It's weird to say it like that: Assault. Physically I'm fine. It could've been much worse and the pain was over in a second, but I started crying and shaking as soon as the elevator let me off at my floor.
Here's what happened:
I work late anyway, but on Wednesdays my shift ends earlier than usual so I usually stay and chat with people before heading home. Today a friend stopped by and we took the train up together for a few stops. He asked me if I wanted a walk home and I turned him down. I've been working the night shift for at least a year. Aside from being occasionally followed, hit on, or hissed at nobody's touched me. When there's no bus or cab my route is about ten blocks, well lit and you're always guaranteed to see a few people on the streets- at least a few of whom seem like nice people who wouldn't ignore a well phrased cry for help. Only once have I ever felt patently unsafe coming home at night- the time when a van with blacked out windows stalked me for a few blocks. I managed to lose that car, but I was shaken all the next day. Tonight I walk towards home and a lone man hisses at me from his bike. I ignore it.
The streets are strangely empty, but it doesn't strike me as out of the ordinary because of today's cold snap. There aren't even as many rats out. I think of the woman who walked home behind me a few days ago and yelled at me to keep walking, to not be afraid of the rats that teemed in the trash on the sidewalk, that they would run away as I passed. She was right and I smile comparing the men who holler at me to rats- I just have to keep calm and keep walking, and they will scatter like the pests they are.
When I'm nearing my turn a bus approaches. It lets someone else on, then lingers in case I want to board. I smile and wave it on. I only would've had to get off at the next stop anyway. It's only as I pass under a bridge and notice that the homeless people who usually sleep there aren't even around do I start to get nervous. A man in a black leather jacket and black baseball cap passes me on his bike and stares (the same man as before?), but as I cross the street I pass some white police officers going in the other direction and I feel much more comfortable. It's mildly perplexing-as a poor-ish brown woman cops tend to make me more anxious-but I shrug it off.
Once the cops pass the man on the bike slows down, bikes onto the sidewalk, and waits for me to see him. I walk right past without acknowledging. He mumbles "damn" and I can tell he's talking about my ass. For a moment I scold myself for choosing my typical leggings and a tank top ensemble, but then I roll my eyes and walk on. I have my earphones in with the music turned down low. According to many of my friends this is supposed to give of signals that you won't fucking respond to them, but the problem is it can also give off the false signal that you're not paying attention.
I keep this man in my periphery as I weave around the drunk and staggering men on the corner. I've lived here for a while and as long as I stay out of their way they don't really bother you. It's the sober ones you have to watch out for. He's still keeping pace with me and I'm getting a little anxious but I'm so close to home all I have to do is avoid him for four more blocks. Plus, as someone who's survived multiple cases of sexual harassment, assault, and rape throughout her life I tend to get incredibly blaze about it. Pre-rape I was terrified of being alone in a room with a man I didn't know. Post-rape(s) I figure I'll just curb-stomp the bastard until the police come or I get bored. I already have so much pent up rage there's no room for fear anymore. I already experienced my worst fear and survived.
Three blocks to go. He speeds ahead of me across the intersection, U-turns onto the sidewalk and stares at me. Or rather, I assume he's staring because with his black baseball cap and bulky leather jacket it is way too dark to see his features. I can tell, though, that he's waiting for me and he isn't at all happy about the "game" I've been playing. I'm not happy either and I immediately cross the street to avoid him and keep walking.
Two blocks and I see him speed off past me down the street. This is good because it saves me from having to decide the best way to both cuss him out and/or evade capture and/or punch him the face. I'm halfway down the block when suddenly I hear the sound of a bike behind me. All sorts of thoughts jump into my head: should I run? Should I move over to let him pass? Should I turn around and clock him with my keys in between my fingers? Should I scream "fire!" because people are more likely to come running when there's a fire rather than an assault? Should i circle around and show him I'm not afraid—-
The text alert goes off on my phone. I stare down at my purse for a second and that's when he slaps me across my ass. Hard. It sounds unnaturally loud, as does my scream. His hand is still stretched out as he rides away and suddenly the shock wears off and I'm chasing hard after this guy on this bike and
screaming bellowing to the neighborhood much I am going to catch and fucking murder him. He rides away from me quickly enough that I can't catch up, but slowly enough to that I think I can try. In the end it's only the fear of running into possible oncoming traffic that made me think twice, but when I'm finally back in my room I realize it could've gotten a lot more dangerous had I followed him. The street he turned down was dark and seemingly deserted, I'm bad at directions, I'm angry and tired and a girl. I would be no match.
He probably expected that.
The security guard in my building offered to call the cops. My roommates make me tea and sympathy. We trade war stories, they suggest wearing sweatpants over my clothes whenever I go out (like they do), and this manages to make me feel better and worse all at once. I check my phone once I'm back in my room and it turns out that the text right before I was slapped was from my friend, asking if I was ok. I laugh to myself and text back: well, I was. He swears he won't let me walk home alone again. I feel grateful, but infantalized.
As I type this now I'm not so mad anymore. The blazè has kicked in again and this new asshole will just go into my Imaginary Stockpile of Dudes to Punch. Instead I'm tired. I'm emotionally exhausted from yesterday's adrenaline rush, I'm physically exhausted from work, and I'm spiritually so sick and tired of the same thing happening again and again and again. I'm lucky- there was no way in the world this man was a first time assailant. By the way he stalked me, by the way he hit me I could tell he'd done something like that before and he'd do it again and I was lucky to get away with a slap on the ass. This man was frustrated at me for ignoring him. He considered my body public property, and when I had the nerve to withhold it from him he left his mark on me to put me in my place. To claim me. And while the pain was only temporary the shame and insult and anger it brought up in me has bored its way in and will have a hard time getting out.
It's sitting in there with all the other times.
Image (from the game Fear Less!) via rockpapershotgun.com