February 21, 2014
how not to lie or "between two parises" part iii
Do I want to bother trying to explain what a 19-year-old platinum blonde American woman (though most often taken for German or Swedish), standing 5' 10", way too thin and boobs too big, traveling through Europe alone might experience? Thank God, they hadn't made any of those Taken movies yet! I might have chickened out. and never gone to Europe at all!
I ended up in a lot of yelling matches and semi-physical confrontations that frayed me to the living end. I was accosted more often than I would have liked--when really, I would have liked to have not been accosted at all. I was born in Boston, grew up in San Francisco, travelled often and knew how to hold my own wherever I went. I had cultivated a way of walking--a city walk--a way of energetically keeping people off. Back home, street people actually COMMENTED on my walk. But maybe, just maybe, that language was different in Europe? Or, it may be that that attitude actually prevented anything from going to the point of no return because I somehow managed to "get out" of these situations--but not unscathed.
Considering the information I shared about how alcohol quickly became my best friend, one might assume that this was all alcohol related. In the Grand Scheme of things who knows, but, I cannot stress enough that most of what I describe below took place in the daytime, and I wasn't really compelled to drink until evening. (That happened a lot later)
My responses these unflattering overtures started out more "polite" than not--but eventually they escalated to an "every person for themselves" attitude. I got violent in the daylight. I felt if you were going to sexually accost me in the middles of the day, you had no boundaries and I would reply in kind. I kicked a 13-year-old boy in the face when he decided to look under my skirt while I was eating lunch on a park bench. I had to yell and chase some disgusting old man trying to smell by "backside" while I was waiting to board a train. And another one who tried to smell it, on a different train! At least three times, random guys just whipped it out and started whacking off right in front of me--again, in broad daylight. (That one almost got to be comical.) I had to wend my way through different streets as situations popped up in front of me. There was a lot of yelling, hollering, whistling, groping, hissing...noises! Oh, the noises!. Men grabbing my inner thigh as I waited to buy gelato. (That inner thigh thing is beyond disgusting and happened enough that, if I was stationary, I would stand with my legs pressed together in crowded areas. I wasn't prowling seedy bars, giving guys the once over and then whining if they whistled at me. In my mind I wasn't doing anything. And the whole thing wore me down.
Some readers may recall my allusion to the fact that, at some point, I would long for the "cool indifference" of the French--and this was why. The farther I got from the Atlantic ocean, the crazier it got. So, running to my friend in Italy, hoping for the haven of "safety-in-numbers" was good on paper. But running to Italy to get away from a personal space invasion wasn't.....exactly......the best choice......and then further south we went in Italy, and finally into Rome....well, I just couldn't get out of that city fast enough.
Why would I bother to share this part of the story with folks whose only reason for looking at this website is because they are interested in Mars One? To show that I've been cornered, I've been trapped, I've been challenged (and this is only a part of the story!) and I've managed to choose a life far from bitterness, far from fear and far from blame. The point is, I know when to leave something behind when it doesn't work anymore. This is pretty important in an astronaut, don't you think?
February 22, 2014
I hate to say it, but it was true--I had a battered train schedule in my hand. And after spending way too long in Italy--I hightailed it out of there. My plan was to go to Sweden. The Swedish chick I had met in Munchen had invited me to visit. My mother's side of the family is Swedish and I had always wanted to go north into the land of snow and ice. I boarded a night train. I don't remember where it was going, but it was headed out of Italy and in the direction of Sweden.
There were a lot of advantages to sleeping on a night train--saving money was a big one. I had learned, however, that sleeping on a train, basically rendering oneself unconscious in public, really left one open to a lot of stuff to which I preferred not to be left open. But, I was kind of desperate. It was late. The train was really very empty and I was really very tired. I located an empty compartment and at first I tried to stay awake but eventually, I fell asleep.
Since the compartment was empty, I had a bench of three seats available, side by side, and at some point, I fell asleep.
I felt myself wake up--but I was still groggy with sleep. I was facing the seat backs, curled up slightly to accommodate my length.
(Note: it is now February 28, and I still have not completed this writing. It was just one of those terrifying moments in life that gets buried away because there is no inherent value in remembering it consciously. I am not sure if I will be able to accurately convey the crazed static that passed in the train compartment and the horror that it promised, but it was just that: horrifying for a 19 year-old-girl alone in the middle of the night on a train and in a country whose name was unknown at the moment. Anything that might supply anchor, was just gone.
And, yes, I realize that I've just shifted the writing into the present tense.)
