ENOUGH is a Rumpus collection dedicated to making a devoted area for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and paintings by ladies and non-binary people who interact with rape tradition, sexual assault, and home violence.
The collection will run each Tuesday afternoon. Every week we’ll spotlight totally different voices and tales.
I Smiled at a Man: An Anecdote
I was twenty. I was in Oxford, England, the place I was learning overseas for the semester, and it was a stunning day—solar sparking off the limestone and spires, the air tender with the promise of spring. I was completely happy. Actually pleased. I’d simply turned in a paper on which I’d labored onerous and properly, I wasn’t sporting a winter coat for the primary time in months, and I was going to Belgium that weekend. And as I walked by way of the guts of the town on my approach again to my little rowhome, I made eye contact with the individual strolling by me—a middle-aged man—and smiled. I smiled as a result of I was glad. I smiled as a result of smiling is a pleasant factor to do. I smiled as a result of when I was twenty I usually erred on the aspect of being pleasant towards everybody when I felt cheerful sufficient to do it.
The person smiled again after which stopped me. “Excuse me,” he stated, and requested if I knew the place one thing was—a road, perhaps, or a restaurant, or one thing else time has buried as a result of it wasn’t the essential a part of that day.
“I don’t know,” I stated, “sorry,” and the person stated, “That’s all right,” after which, “Would you like to get coffee with me?”
There’s nothing flawed with inviting somebody, even a stranger, for espresso. It wasn’t harassment. Nevertheless it was odd. I’d spoken 4 phrases to the person. He was greater than twice my age. I was a university scholar—probably mistakable for a couple of years older, but in addition, probably, for a couple of years youthful.
I answered shortly and, I keep in mind, cheerfully. I stated one thing alongside the strains of, “Oh, no, thank you, I need to get going, but thanks” and, having ended the dialog on a direct however pleasant observe (even now it appears essential to me to underscore that I was well mannered), I continued strolling briskly towards my home, away from the person.
And I knew, as quickly as I began strolling, that he would comply with me.
How did I know that? I’m not totally positive. Partly, I suppose, from expertise—like many ladies, I’d been threatened earlier than, and hounded, and hollered at on loads of streets. Past that, although: I might simply inform. He’d requested for one thing unreasonable—not illegal, not menacing, however unreasonable—and, having not gotten it, was in all probability going to reply unreasonably.
I walked a block earlier than wanting behind me. When I turned my head, I noticed that the person had reversed course, and was now following from about half a block away. Perhaps, I thought, he realized that the place he’s in search of is definitely on this course. Nonetheless, I sped up.
After one other block, I glanced once more. He was nonetheless there. My home was simply outdoors the town middle, away from eating places and outlets and all the universities. We have been shortly getting additional and farther from any vacation spot he may be making an attempt to succeed in, the gang of the town dissipating right into a pedestrian right here, a biker there. All that was down that approach have been rowhomes and flats, a small comfort retailer subsequent to my very own little rowhome, and one Indian restaurant. I considered operating, however why, precisely? The person hadn’t threatened me. He wasn’t even undoubtedly following me—he was strolling in the identical course I was. This was pre-cell telephone, however even when I might name the police, what would I say? Hiya, I have a nasty feeling?
I stored up my tempo, and the person stored up his, and when I reached my home, I walked previous it and into the comfort retailer subsequent door in order that the person wouldn’t see the place I lived. The shop was small and slender—to the fitting, the money register and counter; to the left, little cabinets stocked with snacks and toothbrushes. All the retailer, entrance to again, was perhaps twenty ft lengthy. I walked in and pretended to look at the sweet bars. The store bell didn’t ring, and after a minute I glanced towards the doorway, hoping the person had given up, or, although it appeared unlikely, had veered off to his meant vacation spot.
He was pacing forwards and backwards in entrance of the shop’s window.
It’s onerous to say what was stronger in me at that second—the worry or the anger. Neither had began with this present day. They began with the boy in third grade who sat subsequent to me in lunch each day and whispered soiled jokes till I cried. With the three boys at the top of my road who yelled lewd threats when I rode my bike previous at ten. With the trash bag filled with beer cans tossed onto my entrance garden the night time I broke up with my freshman-year boyfriend. With the 2 months in highschool when I ate lunch within the warfare aisle of the library, hiding from the boy who harassed me within the cafeteria every day. With the nameless telephone name I acquired one weekend from a hissing male voice describing his genitalia in graphic element (later that night time my boyfriend referred to as to inform me it had been his youthful brother—a prank). With each time I’d walked to my automotive with my keys laced between my knuckles. With my school’s refusal to put in emergency blue mild telephones as a result of they weren’t aesthetically pleasing. With the talents I’d discovered in journal how-to articles about strolling swiftly, avoiding aspect streets, by no means sporting a ponytail. With my greatest good friend handing me a lit cigarette one late night time as we walked by means of her school city (However we don’t smoke, I’d stated. Proper, she’d stated, however we will burn somebody if we have to).
