Between the Gusts – Once More With Less Feeling

4

10/15/2016 by syrbal-labrys


There has been much unfortunately necessary discussion of sexual assault as an enduringly common denominator in feminine lives.  I’ve discussed it myself, sharing the odd story or two.  My title, referring to the blustery storm making electricity a possible non-option at any moment.  Also refers to how with every discussion — verbal or written, I feel less trauma, but possibly more tired, frayed anger at “how life works” for women.

Keep pouringBut I do realize, I’ve never really considered my entire history of being relentlessly sexualized above being anything else.  I realize I’ve tried very hard to dismiss “failed” attempts at rape.  Maybe it is time for something more comprehensive just for the record as a woman who grew up in what the GOP considers the “good old days”?

So, let me shimmy my shoulders like Hillary did…and say “Well, now….”

I was in the third grade.  I was rushing down the hall to the lunchroom – late and hurrying.  Behind me in the nigh empty hall, a wolf whistle echoed and I whirled around to see nobody behind me.  The sixth grade girl holding the door said, “Ooooh, someone thinks you are sexy!” I stammered back, “But, I’m a little girl?”   I was wearing ski pants, snug fitting with a strap under the foot-instep.  I wondered, were they “too” tight.  But what does that mean?

I was in sixth grade.  I was bored and drawing pictures in school to entertain myself during a recess when it was so miserably wet outdoors that we all were “recessing” in place in the classroom.  I was making a little cartoon of my imagined perfect day: a girlish figure waking up, same girl in a bathtub — only head and shoulders visible above bubbles, girl dressed and walking with a dog, girl reading in a library.  That was as far as I got.  The class bully was a girl two years older – a tough already-bleached blonde who actually had a gang of boys – grabbed the paper from me, screaming to the teacher (a man), “She’s drawing dirty pictures!” I grabbed for my paper, scratching my antagonist in the process.  The teacher dismissed her comments and restored calm.  But I had to walk home.

The leader-of-the-pack blonde and half a dozen boys followed on my heels, telling me what was going to happen to me when she “gave the word.”  I would be beaten.  Then I would be raped.  The boys filled this part in with details.  But I had a hero.  Sixteen year old Tony, who looked like a poster child for Marfan Syndrome, still in 6th grade and older brother to the blonde’s right hand “man” Mario, stayed between them and me.  Mario would not countenance fighting his own brother.  So verbal abuse it remained for the next three months(until we moved).  Tony was “in love” with me, my white knight who would not put up with me being savaged because he wanted me to be his. Ownership, even so intangible as a schoolboy crush, was all that protected me. Tony carefully told me he knew I had to be older, but he would wait and let nobody hurt me “in any way.” Yay?

I was 14 and working the summer in a cafe, waiting tables. ‘Round the counter end with plates in both hands, my right thigh suddenly burned as if I’d been bee-stung. The old fart sitting at the counter end had reached under the edge of my short white uniform and snapped the garter holding up my stockings. It turned black and blue. To this day, I have a spider vein “constellation” there.  He laughed and was joined by every male at the counter.

I was 15 and in the same cafe, after school in the fall.  It was 15 minutes from closing when  the old woman who owned the place and cooked heard the heavy thunder of big motorcycles.  “Oh, God,” she cried, “Lock the door, fast  – they will rape us!”  I started for the door, but six men walked in, one behind the other before I got there.  They sat down and picked up menu cards.  I wheeled back to the kitchen for new orders.  The boss hid, she wouldn’t look out the window into the cafe, but told me to “Take their orders, be nice to them and maybe it will be ok.”

So out I went.  No, we don’t serve beer.  Yes, we have coffee.  I got their orders to the kitchen and went back with cups and coffee pot.  One of them ran his hand over my ass.  I slapped his hand and the other five laughed.  “Oh, Baby, be nice!” whined the slapper. I snapped at him, menacing him with a pot of hot coffee. “I am NOT on the menu, keep your hands off me!”  They laughed some more.  I went to get their burgers and fries and got scolded for “being rude” and she said, “They don’t know I’m back here, do they?”  I said they likely didn’t think the food cooked itself.  They ate, they paid, they tipped me and left.  I cleaned up and went home without speaking to my terrified boss.  I quit a week later.

