When the “Me Toos” began popping up on Facebook, I felt sick. I’m not going to post that on my wall. I don’t want to be a “Me Too,” I told myself a couple of days ago. And then my sons’ sweet, little, retired, Christian kindergarten teacher posted “Me Too” on her Facebook feed.
Mrs. Crawford? Really? Why are men such animals? Why will some of the little boys Mrs. Crawford has lovingly taught all these years grow up to grab a boob or grope a girl or heaven forbid, rape someone when they get older?
Why do I write about rape in my novels even when I try not to? Why did I just delete an entire chapter in my latest book because I’ve already gone there. I don’t want to keep writing about women being abused. I don’t want to be a “Me Too” on Facebook.
But I am. Many times over. I’ve been groped and grabbed so many times I can’t remember the first or last time it happened. I can’t remember how I felt or what I said or if I even cried when a man last grabbed me. I remember on a plane being groped years ago by a man my father’s age. I was five months pregnant and had been moved to first class because a flight attendant noticed I was young and alone, though I didn’t look pregnant. I shared with the flight attendant my husband was in the Army, and I was trying to get home to him. The flight attendant smiled and put me in first class. I thought it was going to be a good night. I’d never flown first class before.
But then the nightmare began. The man seated beside me was drinking heavily and the fumes of his inebriated breath nearly made me puke. In hindsight, I should have thrown up on him. After he downed more drinks, and gave me an earful of how accomplished he was, how rich and powerful he was, the man touched my arm. And then my leg, even though I told him I was married. I was pregnant. “Please stop,” I said as he suddenly pushed me up against the plane’s window.
Before I knew it, he was practically on top of me. The lights were low, the plane humming through the night flight, his drunken hands everywhere. I clawed my way out of the seat and over the top of him, nearly falling into the aisle, waking sleeping passengers. I stumbled back to my old seat in the middle of the plane, started crying, and couldn’t stop.
“What happened?” the flight attendant asked when she saw I’d returned to the section of the plane she was working. I just shook my head and wiped my tears with my socks. I can’t remember why I’d tucked an extra pair of socks in my carry on, or what shoes I was wearing, but I was shaking all over and crying and mopping my face with two socks and the flight attendant disappeared and then returned looking so very sorry.
I can’t remember if she actually said, “That man’s a drunken a**hole,” I but I think she said that. This was years before a**holes on planes were arrested, and then after the flight, she walked me off the plane, and over to the gate where I found I’d missed my connecting flight home because my flight from hell was late.
“We’ll put you in a hotel for the night,” she said, trying to smile with her “Me Too” eyes full of compassion, and tears flooded my eyes anew as I looked around for the man who had molested me.
“I want to call my husband,” I told her, and she walked me over to a pay phone, and then she had to leave for her next flight. When I heard Scott’s voice on the phone, I fell apart.
“What’s wrong, babe?” Scott asked in a sleepy voice. He was in flight school, studying hard, and was always tired. I felt bad for calling him late at night.
“I missed my connecting flight,” I said on a hiccuping sob, and then I held a sock over my eyes.
“Where are you? Why are you crying?” I could tell Scott was growing concerned, and I took a break from the sock and looked around again for the drunken man as I stood there on the airport phone.
“I’m in Atlanta. They want to put me in a hotel because there are no more flights going to Dothan tonight.”
“Why are you crying?” Scott asked me again, and I didn’t want to tell him. Why did I need to tell my husband about the man on the plane? I was used to men doing this to me. I must have a sign stamped on my forehead that said, “You can touch her,” even though I always fought back. Even though I always wrestled my way out of a man’s arms. I’d even crawled out bathroom windows in college to escape boys who scared me at parties. If things started getting weird, I’d say, “I’ve got to use the restroom,” and then I was gone. I wasn’t going to let what happened to me in high school happen again.
But for some reason, I felt extra violated that night at the airport. I was married. I was pregnant. I was on a plane full of people. “I just want to come home. I haven’t seen you in weeks. I miss you so much,” I told Scott.
“Don’t let them put you up in a hotel room. I’m on my way, Babe. Just wait for me.”
