|Cave painting from Lascaux, a cave in the French Dordogne Valley|
So, the first time something of this nature happened to me was when I was 17, when we were on a family vacation in France. For some bizarre reason, my parents thought it would be absolutely thrilling to visit a region called the Dordogne Valley, where there is almost nothing to do but look at Paleolithic cave drawings. (Oh, there's also a lot of delicacies to eat in this region, namely, goose parts. I once consumed a delicious soup, and after I was through, I asked the waiter what it was made of. He beamingly replied, "pureed goose fat." I nearly choked on the crouton that I had moved on to, which probably had also been fried in that same scrumptious lard. Oh, those crazy French!) Anyway, we spent an entire MONTH going from one damp cave to the next -- not to mention, it never stopped raining that summer, so we were perpetually chilled to the bone. The cave paintings were interesting and all, but, really, not anything to die for. They were, quite simply, really old cave drawings, and more than anything, a welcome diversion from our boredom and dampness.
Anyhow, these fascinating French caves varied in sizes: some of the bigger ones you would take trams into, and some of the littler ones you would just walk around. At one of the smaller caves, the tour guide (a chubby, older man with longish greasy hair), tells us he'll take our family around the cave with a flashlight to show us the drawings. At the the first drawing he stops and places me right next to him, puts my family on the other side him, and then another family behind us. (You also have to remember that it is PITCH black inside these caves.) As he's showing us the first drawing, he starts grabbing my hand and sort of massaging it. I immediately tense up, but chide myself, saying he's only being friendly, no big deal. Then he takes us to another drawing. Again, he places me right next to him. As he's showing us this one, he starts rubbing my breasts. I start totally freaking out, but I'm paralyzed with fear. I'm only 17, and there's this whole other family of tourists with us, and I don't want to make a scene, but also I sort of can't find my own voice. He then takes us to another drawing, and this time starts rubbing my behind as well as my breasts. Now I can only pray, "Please let the tour be over soon. Please let the tour be over soon." At the last and final drawing, he places me right next to him, but, as you can guess, reaches over and starts touching my you-know-what. I am so traumatized at this point and so scared, I don't know what else to do but just to get through it.
After the tour is over, I fall over myself running to get away from that horrific cave. I sob to my parents, and tell them what happened, and even though they believe me and everything, they actually underreact, as they have no idea the extent of what I feel inside. Because what I felt was such a loss of control, or perhaps, a loss of my own power. I had always been such a pleaser that I was actually afraid of disrupting the tour, or of making a scene. I think a certain part of me didn't want to embarrass my family with an outburst, or even to embarrass that dirty old French man, who deserved no such kindness. I simply shrunk into myself out of fear and humiliation, and let the whole thing happen as I struggled to find my voice. Of course, looking back, I envision myself calling the dude out, shaming him, shouting at him to stop, or whatever -- but the bottom line is, he was a nasty old man who took advantage of a young girl, and he had probably done it countless times before, and did it countless times again.
A couple of years later, when I was studying in Florence, I would ride the bus to school every morning. This one morning the bus was particularly crowded, and there are probably, like, sixty of us all standing and holding on to those hand loop things that hang from the top of European buses. We're literally like sardines smushed against one another. All of a sudden, I feel this thing rubbing up against my behind. I try to ignore it, but it happens again. And again. This guy (middle-aged, but I never really got a good look at his face) is actually masturbating against me! (I have subsequently learned that this action is called "frotterism" -- good word, huh?) You would think I have learned my lesson by now, but, once more, I don't say anything. I just wait until the next stop and methodically and carefully wind my way through the Italian bus passengers, and then once the door opens, frantically stumble off in a flurry of book bags and drawing portfolios. I don't think air has ever felt so fresh.
I was also coerced into sex by a guy I was dating in my 20's, and I didn't fight out of that same terrible and paralyzing fear. By today's standards, this would probably be considered "date rape," but labels make me nervous, and actually make these incidents almost more important than they have to be. The bottom line is, I had VERY disenchanting run-ins with two dirty old men, and an overly-testosteroned 25-year-old. But what I learned from these experiences is that if I don't use my voice, the same shit will just happen over and over again. Making a scene, creating a ruckus, whatever you want to call it, is not necessarily a bad thing, it's simply finding your own personal power and using it as a vehicle to create change in a given situation, or even in your life.
So I guess that is why it has been so important for me to find my voice within this blog. I can't change what's happened in the past, and, actually, I don't want to, but I know I can change my future.
And that's a ruckus I'll make any day.