You might want to pour a few...
A cousin in a back bedroom. A friend who drove me home from our local dive. Another friend who gave me a lift home. A cab ride with a B-list film and TV actor who's been in blockbusters. And, most recently, a former bartender who kept buying me mezcal and tequila and kissed me until my mouth and neck bruised under the force of his grip — the marks appeared the next morning, after a harrowing night of throwing up in a bar bathroom and being walked home by a rescuer.
It's amazing, when I think about it, how most of my experiences with men have involved unwanted advances, or even more unwanted touch. Because my mere proximity was enough consent. I sat next to them. Or I was kind. Or I was funny. I smiled. That was the green light to lean in, to loom, to lower lips to mine. To tell me, “I've always had a woody for you.” To bracket my chin and hold me in place. To tell me it would be our special secret.
I smiled too wide. I gave them the wrong impression. It's amazing, too, the things I've told myself over the years about all of these encounters — the judgment growing all the heavier as my few consensual moments, more often than not alcohol-fueled, joined the pile. I don't think I've kissed someone while sober since I was 18. I'd like to think it didn't count when I was eight.
At a certain point, you begin to feel like the word “victim” is scrawled all over you. Like they can read it, smell it, taste it. The shame is leaking from your pores. So you need a drink to forget that essence, that tattoo, for a while, or you need a drink to make yourself brave enough to flirt with someone you like...and then you realize the man next to you interprets “victim” as “easy” or “I want it,” and he takes away the choices you've been fighting so hard to get back.
Someone once told me "It's not like you were raped." As if penetration is the only real violation. As if I'm not allowed to catalogue the countless moments where I felt unsafe and guilty and betrayed.
There's so much of it I can't remember. So much of it I want to forget.
And that's not even counting anonymous groping, ass-grabs, men trying to pull me on dance floors, online dating perverts, and guys who've called me a bitch when I dare to shoot them down.
I smiled too wide. I gave them the wrong impression. That must be it, right?
Weeks later, I still find myself tracing my neck, like the thumbprint hasn't faded. I shudder. I keep trying to find a way to make it my fault.
None of it was ever my fault.
I didn't ask for it.
I existed. I breathed the same air.
I was kind and funny and I smiled.
I'm a woman, I remind myself. That's all the reasoning he needed.