So there I was- alone, rather drunk, phoneless, standing in front of a bar/club with people yelling angrily and running in all directions, the lights of a cop car flashing just down the street, holding an orange-striped leash with a Shepherd mix puppy attached to it. At one in the morning. On a Tuesday.
Okay, let’s back up about twenty minutes.
I had been playing trivia at my favorite bar with some friends, snapped some photos, and handed my phone to my friend so he could see them. He then proceeded to leave with my phone, which I failed to realize for almost ten minutes, so I went after him and again failed to realize that he was way too far ahead for me to catch him. Coming to terms with this, I turned around and headed back to the bar, with my return path taking me in front of another bar where my friend, who just got a puppy, works as a bouncer. As I stopped to greet him and bent down to scratch the puppy’s ears, a girl came yelling out of the bar, a stream of people following her. Chaos ensued, lights began flashing, and my friend handed me the dog’s leash, said, “Can you hold him for a second?” and ran off after the offending girl without waiting for an answer. So there I was.
You’d probably think that I was annoyed by this. And I was, for a moment. I was irritated to not be able to text my other friend and tell her where I was so she wouldn’t worry and not particularly thrilled to be inadvertently committed to staying in one place for the foreseeable future, though the presence of an adorable puppy did help. But somehow, being there made sense. Call it fate, call it divine intervention, but the events of the night had played out to put me exactly where my friend needed me, to hold his dog while he did his job. Some might have called the circumstances unfortunate- mildly drunk and alone with no way to contact anyone as a 22 year old girl at 1am? Probably not the safest idea- but I wasn’t in the mood to feel sorry for myself. That’s another one of my rules. Your life is what you make it, and as a sufferer of depression, I firmly believe that choosing to see the bright side of things is what helps keep me from spiraling to the lows I’ve known before. Not always, but sometimes, attitude is really all it takes to make you feel better, because let’s face it, being in a bad mood is no fun.
But the night wasn’t done with me yet. After my friend returned to reclaim his puppy (and thanked me profusely), I returned to my favorite bar to drink water and wait until I was sober enough to drive first to my friend’s house to wake him up and retrieve my phone, then head home. At the end of the night, I was sitting at the bar as it emptied out and looked over at a girl sitting a few seats down. She wasn’t alone- an older man was talking to her, his face very close to hers, and based on the language she was using in response to what he was saying, this was not someone she wanted to be talking to. I should have intervened as soon as I realized something was wrong. I don’t know why I didn’t. After he finally left, I hugged her as she cried against my shoulder, her whole body shaking in terror. Apparently he hadn’t been the only guy harassing her that night. They had threatened her, and she was shaken, understandably- enough that she accepted my offer of a (now sober enough) ride home, though I had only just met her.
Once again, I was in the right place at the right time, but in this case, I wish I hadn’t had to be. It wasn’t the first time I’d been in the position of comforter after an incident of harassment, and it’s easier than it should be when you know what’s going through her head. You don’t know this guy or why he’s so interested in you. You try to deflect him, try to placate him by calmly agreeing to what he says, all the while hoping he’ll get an answer he’s satisfied with and walk away without hurting you. You glance around to see who could save you, wishing you could signal them to intervene but too scared that your harasser will notice and do something to you before you can be saved. You pray someone will notice, come over and take you away. Sometimes someone does. Usually they don’t.
Men at the bar, coworkers, customers- we’re never free from the potential harassment that comes with being female, even if it occasionally disguises itself as innocent flirting. And no, I don’t hate men. I love men. Men are awesome. Many of my closest friends are men, and maybe it’s these men that make me hold the other men in my life to a higher standard than that to which they seem to hold themselves. I don’t understand why they think they can disrespect women- or others in general- and still be deserving of respect, but I’ve stopped trying to. Once you’ve found out a guy is expecting a baby with his girlfriend while he’s in the process of hitting on you, nothing surprises you anymore.
What saddened me the most is that as I comforted the girl at the bar, she kept saying that she was sorry. She apologized! To me! As if it were her fault and she were inconveniencing ME by being upset. The thing that many women are unable to realize is that they are not to blame. You think, I didn’t stop him. You think, I could have grabbed my friend’s arm, she was standing close enough; I could have said something, but I didn’t, so I must have wanted it. But you know deep down that you didn’t want it. Sometimes you realize later that you did say no as he shoved his hands down your pants, or that your friend looked over and winked at you, thinking that you hadn’t talked to anyone all night and finally you found someone. Sometimes you didn’t say anything at all. But it’s not your fault. It was never your fault. Being threatened, touched without consent, or anything that makes you feel violated is not your fault. Even when he says that he “couldn’t help it” because you’re “just so beautiful/hot/sexy”, it’s not your fault. It’s his job to control himself. The waiter who can’t help but picture the girl at his table naked can resist touching her or saying something inappropriate. Women can keep themselves from grabbing the crotch of a guy at the bar whom they find attractive but don’t know. My best guy friends can do it. My father, who has remained faithful to my mother for 26 years, can do it. Why can’t all of them?
If it’s happened to you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry because I know that it can screw with your perception of men, and of your level of safety in the world, and it shouldn’t, because many men are wonderful and many places safe. I’m sorry because we both know you didn’t want it even if he said you did. I’m sorry because no one who could have helped intervened soon enough. But I’m mostly sorry if you are still having trouble wrapping your head around the idea that it wasn’t your fault. I still believe everything happens for a reason and that it’s important to try to look at the bright side of every situation. Attitude can really help you make the best of things. But I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not your fault. Just like it wasn’t my friend’s. Just like it wasn’t mine.