An Open Letter to Sleep

Dear Sleep,

Why do you elude me?

At 4am, when there is a minor rattle from the washing machine that in no sane and rational world would wake any normal person, why do you startle and desert me?

Why do you disappear in a clap of silent thunder at 6am when Maya decides to play hopscotch on my head?

Why do you vanish like fog and refuse to return, leaving me wild-eyed and desperate for a doze?

I love you! Come back to me and wrap me up. Sink me into a coma-like state until morning. Please let me stay with you for at least six hours straight. You don’t understand how much I need you!

When you abandon me in the barbaric hours of the morning, I spend the next day bouncing from sugar high to sugar high, from cup of tea to cup of coffee in an attempt to make it through the waking hours in something resembling a functional state. I spend the day on autopilot, daydreaming about wrapping myself in a plush throw and throwing myself on the couch like a human burrito.

But even more than this…

Why let me start dreams that you’re not willing to let me finish?

Dreamtease.

You seem willing to let me plod through the grimmest of dreams to the brutal and bitter end, so what about the good ones? You know I hate unsolved mysteries. Your habit of slowly unraveling intriguing storylines only to cut the fun short before I can find any resolution is mildly infuriating enough to deserve its own hashtag.

#MildlyInfuriating

Sleep, please let me love you.

Life sucks without you.

Me Too

ME TOO (1)

I’ve been seeing this #metoo trending hashtag everywhere and I’ve had fairly mixed feelings about it, honestly. When I sit down to comment on it, I either get so agitated I can’t type coherent sentences or else I feel a bone-deep weariness and sit, staring blankly at the screen, until I give up and close my laptop.

I thought that perhaps now, after dragging a 27kg box down my road and up a flight of stairs, I would be tired enough to tackle this issue, but I’m still sitting here jiggling my leg anxiously. I don’t like the #metoo campaign. I just don’t. I don’t like it, even though of course ‘me too’.

Perhaps because ‘me too’.

Have I felt harrassed?

Yes.

When?

How about the time I was 16 and a man in his mid-thirties stopped his car in the middle of traffic to run over and chat me up?

How about the time a man at least two decades older than me sat – uninvited – at my table during my lunch break, followed me back to my workplace and then sent me effusive poetry?

How about the many times I’ve had my ass grabbed, or the men who have slid their arm around me and nonchalantly stroked my breast? How about the guy who almost followed me into my house? Or the men who have forced their unwanted, unasked-for compliments on me and then acted like I owed them? Or the guy whose name I didn’t even know, who made me mix CDs I never asked for and followed me on my commute home? Or the guys who have kissed me against my will?  Or the man who stalked me from store to store despite not a single sign of interest? Or the many men who don’t listen to the first no? Or the second no? Or the third, or the fourth, or the fifth….?

Here’s the thing about sexual harrassment; 98% of the time, the people doing it would never admit to themselves or anybody else that what they’re doing is harrassment. I think that a lot of the time they really are completely unaware that what they’re doing is creepy, or intimidating, or frightening or enraging or just plain inappropriate. They think they’re flirting. They think they’re being charming, or “cheeky,” or that they’re – shudder – wooing you. They either don’t realise or don’t care that your laugh is a nervous one, or that your smile is plastered on over gritted teeth. They are completely oblivious to the fact that you flinch when they try to touch you, and they ignore any subtle hints you might drop about them leaving you alone.

They don’t stop to think about positions of power, or whether or not women feel like they can shut it down. They mistake any gesture of politeness for encouragement. They mistake silence for enjoyment. They don’t stop to consider that maybe politeness feels like the only option. They don’t bother to contemplate alternative interpretations of the silence.

Did I say or do anything?

I once had a job in a large office block. I worked on the front desk of the building, but since it housed several different businesses – each of which had their own receptionist – I didn’t have very much to do. The office I interacted with the most was the one on the ground floor staffed solely by a group of middle-aged men.

Most of them engaged in what they considered “friendly banter” with me, and a lot of it was inoffensive and light-hearted, so I didn’t mind. There was one man in his early sixties, however, who routinely said things that made my skin crawl. It started with outrageously over-the-top flattery and escalated quickly from there. After a week or so he was saying things like, “You’re way better than the last one, that bitch was no fun. And you’re much easier on the eye!”

And then:

“Come down to the garage with me for twenty minutes and I’ll give you anything you want!”

And then:

“I’m going away with my wife for a sexy weekend, but I’ll be thinking of you the whole time!”

And then:

“Oh you have a form for me? Come sit on my lap and read it to me like a good girl!”  – and when I slapped the form down on the table, narrowed my eyes at him and walked out – “That’s okay, I like to watch you walk away too!”

Every time he approached my desk I felt a mixture of negative feelings. Revulsion. Fear. Intimidation. Discomfort. Powerlessness. Shame. Rage. He would say these things – and many others – in front of his colleagues and then wink at me, flashing his dentures in what I’m sure he thought was a dashing grin. His colleagues would laugh, or groan and then laugh. At no point did anybody pull him up on his behaviour. At no point did anybody say that it was inappropriate. At no point did anybody say anything at all.

And neither did I.

Why not?

  • I was young and not very confident.
  • I was afraid of how he (and the rest of the office) would react.
  • The fact that nobody around him ever said anything made me feel completely outnumbered and made me second-guess myself, wondering whether I was making a big deal about nothing.
  • I wasn’t going to be there for very long, so I figured I should just stick it out.
  • My job wasn’t actually linked to his office, so I wasn’t sure who I should even talk to about it. If anybody would be moved it would be me.

