He Barely Even Touched Me
The walk took no more than 10 minutes and I did it almost every day.
The bus stop was about five blocks from home. Taking a right out of my apartment building, I’d walk half a block down the white cobblestone sidewalk. At the end of the block I’d take a right, walk half a block, take a left, and then walk three blocks to the bus stop.
One night I’d been out with friends from school. We all went to Haagen Daz for ice cream before heading home. I didn’t want to pay for a cab back to my apartment since I’d just splurged on overpriced yet underwhelming ice cream, so I decided to catch a bus instead.
They were still running for at least another hour and, as a poor college student, taking public transportation seemed like the responsible thing to do.
It was around eleven o’clock when I got off of the almost empty bus. One other person got off at my stop, and he walked ahead of me as we walked down the same street.
Three blocks down, then turn right. Half a block, then turn left. Half a block to my apartment.
I didn’t pay much attention to him at first. He was just somebody walking ahead of me. The streets were well lit, but quiet and empty except for the cars occupying the highly coveted parking spots of our thickly settled neighborhood.
Two more blocks, then turn right. Half a block, then turn left. Half a block to my apartment.
He seemed to slow down a bit. I thought maybe he was looking at his phone, so I kept walking. He looked back, saw me, and started walking again. He must have gotten distracted by a text or something.
One more block, then turn right. Half a block, then turn left. Half a block to my apartment.
He slowed down again, and then he stopped. I thought he was still doing something on his phone so I kept walking and ended up passing him. I didn’t think much of it, after all I was just walking home, and he was probably doing the same.
Turn right. Half a block, then turn left. Half a block to my apartment.
He started walking again, and now he was behind me. If you’re a woman, chances are you can imagine exactly what that felt like.
Why was I suddenly nervous? I remember thinking that it was silly to be scared; he had just been walking in front me this whole time and nothing had happened. Everything was fine. I was almost home.
Turn left. Half a block to my apartment.
He turned left too, still behind me. He seemed a lot closer now though.
Should I turn around and look? Maybe I was just imagining things. Maybe I was being paranoid because in my heart, and in my head, I knew that walking home alone late at night had not been the smartest move.
I could see the windows of our balcony. Lights were on. My boyfriend was home with friends having a card night. The windows were open. As I got closer I could hear laughter from inside.
The guy had started walking faster, and then he was right behind me, just a few feet away.
Something told me not to run. I’d never be able to get my keys out and open the door without him catching up to me. So I turned around to look at him.
Maybe if he saw me looking at him he’d realize that he’d been getting a little too close for comfort. Maybe I’d feel better just seeing his face, because he would look friendly and say hi and then he’d keep walking.
He said hi.
I said hi back.
“Can I have a kiss?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
He was right in front of me now. Why had I stopped walking?
“Come on, just one kiss.”
Crap crap crap.
“No. Listen, I live right here and my boyfriend is home.”
I was five feet from the front door of my apartment. It was right there, I could see the glass door, the panel of doorbell buttons.
He was practically pressed up against me now. I had somehow backed up against the wall of my building. When had that happened?
He was still smiling. Did he really think he was being friendly, and that this was something I wanted?
“Just a kiss. Come on.” As if it was no big deal.
His hands were on the wall behind me now, on either side of my face. His arms were blocking my path on either side. His face was right in front of mine, his lips practically touching mine. I remember thinking that he was so young. He was younger than me. He was just a normal looking guy.
Was this really happening? On the street right outside my apartment?
Oh man, I’d been so stupid. Why had I thought that I could walk home from the bus stop alone at night. I’m a woman. Women are supposed to know better. I had been overly confident, and now this was happening.
I had to do something but what could I do? He was bigger than me. He had me pinned.
I yelled my boyfriend’s name as loud as I could, right in the guy’s face. I bellowed. I screamed. My boyfriend was home, in our apartment, right up there. So close. The windows were open, maybe he’d hear me if I yelled loud enough. And if it didn’t work? Well, this guy was probably going to attack me anyway. I was ready to fight him with everything I had.
It worked. My yelling scared the crap out of him. He took off. Before I even had a chance to register that he wasn’t right in front of me anymore, he was gone.
No one had heard me yell. No one even turned on a light or looked out a window.
For a moment, I was paralyzed.
My apartment was right there. A few steps away, on the left.
I somehow managed to get my keys out of my purse. I somehow managed to unlock the door of my building despite my trembling fingers and racing heart. I remember that my legs were shaking so much, I wasn’t sure I’d make it up the two flights of stairs without having to crawl.
I somehow made it to my front door, got the key into the lock, and opened the door.
Inside, it was like any other night at our place when friends were over. Everyone was sitting around the table in the living room, talking and laughing, playing cards, drinking beer or wine, smoking cigarettes and joints. Music was playing as loud as we dared considering our very cranky next door neighbor. The sliding door to the tiny porch was open, and the windows on the porch were all opened about halfway.
But they hadn’t heard a thing.
Everyone looked up when I came in. Then they saw the look on my face. I started sobbing. I was shaking. I was terrified, angry, and ashamed. I couldn’t calm down. I was trembling and crying as I tried to explain what had happened. Yes, I was ok physically. No, I wasn’t hurt. No, I hadn’t been raped.
He had hardly touched me.
My friends were incredibly supportive that night. They never questioned me or made me feel stupid for having tried to walk home alone at night.
I did plenty of that on my own. I was so mad at myself. And I was mad at the world in a way, too. I felt that as an adult, I should be able to walk home at night by myself without fearing for my own safety, just because I’m a woman. That guy never would have tried any of that if I was a man. But because I was a young female, alone at night, he felt emboldened. Like my body was something that he was entitled to.
This story could have ended very differently. For a while I never even considered that this story was about sexual assault, because I wasn’t hurt. I was able to walk away with only a sense of self-loathing for having thought that I could walk myself home from the bus stop at night, and a lasting, deep-seeded paranoia whenever someone is walking behind me.
But I am one of the lucky ones. He barely even touched me.
Originally published on Medium.com