Disappointment makes an appearance again in the big world. There was that time when Bill Cosby – America’s Dad – got accused of drugging a woman and raping her. It was even difficult to believe that it was real – how could he, that handsome and funny man, who performed for children for God’s sake, with that great 80s TV show and clean standup comedy – how could HE have done something so, so …. Deleterious? Perverse? Criminal?
Rock stars and celebrities get all the chicks, they say. So does that mean they don’t need to use roofies or Special K to get laid? I don’t understand the whole thing with rich and powerful people drugging women. Don’t enough just throw themselves at them?
I’ve known at least two people who swore they’d been doped. One of them blacked out halfway through a beer and woke up bruised and disoriented in an unknown place. The other went on a date WITH A COP and couldn’t remember how her evening ended.
When I was in my twenties I met friends after work at a popular bar. One of my stepbrothers* tagged along and thank God he did. We separated when we arrived and he played a few rounds of pool while I drank and danced with a girlfriend. I got all of my drinks from the bartender and never left my drink alone. Yet, my memories of that evening are fuzzy, at one point I was outside the back door alone getting some fresh air. My stepbrother drove us home, himself cannabis-high, and I remember him babbling at me all the way. That’s it. I woke up in my bed in my clothes with my shoes off. He was worried about how fast I blacked out, telling me he caught vomit in a frying pan and then convinced me to go to bed. I woke up with one of the worst hangovers of my life. A scary mystery that will forever be left unanswered.
The inspiration for my current disappointment starts with Governor Cuomo. WTF Andrew?? Just – WHY? A year and a half ago, as millions of Americans locked down in the pandemic watched the horror of COVID spreading like fire in New York City and the refrigerated trucks and health care workers holding their hooded heads in their gloved hands, his television presence instilled some degree of comfort and confidence in getting through this.
Fast forward a year, roughly. Apparently he – like so many hotblooded “I-had-no-idea-it-was-wrong” men who don’t honor physical boundaries – couldn’t keep his mouth shut or his hands to himself. And it’s SO disheartening.
Why can’t we trust people to be respectful, respectable, appropriate? Why can’t I – as a woman – expect a man to be appropriate, to treat me as just another human being and not as a body with tits and ass? The #METOO movement has ignited conversation and accountability for all those who have been victims of misogyny, sexism, unwanted physical contact, or worse.
And yet. Sometimes the violations aren’t “that bad,” meaning that they aren’t necessarily overt or violent. But they still leave the victim feeling uncomfortable and questioning what they experienced. It’s a rabbit hole of emotions and conflicting thoughts and, in many cases, excuses.
There was a teacher in my high school who we joked about. I personally witnessed him lay a hand on a female classmate, on her chest just above her breasts – like the front of her shoulder – in front of several people. It’s appalling to me now, that we all just laughed it off and called him a pervert. Go to our high school Facebook page and you’ll find some people still talking about what a creep he was. He wouldn’t be teaching today.
I remember boys teasing me and making moves to touch me that we all laughed off in good fun. How one day in study hall I went to sit down and a boy put his hand, palm facing up, on the seat. Somewhere along the way to growing up, some of us girls learned that this behavior is just par for the course. Normal. And it was – for centuries – right?
Fast forward to adulthood. Some people are perfectly comfortable kissing other people on the lips. I am not one of them. I kiss my husband on the lips. When my babies kissed me on the lips, I kissed them back. They were my babies, after all. And sometime on the path to adolescence they stopped, and that was perfectly okay with me. The only human I allow direct access to my lips is my husband.
“Allow” is the key operative word. Because there were other men who went in for the lips who had no right to do so, and … are you ready for this?….I allowed it. It became such an ordeal back in 1998 that my now ex-husband and I had more than a few rows over it. And here’s the rare moment where I tell you that he was right.
There was this man, a regular of the restaurant, who dined at least once a week with his wife. When they’d come in, he made a show of greeting my mother, another dear friend who worked there, and me with a kiss – on the lips. I hated it. I hated it because I don’t like kissing people on the lips and I hated it – because I didn’t know how to just say no thank you. I didn’t need to add the “thank you”! And then came my (ex)husband, who was irate that another man had the audacity to kiss his wife, and that his wife Let It Happen.
How did it end? Well, one night, with my (ex)husband standing nearby waiting for it, I backed up and said “no.” It wasn’t so concrete as that, and it came with a shit ton of niceties and explanations of why, but it stopped it. The takeaway from this experience is one of not feeling I have the right to set boundaries for myself and my body or feeling like I need to explain. A simple NO has never been an easy word in my vocabulary in these circumstances.
It happened again a few years ago with someone else at the restaurant, when I was no longer working there but simply there. He is a kissy fellow. Let me clarify that I’m okay with hugging – when I’m comfortable. But hugging, too, is a subjective situation where my comfort level stops at a casual lean-in, not an intimate, full-body embrace.**
Anyway, we’ll call him Bill. He hugged me. Okay. But he turned his whole face at me and tried to kiss my lips. I didn’t want that. At. All. I made all attempts to brush him off without flat out pushing him away. Why? Because I didn’t want to make him feel …. I don’t know, uncomfortable? Awkward?
And Why The Fuck Do I Have To Worry About THAT? Why, indeed. And here’s the thing, every time I feel uncomfortable in a situation, I let it eat me and/or I try to rationalize THEIR behavior – which sometimes looks like I’m questioning whether I am overreacting or … reading into it.
It becomes harder and hazier when we’re talking about family or friends. I spent 12 years in a marriage where “no” wasn’t an option without hell to pay. If you think that doesn’t change you, I have waterfront property in Arizona to sell you. Bringing that luggage into marriage #2 was an eye opener – for my husband, sadly in things he hadn’t known and for me, in restored faith and mutual respect.
I am a work in progress, as they say. The #METOO movement changed the way I see things. More recent events have caused me to open my eyes and question why I try to excuse people who violate my personal space.
So here it is: if I don’t want you to touch me, you’re not going to touch me. Sometimes I might hug someone, and the next time I won’t. It’s not you, it’s me. We all have lessons to learn – me, to set my boundaries and you, to understand that people have them and sometimes they’re fluid and you are STILL obligated as a human to honor them.
*Stepbrothers. I had four others I’ve never mentioned before, because they are part of a past and a parent’s previous relationship.
**Hugs. I can count on virtually ONE HAND (okay, technically, eight fingers) who gets full-body hugs from me.