I woke up this morning still crying. Still looking over my shoulder every couple of seconds, pacing into all the rooms in the house. Checking the windows, the curtains, the doors. I recognise this behaviour. Is this me, or is this me enacting some perfectly visualised victim response? I am sick to the stomach, that is real enough. My hands are shaking. My shoulders ache from how tensely I am holding myself, how tensely I slept. I can't sit here for more than a few minutes at a time without needing to get up again, pace the house again, check the rooms again. And my blunt little lesbian fingernails are digging grooves into my upper arms from nervous scratching.
I am scared, and outraged by my fear. I know myself as self-sufficient. I don't need anyone to come and hold my hand in my own house, right, in the broad daylight? I don't need to be told it's ok, that the man is gone, that it's morning now, that I am safe. I can tell myself these things, can't I? Then why do I keep staring at the phone, mind ticking over all the possible people I could call? But hesitating. Because if I called them and admitted a fear, a hurt, then I would hurt myself all over again.
I can be alone. I will be alone. The police stood in my kitchen and told me, well of course, I should not have been walking home by myself. At that hour of night. Of course. It isn't safe. Three blocks from the pub to my home is not safe, and how dare I think it is? How dare I dress the way I do, walk alone without a jacket, and assume I will be safe?
He got me on my street, achingly close to home. He could have been any of the dozens of men who have seen me, alone, and sought to chastise me for my arrogance. To teach me that it is they, and not I, who control safety on the streets. But most of them- every other time this has happened- something happens. Or rather, nothing happens. They do not act on their projection of male potential violence. I am privileged to walk another few metres, another night, my illusions intact.
Why him, then? Why last night? What did I do, or not do? Did he see me, and choose me? Or was I a coincidence, happening to pass the same way as him? He came up behind me so quietly and so quickly, he was beside me before I knew there was anyone there. How did I not hear his footsteps, on an open concrete road in the light rain? It's two am, there are no other sources of sound. My heels clacking on the wet road, and his voice.
He talked to me from the top of my street near the park, to almost my house. Stupid, absent words that gave me, I thought, the space to turn him away and untangle his path from mine. It usually works. I am the master of making men go away. It didn't work, last night. He didn't want what he wanted because we were talking, he didn't decide to take it despite my refusal to participate in his friendly conversation. He knew, and the words had nothing to do with it. "Do you know where there's a phone booth?" he asked as he grabbed me.
Maybe he said something else. I don't know. I don't remember. I remember his hands hurt, they were like claws around my breasts. He had me by the shoulders and I couldn't shake him off. I screamed and screamed, I don't know how long I screamed, except that I kept screaming until he let me go and ran. Back the way he had come. He ran so fast. No lights came on, up the street, while I stood there and watched him run away. Did they not hear me screaming, or was it so quick that they hadn't had time to react? Or is normal, now, to hear a girl screaming on the street outside your door?
I know. I know I'm what is to be considered lucky. I am not injured. I am not raped. Only a little bruised, and terrified, and angry. Assault from men is not… rare. In my life. This is not a first, of having hands when I don't want them, or being followed, or having a man or group of men put me back in my place. But this- is more. And worse, somehow. His violence made it worse, the way he planned it, the way he attacked. This is not the so many times that a man has gently, forcefully, enacted what they see as their right, violence by stealth, always done in a way that he could, later, justify himself, feel that it was all just terribly normal. Something about the viciousness of last night has me scared.
And so. I have been told. Silly little girls should not be allowed to be by themselves. Foolish children should know better than to think they may be allowed out, at night, alone. A girl who walks herself home, the three blocks from the pub, at two in the morning (especially dressed like that) should be expecting this. And should consider herself lucky that it was nothing worse.
And is it mere stubbornness then that I sit at home alone, refuse to call for help when I know I could get it? Rejecting, for a little while at least, the cluster of clucking, sorry friends who could surround me. Or maybe I just feel silly, like it shouldn't be such a big deal, like I'm being weak for being too scared to close the door to the bathroom or open the curtains to see outside.
At least I could scream. Loud and long and piercing, I could scream. It isn't a sound I've had cause to properly test before, and recurring nightmares of voicelessness had made me doubt it. But my lungs and my vocal chords did not let me down. I screamed, and he ran away. Eventually.