My socks were soaked. I was still crying. I went and found a place to sit near strong-looking, older women who might protect me. The flight attendant had been young and pretty. Petite like me. I felt sorry for her having to serve men like that all the time with a smile on her face. I’d been a waitress before I married. Both a food server and then a cocktail waitress at a Reno casino. I was used to being groped by drunken customers. My hidden talent was speed.
In grade school, nobody could outrun me. I was fast. And intuitive. Reading men’s eyes was easy. The predators I saw right away and served them quick when I was a waitress. Get in and get out was my method of survival. If a man was a real sicko, like the guy who burned my thigh with his cigar and then laughed about it, I dumped a drink on his crotch, of course by accident. That usually cooled off a pervert in the casino.
But back at the airport, Scott loaded my bags into our car four hours after I phoned him. Once I was home, I returned to bed rest with a difficult pregnancy. Scott went to flight school that morning without any sleep. I mentioned the drunken man in first class, but didn’t tell Scott he’d grabbed my breasts that would soon nurse our first child. Things like this happened to women. You just had to be tough. If you got the chance, you kicked ’em in the nuts, and then forget about it. That was life. I’d been through worse.
Why write about this? I’m not sure. I don’t have an answer for this problem in our society. I always felt like it was my fault men did this to me. One time a man chased me at a nice hotel on a trip with my mom and my four young children. I’d gone out alone to get coffee from the front office. When I returned breathless to our room without coffee, my mom said, “What happened?”
“A man chased me,” I said, my heart beating out of my chest. “I ran all around the hotel until I got away from him.”
“Well, you have that little butt of yours slingin’ in the wind,” my mom said. “What do you expect?”
I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt with my hair in a ponytail. I wasn’t dolled up at all. Swallowing my rage, I went and changed the baby’s diaper, and we carried on with our day like nothing had happened. I thought the kids weren’t paying attention. But years later, my daughters said, “Ya, mom, there you were at that hotel with your little butt slingin’ in the wind.” We all laughed because that’s what a lot of women do. We laugh it off even when we’re crying inside or mad as can be. Then both my daughters reassured me, “It’s not your fault, Mom. You didn’t do anything wrong. Men just like you.”
The truth is, I think my mom’s generation got it wrong, and so does my generation, and now my kids’ generation. Women are blamed for men’s bad behavior. I’ve outrun a number of predators in my life. I’ve expected this and lived on guard every day, like wild horses and deer, I’m a flight animal. I don’t trust men. Not teachers. Not preachers. Not men I consider friends. I’ve learned predators come in all kinds of clothing and lurk around too many unexpected corners. Growing older has helped. Now that I’m a grandma men don’t bother me like they used to. When they do, I no longer run. “Do you know Jesus?” I ask them. Most men walk away when I mention the Lord. Sometimes I laugh. Then I remind myself to pray for these people. I have sons, and these men were once boys with a mom. Maybe their mom never prayed for them, which makes me sad.
But when I was young, marrying my big, strong husband granted me protection. I was safe with Scott. And he has patiently loved me past my fear of men. He has fiercely protected our daughters too, even though Scott has taken a lot of grief for it. “She’s twenty-two years old, you need to let her live her own life,” someone said to Scott about one of our daughters. I take it back, this has been said to my husband about both our daughters far too many times. “I don’t care how old she is, she’s my daughter to protect,” Scott said. “I’ll protect my daughters until the day I’m dead.” And Scott made sure our girls married really good men who would protect them until they die, too.
I’m not going to put “Me too” on my facebook wall. For some reason this makes me feel violated all over again. I just want to go hug Mrs. Crawford and then find the man who messed with this sweet, tiny, kindergarten teacher and kick him where it counts. I know I’m a Christian, but hopefully, this guy is no longer on the planet. Women don’t run fast in hell because there’s nothing to chase down there but flames. I’m grateful what is done in the dark is always brought into the light. Unrepentant men will pay for their deeds either here or in eternity.
What I am going to do is raise our five sons to respect women. To treat them well. To protect girls every chance they get. To stand up to their friends in the locker room and say, “That girl’s not your sex object. She could become your wife someday. She could become my wife someday. If you’re going to mess with her, I’m going to beat the tar out of you. It’s worked since the beginning of time. Good guys stop bad guys.
And I will always make sure my daughters know it’s not their fault. I will say to my girls, “Speak the truth, and speak it loud.” I hope this makes a difference.