I had an incident the other day I haven’t been able to shake.
I’m a little delayed in social development in the sense that I don’t drive at twenty-two. I had a hang up about being in control of a death vehicle for years, and now I have a permit but still no license or car of my own. Fortunately for me, I can take a train right to where I go to school, there’s literally a stop on the campus.
While I was on my way to class, a friend of mine called me. He lives on the other side of the country, and we haven’t been able to talk as much as we used to since he took the graveyard shift at his job. Him calling me was the first time we had gotten to have a legitimate conversation in weeks.
Now, I can acknowledge my wrong in the situation: I was loud. I am often entirely unaware of the volume of my voice, and I had been contemplating for various sound barriers earlier and never brought it down. But I wasn’t really being rude in the conversation, either. We’re both jokesters, and it was a lot of laughing and silliness.
I walked away from the wall I was perched at to check for the train, and I went to say something and I heard a voice say, “how about you shut the fuck up?” I didn’t really think anything of it, but when I went to reply to my friend, I had a grown man in my face screaming at me.
“No, seriously, how about you shut the fuck up!”
“Yes you! Fuck! Just shut the fuck up!”
“Did I say something to offend you?”
“No I’m just sick of hearing your fucking phone call and your fucking voice and I just want you to shut the fuck up!”
“Okay. I can do that.”
And I turned down my voice, and I walked away to nearly around the block. I tried to keep talking to my friend just to spite the man, but I couldn’t really keep myself from shaking and crying.
It wasn’t the first time things had gotten crazy in relation to that train system with me. I have interfered with child abuse on a train, I have stood up in defense of a woman being harassed when a police officer directly refused to get involved, and I have been told off by people for requesting security when I was sick of hearing a young man threaten an older man over a seating scuffle with furious repetitive use of the N-word and insistence that he would “find his family and kill them.” But this situation left a completely different taste in my mouth.
I couldn’t help but feel attacked for being inferior. I’m young and female and, when compared to men, small; this man was twice my age, at least two or three inches taller than me, and, yes, male. All that happened in the aftermath, for a good hour or so, was me considering all the ways the situation would have been different had I been older, or male, or taller, or non-white, or anything. It didn’t feel like an attack on me for using my phone in public (he certainly didn’t get kudos from other folks on the train, and there tends to be a certain level of community amongst train riders even strangers), it felt like an attack for being a young girl. I can handle a meritocracy, but not the idea of being subjected to public embarrassment simply for being the not-privileged.
Also, I got the intense sense that he was truly threatened by my happiness. I was talking to a close and old friend, I was laughing and joking and smiling and just enjoying my life. This got under his skin enough for him to be yelling and cussing at me in front of at least fifty or sixty strangers.
But really, the thing I haven’t discussed with anybody in telling this, is sometimes I’m in public and my phone gives me the feeling of safety. Like, I’ll have the option of music, but I’ll choose to be on the phone with somebody because it puts a stressful situation for me at ease. And I feel like that security blanket was completely torched in front of me.
Do you have a situation similar to this? Feeling like a stranger is trying to control your behavior simply for being (heavy quotations here) “different” and so they can? Or maybe you’ve been on the other side of losing your mind with somebody and you have reflection or it? Or, hey, maybe even a defense of it? Please share!