Trigger Warning: Travel after sexual assault. How do you do it?
“Love, you should be more spontaneous”.
You don’t get to decide that for me….
I know it seems odd, my need for constant planning, to control situations as much as possible, my overly cautious approach to the world.
But it’s the only way I can feel safe in a world that’s constantly trying to harm me.
A few Easters ago, I went with the flow.
I ended up at a party with someone I met three nights before while out with my friends. My friends didn’t come. They decided to go to a loud concert on the shadier side of town, and I thought it would be unsafe. The irony.
My anxiety already existed at this point, never in my worst nightmare did I think it could escalate any further. You know the drill. Share your location, have an exit plan, guard your drink. They knew where I was, they knew who I was with, they knew I’d be back at our hotel before dawn.
Then the party ended “early”, and everyone started to leave. But my date wouldn’t take me home. He had other ideas.
My friends were an entire bridge away, and he’d ordered the gate not to let any cabs in. So I sat outside in the cold until he was ready to drive me back to my hotel at 5 am.
In the beginning, I denied anything had happened. I didn’t tell my friends, I didn’t tell anyone.
The only person I felt comfortable enough to confide in told me it was my fault. Perhaps he was right. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone off with strangers. Maybe I shouldn’t expect common decency from other humans. Maybe I should constantly have my guard up and expect people to hurt me. Maybe.
But one explanation I don’t owe anyone, is my cautious approach to travel and living.
As a woman, whether I’ve been assaulted or not; there’s always the risk that it’s going to happen.
People like me don’t have the liberty of packing our bags and getting away. Going with the flow requires a degree of weariness.
It’s creating a detailed itinerary for your friends and family before you hit the road, so they’ll know where you are.
It’s moving the armoire in your hotel room behind the door every night, because locks aren’t always enough to keep intruders out.
It’s falling asleep with a knife or a bat next to you, should the intruder succeed.
It’s overthinking if you should talk to the charming stranger at the bar because you can’t be too sure if he’s a creep who’ll come banging on your door later, or worse; a human trafficker.
It’s leaving your emergency contacts at the front desk, and letting the nice lady at the reception know when you plan to head back.
It’s pretending to schedule a meeting with your friends, as loudly as you can, just so the man who won’t take no for an answer can stop pestering you.
It’s having multiple plans of exit when you do feel brave enough to hit the town, because you never know what’ll happen. “If my cab doesn’t show up, can I walk?” “I don’t like how that driver looked, so I just called another one”.
It’s trying as hard as possible not to draw too much attention to yourself when you’re alone so no one will take a peculiar interest in you. Eyes down, not too much skin, not too many smiles, but not too few either.
All this after dealing with weird looks from men who ask me why I’m “really” there. In hotel lobbies, in restaurants, in cabs. Even if I was an escort, it’d be nobody’s business.
There are so many expeditions I want to undertake, but I’m going to have to do it my own way.
I owe no one any apology for not being able to drop everything and leave last minute, or asking many questions about a night out because I need to feel safe.
I owe one any explanation if I don’t trust them or like their vibe.
I owe no one an apology if a plan feels too shaky and there’s no way for me to plan a safe exit,
I’m the one who has to live with all the memories, and I’m aware that every time I leave my safe space, I’m performing an act of bravery.
I’m glad Easter is on a different day every year, so I don’t have to remember.
I’m still angry, all the time.
Some days I’m terrified, other days I’m having the time of my life taking inhibited chances on the world.
I make plans, then I cancel.
I avoid strangers and make connections with new people who become long term friends.
I stay holed up in my hotel room some days, and go wandering around town on others.
I’m dealing with my fear of flying my own way.
I’ll bloom again, please be gentle with me.