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Taboo

Not Me: Times I Didn’t Get Raped

It’s one of my earliest memories. I must have been 3 or 4 years old. You’ll understand, because you understand consent. I didn’t get raped.

That summer day I was over playing at a family friend’s house, a family of four, two boys, one slightly younger than I and then an older boy, in fact just about your age now, who must have been 9 or 10 at the time. An older boy who turned into a sweet and simple man who I am friends with on social media. He is a widow and he harvests giant, beautiful, organic crops from his loved up gardens that he shares with the neighbors. He is a good man.

We’re in his bedroom and he shows me a Playboy, the centerfold and strange shaped pubic hair and smooth photography of what must have been about 1980 era Playboy. It’s my first time seeing one. He asks if I know what it is. 

“Naked women.” 

Then comes “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” and a hand on his belt to indicate what he means.

I remember at 3 or 4 years old looking at him with this consciousness thanks to my poor incested, gang raped, kidnapped, pistol-whipped, abused mother who was damn sure I would never be any of those things. I remember thinking these thoughts, quickly.

“I’ve played around with Matthew and I love playing with Matthew because he does it my way. This guy is much older than me, and kind of gross and too dumb to learn to do it my way. I don’t wanna. Mom.”

I remember running and telling my mother what had happened, without any added drama. And she went to his mother, who went to him and his brother, and all had a happy ending. Luck – maybe, but also a lesson. And a brick in my psychosexual development. I learned very early that it was okay to say no. I didn’t get raped.

That I knew, at age 3 or 4, my boundaries, and how to express and enforce them, and who to ask for help in doing so – that and some plain, dumb luck – that’s why Not Me. Not because the world is not full of predators. Not because men and women both aren’t victimized and subjugated and trafficked and abused and raped and violated. Just… not me.

Here’s two times I didn’t get raped:

PARIS

I’m 19 in Paris in the summertime. It’s a European trip after my first semester in grad school. I am seeing the city at my usual relentless pace. I’ve about 5 years of French classes in high school and college now, and I get by well enough to have a good time. Mostly, though, I keep to myself. 

My hostel is near the Jardin du Luxembourg and I am clear on the other side of Paris. It’s late, and I am sprinting for the last train of the night. I get down the stairs into the Metro only to realize the train leaves at 5 mins before the hour, not on the hour – and run for the doors but don’t make it. As I turn around, heading back up the stairs – three men block my passage.

They are white, with rough features and hands, speaking a gutter French so rife with slang and nuance that I can’t get much of it. I back away towards the tracks. They come towards me. I can tell that whatever they are saying, it’s sexual.

I scan the scene looking how to escape, but before any plan is hatched I hear barking, and the sound of dog toenails on the tile stairs down to the metro. Another three men come down the stairs after the two dogs.

The moment the first one of them reaches the stair where his eyes survey the scene he takes it in in a split second and then locks eyes with me. I give a slight shake to my head. His eyes are deep brown and beautiful, as is his skin. 

Immediately he shouts commands at the dogs in Arabic, and the two dogs immediately corner and snarl at the white men, trying to tear themselves off of the leashes he holds.

The men who are to be my angels tonight are Moroccan in origin. They are young and lithe, physically far stronger and faster than the French men. They shout things in French to the three white dudes, who make a break for it immediately. 

And then they yell something else in Arabic, and the dogs immediately quiet and sit. The man who I first locked eyes with comes up to me and asks me in French if I am okay. I answer that I am. He realizes immediately I am not French and asks where I am from. I answer him, the two other men are asking in French repeatedly, frantically:

“Did they touch her, we can go after them? Did they touch you, miss?”

These three men walk me upstairs, and when I tell them where it is that I have to go tonight, they say it is a three hour walk. I resign myself, and thank them, and turn to leave. I didn’t get raped.

They refuse to let me go, and walk me clear across Paris, only to have to walk back across the same distance and more in the other direction. In these days, Paris is still largely white at the center, and immigrants from Africa are pushed by bigotry and economics to the outer edges of the city. They already had an hour walk in front of them.

The three men sacrifice a night of sleep pounding pavement for me. I insist many times that I can make this walk alone. 

We get to know each other in broken English and French. They are in their mid-20’s. The one who acts most assertively is 29. They are all refugees. They are legally prevented from working. I try to give them all the money I have on me. They refuse even a franc.

At some point along our journey we are harassed by the police. The cops shake them down for no reason, yelling racist insults all the while. I intervene. Speak sternly in English. Wave my US passport at them. The police wag a finger at them, and leave. Oh the power dynamics of the world.

Safely back in my hostel, this experience cements itself into a lesson about religion, ethnicity, power, and class that I never will forget. Until this day, if I need someone to walk me somewhere – I look for a Moroccan.

I will never know why they came down those stairs at that time. I didn’t think to ask. Did they see me enter and anticipate it? Or were they patrolling the stop because they know it attracts predators? 

If by some amazing chance you are one of these three men – thank you. I love you.

LOS ANGELES

I’m 22 and all dolled up for a house party. I can probably count the number of times I’ve put makeup on my face on my fingers and toes, and this night is a thumb or a big toe, I went all out. I am wearing a corduroy miniskirt and stockings with thigh control that I occasionally have to pull up to make sure the darker seam line doesn’t show below the bottom hem of the skirt. On top I have tank top with straps that are offset from my bra straps, showing four straps on my shoulders.

I follow the map to the party and as I reach the block I grimace. It’s in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. I know these streets well, because now, in the late 90’s, they are some of the most dangerous streets I encounter, and also because someone taught me the jingle for remembering them:

“From Main we Spring to Broadway, then over the Hill to Olive. Oh! Wouldn’t it be Grand if we could Hope to pick a Flower at Figueroa.”

I’m on Grand street, looking for parking. The warehouse is packed, there’s even people double parked on the same block, so I’m forced to radiate out four or five blocks before I start to see any spaces. I park and lock my car. 

When I moved to Los Angeles from my hometown for college, I asked my friend Lupe, who grew up in East LA, what exits I should never take, where I should never find myself. “Grand and 18tth” was her immediate answer. 

Maybe this would have gone differently if I wasn’t so aware. If I didn’t lock The Club on my steering wheel and keep my keys in my hand. If I didn’t jettison the purse and shove all my money and cards down my bra. And if I didn’t walk as fast as I possibly could on chunky, strappy, heeled sandals towards the party.

I bet they could smell the fear from a block away. Stepped back into the shadows so I didn’t see them. 

The freeway overpass casts shadows in my direction from the streetlights in blocks, and it’s when I step into these that I see two men, one black, one white live under this bridge. It may be just now that I’ve seen them, but it’s not just now that they’ve seen me. They’re standing on the sidewalk, blocking my path. The black guy has his hand on his crotch.

I keep walking, intending to breeze by them. Homeless people are rarely dangerous in my experience. They’re just homeless. So my expectation is some kind of swift encounter. It is not. As I get closer they flagstaff me, blocking me no matter which way I go until I have to stop. They’re catcalling me now.

They begin to back me toward the corner of the underpass, which is very dark.  I have no weapons on me other than my keys. I can’t run in the shoes I’m wearing. As they near I smell alcohol. It’s at this point I speak up.

“If you let me pass right now, I will pay you $20 each and you’ll never see me again.” I say.

For some reason, this works. I didn’t get raped. The energy immediately shifts, they graciously accept the $20 from me and step back into the shadows as I hightail it down the block in a supreme example of running in heels. On arriving to the party I mention what happened to the host, who has the DJ announce that no one should take that route back to their car on the way out of the party

I never see them again.


Another story about the same trip to Europe


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