I was 17, working in another small cafe after college classes.  A male customer slapped me on the ass as I passed.  I turned and poured half a coffee pot in his lap.  My female boss, an aged lady whose son owned the place threw him out and told him not to bother coming back.

I was 18.  I’d been living on my own for over a year, supporting myself working at crummy fast food joints. I got hired at the local small airport as receptionist/secretary.  I also gave radio advisories to pilots, kept inventory of the parts room, and went out to guide planes to parking tie downs.  My boss trapped me in the parts room and tried to grab my breast, and then attempted to shove his hand down my uniform pants.  I picked up a large wrench and backed him off me.  He fired me the next week, “downsizing” he called it.

I was 20.  My new boyfriend, known for about 9 weeks, had thrown a birthday party for me at his apartment.  He invited all my friends.  It was great!  Everyone left, and I was helping clean up the dishes and such.  He started kissing me and said “Let’s go upstairs.”  I said, “No, I can’t do that.  I don’t do that.”  He picked me up and carried me upstairs.  He raped me, telling me I was “good at this”… I wondered how that could be, since I was a virgin.  (Yes, America, in 1973 there were still 20 year old virgins.)  I told my best friend, she told me I should never have “put” myself in that “position,”

I stopped answering his calls, wouldn’t answer my door as he continued to pursue me.  My male neighbor knocked on my back door, when I answered – there was my rapist!  My neighbor thought I was “cute and coy”.  I did have a long in-depth talk with my rapist.  I explained I was not coy, but sincere.  He apologized, saying he thought I just wanted him to know I was “a good girl” and that he got it and would I please just marry him now? How Biblical, right?

I was still 20, intent on leaving town.  I visited my parents in another state and joined the Army.  One of the Air Force recruiters, seemingly shame-faced over asking me “Can you type?” instead of asking what I wanted to do — thus losing a “prime” recruit, asked me to dinner.  So out we went, and after dinner he got up close and personal.  I told him no, as well.  He unzipped his pants, revealing an erection and said it was my “doing” and I should take care of it.  I told him I was sure he could personally HANDle it and left the area, fast.

I was 21, in the Army and studying Russian in Monterey, California.  I’d walk to the Monterey Wharf, where a wiley old Sicilian who owned a restaurant had befriended me.  He flirted endlessly, but never mistook my solid “No, you are a married man and I am not having an affair with you.” for coyness.  I’d walk back up the Presidio hill later because cabs were too costly.  One night, there was suddenly a man behind me, out of nowhere.  He asked why I wasn’t afraid to be out alone so late.  I said it was barely ten o’clock, not late, and that I could take care of myself.  I let my military handbag drop from my shoulder, strap in hand — it’s base was lined with six rolls of quarters.  I widened my stance and stared at my questioner.  “Oh, ok, then.” he said, and turning he walked back down the hill a few yards before vanishing into the shrubbery.

I was 21, walking up the hill again, this time with a male classmate who had been asking me out, but I’d refused a “real” date.  We’d had drinks, but I’d paid my own tab.  He was complaining that I didn’t give him a “chance”.  I was completely unnerved to plainly hear his voice in my head – while looking at his closed mouth.  “What are you thinking?” I asked, trying to keep a tremble out of my voice.  “I was just thinking I should throw you down in the ice plant right here and settle this once and for all.”  That WAS what I’d heard in my own head.  I was shaking, I dropped my purse strap into my hand again – he was easily a foot taller and outweighed me by 100 lbs.  “Step OFF,” I snapped, cross over through the school buildings to the next block over and do it NOW.”  To my relief, perhaps shocked at what he had admitted, he obeyed.  I kept my eyes on his position all the way back up the hill.

I was 21, weeks later.  The same classmate stopped me outside the company orderly room, demanding another “chance”.  I turned my back on him.  He grabbed me, wrapping his arms around my my chest.  I told him to release me before I counted to three.  He laughed at me.  I brought my shoe’s high heel down on his instep and broke his foot.  He let me go.

