Plagues of the Powerless

On a rickety train to Sighisoara, Romania from Brasov, Ellie was sexually assaulted by several men on the way to the bathroom – they slapped her ass and laughed and gestured lewdly simply because she was female and foreign. One of the train employees was there and shrugged his shoulders like, what do you expect me to do? When she then kept walking, he made kissing noises at her back.

I’ve been stewing on this for days now – I dream about it even, and in my dreams the taunts and jeers and insults and bodily violations of my life as a woman are all lined up, a thousand plagues of the powerless, and all I can do is sit there and take it. When I was idealistic and stupid, I fantasized that my future husband would be someone who would fight for me (apparently I saw lots of fisticuffs in my future). I don’t know if I really valued brawn or if I’d just seen too many shitty movies, but in moments like the one on the train, I forget that I’m a pacifist and thirst for justice, even if that means violence.  I hate the helplessness – not just from “officials” like the train operator or police, but that we are made that much more vulnerable without even the words to defend ourselves. I had an actual, legitimate wish the moment Ellie told me what happened to be transformed into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to shut them up, instill fear into those who try to make people feel small.

Then I thought about how grateful I am that I’ve only been spit on and groped and nothing worse, which is a small victory, I guess, but also incredibly depressing. I can’t escape the knowing that things could always be worse, that the harassment will continue no matter how much I wish it to stop and that all I can do is ignore it, which all too often feels like giving up.

I remember in high school once, I was running along the Rillito river for track practice with a friend and a car drove by and a guy leaned out and slapped my ass, laughed hysterically, then drove off. My friend caught the license plate and she urged me to file a police report. It took much convincing – I was already jaded, it seems, and didn’t think it would lead to anything useful. But I did file a report eventually. I felt both righteous and ridiculous answering the cop’s questions. No, not my breasts, just my buttocks. Well, yes, I guess he did squeeze some. A squeezey slap. No, it didn’t really hurt. No, there are no marks. The cop was really gracious about it, but you could tell he felt put upon. Or rather, he knew too that my case was hopeless.

The train to Sighisoara ambled on, of course, pitching and groaning as if giving birth, and for the first time, I really longed for home. Not suffocated by cigarette smoke, not living out of a bag and trying to learn 6 vital phrases in yet another language in yet another country on a train to yet another citadel church fortress plateia hotel. I’m losing the tolerance to be lost every day. I’d like to hole up somewhere for good and drink too much coffee in a place with toilets really nearby, that are actually toilets, with lids and flushers and a well-stocked supply of toilet paper.

Is that too much to ask for?

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