TW: groping; sexual assault
After Switzerland, life became very busy. I attended office goodbye parties, book launch readings in Brooklyn, a very quiet birthday dinner at Entrecôte. Everything felt... bad. I worked overtime, I made mistakes at the office that left me sleepless and angry at myself. I kept the news on 24/7 and at my desk, cried listening to Christine Blasey Ford. I thought, "Surely, this must be the end of this sadness..." but then last week was the worst week I'd had in awhile. By Tuesday I was FaceTiming with Alistair in tears. Even as I prepared myself to write this Weekly, I was scared.
Last weekend was quite slow. On Saturday, October 6, Alistair and I had brunch at Lowerline in Brooklyn, a New Orleans style restaurant that served all my favorite foods. It rained a little on the way back. That night we had a drink near his apartment and dinner in Manhattan at Red Farm. I slept all day on Sunday.
I was off on Monday for Indigenous People's Day (formerly known as Columbus Day), so I scheduled a hair appointment and strolled around Harlem. It's a shame I can't afford living there now that it has gentrified itself beyond recognition. I feel more welcome in Harlem than I do in any neighborhood. When I walk down the street and pass another black person we give each other a "good afternoon" and a reverent nod. That doesn't happen anywhere else.
I had time to kill, so I went to a coffee shop and sat outside eating a peanut butter cookie. I stopped at the Astor Row Houses and marveled. After my trim I shopped on 34th Street before my 7:30 writing group meeting.
On Tuesday the weather in New York was at it's most beautiful. I decided that I would cheer myself up and go for a walk in midtown. I hopped on a train feeling the happiest I had been in weeks. I got off at Grand Central and waited on the platform to transfer. Some people find the rush hour to be maddening, but I think it's thrilling.
A 6 train arrived and everyone pushed on, but I hung back for a second before I decided to board. Within the first few months of moving to New York, I was the victim of a groping incident. The police were involved, it was horrible. I know most people thing groping is a quick thing -- like a butt grab or slap -- and it can be that. But on the spectrum of things there are minor offenses, and then much bigger, more awful things. Mine was on the more awful side, I actually had to fight the person off, and still grieve the incident today.
Because of this, I'm always keeping my eye out on really crowded trains. I usually take off my headphones and avoid looking at my phone. On my ride that evening, I noticed a man being very aware of who was watching him, and even looking down a few times at the girl standing next to him. Then I saw his hand on her butt and crotch. She was texting furiously and didn't even see, or notice. Everyone just assumes it's someones bag. Sometimes it's not.
I didn't know what to do. I gave the man a furious look and he just kept looking away, he stopped but he seemed to be pretending that nothing was wrong. We were inches from each other. Could I tap her on the shoulder and ask her to move somewhere else? How does one, while being descreet, say what they need to say? Would "Hey lady, you're being groped?" sound crazy? And if I decided to say something to him, what do I say? He was a normal looking dude in a business suit, taller than me, stronger. I had been challenging him with glares but what if he retaliated? Would he follow me off the train and harm me? What do you do? What the hell do you do?
I got off the train at my stop and essentially, did nothing. I stood on the platform for awhile and he and I exchanged a glance. He stayed on the train.
I followed a crowd to the station exit, tears were running down my cheeks. I pushed across Lexington Avenue. I stopped at the light on Madison and I wanted to scream. I managed to keep walking west to Fifth Avenue. If you just keep going, maybe you won't feel anything at all.
It was nearly-fall weather in the city that day. Not too hot, not too cold. Tourists covered the sidewalks, I sped walked around them so fast I went into a clothing store and was already sweating.
I kept shopping, kept seeking something to distract me from crying. I walked north and crossed Central Park South to Columbus Circle. I went to Bouchon Bakery, my go-to place. I bought two cookies and waited at the register. There was a woman in her 60s in front of me. The man at the register said to her, "Hi, Ariel, just two cookies today?" and the woman laughed.
"That's me," I said, waving behind her. The cashier apologized, rung up the woman and before she left she turned to me and laughed.
"Have a good night, Ariel!" she said.
Have you ever experienced something so horrible that after everything sounds sinister and mocking? Do you ever feel like you're losing your mind?
I called Alistair and cried. He was away on business. The rest of the week remained slow, relaxing, even. I'm slowly starting to feel better, and looking forward to next week when my calendar crowds again. Maybe things will feel normal again.