This news cycle, this year, these past two years really, have had me on edge. I, like so many women, have lived under the shadow of past assaults and violations for way too long, and every time a woman’s story gets dismissed, the knife gets twisted a little more.
I wrote Maybe in the fall of 2016. It seems cathartic to bring it back out now.
Maybe you’ve met this man before, or maybe he’s a stranger. Maybe he holds a position of power, either professionally or socially. Maybe he’s famous, or maybe he’s the man who bags your groceries. Maybe he’s family. Maybe he’s a friend. Maybe you used to date him or maybe you’re dating him now. Maybe he’s just some guy on the subway, in the library, at the bar.
Maybe you shake his hand and he doesn’t let go right away. Maybe his eyes travel down your body and the outfit that seemed so perfect earlier suddenly seems so wrong. Maybe he leans over and whispers in your ear about how sexy you look tonight. Maybe his hand travels up your arm and touches your breast, so briefly that you think that maybe, just maybe, you imagined it.
Maybe he grabs your ass as you walk past him on your way off the train. Maybe he sits down next to you at the park and pulls out his dick out of his pants. Maybe he tries to hit on you and, when you tell him you’re not interested, he calls you a bitch and a tease. Maybe he threatens to hurt you.
Maybe he asks you to dance and you don’t want to be rude, so you dance. And maybe he holds you too close. Maybe his hands grab your buttocks to pull you even closer. Maybe so close you can feel his erection pressing against your body. Maybe you freeze, not knowing what to do. Maybe you look around to see if anyone saw anything. Maybe no one did, or maybe you see other men watching the two of you, and they give you a wink. Maybe other women are watching, too, and you hear them call you a slut and a whore.
Maybe he finds you alone and corners you against the wall. Maybe he kisses you as you try to squirm away. Maybe he puts his hand under your skirt and touches you. Maybe he tries to put a finger inside you. Maybe he succeeds. Maybe you beg him to stop and he just laughs because he knows he can get away with it.
Maybe he rapes you. Maybe he doesn’t.
Maybe you think about screaming. Maybe you think about making a scene, fighting him off.
Then maybe you think that, maybe, you somehow encouraged this. That this was your fault. After all, you’ve always been told it’s the woman’s fault. Maybe your dress is too tight. Maybe you’ve been drinking. Maybe you were too friendly. Maybe you weren’t friendly enough. Maybe you remember being groped as a child or as a teen and being told that this is just how men are and that, as a woman, maybe it is your responsibility to not provoke them.
Maybe you don’t remember provoking him, but you think that you must have, because why else would he be touching you like this?
Maybe his friends apologize for his behavior. He’s drunk, they say, and he didn’t mean it. Or maybe they just laugh about it.
Maybe days later, months later, years later, you can still feel how rough his hand was as it pressed against your mouth to keep you from screaming.
Maybe you think that no one will believe you if you accuse him. After all, he’s a man and you… Well, you’re just a woman. Maybe they’ll say you were a tease. Maybe they’ll say you really liked it, had to have liked it, because of who he is, how he looks. Maybe they’ll say that it was a compliment. You should be flattered, they’ll say, that a man was willing to give someone like you attention. Maybe they’ll laugh at you and say you need to loosen up, it was just a joke.
Maybe “boy will be boys”.
Maybe you think that there’s something wrong with you because you aren’t flattered by it.
Maybe, if you say something, they’ll tell you how wrong you are, that you’re too old, too fat, too ugly, too you, for him to be interested.
Maybe, if you say something, you’ll lose your job and you can’t afford that. Maybe he’s the husband of your best friend and you don’t want to hurt her. Maybe he’s family. Maybe he’s a police officer and who would take your word over his? Maybe he’s not famous, but he’s bigger and stronger and you’re afraid of what he might do if you speak out.
Maybe you’ve spoken out before, only to receive rape and death threats on-line. Maybe people you’ve never met before started discussing your sexual history in chat rooms and comment sections, talking about what they’d like to do to you, and you felt assaulted all over again.
Maybe you’ve told someone and they didn’t believe you. It couldn’t have happened like you said it did, how could it? He just doesn’t seem like that type. Maybe you wonder what type of man they mean only to realize you know all too well.
So, maybe, you leave quietly, without a word. Maybe you walk quickly, your head down to hide your shame, or maybe you try to hold your head high, but it just feels so heavy. And maybe the heaviness never goes away.
Maybe when you get home, you hide your new dress in the back of the closet, never to be worn again. Maybe you stand in a hot shower, trying to wash him off your soul. Maybe you cry yourself to sleep. Maybe you promise yourself that next time, next time you will do things differently.
Because maybe you know that there will be a next time.
There always is.