I stood there with my keys in my hand. The person didn’t look in; he simply walked slowly forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards, patiently. What did he need? What was he planning on doing? If he hadn’t accepted it when I’d stated no and walked away, what else wouldn’t he settle for? My anger grew, partly at the person and partly at myself for not with the ability to consider a method out of this. The shop had just one door, and the person was blocking it. The place was empty apart from the older lady behind the register, who didn’t converse a lot English and with whom I communicated primarily by way of smiles when I stopped in to purchase milk these previous three months. My housemates, I knew, can be gone for hours, so calling subsequent door from the shop’s line wasn’t an choice.
Lastly my rising anger spurred me into shifting. I waited till the person was at the far finish of the shop, away from my home. Then I gripped my keys like a knife and strode outdoors—the ridiculous jingle of the store bell giving me away—and on to my entrance door, the place I thrust the important thing into the lock and turned it. I received in and slammed the door shut, so onerous the home windows shook. Simply earlier than it closed, I noticed the person strolling hurriedly towards me.
In some methods, the story ends there, or at least the anecdote I advised my associates the subsequent fall when I was again in Pennsylvania and recounting my adventures overseas does. I don’t keep in mind what occurred after I slammed the door. I don’t keep in mind as a result of it isn’t the necessary a part of the story. I do not know if the person knocked or stored strolling, if he stood outdoors for some time or gave up instantly. By that time I was protected, which was what mattered. I was inside. My door was locked. It was a robust picket door, and the person wasn’t going to interrupt the home windows. I might inform. That wasn’t his method. The person, I’m almost sure, didn’t intend to trigger a scene. What he meant to do was get what he needed. It’s attainable that at some level in his life, somebody praised him as a person who didn’t again down from a problem.
Every time I informed the story, I’d finish with the epilogue: how later that night time my housemates and I have been sitting in the lounge, studying and speaking, once we heard a rustling at the entrance door. Jamie, the one man in the home, walked over and picked up one thing that had been slipped in by way of the mail slot. His eyebrows raised.
“What is it?” I stated, my coronary heart beginning to pound. I’d informed them about what had occurred earlier, and I was on excessive alert.
“Hold on,” stated Jamie, and swiftly opened the door, seemed up and down the darkish road. After a minute, he closed it once more and locked it.
Then he held up the sheets of paper he’d picked up. On them have been pornographic scenes, women and men engaged in numerous acts, reduce from a magazine. It wasn’t what I’d been anticipating—I didn’t know what I’d been anticipating—however I wasn’t stunned. I’d recognized one thing was coming. Within the realm of what which may have been, this was minor. Within the anecdote I informed my pals later, it was comedian.
The person by no means confirmed up once more. A couple of occasions I thought I noticed him across the metropolis, and perhaps I did, however I by no means made eye contact and I don’t assume he ever noticed me. It’s a narrative that looks like it’s going to finish badly and doesn’t, which is what made it a superb one to inform within the eating corridor and at the bars. I was superb, and so my pals and I might giggle and shake our heads. Typically I felt slightly responsible telling the story, like I was making too huge a deal out of all of it. I’d finish by saying, “Nothing happened, though,” holding out my palms in entrance of me as if to push away any lingering considerations my buddies may need.
However my racing coronary heart within the comfort retailer aisle didn’t really feel like nothing was occurring. Neither did my shaking or my rage, or my queasy embarrassment—combined with worry, combined, one way or the other, with guilt—when my housemate held up the pornographic pages. Or the best way I seemed over my shoulder for the remainder of my months in that metropolis. And it’s twenty years later now, and I nonetheless think about what it means to smile. I really feel my mouth when I do it. I take into consideration all the ladies who’ve provide you with methods for easy methods to stroll by means of their days with out menace—cross the road, park close to the streetlight, put on a cross-body bag, a cumbersome coat, no heels, hold keys out, sun shades on, earbuds in, earbuds out, stroll quicker, keep away from this one store, this one nook, this one bus cease, fake to be on the telephone, hold head down and eyes up, maintain head up and eyes down. Myself, I’ve perfected a strategic grimace-smile that I use strolling previous males when alone—it’s an unattractive expression, a tight-lipped drawing up of the mouth that claims, concurrently, I’m making a gesture towards friendliness and I’m an unappealing one that doesn’t actually perceive easy methods to be pleasant.
The factor is, I do perceive. I perceive, too, how fortunate I am. So fortunate. Nothing occurred that day or the times that adopted, not in the best way that these tales typically go. However that day I started monitoring my face and the methods it’d betray me. I started eager about how—like a crack within the basis, a gap within the hull—happiness could be harmful. And that’s additionally one thing that occurred.
Rumpus unique emblem artwork by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus unique collection dedicated to making a devoted area for work by ladies and non-binary people who engages with rape tradition, sexual assault, and home violence. We consider that whereas this material is particularly well timed now, additionally it is timeless. We need to ensure that this dialog doesn’t cease—not till our legal guidelines and societal norms mirror actual change. You possibly can undergo ENOUGH right here.
Many names showing in these tales have been modified.
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