Today was a bad day. I live in an apartment tower. There are a whole bunch grouped together, and in the middle of them all there’s a green space with some benches scattered about. Old couples sit there throughout the day and people walk their dogs there. I go there sometimes to sit in the sun and read.
I went today and no one was there except a really old man, probably in his 70s. He was staring at me, but I figured … he’s an old man … they do that. He went and sat down on another bench and I forgot about him. A little while later he shouts over to me, calling me “menina,” what you call girls here, telling me to put something on my head because of the sun. I told him it’s ok, thank you.
He wandered around a little more. Some other older gentleman came and talked with him for a little bit. Then we walked closer to me and again told me that I should put something over my head. I again told him it was ok. He came and set next to me, touched my head, exclaimed that it was hot. Very old man things. He began talking to me, well, more talking at me as I wasn’t really participating in the conversation due to lack of language skills.
At one point he put his hand on my knee while talking, but I tried not to think anything of it because people touch a lot here and he had just randomly done it while talking. He wouldn’t stop talking about the sun and I was getting uncomfortable so to try to get him to stop I tell him I don’t understand Portuguese. I try to pretend I’m ignoring him and reading my book. He starts telling me how pretty I am, over and over, and then asks me to take off my sunglasses so he can see my beautiful face. I tell him no. He tries to take them off and I hold his hand back with my own. He kisses me hand. I tell him “por favor,” and move away from him. He puts his hand back on my knee and runs it up my leg. I tell him to stop, “para,” and remove his hand from my body. He gets angry and tells me that he’s not doing anything wrong. He’s just trying to be nice. I begin to think I’m just making this up in my head, I’m only seeing the negative things, he is after all just an old man. I go back to pretending to read my book, ignoring him.
A teenage boy walks by us and the old man stops talking to me. As soon as the teenage boy is gone, the man starts touching my shoulder and arm, again telling me how pretty I am. I yell at him to stop, and again use my other hand to remove his from my arm. He grabs that hand and starts rubbing it and my arm. I yell at him again to stop. I don’t know the words in Portuguese to tell him that he needs to be acting like a man and not a child and that he’s being disrespectful and disgusting.
So I throw everything in my bag and run away instead. I take a different way to get my building, more indirect, in case he’s watching where I’m going. I cry the entire way home. I hate being a girl. I spend the entire day in my room traumatized and unwilling to go outside.
So where’s the happy part? I didn’t know what else to do, so I emailed two friends, one in New York and one in Washington DC. I haven’t seen them in almost a year and I can’t remember the last time we spoke on a phone. But they immediately wrote back with messages of anger, support, and kind words. Later on it was the same with my perpetual boyfriend when he sent words of reassurance. I receive two more messages, unrelated to the events of the day, from friends that I had no seen in over a year. Wonderful messages, full of love. And then to seal the deal, my roommate knocks on my door and then comes in a says, “I’m worried about you,” and sets down an extravagant dinner plate with so much food on it that it took me about an hour to eat it all.
So no matter how shitty things get (and they can get pretty shitty) my friends are always there for me, sending good thoughts from across the globe. And that makes me happy.