Too late now. Maybe next time.

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I’m tired of thinking this. So very tired. Too often after I make it through another experience of harassment, another leer, another comment, another violation of my personal space, I find myself thinking this over and over. In the moment, my instinct is to deescalate, even though I am burning with anger and disgust from the inside out. But as soon as that moment passes…

I wish I had said something.

I know I could have said something.

I know intellectually what to say.

I know I could walk up to a LEO and ask them to do something.

I know my worth.

But the bridge between that knowledge and putting it into action seems to collapse almost every time I’m subject to another episode of unwarranted and unwelcome male aggression and archaic chauvinism.

WHY?

Because of fear that’s buried way down deep.

Fear that he might follow me.

Or try to use force.

Fear that if I call him out, I’ll suddenly be the crazy snowflake feminazi that can’t take a compliment, or takes the guy in the zombie costume coming up behind and pressing against young women too seriously because, you know, Halloween…?

[The latter happened last night. My good friend confronted the guy when I couldn’t string words together. He stayed in “character,” shuffling away in silence.]

All that fear is rooted in lies.

Like the lie that no one will listen or believe you.

Or the lie that women just need to put up with being harassed and feeling demeaned because in the grand scheme of things it’s really not that bad, since he didn’t actually assault you.

Or the lie that the burden of accountability for harmful behavior is always on the survivor of those experiences.

Here’s the real, raw deal: many people (I feel I can safely specify many men, because I have been harassed many times and rarely has it been by the same man twice) still live their lives as if these lies were true. They believe them, and play into the power dynamic these lies create, assuming my private personhood is actually a public forum over which they preside.

I’m sure some women reading this may be frustrated by how elementary this all sounds, but I rarely hang my thoughts on something so personal out to dry this way; I would much rather internalize. I was too wound up while writing to keep it to myself (and wanted to be reminded I’m not alone). I know that race, class and other factors add important dimension here; but the sad universality of the female experience is that even though it’s manifested in different ways and degrees, harassment is common, even normal. It shouldn’t be. But it is.

If any of my male friends happen to read this, I hope you understand that I am not unique. I am so very typical, and of the women for whom harassment is close to routine at this point, I’m still probably one of the lucky ones. Some of you may be surprised by this post, because I don’t mention my experiences much. You may not have known. But I need to ask you: don’t make me carry this burden alone. Every time I’m harassed and don’t say something, I feel responsible for the pain of the next girl my aggressor targets, and it’s a lonely guilt. Whether that’s the correct response is beyond me at the moment.

But please, men… don’t make women solely responsible for defending our right to be seen as human beings with God-given dignity. The principle is basic… it’s arguably the very least one human can do for another. So be a figure of accountability. Have a zero-tolerance policy for the degradation and objectification of women. Call it out in others and in yourself, whether it’s a crass joke made over a beer or the guy liking dozens of photos of mostly naked, likely underage girls on Instagram (your buddy might not know that anyone who follows him can see what he likes).

Because also, guys, I’m sick of the “appreciating female beauty” line. The same words your buddy says in his head while looking at the girl on the screen in her underwear are the same words that are said to me when I’m just walking down the street in jeans and a sweatshirt. I know the difference between a compliment and when someone has crossed a line… I know the difference between genuine appreciation and base objectification. I don’t care if those words were “meant well.” They made me feel less than human. Shouldn’t that count for something?

I’m tired of thinking this. So very tired.

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This is Our Youth.

New York City. Summertime.

We were at once exhausted and overstimulated.

Two of my oldest, dearest friends and I had decided to celebrate twenty-one years of camaraderie with a trip to the Big Apple. And we had made it.

As we strolled along, I’m sure I looked like most visitors to the city: wide-eyed behind my sunglasses, with my eagerness for adventure kept in check by an equally strong desire to achieve the ever-elusive quality of cool.

