“Beverly!” I heard my name called as I stepped off the Metro onto the platform at Pershing Square station. I turned to see my train buddy, C. C had played college football for my alma mater (Hook ’em Horns!) so we always had plenty to talk about in terms of sports and Texas. Lately he and I have been swapping sob stories about injuries. His Achilles has been bothering him and I have a hamstring issue that I can’t seem to shake. Despite injuries and the nearly 10 years since he played college ball, C still carries himself with the confidence and hulking physique of a college level athlete.
As we walked along the train platform this afternoon, C excitedly told me about a great new job his wife just landed. This would take them back to Texas where they were eager to buy a house and start a family. There were a lot of details to attend to with the big move and he eagerly ticked them off as we walked.
C and I were coming from the last car of the train, so by the time we got half way up the platform most of the other riders had disappeared up the stairs to the next level. One remaining rider however walked towards us, rather than in the direction of the exits. The oddness of that caught my attention but I quickly dismissed it as I peppered C with questions about his plans.
The stranger caught my attention again however as he got closer. At about fifteen feet away he stuck his hand out low, just below his waist level and began wiggling his fingers back and forth. C was on my left and the stranger was to my right. I quickly made up a story in my mind that they knew each other and the stranger was coming in for a handshake with C. I glanced up at C to see if he recognized him. But C was lost in his excitement of the big move and gave no indication that he recognized or even saw the guy.
The distance between us and the freaky fingered stranger closed. We neared touching distance. I no longer heard what C was saying as his voice took on the muffled quality of Charlie Brown’s teacher. I gave C one final glance searching for any sort of clue he knew the guy. Nope. None.
Just as we were about to cross paths, it dawned on me that his animated hand was at the exact same level as my crotch. That realization hit just as we approached grabbing distance. As that realization struck I immediately bolted away with a pivot and scoot backwards. Pussy grab dodged.
“WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!” I growled after him as he continued straight past. I was furious.
He pulled his hand back in towards his body and sauntered on, never glancing back.
Stunned, I looked up at C. “Did you see that?!” I asked still not believing what had just happened. C’s eyes were big and round. He was speechless.
I looked back at freaky fingers. He had moved far down the platform by now. I looked back at C.
“Asshole,” I muttered. “Let’s just go.”
My experience is common — 1 in 5 LA Metro riders say they have experienced sexual harassment. But what struck me as so odd about it was that in all the years I’ve been riding the train by myself, not once has someone tried to grab me. When I’m by myself I put out my best, “don’t even talk to me” vibe. And I’ve assumed that’s what has kept me safe.
That afternoon I was not putting out that vibe at all. I was walking cheerfully along catching up with a friend. A friend who was well over 6 foot and 200-something pounds of muscle, mind you. And isn’t that something we all learn in self-defense, that we’re safer with a buddy?
I’ve turned it all over in my mind countless times: “What was this guy thinking?”, “Why would he target someone who was with a big ole’ dude?”, “And why would he telegraph his movements from so far away?”
I speculated with friends and some experts in the field of self-defense: Maybe it as a power play towards C and I was just a pawn. Maybe the guy was high and unaware of his bad choices. Maybe… maybe… maybe…
blah… blah… blah…
I’ll never know the answers to the questions of that specific scenario. And I’ll never know why that freaky finger stranger broke all the rules of predators we learn in self-defense class (about telegraphing, targeting a group, etc).
I’m not really crazy about not knowing those answers. Feeling like I have those answers makes me feel safe. It doesn’t mean I’m actually safer. It just makes me feel safer.
Enough about freaky fingers. Here’s what I learned about myself from this encounter:
The Freeze. I got frozen in my story that the stranger knew C and was reaching out for a fist bump. An attempted assault wasn’t even on my radar. Nevertheless, it all felt off. So I looked for evidence from C to support my story. Even when I didn’t find it, I kept looking until nearly the last possible second.
Telegraph #1. The guy got off the train and instead of exiting, walked back towards the end of the platform. In the fraction of a second it took me to notice it, I made up a story about that too.
Telegraph #2. Those freaky fingers. It was like out of a cartoon. Seriously, the guy wasn’t subtle at all.
The Flight. My little lizard brain knew something was off. It didn’t trust my “rational” mind that was making up socially acceptable stories to justify what my smarter lizard sensed.
Fortunately, my lizard took over and got me out of grabbing range just in time.
What would have been different if C wasn’t there with me that day?
It might have been worse.
It might have been the same.
Maybe nothing would have happened at all.
I dunno. There are too many variables at play, and I can’t waste time speculating on the unanswerable.
What I do know, is that a girl’s best line of defense isn’t a hulking friend by her side.
Instead, its quieting the “rational” voice and listening to that other voice. The one that’s telling you something is off.
That voice knows what’s up.