So, I wake up, and I feel this light pressure against my backside. And then it is gone. And then it is there again. And then it is gone. I hazily realize that whatever it is, it is synchronized with the motion of the train. I start to become more aware that I am horizontal, and have been sleeping, apparently, on a train, and this was something I tried to avoid. I note that it is still dark outside. And there it is again, this pressure and this presence behind me, on me. All in one frenzied moment, I take stock of the fact that I have all my clothes on, I whip my head around and there is this man. In the dark. With his face buried. In my Private Woman Area. Smelling me. With a feral-like growling/yelping noise, I jump up, push him away and immediately default into reptilian brain mode. I start yelling at this guy in a guttural voice as if I am attempting to scare off a large predator--which is, in fact, what I am doing. He's got his pants down around his ankles, etc. blah blah blah. He is now himself jumping up from the floor, pulling his pants up and speaking to me in this....TONE......like he's attempting to calm a wild animal--which is, in fact, what he is doing. I'm yelling at him, gesturing, demanding that he get the fuck OUT of my train car. I want to push him out, but I am also afraid to touch him. I certainly don't want to touch him if I don't have to. Now, that he's fastened his pants, his puts his hands up in the air, palms facing me at shoulder level, as if he is surrendering. The problem is, he's ADVANCING at the same time. (Note to all: If you are TRULY surrendering, you are BACKING UP--not ADVANCING--this is an important detail.) He's speaking in a disgusting tone in a language I don't speak and I am in such a frenzy he could be speaking Klingon. (To this day, I have no idea what language it was--but I am pretty sure if it was English, Italian, French or German--it would have registered quickly.) However, there are two English words he knows--"Eets okay----eets okay----eets okay" And you know what? "Eet" was not fucking okay. Apparently, we are the only two people on the train in the middle of nowhere because no one is rushing in to help a me even though I am making plenty of noise. And the train compartment extends only so far and in a moment, if I continue to maintain the distance between us, I am going to back into the window.
Let's pause for a moment for a brief cultural check-in.
America. My native society and culture lobs waves of information at women at a rate too fantastic to comprehend. And these messages are not truths or affirmations of any kind--they are standards created by an anonymous group---let's call them: Probably-Men. And the Probably-Men more or less decide what they want and then broadcast that as being the most valuable asset a woman can have. This is clearly apparent now as we have access to so many different standards of "femininity" from most places and many times. And it is easy to see how, in Western culture, they have funneled down from something comparatively wide to this teeny tiny little bottleneck of crap. I was born in 1970 and thus spent my formative years in the 70s and 80s. The cultural message I received over and over again, that was pertinent to this situation was this: It is better to let the man do whatever he wanted, if you find yourself unwittingly accosted, because if you don't...... he might REALLY hurt you.
There were movies, after-school specials, articles, pamphlets and school assemblies that SUBTLY broadcast the convenient conclusion that when a woman fought back, she was more likely to be beaten, hospitalized or killed in addition to being raped. So, the logic was, if you were a woman, wouldn't it be better to "just be raped" and skip the beating? I hope this sounds as crazy as it is. Lets not forget cultural messages aren't New York Times headlines--they are subtle and insidious and I can testify, without a doubt, that this was what was popular at the time. Just give in, they said. Giving in will keep you as "safe" as you can possibly get in this probably inevitable situation.
If you've read any other part of this site, you may have already guessed that cultural programming or not---I was not going down without a fight.
So, instead of continuing to back up into the window--I threw out a force of energy and advanced slightly, instead, on him. Now I am doing something else. I had gone from defense to offense and thank god thank god thank god--it seemed to be working. Now I am slowly forcing him back against the inner wall of the train. He still has his hands up, palms facing me, but he is now glaring viciously at me and using what sounded like had transformed from coercive language to vile and foul epithets. He's sneering at me and is as menacing as ever, but I could see something shift in his eyes---the possibility that this may not be worth it. Maybe he was just a casual rapist--you know, more of a hobby than a lifestyle choice. Maybe, he was only interested if it was relatively easy.
All that matters is he suddenly has this burst of violent and angry hand gestures, yelling things at me and then turns and storms out. Do I have to tell you frightened I was at that moment? And I was stuck on a train with this freak.
Which is what prompted me to get off the train as soon as possible, my plan be damned.
epilogue to how not to lie or "between two parises parts i,ii, and iii"
I stood in the dark with my canvas bag in an almost deserted train station--almost deserted but not quite. The sun should soon come up, which was good--I was never really sure if that was going to happen and the natural light would calm me down. I was walking, dragging my feet really, to the main pavilion of the station. Sitting here, typing this, I actually cannot remember at all where I was, but if I looked at a map there would probably be only be a few likely places. I am fairly certain, that I had not made it all the way to France because, as I was dragging my feet up to the pavilion, passing different platforms, and I looked up and there was an electronic sign faintly glowing saying that in precisely 3 hours a train was departing from this very spot that would take me directly to Paris, I was surprised. With all that had happened, I wasn't sure I could stomach traveling all the way up to Sweden. The idea was too imposing. Paris, though. Paris suddenly felt like home-- like a safe haven.
So, I just plopped myself down on a bench under that sign and waited for my train to come.
NEXT: How NOT to Lie or "Paris the Second Time"