Sorry I returned Your Greeting (Re: Street Harassment)

If this had been a poem it would’ve said:
Feels like
Pulling my hair out
Screaming and nothing coming out
Being surrounded by people, while feeling truly alone in the claustrophobia of my own thoughts…

I wanted to write the pain. Write this through power and then take it back. But I can’t write the words, because they are yours. You own them. You said them. So I am giving them back. They belong to you. On you. They are about you– not me. I understand that no woman is immune to harassment: regardless of her perceived gender identity, race, or class. And no man is immune to subjugating a woman. So regardless of what you think we have in common, no matter how even you think the playing field is, know that you still scare me. Because you had and have power over me. And I have beaten myself up for the last 3 days because I don’t have whatever it is people have or develop when they feel overpowered, exhausted, defeated, done. I have choked on tears and then beat myself up some more for beating myself up. I have hated myself and then beat myself up for hating the wrong person. I hate being the person who is targeted for being beautiful or ugly or having the right or wrong beauty. I hate being the person who gets approached regardless of what I’m wearing or how good or bad I think I look on that particular day. Hate that I gave you the benefit of the doubt because you approached me respectfully and I stupidly thought you just wanted to walk me to the train. Hate that I know it’s not my fault but still carry your words in my skin. Wear them like a scar that won’t heal.

If this had been a poem, it would’ve read:
Feels like spiraling out of control
Because I can’t prevent this from happening again
Can’t even say the words without falling apart
Because they are gross and ugly and now I feel gross and ugly and…

So I have mostly kept this to myself. Told one friend and lost it. Told my therapist and all she could say was how painful it must be. Her face said she was sorry. So very sorry. I am too. Never wanted to write this. This was not supposed to be my next project, my next write. But I have had nightmares and crying spells and I need to release this poison, so I can return to my regular life. This is not about having no voice. My voice is loud and it connects to a heart that sometimes needs cover. So when I set out to write this, I said that it wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t say exactly what you said. Repeat it back verbatim and call you out by name. Said that I should be a voice for other people who hear the same words. But this is about dropping pounds and being free. You know what you said. I know what you mean. Looked you in the eye and asked if you had a mother or a sister. Asked if you would be ok with somebody saying to them, what you said to me. You stuttered and stammered, said you were trying to apologize. But no sorry will ensure my safety. You are guilty and now I am filthy. You go home and go on. I struggle with this. Write you an open letter about this. Because nothing anyone can say, will make me feel better about this. I am holding it in my hands and as I write, there are spaces between tears falling and self-blaming, that I feel a sense of resolve. I resolved to write this, even though I hate that I have to.

If this were a poem, it would continue on:
You are the one who is gross and ugly
Because all you care about is gross and ugly
I am not here to fulfill any of your gross and ugly fantasies
Not interested in what you think of my body
What you thought when you saw it
Told you how sick it made me feel
Asked why you would say that
Because I would never approach you and say something similar
You would never be stuck in a different borough
Waiting for a train, so you could cry your way home

You were the first one I ever questioned. The first I ever spoke to like a human, after being approached like I was not. First one I looked straight in the eye and showed my own eyes. First time I stood there for longer than a minute to make sure you understood how much this affects me. Because you never know what someone has been through or why they are who they are. You may think you are just one person. You may think you made a mistake. But when a person keeps hearing something for all of her adult life, she starts to wonder if it’s true. I don’t hold you responsible for the pain that I have spent years processing. But you are to blame for bringing it up.  Because I have to sit with it on my body- stained like ink on the skin of my face, the palms of my hands, the ends of my hair. And if it spilled onto my notebook it would read:

Don’t act surprised when I call you on your shit
Because I am afraid of you
But I am more afraid to be silent

I am sorry I returned your greeting. I normally wouldn’t. But I find it sad that I am told I shouldn’t return a greeting. Because if I do, what happens next is my fault. I hope you think about this, next time you start a greeting. Though I will go back to ignoring greetings. I will move on and move past. Maybe not today. But tears turn into truth, turn into progress, turn into power.

You did take my power. And now, I am taking it back.


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