Thursday, October 13, 2016

Not Okay

I am twelve. I am taking a trolleybus home with a friend back in Moldova. We are chatting and suddenly she tells me to get off. It is not our stop, it's too early, but I follow her off. Once we are off, she tells me how a guy was pulling up her skirt. She is also twelve, and she is a wearing a mini denim skirt, with the wide ruffle on the bottom. The drab brown uniforms were just canceled out of existence, and everyone is wearing whatever parents scrambled to get. The guy first pulled up one side of her skirt, then the other. It's crowded on the trolleybus, a great melee of people, so I did not see anything, even though I was standing right next to her. She sighs as she tugs her skirt lower: "What are you going to do? Mame ne rasskajeshi. You can't tell it to your mom." Rather, it shouldn't be told to her mom. We get onto the next trolleybus and never discuss it.

Later the same year, I am taking a trolleybus with my younger sister. I am still twelve, a skinny undeveloped girl. I am not even a hundred pounds. I am very spacey, very oblivious kid. But I find that someone is rubbing against me. It is crowded, so I move over a bit without turning around. The rubbing follows me. I do not know anything about erections. I do not know anything about molestation or predators or pedophilia, but I do not want to be touched like that. There are people everywhere, and my sister is next to me, in the way of my escape. I try to push through, but I am grabbed and held close as the rubbing continues. I tell my sister we are getting off here as I finally turn around and catch the eyes and a beard of a man still trying to hold on to me. 

We get off. My sister protests that it is not the right stop. I honestly do not remember what I told her, whether I disclosed why I wanted off that trolleybus. The refrain "Mame ne rasskajeshi" follows me. Somehow without knowing the name or having an understanding of what happened I know better than to confide in her lest I would be told to be somehow more careful in the future.

I am twenty, already for a few years on my own, in college. I go back to Moldova and I am sent to get some paperwork for my father who is in Canada. He is trying to get a discount on auto insurance based on his previous driving experience and we need to approach his former place of work, sign some papers. I am in a large office of the Academy of Science. An older man is chatting with my mother, holding the paper that we need. Then he notices my slouching posture and decides to adjust it, smack in the middle of the conversation. I am not interested in his touch because I sense lewdness. As he is pushing back on my shoulder while touching my back, where the bra snap goes: "A girl should be lean and straight, like a birch tree!" I grit my teeth. We need his signature on that stupid piece of paper so that my father pays less for car insurance. We need that money.

Fast forward quite a few years. I am at a birthday party at my in-laws' house, with my husband and kids. A whole gang of Russians is there, eating. drinking and conversing. A guy, who employs my mother-in-law, asks me whether married Jewish women are allowed to hug other men. I respond negatively. He proceeds to hug me right there, saying that sometimes it is ok. I am stewing inside and mutter obscenities under my breath. My husband, instead of punching him out, proceeds to work for him at a future date. After all, this man gives employment to so many around that table, even though privately I am told how they despise him.

I do not consider myself to have been sexually abused. I was not terribly traumatized by my experiences, although I disclosed the bit with the beard to my husband so he would be aware if and when he would be growing one and how I might have shifting feelings about it. However, with all the talk about women being grabbed, and how it's just locker room talk, and how only certain women get such attention, all of my emotions come bubbling out. Violations happen all the time. They happen to everyone. This overstepping of bounds of decency happens where there is an unbalanced power, and the strong takes advantage of the weak with impunity. The weak is supposed to roll over and suffer in shameful silence.

No more.

I am breaking my silence. I hope that others will, too.

We have sons to bring up and they should know better than to tolerate such talk or such actions. We have daughters to bring up and they have to know to yell and scream and kick and thrash and draw attention. We have to teach them to tell mothers so they can raise hell on their behalf. We have to make our voices heard, not for pity, but to shame those who deserve to be shamed.


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