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Out of the shadows

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I had much internal debate over writing this, but my decision was made by a sighting at my local Walgreens of a young girl donning an athletic jersey of a person currently under suspicion for less than gentlemanly behavior. It made me pause and it gave me courage. So here we go …

I froze. There were words coming out of my mouth but I felt other-worldly -- removed from my voice, my body.

He did it again. Suddenly, I felt myself resurfacing.

"Are you married? Do you have kids?" I demanded.

His voice changed from smug and cool to someone who had just gotten busted.

"Yes. I'm married with kids."

I looked him dead in the face, "If you were my husband and I saw what you just did to me, I would (insert unpublishable bad "-ing" word here) kick your ass!"

He stepped back admonished, with his hands now behind his back.

"What? Was I too handsy?"

"Yeah." I spat, pissed off and finally fully present. "You're too handsy."

He slinked away.

The truth was "handsy" was an understatement. Where and how he touched me, which I find too appalling to describe in writing, could not be filed away and dismissed as borderline inappropriate groping.

I found girlfriends. I told them what happened. We commiserated on his vileness and speculated what his problem was. We then universally agreed that we didn't give a shit.

For a little while I felt better. By the time I got home and climbed into bed next to my sleeping husband, I was drenched in a blanket of shame.

I've been me my whole life. I know that sounds like a ridiculous statement. But there's nothing like thinking you know yourself and then having that whole understanding crumble in an instant. That's exactly what happened to me that night. The stand-up-for-everything-sit-down-for-nothing, mouthy, in-your-face woman I know myself to be, had stood mute, mousy and wide eyed for many minutes. Where had I gone?

My mind went where I suspect many women go when they are violated in this way -- blank. I went blank. And when I returned to my senses, I still didn't act or behave as I would have expected until the following day.

I wrote an account of the injustice which I sent (albeit shakily) to the offender privately on Facebook. After two days of no response, I copied and pasted my words to his work email. Within 30 seconds of my hitting "send" it was returned to me as undeliverable. I felt bereft and enraged all at once. The justice I was seeking had to come from this man knowing what he had done was wrong. I had to wait for the man who with no thought at all had touched me -- twice -- in the middle of a party, to acknowledge his violation in order for me to feel better. This man, who only had more than cordial access to me because I had peripherally known him for years, needed to read my words so I could pass my shame and humiliation on to him and his conscience. It was sick and ironic. And I waited nonetheless.

While I waited for a reply, I ran through the scenario again and again. Each time I replayed the scene I would wonder, "What if...?"

Sometimes it was, "What if I had slapped him?" Sometimes it was, "What if I'd said something to a bouncer?" Sometimes it was, "What if I'd walked away the minute I'd gotten that bad vibe?"

I'm embarrassed by the answers that I would have given in that moment, but in the spirit of full disclosure and in an attempt to close the gap of loneliness and shame, I'm going to reveal them:

If I slapped him, I would have looked like a bitch; if I'd gotten him kicked out, his friends would be mad at me and I would have ruined the celebration; I didn't want to be rude and it could have been possible that my gut reaction was off.

I cannot express the embarrassment I have typing that. I have four kids whom I am entrusted to help navigate the world safely, empowering them with the confidence to stand up for injustices. And there I just stood, frozen, my mind full of reasons why I should talk myself down from advocating on my own behalf, for my own body.

He eventually responded. He apologized. And I was shocked that the justice I was seeking through his apology felt so hollow. It would never be squared because he was sorry, embarrassed or hung over. I had been violated and led to question and doubt myself. The two experiences would never meet in the middle.

I am now realizing something else; I haven't felt grounded up until this point -- up until just now -- as I type these last few sentences. The injustice beyond the actual offense was the silence and the shame of the secret. By sharing this publically, I no longer live in those shadows.

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