I'm going to talk about something that happened to me this weekend. It may trigger anyone who has been accosted by a stranger, but this event ended well. I'm ok. My narrative is gender specific because it was part of the nature of the encounter. I'm aware that men need to protect themselves against harm and are needlessly victimized at times just as women are, but the fashion in which this happened is going to be told strongly through the lens of a female. I also want to make sure that you all know that I believe with my whole heart that there are plenty of men who are good through and through and would never harm another living being. I know and love several.
Ok. On with what happened.
Friday night, just before I went to the first phase of what ended up being an AMAZING weekend with good friends, I needed to make a quick stop. I had screwed my nail polish up really badly, and I just wanted to clean it all off. I was driving with a friend, and we found a CVS close to our destination.
I insisted that my friend wait in the air conditioned car while I ran in to quickly buy some stuff and clean the polish off. I promised to be quick and ran inside.
Once in, I found nail polish remover and cottonballs. I purchased both, and then decided that it would be more polite for me to use the remover in the CVS bathroom than in the car. I took my purchases to the restroom, which was inside a long corridor just off the main floor. I put my bag on the counter, opened everything up, and started to clean my fingernails.
A few moments later I saw the main door open - it was a few feet from the sink. It was a man, a bit taller than me. His hair was greasy and curly, he had a mustache, and his face looked like it hadn't been shaved in about a week. He smelled strongly of body odor. He spoke clearly, and said "Oh I'm sorry. Wrong bathroom."
Me: "No problem, it's back that way."
Him, lingering: "Um, yeah..."
That's when I noticed him staring and his eyes starting to roam. I felt a slight panic but then told myself I was being ridiculous. Then he tried to talk some more.
Him: "What are you doing?"
Me: "Removing nail polish."
Him: "Oh, one time I had tobacco stains on my fingernails and I couldn't get it out for anything."
At that point it was flagrantly uncomfortable and inappropriate that he was talking to me.
Me: "You need to leave. I need some space right now."
Him: "Oh... oh. Sorry"
He retreated and the door closed behind him. I heaved a sigh of relief and went back to my nails. Not 30 seconds later the door opened again. He was back, and this time he slipped in and closed the door behind him.
Panic. Sickness. Numbness.
Me: "Get out of here."
Him: "Stay calm, I just want to talk. You are really pretty. Just hold still."
I made a move for the door and he grabbed me. He was breathing really heavily.
In that moment time seemed to slow and I felt like my body and brain were looking down two distinctive paths. Crumple because I was scared shitless or do whatever was physically possible to get the fuck out of that room. My body took over and lurched into him and knocked him to the left - out of the way of the door. I ran out, and sprinted down the corridor. I could hear him behind me. It didn't sound like he was running after me but he was yelling.
Him: "Don't embarrass me! Don't make a big deal out of this!! It's not a big deal!!! STOP!!"
Again in slow motion, I saw the door to the main store and knew if I could get through that I would be ok. I would be around people and he couldn't do anything. At that point it hadn't occurred to me that he might have had a weapon on him. Thankfully I still don't know the answer to that.
The pharmacy was the closest staffed location, and I stopped there and shouted at them to call the police because someone had tried to assault me in the bathroom. The two women said "Who?" at the same time, like I had to explain myself.
I bolted from them to the counter near the door where there were four customers and a clerk. I ran to the front of the line and said, "I'm sorry - but there's a guy who grabbed me in the bathroom and you need to call the police." The cashier looked scared and confused, but the lady who was getting rung up snapped her out of it by scolding her. "GET ON THE PHONE AND CALL THE POLICE! MOVE!!!" So the lady did, and I could hear the man approaching us from behind.
Him: "I was just asking where the men's room is. It was a misunderstanding! She's lying!!"
Without looking back I ran out the front door, got in the car with my confused friend, and tore out of the parking lot like a bat out of hell. I've never driven without a seatbelt in my life but we went blocks before I realized where I was and what I was doing.
That is where that piece ends. Some might have argued that I should have stayed until the police arrived but my body didn't do that. I have no explanation other than adrenaline and terror needed me to be as far away from him as possible or I was going to collapse.
In the moments and hours that followed I was in the safety and confidence of some of the best people I know, and they all took great care to make me feel safe and comfortable. Not everyone in the group knew, because I was loathe to have this event touch the purpose of the gathering. There were enough who knew to take care of me.
I'm sharing this with you now because the more I reflect on what happened, the less I feel like the victim and the more I feel like the winner. My heart breaks for every woman who was unable to flee an assailant. That could have gone horribly differently, but it didn't. I pushed him off. I got away. I'm ok.
I didn't know I had it in me, but it was there. I want to share whatever strength I called upon with everyone here, men and women. I'm writing this today because I think that up until this event I had an assumption that I was bulletproof when out on my own. I've never carried mace - I've never felt the need. I walk in the dark alone. I travel alone. It never occurred to me that someone would try to shut me in a filthy drugstore bathroom and take advantage of me. Coming through this, I'm proud that I was able to get out of that situation but I have a new sense of humility when it comes to being out in the world.
Please, ladies, take an extra look around. Know where you are and who you are with. Have a safe base or an evacuation plan. I know that we can't avoid all the scumbags of the earth, but we can take extra measures for our security.
Let's send mojo, prayers, love, compassion to anyone who wasn't able to get away, and send hope for those who may need the strength someday. Don't spend it on me - I'm ok.