About thirty-five years ago, on an autumn night when the skies got dark surprisingly earlier than expected, I found myself in the storage lean-to where the barrels of bird feed were stored, at the farm that neighbored our house. It was damp and there was the strong smell of must and dried corn. I wasn’t alone.
“Uncle” Oscar was somehow there in the dark, too. The smell of his pipe completed the trifecta of aromas in that small, damp space. I wasn’t afraid of him. He was familiar, with his belted khaki pants and tan-colored Volkswagen, just another part of the scenery to which I had become accustomed. I think that sense of comfort was why I didn’t make a sound when his hands touched my chest in the area where my breasts would eventually reside. I was speechless with disbelief. It was only later, much later, after I refused to accept his candy on Halloween, that I began to examine that moment and what had happened. How I had been completely complacent and what that meant about me. Was I passive? What if he had tried something even more invasive? What would it have taken for me to react?
Today, I was in a bakery with some friends. We were hungry and planning a feast – a little of this, a little of that. What I hadn’t anticipated was the older man behind us in line – most definitely not a gentleman as he so blatantly revealed, touching me. It was the oddest thing. One moment he was merely another human being looking to satisfy an appetite and the next he was a predator invading my personal space.
His game went like this: he grabbed my bare shoulder with his hand and held it for a couple of beats, pretending that he had mistaken me for someone he knew. When I looked at him in utter disbelief, he attempted to persuade me that it was a joke, just a lighthearted goof. I quietly pointed out the need for personal boundaries and how he had crossed mine. I made it clear that it was an unwelcome touch and stepped a way from him. My male friend got much closer and inserted himself to provide a physical barrier between the perve and me. The man continued to explain why I should I find his touch a benign act. He wouldn’t shut the hell up about why it was ok for him to have friggin touched me. He went so far as to point out that I was “very attractive,” almost as if it were my fault that he had put his hand on my exposed shoulder.
I was so rattled I couldn’t even think clearly. What should I have done? Should I have created a scene? Called him out on his inappropriate behavior? Had the surrounding people get involved? Despite the brightness of the summer sky, I was immediately right back in that feed shed smelling something that was most decidedly “off.”
Fair warning: the next person who lays a hand on me, without my invitation, will be touched with 35 years worth of disgust. I’m not taking another emotional bruising without leaving an external black and blue lesson.