Sunday, August 5, 2007

Violated

Boston and I have always had a kind of love/hate relationship. For a while, every time I went to Boston something bad would happen. One time I had a huge fight with a boyfriend. Another time, I got stuck in a parking garage because I didn’t have the $7 to get out because someone had stolen my money the night before. There were many other things and small bad memories that made me cringe when I thought of its skyline - the Prudential Center and the John Hancock Building stretching up like two huge fuck yous.

But then I met some awesome people from work and they all lived in Boston. They showed me its many lovely communities, taught me how a little planning went a long way, and reminded me to laugh at inconveniences because there are much larger problems. I adored visiting them and after a while began to think of Boston as my second city, the kind of place where I always had a room to crash in or a backup bar to go to. Somewhere to get away to. I knew it was a city that I would love despite its surliness and cold north-eastern disposition. I especially loved the transportation systems and learned the subways like the back of my hand. I’ve spent whole afternoons riding the red line and watching people, wondering what they were about and where they were going.

It is because of my love of Boston that I always fly out of and into Logan International when I travel. I park at a train station, ride the subway in, hop on the bus and get dropped off at my terminal. It’s a bit of a drive but I don’t mind as the airport is clean and I know it well. Plus, I get to ride that subway and watch all of those wonderful people.

On Saturday I flew home from Kansas City to Boston, grabbed my luggage, and went outside to wait for the bus. I’d been gone for five days and was looking forward to seeing Michael and Stella and being in my own bed. It was as I was thinking of these things, leaning against a pillar in a brown dress next to one of those lovely Bostonians who was sitting on his luggage next to me, that I saw a youngish guy about 20 yards away start walking toward me. Fast. I’m not a scared girl. But the way he looked was scary. He had reached me before I could collect my things to move and stood between me and the old man on the luggage. He cleared his throat and in an accusing voice said, “I don’t think she appreciates you taking pictures up her dress with your camera phone.”

My brain took a second to process the words but I looked down in time to see the man hastily putting away his phone while shaking his head and making that noise people make when they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I don’t even know what I was thinking. My brain told me to get out of there and that something very appalling had just happened but I hadn’t really processed it. I bent down, picked up my things, and followed my superhero to another section of the terminal feeling like everyone knew what had happened and had seen whatever picture he managed to get. I thanked him for letting me know and shook his hand, not knowing at all what to say. And then my bus came and I had to run to catch it and I was shaking so badly that I barely got my Charlie ticket into the slot.

I sat on the bus, watching the woman across from me shield her daughter’s head from the harsh glare of the sun, holding it close to her chest with her hand over her eyes. I wanted so, so badly to be that little girl and to have someone hold their hand over me. I called my mother and told her what had happened. Her reaction was, “I would have made such a scene! You should have yelled out what happened so that everyone would hear. You should have slapped him! Oh my God, you should have told the police. Don’t they have police there? You should have taken the guy that stopped him out to dinner to thank him!”

… Did I do something wrong? An hour after it happened I knew of about a million things I should have done, should have said, should have screamed. I had a fantastic vision of me ripping the phone out of his had and smashing it on the ground while screaming PERVERT! at him at the top of my lungs. I had another picture where I played a kind of dignified victim, asking him quietly for his phone so that I could delete the picture. I could have bought the superhero a drink. Fuck… if I could write down all the things I thought of afterward, am still thinking about now, this post would be so ridiculously long. As it is now, I’m writing this because I couldn’t sleep for thinking of all the things I should have done. I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t do them. I couldn’t sleep because one person can walk away slightly ashamed but generally unscathed and the other one walks away feeling dirty and vulnerable, bare and stupid.

The whole train ride home the ugliness was everywhere. There was a mentally retarded man on the train with nobody to sit with him and nobody’s eyes could bear to look at him for more than the second it took to dismiss him. There was graffiti everywhere, nobody offered me a seat even though I had three bags to hold on to, and a woman stared unabashedly at me until she got off a stop before me. I swear she could see everything that I was thinking and I hated her for it.

Everyone knows somebody that something like this has happened to. Every story is more disturbing than the last. But it’s never you. It never happens to you. If it does, you become the person who someone knows that it happened to but it will never carry the same weight for someone else. You can warn them, but it will never be them in their head.

I’m going to make a generalization I don’t often make, but I’ve become biased: The world can be ugly to women in much deeper ways than it can to men. A man can be victimized, can be attacked, can be made to feel like shit, but not often like this. I feel like I’ve done something wrong and I know I haven’t. I feel like someone has seen something I don’t want them to see and now everyone can see it just by looking at me.

A smarter person might realize that the city was always like this. I guess I thought that I was savvy, that I could take its sting in stride. I was wrong.

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