Wednesday, February 21, 2018

constant panic

It was 1:06 this afternoon, I was napping off a headache, when my phone buzzed. I used to ignore all calls, but now that I've got a child in school, I answer every call in a panic. It wasn't the school, but rather the spa I have a massage scheduled at, calling to inform me my regular masseuse is no longer with them and would I mind having a different masseuse?

"No longer with them." Yeah, I knew that wasn't an obituary. As soon as I hung up, I googled my masseuse. I found what I suspected: a news story saying he was arrested earlier this week for two counts of sexual assault. How did I know I'd find that? Call it a woman's intuition.

Two weeks ago, a writer friend emailed me an essay contest centered on the #MeToo movement. "Have you or someone you know survived sexual harrassment, assault, rape or abuse? If so how did it change you?" it asked. My friend wrote a line above the forwarded content: "Thought you might have something that fits these parameters. I do." 

Of course I do, I thought. Don't we all? 

Every woman I know has survived sexual harassment. Those of us lucky enough to have dodged assault, rape, and abuse know how easily we could have been victims of it. 

Danger lurks in every one-on-one male interaction. 

Every time I've closed a restaurant with just one male around, every time I've been alone in a car with a man, every time I've had a massage, every time I've let a plumber into the house, every time I've been on a date, every time I've been at a house party with that drunk guy who wouldn't leave, in the back of my mind, I knew what could happen to me.

Sometimes (more often) it's in the front of my mind. I have played out scenarios that don't end well. I have run in the dark, having visions of being grabbed by someone (this happened to the other Holly who went to my school) and I have run until I was so exhausted I had to stop and catch my breath under a streetlight. 

I have been stranded in a man's house with no way to get home. 

I've said "yes" to sex because I was afraid to say no.

I was trying to put words to this the other day, the intimidation of a man. I don't know that I can do it correctly. What I can say is there is an anger that people harness and I am always aware of how quickly people can drop the reins, lose control. It is especially scary as a woman, alone with a man who physically towers over me, who will be believed over me by virtue of his gender alone. It makes me feel helpless. Like a sitting duck. 

The first man I slept with carried a gun on him at all times, even to the pool. I wonder if that's what made me scared first, what kept me scared. 

More likely, all of us women live in this constant state of panic, wondering how much longer we can survive before our massage appointment falls on the wrong day at the wrong time.  

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