened. I went on a FB group of local Austin women I’m in and posted the pics I took and some details, thinking at least that could do SOME good. The response was immediate and supportive, which helped.
After getting in the door of our apartment and locking both locks, I ripped all of my clothes off, crying, wanting to throw them away since he had touched them, and took a screaming hot shower.
A bit later, it took my therapist to get me to call it what it was, assault. It took her telling me that it wasn’t nothing, it was most assuredly SOMETHING, and that it could happen to other women, and two other women in the comments on my FB post saying a very similar thing had happened to them within 24 hours in the downtown area for me to take my own attack seriously enough to call the cops. She had to *tell* me to “honor my enraged self”, to “honor my wounded self”. After all, things similar to this had happened to me and my friends all the time in New York. Cops had better things to do. I hadn’t been seriously hurt. I have a tendency to overreact. I had too much to do that day, I didn’t have time to call the police. There I was, INSTANTLY GASLIGHTING MYSELF. ME. Tough bitch, strong woman, someone who fights for the rights and the empowerment of others, silencing MYSELF. WHAT the FUCK.
THIS is how deeply stitched into me so much of this ‘be a good girl, don’t rock the boat, don’t be selfish, don’t be loud, don’t embarrass us’ bullshit is. I was ashamed to be crying at all after it happened. Why on EARTH would I begrudge myself ANY REACTION WHATSOEVER to being ATTACKED?! I felt, I still feel, weaker. I feel silenced. I feel as if those men took something from me, that it wasn’t the first or last time they’d do it, and that it amused them to do so. I have to do SOMETHING more than just call the cops and inevitably get ignored – I have to write this. Problem is, I have no real takeaway, no pretty bow to tie it all up in. I feel like this attack means that every time I leave my home, every moment I’m not somewhere safe behind a locked door, no matter the time or place, I have to have my defense weapon AT THE READY, but I don’t want to live like that. I think that I had let my NYC guard down, that I’d lulled myself into thinking I was in a much safer city and just assumed that everything would be fine and that bit me in the ass, although just having my guard up wouldn’t have done shit for me in this situation as it happened SO fast and I couldn’t have seen it coming. I want to tell every woman and girl I know about it, to warn them, but I don’t want other people to feel the way I’m feeling now and I certainly don’t want kids to be scared of going out into the world. I want men to know that THIS IS WHY WE ARE AFRAID, that #notallmen is bullshit as long as crap like this is happening, because all it takes is one man to punch a woman in the breast – hard enough to bruise it, hard enough for me to reel back and reflexively grab my chest in pain, but thankfully not hard enough to hurt me badly, although that could have been a *very* different story for someone smaller or weaker than myself. I need to know why any man would feel the need to do this. I want to work harder to support every sexual assault victim, because I can’t imagine the pain and detachment they endure if I can still feel his hand on my breast, the bruise still stings, and I somehow feel like that part of my body is now somehow foreign to me. I want to wrap this all up in a perfectly lovely little package and hand it to everyone, especially those I love: “Do this and you’ll be safe. Protect yourself. Be smarter than I was. Be a better victim than I was.”
I’m sure you can intuit why that perfect ending escapes me to this very moment – because it doesn’t exist. The ‘perfect victim’ DOESN’T EXIST.
What DOES exist is a way to move forward, though, one that was literally in me all along. I was on the elliptical the day after the attack, listening back to the podcast episode I’d just done, Echoes on Air, on human trafficking and the #muterkelly movement and the piece of mine they’d published on toxic masculinity and how it often ties fear & sexuality together, and I SAID IT MYSELF. There it was, recorded for me to play back to myself on a loop.
“Predators count on peoples’ tendency to not want to get involved. ‘Oh, it’s a normal Tuesday, I’m busy, I want my coffee’… People don’t want to get involved. Shoot, girls are taught to scream fire instead of rape.”
“I think a solution might be, instead of focusing on the perpetrator, to focus more on believing victims. First of all, taking any energy away from these people who are doing awful things is always a good thing. Building a society that believes victims, that believes those who need people to believe in them the most, and when someone comes forward, that supports them and hear them as opposed to ignoring them or slapping them down. Victims need to be heard, to be supported, they don’t get that in our society, and I think changing that mentality would go such a long way. Focusing on that would go such a long way in changing our society, and return to the victim that humanity that gets taken from them.”
“My takeaway from this conversation is the importance of getting over the ‘I don’t want to get involved’. Being an advocate isn’t always stepping in with a sword, it’s not always pretty. It’s tough. You have to get over that awkwardness and get in there. Worst case scenario versus best case scenario, and what you can do for another human life in any given situation. A little effort from you can be life or death for someone else.”
I needed someone to have their head up and on a swivel, not just for me, but for those around them. I never expected someone to chase those guys down, tackle them, and make a citizens’ arrest, but I DID need someone to come to my side, to ask if I was okay, or if I needed any help. I needed someone to step outside of their comfort zone, to stick their neck out. I needed help.
I’m not sure that we can ever remove all of the evil from our society. What I think we CAN do is be there for one another, much more than we are now. Look out for others’ well being. Be aware of your surroundings, and if someone looks scared, or like they need help, if they’re in a place or situation that doesn’t make sense to you, if they’re acting out of the ordinary (crying behind sunglasses and shaking, screaming in the middle of the sidewalk) after just having been acting normally moments before, if you can, reach out. “Are you okay?” is all I needed in my situation. It would have been everything. Worst case scenario in asking someone if they are okay is that they are and they might get embarrassed or defensive, but that’s it. Imagine what someone who is less privileged than I am is going through in an awful situation if someone like me, an outspoken, gym-6-days-a-week, weight lifting, built like a brick shithouse woman, can be reduced to the level I was brought down to by this senseless violence. If we can shake off the bystander effect, we can do so much for our fellow man – from stopping human trafficking and kidnapping one victim at a time all the way down to something so simple as checking in with a woman getting catcalled, we could change SO MUCH for the better if we would just get involved.
I needed help.
I didn’t get it.
Thank you for being sorry for my attack, and for wanting to be there for me, and to help. You want to help?
Eyes up. See need? ASK.
“Are you okay?”