Hola

This post is written by Ikatekit Princess.

It’s after 10 pm. I’m in the laundromat across the street from my house, folding my laundry. The place is empty—I’m the only idiot who thought the day after winter storm Jonas was the perfect time to trudge through the snow to get my clothes cleaned. But I am savoring the emptiness, the lack of bustle, the absence of people. I may even be humming when I look up and see a short, middle-aged Hispanic man walking through the laundromat’s glass doors.

I don’t recognize him, but he makes a beeline for me, smiles, stretches out his hand, greets me enthusiastically. I say hello back. I imagine I must have met him somewhere before (how else to explain the familiarity?); I expect that we shall exchange meaningless niceties and then he will turn to his own laundry. But he does not move. And on second glance, he does not appear to have a laundry bag. Instead, he plants himself in front of me, opens his mouth to speak. “You’re very beautiful, do you know that?” Pause. “So nice, your face. You look so kind.”

Like a VHS tape with its ribbon caught, I halt, mid-fold, understanding dawning on me like a flashlight in the face while you come out of a dark space.

This motherfucker just used the oldest trick in the book. He is trying to hit on me.

My dreams of pristine folded clothes crumple like used aluminum foil squeezed in the palm. I shove my clothes into the laundry bag, quickly, chaotically. But the mofo keeps talking.

“You have a husband? You married?”

I hesitate briefly. It irks me to lie. I am especially disgusted that I must invent a fictional man to deter the one standing right in front of me. My own expression of disinterest should be paramount. My explicit no should be enough. But it’s late, I’m tired. I know how this game goes. If I lay claim to a big, hulking fictional man, perhaps I can escape this encounter relatively unscathed.

So I nod once: yes. My clothes seem to multiply in the dryer. I grab bigger handfuls. I shove faster.

“Why is your husband not here with you? What’s your name? Does he work late? Does he work in the city? I work an eight-hour shift in a restaurant. Lasagna? Do you like lasagna? Do you do laundry every Sunday? I can bring you lasagna. Do you have any kids?”

I have not said a word, have not met his eyes. My clothes are finally in the bag, finally tucked into my cart.

“Can I help you?”

“NO,” I choke out.

And then I am outside, pushing recklessly through the snow and ice, trying to cross the street to my house, longing to return to blissful serenity. I have plugged my earphones in. I pretend not to hear him crashing out of the doors after me, calling out, whistling, and then shouting, asking me to wait, he has something to say.

But I am flying. I am gone. And then I am inside my apartment. I have banged the door shut. I am safe. It is over.

***

It is Thursday. I’m on the train heading home after an interminable day. It’s late. Pushing midnight. Sunday’s encounter has faded—reduced to an unsavory anecdote that I have told one or two friends. Told them casually, like, “Can you believe this nonsense?!”

In any case, I’m on my phone, scrolling sleepily through Instagram when I feel someone sit down next to me, too close, pressing against my thigh, leaning towards my face with a peremptory familiarity.

“Hello. HELLO. HOLA!”

I still myself, refuse to acknowledge the accented voice that I have reluctantly recognized. When the train stops, I vault out of my seat, into the cold, and just AWAY. But I hear the voice call out after me, “This is not your stop! This is Y! Your stop is X!”

No shit, sir.

For a second I think that he will follow me again, but he does not. The train veers away and I breathe relief—alone, free, unencumbered—although now I must stand shivering in the cold, waiting on the next train. It is over, at least, I think. I have escaped him.

***

I wait twenty minutes for the next train. It takes an additional fifteen minutes to get to my true stop. I skip down the stairs happily, already thinking of my bed. And there, at the bottom of the stairs, I find him—waiting patiently.

I know a moment of pure terror.

***

What I have recounted is an extreme case, but every woman I know, and likely every woman you know has—more than once—reproached an unwanted sexual advance. Too many men hold the belief that when a woman says no, what she really means is that she needs to be convinced. On the most basic level, this is an insult to the woman’s intelligence and sense of ownership over her own body. But even more than that, these kinds of encounters underline how much power men assign both to themselves and to other men (however fictional). These men who approach forcefully believe that they cannot and will not be rejected. Likewise, when they ask about whether or not the woman has a man/boyfriend/husband, they assign agency over the woman’s body to another man—who while not necessarily visible in that moment—has more authority than the woman herself. The woman’s body becomes mere property—a commodity to be exchanged. Her voice is extinguished. This is a very particular type of violence.

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