“What do you think we are? Cattle?”
I’m caught in a tight scree of human flesh, all pretending we aren’t pressed up against each other’s bodies — fleshy, rib thin, and somewhere in-between. Boston’s old subway cars weren’t meant to hold this many people. The cattle remark is in my head. I can’t say it. I’m afraid I’ll stutter or people would laugh at me.
That’s when it happens.
Someone reaches from behind me and slides his hand down the front on my pants. Both of my hands are gripping the overhead strap and my legs are parted to steady myself from the stops and starts of the jolting train.
“Hey!” I let go of the strap with my left arm and squeeze it between two of my neighbors but the hand is gone before I can grab it. It is 1970. I am 19. I burn in shame.
I had returned home after one year of college in New York. Home was Needham, a small town 10 miles west of Boston. Long island, N.Y., was not where I wanted to be. I didn’t know where I wanted to be. I had no plan or ambition, except to star in Broadway musicals but I was afraid to speak and couldn’t sing. I had also broken my kneecap twice in high school. My one year as a drama major ended in disaster when I couldn’t manage the role as Marat Sade’s mother. And she was a stutterer.
Mom’s friend got me a job in Medical Records at Children’s Hospital and I went to night school at Boston College. From the hospital, I took the Green Line to the BC stop. Three hours later, I’d head home to the Newton Highlands stop where I would take a bus to Needham Square. I didn’t drive and we didn’t have a car anyway, so the MBTA was my constant companion, riding its street cars and buses four times a day.
“I won’t do this anymore.”
I hated the way men looked at me when I’d make my way through the construction sites that littered the streets and sidewalks along the way. I’d veer out to the road followed by the whistles and calls for blow jobs from the guys with hard hats. I wore glasses, no makeup and baggy turtlenecks with the mandatory skirts but it didn’t matter. I was young.
After the subway incident, I went in to the manager’s office and told her I was done. “I can’t do this anymore,” I told her, “I won’t do this anymore.”
Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, 1970, I was on an airplane with my sister who was headed back to Colorado State University after Christmas break. She and I were never the best friends we should have been, only 18 months apart, but it was better than spending the rest of my life terrified of crowds and the subway. I was already unable to drive after a traumatizing car accident. A good sturdy bike would get me where I needed to go in Colorado.
“A bloated, orange-tinted mass of pulpy flesh”
Forty plus years later and Donald Trump is caught saying ‘grab them by the pussy’ and I am outraged. More than outraged.
I am indignant, incensed, I am horrified. In my dreams, I want to stab him in the heart and testicles a million times then write my name — and the names of all women who have been assaulted, grabbed, diminished, denigrated — in his blood as it slowly leaves his body, leaving a bloated, orange-tinted mass off pulpy flesh and pockmarked bone. Again, fantasies in my dream land, not for advocating violence against a president or anyone.
Does such a dream make me a terrorist? Did I break the law by entertaining fantasies of hurting the president?
I don’t harbor those fantasies because I disagree with his policies (which I do) or think that he is a disgrace as a president and a human being (which I do). I harbor those fantasies because he is a predator and a sexual bully. Every woman knows what that is and the women who voted for him have neatly compartmentalized that fact somewhere in their emotional body where it will fester and eventually destroy them.
“Was I that fragile?”
At 65 years of age, I now understand that I left Boston because someone grabbed me by the pussy. I left behind the love of my life, the ocean, my mother, the home I was raised in and the New England I still yearn for—just because an asshole grabbed me and I felt powerless and ashamed and scared that it would happen again.
Was I that fragile? Was I that sorry-ass wimp of a girl? Without the backbone to give the construction guys the finger and yell ‘fuck you’ back at them? Without the courage to call out ‘help’ in the subway car? Yes, I was.
Years later, I hug my dogs tight when I hear the President’s voice over the radio. I’m already considering a replacement for the third dog I just lost to a painful disease. Two is good but three — three is impenetrable.
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