*trigger warning for abuse, victimization, assault, creeps*
Curled up in the seat, turned toward the windows, I wish for this to be over. I sleep. I wake up, and he knows. I try and pretend, but to no avail. He’s talking again, taking on a familiarity that he hasn’t earned.
‘Please, Jesus,’ I beg. Please let this plane land. Please just take me home. I can see the lake, the one that looks like an ocean. If I squint hard enough, I can pretend I can see my home across it. Please, just let me be there.
Sometimes on clear nights, you can stand on the edge of the lake and look across and see the lights of Chicago. I’ve seen it only once.
I tell him this and I don’t know why. I love my lake and this man from the desert is impressed by it. Is this my fault? Is this what I get for trying to be nice, to be social, to hear other people’s stories? Now I’m just trying to find anything to fill the space, to pass the time.
Dear Jesus, why won’t this plane GO any faster?
I’ve named my seatmate Creeper. Because he is. For 3.5 hours he’s invaded my personal space. Ignored my ‘please don’t talk to me’ vibes that were very strong. He even commented on how I was tuning him out, and God, I can’t be a jerk, right?
So I talk back.
It all started out so innocent. I picked out my window seat. He spotted the open seat, which creepers do. He was a local man, talking talking right away.
We made small talk about our families. About how we were both married and had kids. *cue usual comment about how I don’t look old enough, but with a gross hit-on vibe* He pointed out landmarks of Phoenix as we took off. And after 30 minutes, I was done. I made my small talk, was a nice person, but please, just let me have some peace and quiet.
I took pictures out the window to show the kids, which somehow made him feel he could keep up a steady stream of chatter and questions. My walls went up and only sometimes did I give a curt, one-word answer. If I sat straight in my seat, he would turn to look at me, lean in and talk to me. So I sat sideways, facing the window.
I tried to read a book. I could feel him reading over my shoulder, and then he asked about it. He tried a couple times to get me to order a drink from the flight attendant. He commented on my nerves on take off and landing.
When we finally hit the boring farmland of Kansas, I fell asleep. I awoke to feeling his arm continually rubbing and bumping up against my side, my stomach. (Which oddly, didn’t happen when I was awake.) Maybe if an engine goes out, we’d have to make an emergency landing. Please Jesus, just get me off this plane.
And I just sat there. I didn’t want to make a scene. Because if I had signaled the attendant, it would have been, ‘God, I’m just trying to make conversation. A guy can’t talk to a woman at all now? What are you, some kind of anti-social bitch who over-reacts at everything?’
And so I sat there, my book put away, my phone put down, me just curling up more and more to the window, focusing on the land. Trying to gauge how far away we still were. This feels like Missouri. Good lord, how big is this country anyway?
He hit on me, and I sat there as frozen as the snow beneath us, trapped. A man can sit and say unwelcome things, offensive things, and there’s no graceful way out for the woman. Isn’t there a parachute that I can use to jump out of this hellhole?
It was my first time flying alone, and my first time feeling like an utterly helpless female. Walking the streets of the big cities alone doesn’t make me too nervous. When there are cat calls and comments on the sidewalk they’re easily ignored. Head down, just keep walking. You know they call out to any female that walks by. It’s random, anonymous, and doesn’t phase me.
But this. This was torture. This was personal. I was trapped, and he was right there, constantly talking, hovering, leaning. Tense back, sore stomach and utter loss of control. But I’ve been trained to be nice. To be a gentle, mild, peaceable woman. And that training kicked in, along with the fear of ‘what if I ignore him and make him mad?’
I pep-talked myself for hours. “This is none of his business.” “You don’t owe him a response.” “This is none of his business.” “You can ask him to stop.” “This is none of his business.”
But knowing and doing are two different things. What, was I going to ask the attendant to ask the whole full plane if someone wanted to change seats? And have everyone look at me, think that I can’t handle a few hours of discomfort?
Because it’s on me to handle it, right? It’s the woman’s job to suck it up and deal with it. I know creeps count on women who shut up and just sit there. And even after all of these months of learning about feminism, equality, rights, abuse, victimization – I still found myself incredibly vulnerable. I knew the information and yet I still sat there, terrified and uncomfortable. Side aching from the tension and the stress, and the unnatural position I was in.
And his breath smelled like Jack and Coke, and even as I write this, I can smell it, and I hate being such a sensory person. I hate that this still makes me nauseous 3 days later and that I can’t just get over it.
I wasn’t raped, but I was violated. This man acted like he belonged in my life, in my personal space. He ignored my physical body language. He ignored my lack of actual conversation. He assumed that because he sat next to me, he had a right to know everything I was doing and feeling. It isn’t just my body that is my own. My life is my own. Just because I am friendly for 5 minutes doesn’t mean you get free reign in my space.
If a woman is balling up against a window to be as far away from you as possible, you are doing something wrong.
His persistent insistence into my life ended up with him knowing I write, but I lied and blew it off as just silly ramblings of a mom. He kept asking for me to tell him my website, which I didn’t. Slow thinker that I am, I missed my chance to tell him that the address is www.fuckoff.com.
And then we lowered through the clouds, and he leaned over to take a picture, but I’m 95% sure he turned the camera at the last second and got a picture of me. But finally, merciful God, we landed, and I had cell service. I texted people like a crazy woman, so I had something to distract me from him. A lifeline to actual people, even if they were helpless to do anything.
Then land. Blessed airport terminal. I ran to the bathroom to be safe from his eyes, but when I came out, he was still there, and he waved at me. He waved at me as he stood next to his wife and children, who had been on the same flight. omgwtfholyshit!
And so 3 days later, I am shocked to find myself a victim of such invasive, unwanted advances. I’m shocked to realize that I didn’t do what I thought I could do. I thought I would be able to stand up for myself, protect myself, advocate for my sense of self.
But old habits die hard. Old feelings of what I should do, what the proper way for a woman to behave is, reared up and took over. I thanked God in that horrible seat that there are women like Dianna, Sarah, Danielle, and Suzannah, clanging the gong about equality, abuse, victimization, and empowerment. Because their voices are needed. Because old lies die hard, and new truths take time and experience to be rooted.
You can bet if I ever find myself in a situation like that again, I will have headphones on, intentionally ignoring any seatmates. Even if it does make me rude, antisocial, or a bitch.
Now I know I’m too vulnerable not to.