Somewhat of a theme with the post preceding this one…

Let’s talk about placeholder women for a minute, shall we?

Let’s talk about substitute women.

Let’s talk about stopgap women.

Let’s talk about the myriad ways men simply use and discard women once we become difficult, complex.

Let’s talk about how hard it is to trust men, how deftly men weave webs of false intimacy, how quickly all that disappears once someone they actually respect enough to make a real effort with comes along.

Let’s talk about how all these are varying degrees of gaslighting women.

Let’s talk about how men drive women crazy with all this, then laugh at us for getting emotional about any of it.

Let’s talk about how sneaky emotional fakery can be.

Deviousness is such a feminized word, but let’s talk about the natural skill men have for it.

Let’s talk about how socializing us to be “good” women means priming us for all of this, not for anything real.

Let’s talk about being the most convenient woman around, then about what becomes of you once you’ve been humanized, and are no longer so convenient.

Let’s talk about the humiliation in discovering what you’ve been treated as this late in life.

Let’s talk about that very particular, yet so common, degradation of a woman.

Let’s talk about how she forgives herself for allowing herself to be used in such a way.

I don’t know how. Do you?

Delayed Reaction

I had originally wanted to talk to someone about this, but now I can’t. This is entirely my own fault. I did tell a different friend, yesterday, but if I could go back to that moment, I know now that I would have chosen differently. Getting the worst of it out here is all I really have left to do.

I had hung around the courthouse for a little while after being dismissed by the judge, because my mother and my friend Matt, who is an attorney, wanted to know how it had gone, and I didn’t want to text anyone while driving. I was standing in the shade of the building to get out of the hot afternoon sun.

He had come in late and sat in the same row of seats as me, which was empty, but still he chose to sit only two chairs away. He may have overheard, when I checked in with the bailiff, where I work, what part of the city I live in. He had cracked a strange joke to the group of us in the elevator on the way down from the fifth floor, but while he waited for someone to laugh, he looked at me. Women are socialized to appease men who bother us, in hopes they won’t bother us further (until they do, at which point we’re blamed for inviting the consequences). I chuckled politely and awkwardly, looking away, just waiting for the doors to open, so I could leave.

He must have waited around while I did, exited the building behind me, because I don’t recall seeing him walking ahead of me, and he approached me from behind. There were three police officers sitting on the front steps, with their backs to us, and I don’t think he saw them. I’m not sure it would have made any difference if he had.

He waited for me to put my phone back in my bag and start walking to my car, where it was parked the next block over. He had sneakers on, and I’m half-deaf in my left ear; it’s often difficult for me to hear people approach me. My sensory perception of my surroundings is good, though, and I got a strange enough feeling at the back of my neck that I turned around just before he grabbed me. He was shorter and stocky, but I was in the middle of turning around and I’m scrawny, and he managed to get his forearm across my stomach, while he half-hugged me and tried to reach up my skirt with the other. I dug my heel back into the instep of his foot, and elbowed him where the neck meets the shoulder. He threw the arm from around me up toward my face and grazed my nose slightly. My arm kept moving backward to hit him across the cheekbone with my knuckles. They still hurt now, and might be sore for days, but I don’t tend to bruise visibly on my arms and hands, only my hips and below. My skin burned under my blouse from him pulling at me, but there is no mark left there now, either.

My mind blanked out except for a single thought, which looped around nonsensically at least three times as all this happened: My knife is in the car. My knife is in the car. It’s not in my bag. My knife is in the glove compartment. You can’t bring weapons into a courthouse, of course. You pass through a metal detector before you even know which floor to go to. I had remembered this on my way driving in, and tossed it in there as I parked. My fucking knife is in the fucking car.

I know I yelled something at him, or perhaps at anyone within earshot, but I don’t remember what it was. It might have been, “Hey!” or “Help,” but I don’t know. It rattled him enough, after I struck him, to give him pause. His hand somehow got stuck in part of my hair, and yanked a bit of it out as he ran off. He ran in the direction I had been walking to my car, but I couldn’t move. I pulled my skirt back down, and discovered my hands were shaking. I felt disgusting. My ears were ringing, and I saw the officers sitting on the steps, less than 50 yards away. I couldn’t find the words to say, “Why the fuck didn’t you DO anything?” I suppose I didn’t have to, because after a moment of me staring at them in shock, two of them laughed. It took me a moment realize they were laughing at me. I said, “Why–” and the one didn’t let me finish. He said, “I’m on break, honey, sorry!” The other two just laughed some more. The guy was gone by then, maybe even blocks away, anyway.

My nose was bleeding a little, and my knees were trembling, and I couldn’t remember feeling such a combination of hatred, terror, and fear since I was 13, the last time I had been assaulted. I wanted to scream at them, too, but I had only just been dismissed from a citation that, though I was not guilty, would likely have cost me a month’s rent, a point on my license, and an increase in insurance I also couldn’t afford. I was lucky the officer who had wrongfully cited me hadn’t bothered to respond to his subpoena, but did that make him better or worse than the three other men in uniform, laughing at me, who couldn’t even bother to stand up to defend me? Which one was the worse cop? If they’re both bad, why should I feel lucky for one dismissal, but suffer physical harm for the second?

I turned back around and walked to my car. There was nothing else to do, and nowhere else to go. If I was out of luck in front of a bunch of cops, in front of a building full of judges, I was out of luck anywhere. I didn’t know whether or not I was going to cry, but that is something I will never do in front of strangers; if I can help it, I won’t do it in front of anyone. The parking attendant looked at me like I was out of my mind after I handed him my ticket, then handed me a Kleenex from his pocket in return. I stared at it, and he said, “Your nose is bleeding.”

I sat in my car with my hands on the steering wheel, looking at nothing, for a while. I waited for the nosebleed to stop, which took a few minutes. Eventually I drove back to my part of town, ran an errand on autopilot, sat at a cafe for a while and tried to draw, but my hand was still sore, so I couldn’t get much done. I spent most of my time reading. I must have looked fine by then, because no one there who knew me looked at me strangely, like the parking attendant had. All I could think was, At least I still have a good poker face. That’s good.

I got back in my car. I lashed out at someone who didn’t deserve it, in the middle of trying to tell another friend what happened. She’s been through some shit; I knew she would understand, but that still wasn’t the choice I probably should have made. I couldn’t decide what I was angrier at myself for: being too afraid to tell the person I wanted to tell, for how I behaved toward him instead of doing so, or for not making a bigger scene earlier, on those steps. I knew it probably wouldn’t have mattered, and at worst would’ve caused me even more law enforcement-related grief, but I still felt like a coward. I went home. I sat down with ice on my feet, as usual in the summer heat, and ice on my hand, unusual but necessary, and tried to forgive myself.

I think the idea is, if I post this now, that might become an easier thing to do. I hope it will. That’s a hard enough thing for me to do on a good day.

(If anyone happens to actually read this, I kindly request that you do not repost it.)