Sunday, November 13, 2016

part two: a walk along the river

For the past several days I’ve been thinking of a walk I once took along the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was 19 or so, a university student. I was smitten with small-town Appleton and its close-in wild places. The university’s small, picturesque campus was nestled along the river. The student union was atop a hill that led down to the river. At the union we gathered to study and eat and drink beer, to play Foosball and pool, to attend the occasional dance. When it was snowy, we took trays from the cafeteria and whooped and hollered as we sat on them to slide helter-skelter down Union Hill, toward the river.

The school’s gymnasium was set apart from campus, also along the river but on its other side, up maybe a mile or so, and most often one took a bus—we called it The Bluebird—to get there and back. Sometimes I walked, either along College Avenue or along the river. As I remember it, the walk back along the river was through a wooded area and then a field of sorts, somewhat wild, I picture something like abandoned rail lines, weeds and stubble, perhaps some trash, and the paper mill was nearby. At Lawe Street, cross over the river and you’re on campus, at the foot of Union Hill. Perhaps I should not have made this river walk on my own, but if this is not a free country, then what? And this particular day was lovely, a sunny and mild autumn afternoon. I wore, as usual, jeans and a T-shirt.

I wasn’t far from Lawe Street when I noticed a group of teenagers walking toward me. They were boys, maybe four or five of them, and they didn’t seem that old, maybe 13 or 14, 15? As we drew near to one another I smiled, said hello, and one of them grabbed my left breast, squeezed, let go. I remember hearing chatter and laughter as they walked on and I walked on stunned, angry, humiliated, ashamed, angry, scared, dumbfounded, ashamed, angry, humiliated—every emotion I can still feel now as I think about this moment I have not thought about in so, so long.

Thank you, donald trump, for refreshing my memory.

How I wish I could punch every one of those skinny wimps hard in the face, break their noses, make them bleed, make them cry.

And how glad I am that I did not try to do that because if one of those boys felt free to reach out and grab me, what more might they all have felt free to do? In their group, emboldened. And of course, it’s OK—this is what boys, even men, do. It’s acceptable. Grab a breast, move on, giggle.

Thank you, donald trump, for reminding me of that.

Oh, if only I had been quick enough! How great if I had grabbed that kid’s arm, wrenched it hard up behind his back, broken it, made him cry.

Walk on.

I don’t remember that I ever told anyone of this incident. So maybe this is this first time I am allowing that once this random person walked by, reached out, squeezed my breast, laughed, and I did nothing. The whole thing pisses the hell out of me.

Thank you, donald trump.

I mean, what was the point of telling anyone? Such a minor incident. Maybe some would have commiserated, but others, well, who knew how others might react? And the last thing I wanted was to be surprised and humiliated again.

It still surprises me that so-called normal men—certain men, certain boys, certain people—feel they have a right to women’s bodies. To another person’s body. And it saddens me immensely that so many women support this idea, support these men, these boys, these people, or, at least, it sure seems they do.

Didn’t I hear our president-elect say something about it not only being acceptable for men to grab at random female body parts, but that it is to be expected? So all men are sexual molesters? And all women victims? Oh no wait a minute. It’s only pretty women who will be grabbed. Because to be sexually molested is to be complimented.

Can you imagine living in this man’s world? Do you live in this man’s world?

It makes one feel it is a losing battle.

But oh my gosh, I know, don’t I. Battles and losing can go on for what seems like forever and it can feel so hopeless, winning always just out of reach, and you get used to sitting on the bench, watching others celebrate. You get used to being pawed and mocked and marginalized. But then, there’s this, always this: That you know in your heart that you are better and can be better and will be better because you will not give up. You know, simply, in your heart, what is right.

So I’ve been wondering about that boy who was walking along the Fox River that day. Who did he grow up to be? How long did he boast about what he had done? How did it affect his status among his friends? Was he a leader or a follower? Did he do it on a dare? Did he do it just that once or many times? And when he did it to me was he surprised, caught off guard, humiliated, ashamed, angry, afraid, or was he on top of the world? Did he feel in control and on top of the world? And after, did he ever feel that he could be better than that? A better person. Or has he remained just this stupid kid grabbing at breasts?

Thank you, Mr. President-To-Be, thank you so very much for reminding me so very much of this very stupid kid.

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