I was 22, serving in Berlin, Germany.  I was out in downtown Berlin with my “trick-mates” dancing and drinking at the Hofbrau Haus.  A Frenchman was dancing with me — it was still the last “occupied” city in Europe — Brits, French, Americans, and Russians dividing up the former German capital like rival gangs.  The Frenchman grabbed my arm as I tried to leave the floor, he cupped my butt in both hands, grinding his pelvis into mine and said “Come home with me, I have never had an American woman.” I whistled sharply over the music, saw my male and female work pals rise as one, kneed my “ally” hard and snarled “Then go hire a Potsdamer (the street-walker locale) girl and wrap her in the stars and stripes.”  He grabbed for me again, but let go when four male US Army men surrounded him.

I was 22, taking part in a Human Race Relations seminar with dozens of other military personnel of all ranks.  We were broken into groups to solve “situations.”  My group was headed by an infantry colonel.  I was the only female in the group.  I also was the only one refusing to vote to lock certain people “out” of the  air-raid shelter in our “situation” under discussion. We broke for lunch.  The colonel summoned me across the main lobby of the building and asked me how long my skirt was.  I said it was the required length, unaltered since its issue to me two years before.  He said he would determine that for himself by measuring it, since he was sure it was too short.  He pulled out a pocket ruler!  I pulled a chair from a table and very loudly inquired whether I should stand on the chair so he would not have to “go down on a knee to reach my hem?”  He lost interest rather suddenly. Odd?

I was 23, still serving in Berlin, now newly married.  I was fielding the questions of a rather stupid soldier from another section as I filed some books back on a high shelf.  I suddenly felt a stinging blow across the back of my Class A uniform skirt, and whirled on the grinning idiot who had slapped my ass.  “Get out of my section right now,”  He continued grinning like an idiot, saying “Wow, even my hand is red!”  I warned him, feeling quite murderous, that when I reached a count of three, he better be gone.  He said “Oh, come on, it (my ass) was there, just begging for it!”  I picked up a typewriter and began counting.  He said, “Oh, ho ho ho – whatcha gonaa do with that?”  “I’m going to bash you head with it, I told him, when I reach ‘3”  I threw it at him on 3.

He ran to the Warrant Officer supervising the analysis floor and tattled.  Warrant Officer B. asked him why I threw a typewriter.  The idiot said, “Oh, she was being silly and mad over me patting her ass.  You know, being girly.”  Yes, that WAS the end of THAT.

I was 24, still serving in Berlin, pregnant and very sick with the flu — on sick call.  The male nurse and officer interviewing me suddenly closed the exam room door and sat down quite close to me.  “You know, ” he said in an oily tone of voice, “You Army girls are all the same — you party and then want a ‘get out of jail free’ card so you don’t have to do your jobs.”  He put his hand on my knee, “I’d hate to have to write in your records that you are malingering.”  I jumped to my feet, grabbed my records off the desk and completely lost my temper.

And I’d hate to report that a married officer  in the US Army tried to assault a pregnant woman in a room with the door shut.”  I ran from the room, keeping my records in my custody. I did not return to the American hospital for care.  I went to the German “Free University” medical school and begged for  pre-natal care.  The German “Herr Doktor Professor” was obliging, kind, professional and never let a student touch me without consent.

Imagine…all that FORTY years ago!  Imagine if EVERY woman told EVERY story?

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Between the Gusts – Once More With Less Feeling

  1. DM says:

    That is exactly what I told my husband! Women don’t report assault because 1. it’s so prevalent, 2. It’s so much trouble to get a lawyer and to get justice and 3. So many act as if it’s no big deal, as if women were put on earth to be objectified and exploited. Such a shame. I totally believe the women coming out about Trump. No one probably listened before. But it is in no way something to be proud of. It’s embarrassing as hell to admit a man caught you off guard and took advantage of you.

    • I’ve personally never felt embarrassed or ashamed, just pissed off. But yes, I believe the women and was sadly not surprised by them OR the tape!

  2. batocchio says:

    It’s a great piece. I’m sorry for your experience.

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Herland

The name of this blog, and my Dreamwidth blog, Herlander Refugee, is taken from a 1915 feminist novel "Herland". It makes my heart sing that modern women are experimenting with creation of a new "Herland"!

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