Some random asshole spat on me today.
I wanted to shake people and yell about how violating it felt, this man walking towards me, and spitting in my direction, making me feel so helpless. Then I started to think that I was probably overreacting. In the grand scheme of the world , a man, coming in the opposite direction, who deliberately walked as close as possible to me when he passed and then, also deliberately, spat at me, is not the end of the world. It’s disgusting and made me feel like a worthless piece of shit, but he technically didn’t hurt me, so I shouldn’t really complain, should I? I mean, I should, and I am, but at that moment I just felt so small. Just seconds before I had been walking home with so much confidence, my two eldest at school, and a day full of activities with my baby and partner laid out in front of me. And then suddenly I was shaking, tears welling up in my eyes, and that cold fear rising in my stomach, the one I recognize from my childhood. I hesitated, wanting to yell and show my anger, but apart from that person there was no one around, and I was afraid he would turn around and punch me in the face. I had caught a glance of his eyes in the second that he passed me, and his look was enough to tell me he would have no qualms punching me in the face.
I should have trusted my instincts when I saw him approach half a block away. I know I should always trust my instincts. They don’t usually fail me, but I sometimes fail them.
Years ago, I must have been about 20 or 21, I was walking to a friend’s home, just a few minutes down the street from mine. I still remember the scene vividly, playing out in slow motion in front of me. I could see a man approaching from the opposite direction, amongst other people, and for some reason my gut told me something was off. He was walking fast, and the moment he was about to pass me by he punched me in the face, so hard that my head snapped back and smashed into the lamppost that was right behind me. I turned around, stunned, as he ran off, turning round and cackling at me. He obviously had some kind of mental illness, not that I am qualified to name what, or maybe he was just an asshole with violent impulses, who knows. But I ended up with a black eye and a bump on the back of my head. No one even stopped to help me, and I just stumbled to my friend’s house and burst into tears trying to explain what had just happened to me on a busy street in broad daylight. She asked me if I wanted to go and report it but by that time I was just overwhelmed and for some reason had already minimized the assault, and stupidly never did report it. I don’t know why I minimize things like that. Fear of being in the way? Fear of being seen as stupid, silly for making a mountain out of a molehill? Fear of actually having to explain how I felt and how this person made me feel?
I don’t trust many people. I may come across as kind and caring, and that is absolutely genuine. I may share stories about my life with you, listen to your stories, and you can trust me with your secrets. But unless you are one of very few I don’t trust you. It’s not personal, my trust was violated when I was very young and when these types of things happen they reinforce why I don’t trust. And they happen too frequently. We walk the streets on the defensive, a natural cloak that we don every time we leave the house. Our eyes constantly look, judge for danger levels, and move on to the next, crossing the street or turning back whenever our instincts through up a flag. It can’t be just me can it? I’m sure we all do it. I doubt I’m the only woman walking these streets who has been punched in the face and spat on by random men. I’m sure for every woman who reports being spat on or harassed there are dozens who just go home and live with it in silence.
And trust me, I am not scared of much. I had no issues closing at bar on the Lower East Side in NYC by myself at 4am, or jumping over the bar to drag drunk idiots out by myself. But it’s been 20 years and I haven’t forgotten the face of the man who punched me. I won’t forget spitting guy’s face either. The imprint is marked permanently into my memory, which is quite insane if you think about it, as I literally only saw their faces for a few seconds. I’ve been through a lot worse too, which makes it all the more strange to me why these type of incidents still stand out so strong in my mind. Maybe because they are just so random? Difficult to categorize as assault?
I keep imagining if the kids had been in the stroller and he had spat on them. What if the spit had actually landed in my face where he had directed it? Does this person go around assaulting women on his daily walk? Does he live in my neighborhood and is he just one other thing I now have to be worried about on my often rollercoaster-like school runs and grocery shops? Does he actually live in my building?!
As is the case for many women I have been verbally abused, harassed, assaulted, and just treated like excrement more times than I can even count or remember. We minimalize it and internalize it because it is so normalized in our society that we feel guilty even talking about it. But we must. Yes, I feel completely humiliated by the fact that a man spat on me and I just stood there shaking, but if I don’t talk about it I will make it into something less than it was. I shouldn’t have to walk around being worried that someone is going to spit on me! No one should.
(I posted about this on Nextdoor and forwarded the information on to the police department. If it happens to someone else and they report it too hopefully they will apprehend the man and make sure he doesn’t do it again. But for me it is just another thing to be on the lookout for when I go out by myself with the kids, on top of everything else).