Silent No More
Trigger warning: street harassment, fat shaming
When I was in my early twenties, I worked on an overnight team at a department store. I arrived to the store early every night to have a cigarette before I clocked in for my shift. I stood at the far end of the building near the employee parking. The building was not well lit in the employee lot. Most employees left during daylight hours or left in large groups.
I had never feared for my safety going to and from my car. I'd never been bothered while I was smoking. I also wore all black, my skin was white as snow and I dyed my hair black #1. Most people in my small town didn't come near me. They were scared of me because of my appearance.
That didn't stop the man who pulled up to the stop sign at the corner of the building and rolled down his window.
"How much?" he called at me. I couldn't have heard him right. There's no way someone would stop their car and say something like that. I scanned the lot. No one else was anywhere around.
"I said 'how much'."
I gaped at the car. I couldn't see the guy's face. He was in some kind of Lincoln or Impala. Pale grey or dirty white. The light reflected off his forehead. He was light complected. That was all I could have told the cops. I turned away, hoping he would just leave if I didn't answer him. I took another long drag off my cigarette.
"Hey! I said 'how much'!"
I roll my eyes. I don't make eye contact. Go the fuck away.
"More than you got, honey." PLEASE let someone walk up and scare this guy off. Someone come out of the fucking building.
"No, seriously. How much?"
"Seriously. More than you got."
"How much for you to come over here and put that cigarette out on my dick?"
For an instant, I considered doing it. I would do it for free just to hurt the mother fucker. I pushed away from the wall. Then common sense kicked in. If I reached in through the passenger side of his car, he could grab my wrist, drag me into his car and drive off with me. No.
"Fuck off." Maybe that would get it through to him. I scanned the parking lot again. Please let someone. ANYONE. Park their car and get out.
One of my coworkers opened the door of his beat up Lancer.
"JASON!" I picked up my arm and waved. The guy swiveled over his shoulder and peeled out when he saw my well over six foot tall coworker with broad shoulders and shaved head. Jason looked at me like I was nuts. I ran across the parking lot to meet him in case the guy came back.
The guy left because another man walked up. Jason told me if he would have realized that's what was happening, he would have gotten out of his car sooner.
I sat and shook for the first half hour I was in the building. I never stood at the far end of the buildings again. I stood at my car for a cigarette. In the parking lot where customers parked. Under a street light. In a small town with 40,000 people that you couldn't swing a bat without hitting someone you knew.
The second instance, I was leaving goth night at one of the area bars. I'd come with a couple of friends and we always left the bar after last call. We avoided a lot of the drunks on the way to our cars. That night, however, the drunks spilled out of the other bars on the strip and shoved one another over the sidewalks. They congregated on the corners and in the alleyways between the brick buildings. I never walked the narrow alleys on the way to my car. I stuck with the main entrances and exits. Streetlights. Wide passages I couldn't be shoved against. Places where a lot of people were.
As I jaunted along with my friends, a gaggle of guys eyed me. I was wearing a skirt slightly shorter than I'd ever worn before. It was a pink and white plaid and black pleated skirt. Tiny little thumb cuffs linked through the belt loops. I hadn't worn fishnets that night. My boots were chafing my calves. This short little blonde shit broke off from the gang and skipped along behind me.
"Hey, so you like that kind of thing, huh?"
I ignore him. He's got to be talking to somebody else. I'm a chubby chick. Nobody hits on chubby chicks.
"Hey, I'm talking to you! So you're into that kind of thing, huh?"
I keep walking, but I'm walking a little faster. My friends are three or four steps ahead of me. My heart beats in my chest. The street fights after the bars close down are notorious. Girls whisper of sexual assaults that happen all the time. There are often police in the area when the bars let out because they know they're going to arrest someone. Unfortunately there weren't any cars in the area we were in, which was probably why the guy was hanging around there with his friends.
"You like that kinky stuff, huh. Whips, chains and lingerie. Don't you WALK AWAY from ME!"
I feel him coming up on me fast. I bolt to my car. I've practiced running in these boots to get away from someone like him. He's drunk and doesn't run as fast as he could. I shoot past my friends and unlock my car.
He's stopped chasing me, instead yelling insults. "Whatever you fat fuck! I was just being nice to you anyway! Dial back on the fucking french fries, fatass!"
I had never been so thankful to be locked in my car. As his friends passed the vehicle, one of them pounded hard enough on my window to make me jump. Another one pulled the passenger door handle. I wasn't stupid. I locked the fucking car behind me. They were laughing as they walked away.
"Did you see her fucking thighs jiggle when she ran? Fucking hippo."
It took me half an hour to start my car. They were sitting on the hood of his car when I pulled away. One of them chucked an empty beer bottle at my back window.
Street harassment happens to many women every day. Catcalling, following, unwanted physical contact, violence and rape. Women have very real cause to fear that a man will harm them, even if they politely decline or ignore the behaviour. I have two instances of street harassment that, to this day, make me feel anxious when I think back on them. I'm not a pretty girl. I'm chubby. I never wear low cut shirts or short skirts. I don't flirt. I wear no makeup. I rarely even talk to people for fear of giving them the wrong ideas. My hair is pulled back in a pony tail. I do everything society tells rape victims they should do to avoid sexual assault.
And when it isn't harassment, it's fat shaming.
I would have cried tears of absolute fucking joy if any ONE of the people walking to their cars would have walked up to my car and asked me if I was okay. I would have been fucking ecstatic if my coworker would have gotten out of his fucking car and asked me if I was okay. I had to go through both instances alone. I rarely talk about it, just like I don't talk about surviving domestic violence or marital rape.
I'm tired of being silent.