… So, you know, the usual reasons people don’t report these things. Or rather the usual reason, singular, because it really always boils down to the same simple truth:

I was afraid of the consequences.

Whether you’re afraid the repercussions will be violent, professional, dangerous or simply awkward, it always boils down to the consequences of standing up for yourself to people who are generally larger, more powerful, more important, and completely unpredictable. The #metoo campaign is like picking up fistfuls of sand and feeling it slip through your fingers; there are so many ‘me too’s. Too many ‘me too’s. It would be better to ask for people who have never experienced it to step forward. Find the scant handful who have never felt that tingle of fear, or that burning shame of not feeling able to risk their job/reputation/safety.

I guarantee you they are few and far between.

So maybe stop looking for the #metoo.

Maybe look for the #luckyfew.

 

Stranger Danger

cobblestones-1

One day, a few years ago, I hopped on a bus that would take me back to the apartment I was living in at the time. I had just come from the shop, and I was listening to music, shouldering a backpack and carrying a fairly heavy bag full of groceries in each hand. I sat myself down on the bus with a sigh of relief, and gazed out the window at the pretty town I then called home.

A man sat down beside me at the next stop. Out of my peripheral vision I noticed his black tracksuit bottoms with the trademark three white stripes. I saw the tattoo that ran along his forearm and wound around his wrist to his index finger. I looked straight ahead, lost in thought, and absent-mindedly watched as an elderly man sitting three rows away sniffled and dragged a dirty tissue from his sleeve. I was distantly aware of two middle-aged women chattering beside him. Every so often they would lean in towards each other, wide-eyed, as if a juicy secret had just been shared.

I idly tapped my fingers on my knee and lost myself in my own thoughts as the bus rattled along the cobblestones.

Twenty minutes later, as the bus reached my stop, I swung my backpack up over my arm. I scooped up my bags of groceries and stepped off the bus, my shoulders aching. I hummed along to the music coming through my earphones as I walked towards my street. I lived on the ground floor of an old house that sat, rather unassumingly, on a tiny cobbled alleyway. A single streetlight shone from the main road.

I was almost at the streetlight when the hair on the back of my neck prickled, and I paused. I looked over my left shoulder. The street behind me was deserted. I shrugged to myself and continued on. When I reached my alleyway, I felt it again; a gentle, nagging feeling that somebody was right behind me. I looked over my right shoulder into the twilight.

There was nobody there.

Feeling like an idiot, I finally reached the stoop of my front door. I put down my groceries, and swung the bag off my back to look for my keys. After a few minutes of fumbling – because apparently I can never keep my keys in one place – I finally found them in an inside pocket. Pulling them out with a triumphant flourish, I hung my bags off my left arm and slid my key into the lock. I turned the key, pushed the door open, turned to yank the key out of the door…

…And came face to face with an entirely unfamiliar man.

In what was literally a split second, these are the thoughts that my brain, now jostled awake by this unexpected stranger, compiled and indexed for me:

  1. Strange man in my face.
  2. Strange man in my face has his foot on my doorstep.
  3. Strange man in my face is about a foot taller than me.
  4. Strange man in my face could reach out and shove us both inside.
  5. My housemate is not home.
  6. Nobody is home.
  7. W.T.F.
  8. Strange man in my face is wearing black Adidas tracksuit bottoms.
  9. Strange man in my face has unusual forearm tattoo.
  10. STRANGE MAN IN MY FACE WAS ON THE BUS WITH ME!
  11. BUS MAN IN MY FACE!
  12. BUS MAN FOLLOWED ME FROM THE BUS TO MY FRONT DOOR!
  13. W.T.A.F!

At that point, just as our eyes met, Bus Man looked entirely unprepared. His face registered shock, and frankly, I found that incredibly rude. After all, I wasn’t the one who had stealthily followed someone to their front door.* If anybody had the right to look shocked, it was me.

If you were to have this moment on tape, and you chose to freeze-frame this particular second, we would probably look like mirror-images of each other. Me, one foot inside the house, staring blankly at this random human who was so close I could reach out and touch him with my tiny arms. Him, staring blankly at me with his foot on my front step and his tattooed hand on his thigh. Both of us momentarily frozen in motion.

And then the split second passed.

In one smooth motion fuelled by 90% absolute panic and 10% adrenaline, I pulled the key out of the lock and swivelled into the hallway, slamming the door shut with a ninja kick that ricocheted through the house.

Then I dropped my bags to the floor, retreated all the way down the hallway to the far wall, and slumped against it. I stared at the front door for about half an hour.**

Then I got up and dragged my plastic bags full of food to the kitchen.

 

*To be clear, the only way I could have not seen him, having looked over both shoulders, is if he was moving purposely out of my field of vision each time. That street was very narrow.

**He disappeared and never came back, but I hated that he knew where I lived and always wondered what was going through his head that day. Maybe his motives were friendly, but if so, let this be a lesson to anybody who thinks it’s sweet to follow a girl home: NO. NO. DON’T DO IT. WE DON’T LIKE IT. IT’S TERRIFYING. He could have struck up a conversation on the bus, or on the street, or even while I was mindlessly searching for my keys, and he did none of those things. Instead he appeared inches from my face when my front door was already open. I am just over five feet tall. Anyone looming over me unexpectedly is unwelcome. This is particularly true of strange men that I don’t know.

Also, please believe me when I say that any situation that might make a girl feel like a cornered animal – unless it’s some form of kinky roleplay by mutual consent with safewords – is never romantic. It’s unlikely to be a story you will one day tell your grandkids as you hold hands and gaze fondly at each other across the table. It’s much more likely to be a story that ends up on a blog.

Like this one.