We arrived early in the morning and planned to maximize our time. By late afternoon we had already checked in at our hotel, toured Rockefeller Center from top to bottom, inside and out, sat in on two Tonight Show rehearsals and had our hopes for standby tickets crushed. We brushed off this last blow and strolled along once more. Cool.

Before we had embarked for the city Jon had heard of a particular play starring three Famous People. I am still not sure if he orchestrated us to walk by the play’s theatre, but we did. We bought tickets for that evening’s preview and then ate to pass the time. Jon found a nearby spot. I had one of the best sandwiches of my life, and I only include this detail because I said so about a dozen times as I consumed it. After this, we returned to the theatre.

The play began. Lights dimmed. Music rose. And there they were: the Famous People. Their performances moved me to laughter, suspense and heartache. The play was poignant and electric. I loved it.

With some argument between the three of us, my friends and I went to the stage door after curtain. Jon did not want to stay. Pris and I countered that we were in New York (poor argumentative device, stating the obvious), and wasn’t this the kind of thing we came to do? (This had not been mentioned in planning, so technically, no.) Jon had a great counterpoint: it was raining, hard, without any sign of letting up.

Somehow Pris and I convinced Jon to stay, perhaps only because he was able to duck under the awning of the parking facility next door. I had a wool cardigan and a stubborn will, and stood next to Pris in the rain.

We stood for a while. I checked my watch. Thirty minutes.

Several times the stage door gate had opened to reveal someone that was not a Famous Person.

Finally, the wonderful Tavi Gevinson appeared. The picture of patience and grace, she went to each and every person who called out to her, speaking with genuine gratitude in response to each compliment, vulnerable to the elements in a dress dotted with little pink lions.

As lovely as Tavi was, there were two other Famous People we had stayed to see; surely, we thought, they would only be a bit longer. I checked my watch again. What followed took exactly five seconds.

One: The iron gate creaks. My eyes are on my wrist.

Two: I hear a young male voice say, in a distinct tone of fatigued surprise, “Oh. You waited.”

Three, Four: I look up to see Kieran Culkin strolling past fifteen people who have waited more than forty minutes in the rain to say a mere “bravo.”

Five: Kieran pulls shut the door of a waiting vehicle. I watch open-mouthed as the SUV turns into the dark, glistening street and disappears.

We were baffled. It happened so fast. He sounded genuinely surprised that anyone had stayed around.

Yes, Kieran. We waited. Oh, well.

There was a murmur of disbelief from the remaining fans. Michael Cera, bless his heart, tried the best he could to provide closure for the situation. He had been walking behind Kieran at a similar pace, but stopped for the two or three people closest to the vehicle into which he promptly climbed.

I posses evidence of Mr. Cera’s goodwill in the form of a blurry, poorly-lit photo of Pris grinning in the foreground and Michael in mid-autograph behind her. I do not remember if Tavi was still around for this moment. I do remember her driver came over with an umbrella at some point and gradually ushered her away. He was probably worried she would catch pneumonia or something, after all that time.

Kieran Culkin must be really susceptible to pneumonia.

After all three Famous People had departed, Jon, Pris and I hailed a cab back to our hotel. We freezing; we were soaked. But we knew those three words would become part of the soundtrack to our weekend, and that was consolation enough.

“Oh. You waited.”

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Hello. Again.

And if somewhere along the way you think of what you want to say, just say it, and we’ll pretend that you remember now…

Oh, why and how did I learn to drive like this? Wait to call me talented ’til I see where I can get this thing to go.

And since now I’m driving slow, I can take those turns better. And I can watch the sky grow redder, and my letter boxes will have letters.

I attempted this blog thing once before, but I tried too hard to make it matter and, consequently, hardly wrote anything.

My goal here is just to put stuff on the page, starting with words and sentences, some of which may grow into actual stories. There may be meaning to be mined at some point, but I won’t be so audacious as to hold myself to any gold standard just yet.

Just imagine me adding scraps and scribbles to the old box where I keep my letters.