I always walk home with one earphone in. I walk under the street lights. I always grip my phone tightly in my pocket, in case there’s someone I need to call. I always look around me, but I never look back.
I was never afraid of walking in the dark, until Luke.
I met Luke my second week of college. Unwillingly, the seat next to him was the only one left at that 5 pm Monday lecture. He was one of the unknown, faceless that I had not yet met. He wasn’t particularly unattractive, in fact, I found his intense eye contact quite attractive, and intimidating, which I thought to be a rare confidence, and I liked how it made me feel. Put on the spot, uneasy, slightly uncomfortable, but, not in a terrible way. I didn’t think much of my first encounter with Luke, except for a brief thought that perhaps we may become friends, that I may have found another of “my people”.
I knew he liked me when I heard it through a friend of a friend. I was that girl, the one who’s number he had been looking for. Although I didn’t like him back, I found it flattering at first, despite being a little forward, but again, not thinking anything of it. We spoke a couple more times, in passing between lectures or briefly before class if he happened to find himself seated next to me. It was when he tried to buy me coffee, and added me on social media, I should have known better.
Anyway, over- eager text messages ensued over the Christmas break. At this point in the year, I was in no position to turn away a potential friend, but his persistence and increasingly frequent number of messages meant I would have been leading him on. In an attempt to passively diffuse the situation, I did what any person in my position would do, and attempted to kindly ‘dodge’ his messages, replying less frequently, in shorter words, but remaining friendly. It was clear when returning to college after Christmas he obviously still hadn’t gotten the message. His once ‘confident’ disposition I now found over- bearing and intimidating. My attempts to diffuse the situation had only made it worse, with him leaning so close to my face whilst attempting to initiate conversation that I could feel his hot breath on my cheek. I could feel his eyes linger on me after our calculatedly brief conversations had ended after not getting the eager responses he wanted and out of the corner of my eyes, his gradual clenching of his fists. I could hear him during our lectures breathing heavily in the attempt to control his anger at my feelings- or lack thereof, teeming, like a bull. I could almost hear the tinkle of his imaginary nose ring as it was moved by his swathes of breath.
I thought it was beginning to work, that he was beginning to finally ‘get the message’. It wasn’t until one Friday I realised I was very wrong. I found myself talking to Simon, Kai and Victoria whilst walking out of the lecture. Looking up towards the door, I could see through the circular pane of glass Luke standing just outside the door, his eyes burning into me through the glass. I ashamedly admit now, that in that moment, my stomach immediately sank, and a feeling of rising panic began. Every step I took towards the door was like trudging through a swamp, each motion requiring such concentrated effort. I walked out, my head turned firmly in the opposite direction until I heard my name, and couldn’t ignore the second time it was called.
He stood over me like a looming shadow on a warm 4 o clock day. I felt uncomfortable, and warm, and engulfed. “Why don’t you answer my texts?”, or something to that effect, was the first aggressive sentence he spoke. I can’t, and couldn’t think then, with a mumble about me being busy and being a “bad replier” in general. With a friendly smile I tried to make my departure, but my effort was blocked by a swift move of his leg, and each step I took to create some personal distance, was engulfed with an approaching step by him, until I realised my back was against the wall, my right side blocked by his leg, and my left side trapped by the wall the lecture doors swung out onto.
“Why don’t you answer my messages?”. I could feel myself starting to tremble and could hear the shake encroach in my voice as I tried to play it cool. It was the only time in my life I’ve felt claustrophobic. “You think it’s funny, is that what you do, laugh at me with all your fucking friends, you think it’s fucking funny?”. I looked around- where the hell were my “friends”?
I was speechless and panicked and frantic. “Fuck off”, and he stormed off, revealing the shocked looks on Victoria, Kai and Simon’s faces. My mind was blank and my body was trembling. I had no time to think about the useless efforts of my “friends”. By the time I got home I had received a somewhat apologetic message from him, which, when I preceeded to ignore it, received another aggressive and threatening one. Peter, being the ring-leader of the group of Simon, Victoria, Kai and I made marginal efforts to look out for me. It was fine once they were around, but when I had class without any of them, and Luke was there, I was nervous I was always nervous. Those classes that I was alone for, were terrifying, mostly because the situation had reached a new level whilst one day walking home I noticed him a couple of paces ahead. He was walking in the direction of my bus stop, the complete opposite of his, stopping every so often, checking ‘non- discreetly’ discreetly to see if I was still there, before continuing on. I stopped, frozen in my tracks, pretending to be on the phone, with no one around I was trapped and refused to get my bus walking back towards campus and waiting for however long it took for me to definitively see him clear off.
Was this the grey area of sexual harassment that everyone talked about? Was I over reacting? Was it my fault, for not leading him on, for not reciprocating his feelings? Was it my fault for making this feel like something?
In an effort to take our minds off things, Harley and I organised a well- needed night out. There was a club, and loud music, and it was dark, and it was crowded. It was a good night, until going for food afterwards, I was grabbed, and not for the first time, with this having happened to me since about the age of 14. Was it intimidating? Yes. Did I feel intimated in that moment? Absolutely fucking not. It was somebody else’s turn to be frozen in shock, and this time, it wasn’t going to be the victim’s. Turning around to stand facing him I think was shock enough, as his gloating among his friends abruptly stopped, with him turning into as what can only be described as a puppy with his tail between his legs. I was through with being humiliated. But as I looked around, I saw girls, being grabbed, and accepting it, being unwillingly touched, and taking it as a compliment!? I was humiliated. This wasn’t the “grey area”. Like rape, this was sexual harassment, but this was the norm. This wasn’t sexual harassment to them, to anyone it seemed.
I am no longer afraid of Luke, or anyone. I am no longer afraid of walking home alone. I am no longer afraid, but rather, I have to be. And I hate having to be. I hate having to be, because I’m a girl.