My nature yearns for understanding. Explanation. If I can understand something, if there is an explanation –for some thing, any thing, most things, I can make peace with whatever it is, and let it go or let it be. At times I encounter things for which reason escapes me. Experiences that I can’t explain. Choices that confound me. And just because something seems inexplicable, doesn’t mean that it is. It means only that I haven’t yet acquired the wisdom or perspective to understand. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, understood as a child, thought as a child…
Also, time is a great healer. Time and a peaceful disposition.
Occasionally thoughts and memories are stirred, and I am drawn to ponder once more these inexplicable things.
Nobody makes it through life unscathed.
Recently, the concept of exploitation has surfaced in my mind as an explanation of sorts for certain life events. It’s by no means a complete or satisfying explanation, but it’s the beginning of a channel of thought that might lead to a deeper understanding. Exploitation suggests an offender –the one exploiting, and a victim –the one exploited. It absolves, somewhat, the one exploited from the responsibility of the situation. Not that I am advocating transferring responsibility for a situation to someone, anyone, or anything other than myself. The thing is, if I’m caught up in the self-blame game, or the coulda shoulda woulda cycle, I spin around and around and never get past that. Understanding is never achieved, and I can’t put the matter to rest.
I don’t know what draws or compels one to exploit another. Oh, I suppose things like power, control, greed, and self-serving attitudes fuel such things. I still fail to understand the draw of such things, other than to feebly attempt to fill some deep seated emptiness, insecurity, or fear.
Once, on a night train in Southern Italy, packed like sardines with other travelers, my friend and I were molested by an Italian man. Or rather, by his feet. It was hot and late, and we hadn’t paid for sleeping quarters, so we all dozed in our seats, facing each other with our feet stretched out before us. It seems like there may have been 8 or 10 people in each booth, 4 or 5 on each side of the booth, facing each other. The locals slipped off their shoes and put their feet up, and it seemed the normal thing to do in such circumstances. Budget travelers trying to minimize the discomfort of a long night time train ride. At some point in time, the man sitting opposite me started to slowly move his toes and probe. My friend squirmed and glared at him, but I tried not to move. Her squirming and glaring may have made him stop advancing the foot that was planted in front of her, I don’t know, but he kept on with the foot planted in front of me. I wanted to scream at him to stop, but I didn’t. I was afraid of making a scene in front of all those foreigners. He kept on, and I was afraid to look at him, but I occasionally caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my half closed eyes. He seemed sinister. Perhaps I detected a smirk of sorts, as if he dared me to make him stop. I didn’t move. I held my breath and pretended to sleep. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t remember when he finally stopped.
I suppose the topic of rape prompted this train of inquiry. What defines such a thing? The lack of consent? Does not fighting back or raising a scene mean consent? Does not actively or overtly objecting mean consent?
Another experience involved an Iranian man. He was charming, gregarious, and smooth talking. We were neighbors and met when I moved into an apartment after breaking off a long term relationship with a decent guy. Now that I am writing about this, I recall he told me he was Italian. People were more accepting of Italians than Iranians, he later told me, so he generally presented himself as Italian. Somehow, and to this day I cannot explain how events transpired, I ended up being a sex partner to him. I never wanted it. I never consented. Yet I did what he told me to do. Why? I DON’T KNOW. I would lie in my bed at night and he would do his thing. MY bed! Why was he even in my house? I would lie there like a sack of flour. Not one bit of interaction. I would think to myself, how can he possibly enjoy this? It’s completely one sided and not the least bit interactive. There was no embracing, no kissing, no motion other than him getting himself off in me. I can feel my face wrenched in a grimace as I write this, perplexed and disgusted on many levels, to this day. That wasn’t the extent of it. He would stand in front of me and tell me to drop to my knees and blow him, and I would. I did what he told me to do, and it continued for some time. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why I did it. Once he brought a friend over. The General. They brought a Persian meal of some sort and we dined, then he left. Where did the other guy go? Why did he leave? When would he be back? They had some flurried conversation in Farsi and he left The General with me. A stout man in his 60s, I’m guessing, who spoke no English, and used to be a general, back in the old country. I don’t know. We were sitting on the couch and I attempted to make conversation. Apparently he had some background in sports medicine or physical therapy and he picked up one of my arms and began to massage it. I don’t know how much time passed, but somehow I ended up in my underwear on my bed, being massaged. It was a bit like an out of body experience in which I looked down and saw a big old Iranian man working his hands over my nearly naked body, working his way towards my nether regions. How did my clothes come off? How did I end up in my bedroom, on my bed, nearly naked? I saw myself and my tattered underwear. I had this ratty tatty bra that I was trying to get a few more wears out of, and it had a big tear across one of the cups. It was embarrassing for it to be exposed like that. Nobody ever saw it, because it was underwear. But seeing myself in my tattered underwear in front of a stranger prodded my brain into a better state of clarity and I snapped back to reality, jumped up and made him leave. I’m glad he left. He could easily have forced himself further. That was my wake-up call, as if whatever fog or spell I was under lifted, and after that I was able to form a plan to get the hell out of that situation. There is a lot more to that story, in which I realized that I wasn’t at all safe, but the mere fact that they thought I was a stupid woman gave me the buffer I needed to get myself to safety. I played dumb after that, more or less, then moved several towns away, in the dead of night, without a trace. Understandably, I have a general prejudice and phobia toward Middle Eastern men (I have some very dear Middle Eastern friends, so it’s not a universal prejudice).
These aren’t the only events or experiences in my collection. There are more, and I am only one person. One gentle, nice, intelligent, and even strong person. How many other people have tales like these to tell? Of all the spoken experiences out there, how many more remain unspoken? I suspect the number is staggering. I would venture a guess that more than half of all people have an experience of similar proportion with which they can identify or relate.
Was that rape? I don’t know. Exploitation? I think so. I didn’t want any of those situations. They are a part of my life, part of my collection of experiences, part of my history. Have I come to terms with these things? No. Because I don’t understand how or why they happened. I’m not the kind of person who lets things like that happen. Yet I did. Why? How?
I DON’T KNOW.
Was it okay? No.
Am I okay? Yes. But I still don’t understand.