Someone I wish I had never met

Every now and then, I write about a moment I've shared with someone I didn't know personally. A moment that broke a spell or explained something elusive. 

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Vera Mulder NewsMavens, Europe
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The following text by Vera Mulder first appeared in Dutch in De Correspondent and was short-listed for the European Press Prize. Reprinted with permission.

An inescapable reunion, this time on a warm Tuesday night. A train station bench, one empty seat between us. You say hello; I say nothing. You say hello again, I say it back, you pull out your dick and start tugging on it.

You’re someone I’ve never met, and yet, I’ve known you for a while now. My mother knows you, too. My girlfriends. That woman over there, on the other side of the train tracks? Never seen her before, but she knows you, too.

You first introduced yourself when I was twelve, as my phys-ed teacher. I was already five foot ten but not tall enough to launch myself over the vault without your help, without your obliging fingers pressed into my ass. The boys in my class, all six inches shorter, needed no such assistance.

When I called you a fucking pedophile I was called to the principal’s office -- I always talked back and I’d better watch what I said; other students were starting to take my lead, complaining about you too, and stories like that can ruin a teacher’s reputation.

After that, you never left. You were the physical therapist whose free hand rested on my buttock while you massaged my shoulder. Who unfastened my bra without asking. Through the fabric of your pants your cock pushed up against my hip; I lay face down, silent, my head wedged into that too-hard cushion with a hole in the middle.

It wasn’t until you asked me “just what I used those long nails of mine for” and called my breasts “big boys” that I felt I could finally explain to others why this crossed a line. The ways you touched me would only raise questions -- after all, I went there to lie shirtless beneath your hands, didn’t I?

When I confronted you, a week later and no longer confused and frozen, you said I’d misunderstood. You had lots of female patients, no one had ever complained. You hoped I’d return; we’d had a nice time, hadn’t we?

So nice, that you’ve long since decayed into the keys between my knuckles when I walk home alone. The look over my shoulder before the doors close on my building’s elevator. You’re the small wooden club in my mother’s handbag, which she’d hoped I’d forever think was strange.

Do you remember, when I was fourteen and went dancing where you had gone dancing, too, and you grabbed my cunt so hard it left a bruise? I couldn’t tell my parents; I’d snuck out to hit the town, and this was apparently why they’d forbade it.

Or that time at Central Station when you grasped my hips from behind, thrust your crotch against me, ran away fast? Maybe your friends remember; they egged you on, then laughed at me.

I know you from those times I don’t want to write down because I won’t grant them commemoration. You’re the reason my little brother, five and a half years younger, insists on escorting me all the way to my front door.

You’re a hashtag that must always be challenged, because maybe, one time, it wasn’t you. And that would be so unfair, to you. Stories like these, as I learned at twelve, can do real damage. To teachers.

A little more subtle than dicks and fingers, you’re the joke that has a right to be told by the person who can’t say anything anymore these days.

Now, on that train station bench, you leave me a handful of options. I can get up and walk away – but will you follow me? Will you touch me? Pull a knife on me?

I can call the police -- will you run away, or will you turn aggressive? Will the officers believe me? Will they come? I can scream, but what can that lone woman on the other side of the tracks do to help?

So I do nothing, while you pant harder and keep leaning forward to make eye contact. The train arrives; you walk away. On to the next bench? Should I have called the police, after all, to keep that from happening? Why do I still regret not reporting you because that smiling family in the photo at your physical therapy clinic would have been hurt?

Why do you make this my responsibility? Have me shoulder a problem that’s yours to handle.

My best guess is: you don’t know, either. Because I know you, but you don’t know me at all. Let’s fix that, at our inevitable next meeting. I’ll be sure to give you my mother’s regards.

***

Translated by Vera Mulder

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Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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