Friday, December 12, 2014

Fear & Loathing On Public Transport

Bad shit happens to everyone, and if you're a woman, certain kinds of bad shit are almost a given.

I always wondered if that day would ever come for me, if I'd be one of the lucky few, or just another depressing statistic. I made it to 30 years of existence without having once been molested. When I was younger and less assertive, in my school uniform or cheap high heels, I carried that dark vigilance around with me, like a fist closed tightly over a key when walking home at night. Call it a minor state of terror, a low-burning awareness that some men often try to lean in too close, place an unwanted hand on your back, insist on talking to you and asking for your name and more. Always be wary. Be smart. I've exited taxis, bookstores, libraries, malls - annoyed and flustered, a little frightened.

Maybe I got stupid and complacent over time. Nothing truly bad ever happened to me. There's a decade's worth of younger women in short shorts roaming around in public, so who'd want to touch me? I wear glasses, sensible flats and modest necklines to work. On that day I wore a knee-length dress that buttoned right up to the collar, with sleeves.

Of course it didn't matter. It was a crowded train, and I was forced towards the back by people surging in as the doors closed. Some lady's handbag was jabbing into my side, and someone's sweaty backpack was almost under my nose. Only two stations to go.

I had my earphones in, and I managed to take my phone out and twist slightly to the side so I could read an article on it. It was a very interesting long-form piece, but for the life of me now I can't remember what it was about. That's probably a good thing. I delved deep into it, forgot where I was and where I was going.

I don't like this next part, but I've been having such bad dreams. If I leave it here I might finally get a good night's sleep.

I felt something shift against the small of my back, but I assumed it was yet another bag or possibly unwieldy sports equipment (there were loads of schoolkids on the train, carrying musical instruments and other torture devices). It moved again, and again, with an unusual and determined intensity, and then I awoke - as if from a dream - startled out of my reading and music by some instinctive internal alarm: I knew what it was.

I turned around - and here's the funny part, I couldn't see his face, because I am only 1.58m tall and he was a lot taller. I stared in confusion at a skinny t-shirted chest - and it's true, in the shock of the moment you do completely blank out on the colour of it - and then the train stopped, the doors opened, and people began to push past me to exit. Among them was the man who had assaulted me. He shoved his way out (tall, thin, pale coloured pants?) faster than anyone else and disappeared into the crowd.

I should have run after him, maybe caught him by the elbow and punched him in the face (assuming I could reach it). I probably should have screamed. But like I said, your mind really does go blank at times like these. Human programming can be so very disappointing.

There was nothing else I could do, so I went to work. I taught my students, handed out their worksheets, took the train home. I vented about the incident, and my husband made all the right statements of support and outrage and comfort, and I went to sleep and woke up again in the morning.

I never cried about it. I did feel an unbelievable anger at myself, and at the man on the train. Who the fuck does something like that? What broken shell of a human being rubs his dick on unsuspecting women on public transport?

They say that such men get off on the violation, the five seconds of power over another human being. I hope this means that they are utterly powerless in everyday life, broken by somebody else on an hourly basis. I hope that man goes to work and gets yelled at and treated like shit, and goes home alone and can't make enough money to ever get out of his lousy situation. If he fucks hookers, I hope they fake affection for him, drain him of every last cent and give him herpes in return. I want him to die in a welfare nursing home with a bacteria-ridden catheter shoved up his dick by an untrained monkey who doesn't even know his name.

I hope he feels violated and worthless every single moment of his waking life, because I don't think I'm the first person he's ever done that to.

 Anyway. I felt bad for a day or two, and then I moved on - or so I thought. I kept busy - Christmas is coming, don't you know - and a few days later I got back onto the same line, on my way to work.

The train wasn't that crowded. I moved to the centre of the carriage. Without thinking, I checked to make sure nobody was standing behind me. It's become second nature.

As the train doors closed, I felt a strange sensation settle on me. I was so uncomfortable, twitchy almost. It was a constant, chilly unease, like I'd forgotten something important at home. It took a few long minutes to identify it: fear. After so many years - fear, my old friend. You won't ever leave me again.


blauereiter said...

I'm sorry this had to happen to you. :[

Not to trivialize what you went through, but I got molested when I was in secondary school, and it wasn't even on a train. I was just walking to the bus-stop when a leering old man copped a feel of my bum.

Yeah, I should have punched him in the face right there like you said but it just happened so quickly I just walked on, in a mix of daze and surprise, so I can somewhat relate to how you felt.

I hope this unhappy incident gets forgotten soon but vigilance on the train is always a good idea, I guess.

May-Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing your own experience, it really made me feel better that I'm not the only one who was too dazed/shocked to react. In retrospect, better that it happened to me than the hordes of secondary school/JC kids in the same cabin! It sucks that you were so young when it happened - talk about innocence lost.

On a more cheerful note, I watched The Great Beauty recently and was blown away by how beautifully it was shot (although the plot was a bit meandering). Thanks for the recommendation. Now I really want to see Italy.

blauereiter said...

Perhaps it's a good time to plan a trip to Italy ? The Euro has been pretty weak against SGD. :P

I bought the blu-ray for The Great Beauty recently and plan to enjoy it again soon. Yeah the plot can be meandering, but many European films tend to savor the journey more than the destination, if that makes sense, which is why there's often no resolute ending to their stories.

If you have time to check out one more film I also recommend french director Fran├žois Ozon's "Young & Beautiful", which I thought was a fascinating film. It has an amazing soundtrack, btw :

May-Lynn said...

Don't tempt me... no travel this year cause I'm on a tight budget. I've cut back my work hours in order to write my novel. Last-ditch attempt to be creative, otherwise I'll have to quit the effort and go back to work full-time.

Cool, the film looks good. Thanks! I've only watched Ozon's Eight Women and wasn't impressed apart from the visuals (which were a bit too cartoony, I thought). I will look for Young & Beautiful and its soundtrack. Are you going to review the blu-ray for The Great Beauty? Will be interesting to read your take on it :)

blauereiter said...

Oh a novel ?! So exciting ! Would love to read it when you're done. :]

Eight Women is actually the odd one out of Ozon's films, most of which take on a more sombre tone. Here's the trailer for Young & Beautiful just for a taste :

Yeah I'll probably write a post about The Great Beauty later on, just as a recommendation rather than a film review. :]

Good luck with the novel !

May-Lynn said...

Thanks! Good trailer btw. I like the naturalistic but still quite stylized look of it. Wish I was French, haha. Will be looking out for your recommendation then :)