Casual Assault by Nice Men

The waiter brought us mimosas while the late-morning wind sent us goosebumps. We were brunching. We were the type of people who used brunch as a verb.

We sat on the patio amidst flower boxes and the wrought iron fence that separated us from Main Street and turned our faces toward the sunlight. We listened to the orders from the table next to us, to the waves of cars steadily driving by, to the breeze, and to each other. Girl talk.

Grace raised her champagne flute and uttered cheers before we clinked our glasses together and imbibed. We enjoyed events where it was socially acceptable to drink in the morning: a little bubbly distilled with juice over eggs and female friendship. We always said cheers at brunch, but we never specified what we were celebrating. Nothing, I guess.

Daisy, who had taken the entirety of her twenties to find herself, had just returned from a yoga retreat in Florida. She confidently detailed to us the plans for opening her own studio but paused at the sound of a low, friendly voice. Jim, two years older, from my sister’s class in high school, walked by, saw us, and stopped. He said hello and we returned his greeting. He was part of the popular group in high school, albeit the “jolly” one, if you know what I mean. The harmless, funny teddy bear. The supporting character in a teen rom-com. The comic relief. After a couple of minutes of casual chatting, he strolled away. Grace, Brie, Jane, and I commented on how nice Jim was. Always so pleasant, that Jim!

Daisy revealed, “he groped me once.”

Just like that, as casually as she had ordered her avocado toast.

We stared at her.

“What?”

In high school. On a drive home from the lake, she sat, carefree, in the backseat, singing along to the radio. Her hair, still damp from the Kingdom water and lightening under the summer rays, fluttered as air whipped into the open window. She felt free, infinite, weightless. Jim’s hand slipped from the front passenger side and slid casually up her skirt. His friend at the wheel watched, said nothing. She sat frozen. She was struck with the sudden knowledge that joy is finite.

He’s married now. They just had a baby. A girl. A bundle of joy.

We sipped our mimosas.

“I was drugged once,” Grace offered.

“What?”

In college. She danced, carefree, in a club. A hand slipped a pill into her glass, then waited casually by the bar. Her boyfriend watched, became enraged, and dragged her limply home. He shouted, how could she be so stupid? He saved her. He was a nice guy.

“I was lucky,” she said. “I could have been assaulted.”

We nodded, sipped.

I said, “I was assaulted.”

“What?”

“I didn’t know them.”

“Them?”

In a bar, in Ireland, during my semester abroad. My sister was visiting. We flirted, carefree, with young Irish men. She stood on one side of the bar while I was on the other. Three Irish guys, my age, smiled at me casually. They chatted amicably. They liked my accent, they said. One grabbed my pussy while another squeezed my tits so hard his fingertips were memorialized, black, blue, and green, for a week afterward. Still claiming me without permission long after the brief encounter.

“What’d you do?”

Nothing.

I politely excused myself and went to the bathroom. I stayed in the bathroom for as long as seemed reasonable, knowing I’d have to walk by them to get to the door, to get outside.  I must have made it because I’m not in that bar anymore. Not really.

They had seemed like nice guys. I saw them the next day in the park on the only sunny day that spring. They looked carefree, kicking a soccer ball, laughing with their friends. “Having a kick-about with the lads.” I went home.

Brie conciliated, “I’ve only ever had my ass grabbed.”

I tried to count the number of times my ass had been touched without invitation. I thought of Tyler, who stood next to me at a party senior year of college and placed his hand gently over the back of my blue dress. My blue dress with the gems on the straps. The blue dress I wore in Ireland with tights and heels and wore at home barelegged with sandals. The blue dress I threw away after graduation. He rubbed in circles, slowly, wax on, wax off, while sipping Bud Light and complaining about our “cunt” of an adviser. Tyler, who had only ever been platonically friendly to me. Tyler, who gave me a copy of Pride and Prejudice, who came to my dorm room before every class we had together to walk with me across campus. Tyler, who liked to joke with me, who whispered “slam pig” in the back row of a classroom— the first time I’d ever heard the term— to describe our professor while she lectured on bell hooks. After four years of friendship, I froze, listened to his buzzed ramblings, and wondered how to get away without being rude.

Sometimes I wake but cannot move. I try to scream to no avail, attempt to thrash my body, startle it into movement through violence. Sleep paralysis, I’m told. The only thing that works is to wait it out, wait for my body to catch up to my brain. That’s what I did with him. I stood rooted to the beer-soaked carpet as his left hand freely explored — to him, perhaps tacit consent; “no means no,” but I didn’t say “no” — while images flashed through my mind like I was near death. A sudden burst of memory: freshman year, Tyler’s Facebook status after a break-up, telling his ex, and the campus, that if he’d wanted to touch something as flat as her all he’d have to do was run his hand over the wall next to his bed. But I’d never dated him. We were friends. He was a nice guy. He always had been to me, at least.

He’s married now. They have two children. He’s a teacher in Connecticut.

The other girls, it seemed, were conducting their own mental tallies.

We sipped.

Jane admitted, “I’ve only ever been yelled at while running.”

Sometimes we ran together. My brothers, worried about me running by myself, or with Jane, which to them was the same thing, gave me pepper spray for Christmas that I could velcro to my leg or arm. I never needed it though. No one ever touched Jane or me while we ran. Sometimes teenagers honked their horns or “Woo-hoo’ed” at us as they raced by. Jane, faster than me, always pulled ahead on the hills, leaving us both alone. One day, a car slowed. From his open window, he casually yelled, “Damn, girl! That’s a fine ass!” and kept driving. He caught up to Jane and shouted, “Look at them titties bounce!” and kept driving. Like shouting into a drive-through window. Like ordering something from the dollar menu. But another time, a nice man, older, slowed his rusty Honda, rolled his window down, and casually offered encouragements as we ascended the hill, only driving away after gifting us a proud smile of congratulations at the top. It was more disturbing to us than the crude shouts that had been hurled at us like a glass of red wine thrown by a real housewife. We didn’t see them coming; we hadn’t had time to feel scared. I eventually threw out the pepper spray.

“Well,” we sighed, “at least none of us has ever been raped.”  

We felt relieved. We felt a sad and knowing kinship. We felt like the silver mylar balloons left over from my thirtieth birthday party, now slowly exhaling to the floor. We felt dizzy knowing that everyone was complicit.

The midday breeze fluttered the white tablecloth and our long, straight hair. Our engagement rings and wedding bands sparkled in the sultry sun as we again raised glasses to our Burt’s Bees lips. We gulped the last of our mimosas and felt grateful that we were all married to nice men.

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