Friday, May 22, 2015


When I walk on the streets here in Bangkok, I feel invisible. People don't look at each other- specifically, men don't ogle women. It's a novel feeling. Back home, there's a lot of feedback that men feel compelled to give. As an expert, I can confidently say that it's gone down in quantity and improved in quality in recent times, but when I was growing up, I heard a lot of stuff delivered in various creative ways- whispered, shouted, insinuated, implied.... I'm not sure, but once, a guy puffing away at a cigarette whilst eyeing me may have been sending smoke signals. It's possible.

We're not really taught how to handle it. And no one teaches us how to not be hurt by it. But we must learn, so we do. Just ignore it- that's the easiest, most common and most humiliating response. It takes something away from you when you walk away like that. Fight back. Shout. Call for help. Call the police. Grab him by the collar. A lot of women do that these days. Fear and anger are fantastic deterrents to guys like that. They need to get the crap scared out of them so that they don't do it again. It's the same logic that underlies our justice system.

I agree. I have a stare so frosty that I've caused men to rear back in alarm, as if ice clutched their... no, not hearts. Think extremities. But in the back of my mind, there is always this scene that replays itself, a message in a bottle that keeps floating in from the past.

It was the first year of college. I was in a new city, in a one room house I'd rented for myself. It was a complicated period of time- still a teenager, away from home for the first time, still reeling from my childhood and my vulnerability to my dysfunctional family - a lonely, lost young woman. Next door, there lived a family with two boys- almost the same age as me. Their house was so close to the one I lived in, that they could sit on the parapet wall of their roof and reach out to touch the window in my room. So I always kept it closed, and covered with a thin cotton screen. I think they could still see my silhouette as I sat at my computer, positioned near that very window (because the room's solo electric outlet was there.)

They'd sit there, talking loudly, two young jerks out for some fun with the college girl next door. I don't remember the substance of their conversations; early on, I started playing music when I heard them settle down.  But I do remember they were lewd fellows- there were many times when I passed them on the street and they would say something sexually objectifying.

One night, I sat there near the window, winding up a conversation with an acquaintance which felt like it'd just touched every wound I'd ever borne. I felt myself slowly breaking apart inside. Tears fell, even as I heard the boys make their way to their favorite spot. But nothing could have stopped the sound that escaped my lips. It was a sob from the depths of my soul, a broken sound followed by another, and another, and another. I cried, hunched over the keyboard, unable to stop, almost unable to bear the release of my own pain. I don't know how long it took. When I was finally able to straighten up, my mind registered an unnatural silence. Unnatural, because I sensed they were still there, glued to the spot, shocked by the suffering they'd just heard. I just sat there for a while, uncaring, a part of me almost as shocked as they were, even as I heard them quietly leave.

That was the last time I ever thought of them as jerks. After that, they were unrecognizable to me- respectfully lowering their heads whenever they passed by me, never coming near my window again, ... and in their distance and their silence, I sensed something that no angry word or look could have achieved- for the first time, I was a person to them. Not a body accidentally sentient, not an object ignorably human, but an actual person. And they changed in my eyes too. They were not just jerks; unfeeling, single-minded beasts to be shunned and banished. They were human- sadly misguided, but oh so capable of awakening to life. In my pain, and in their quiet respect, we managed to find each other's humanity.

They say that the human experience is so rich because of the neutrality of its design- in both the joys and sorrows that come our way, there is learning to be had. I've always railed against that design, always wanted things to magically work out better. But when I remember the shadow behind the cotton screen, the silence across the narrow space, and the peace that settled between us that night, somehow it all clicks into place.

No comments:

Post a Comment