Once on a beach, in Turkey, I was so alone and so silent my voice dried up. I opened my mouth only to eat and drink for a week, and the inner quiet rose to the surface as calm as that pebble coastline and clear water. I would ride my bike from my yurt daily, to meditate, reflect, listen to the lulling music of the tide, follow a natural rhythm of less doing and more being. I loved it.
My dear friends are posting “me, too” to their timelines in solidarity for the abuses of this world. As certain as I was that I’d been harassed, I couldn’t recall specifics for the longest time, a full day actually. I sorted the events of my mind to try and locate an instance where I felt boundaries had been crossed, but nothing came. Until now.
One day, two men waited for me to come out from the water, like menace incarnate. I stayed until my skin shriveled and my face burned from the sun’s reflection. On a stretch of rocks so long, and vacant, they sat on my towel for an hour or more. When I finally emerged, wearing of course, a bikini, one left, while the other proceeded to tell me he loved me and wanted to marry me. I hurried my clothes on. I tried at first to be dismissive yet kind, telling him I had a man. My one concern was getting off of that hidden stretch to a more populated area. The cultural differences between us, and for the record he was not Turkish, caused fear to mount in my body. I agreed he could walk me to the street merely because he had no intention of leaving me alone and it seemed safer than throwing a fit and screaming at him to get lost. I abhorred this most; the chess like cunning I was forced to consider in order to save myself from being sexually abused, the subtle distinction between kind, yet strong, so I neither tripped his aggressive wire, nor gave him any indication of invitation. What a dance, what an extreme testament to my alert intelligence and intuitive prowess, as well as to the deep fear his primate-like brawn, caused in me.
When he realized we were nearing a village, and I was able to ride my bike, because we’d left the sand, he grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me off, planting a wet kiss on my cheek. I had moved my mouth away in time. “Let go and don’t ever kiss me,” I said, prying his grip from my upper arm. I had purposely turned the opposite direction at the road because I couldn’t risk him knowing where I was staying. I tried again to get on my bike and he reached to prohibit me by grabbing the seat. What a fuck! I managed to get away. He ran after me. I turned into a stranger’s driveway, praying someone was home. I was so desperate to pretend this was my lodging, I casually opened the door and walked in on two couples having an early dinner. I didn’t speak a word of their language, but I shut the door and pointed to the man standing at the end of their driveway, waiting for me. Unfortunately they were not as intuitive, but rather confused and upset as to why a woman had dumped her bike on their porch and interrupted their meal. No one got up from the table to see what I was pointing at through the sheer window coverings. I stayed for several awkward minutes and said, “I’m sorry.” Eventually he left, discouraged. I thanked the people, ineffectively. They shrugged and twisted their faces.
Why didn’t this incident, as well as many others rise in my mind? I’m not sure. I think I’ve always felt in control, even when I clearly may not have been. For me, the cat calls, the street whistles, even the revving car engine with an unwelcome and creepy gawking out the window, are annoying but innocuous. It is the physical invasion that angers me, and the mental math I have to do, weighing my odds of safe and unsafe choices in an uncertain environment of mounting hostility.
Sisters, this imbalanced behavior will not be remedied soon. To be a woman on this planet, means we must stay alert, avoid certain situations, consider whether to walk alone, travel alone, wear that skirt, risk being raped or murdered to exercise our right to freedom. I weigh those odds, maybe even daily. I would have considered myself an idealist, but perhaps it’s my pessimism that maintains one step ahead of the abusive, maybe the deeper sadness is that I expect it from so many. When we feel protected in the arms of a good human, male and female alike, let’s cherish that sense of security and togetherness.
I am grateful this memory did not surface immediately, nor taint the serenity of my visit to Turkey, and that when I recount it today, I do so laughing at the absurdity in the world, and the extreme vulnerability that had me barging into a stranger’s home in a foreign country. I now know how to say, “There’s a bad man outside,” in Turkish.