To the nicely dressed white guy who bullied me on the bus
I still forgive you
To the nicely dressed white guy who stepped onto the 38L at Divisadero,
You were clutching a coffee in your hand. Your striped button-down shirt was tucked neatly into your tailored denim and your Converse shoes were pristine, like you’d bought them yesterday or like you don’t wear them out often. Your eyes were hidden behind reflective aviator sunglasses and your hair was combed precisely. You paid your fare and then you decided to bring me into your life.
At 4'11" and 125lbs, I was sitting in a long skirt and platform sandals, my pink curls tucked back with pins, my purse in my lap, and my legs crossed as close to the seat as possible in the aisle.
I crossed my legs because even with platforms on, my feet don’t reach the floor (My actual height is 4'10.5" — which is only half an inch away from technical little person status), so I lean on one thigh and plant that foot firmly, while the other folds over, and no, I am not built the way beautiful models are, who can elegantly, like some bird, tuck my crossed leg behind the other. I have envied the women who can do that, but my anatomy just won’t let me. And anyway, once when I was a child, sitting with legs wide, my mother pinched my thigh and said, “Lizzy, that’s not ladylike.” I crossed my legs so men may not imagine me with legs spread not on a bus, but in their beds, and thus feel entitled to me.
But your face became pinched — your brows drawn into your mouth — and you muttered with disdain, shaking your head like my disappointed father. I wondered for a moment if it was directed at me, but thought you were maybe just having a rotten day — like I was — and upset about something inside you. You wanted me in your life so badly, because then you said, very clearly to me,
“Do you have to sit that way?”
Oh that I wish I had the courage to ask that question of men who sit with their legs wide enough for three seats, their arms spread to embrace their kingdoms, their bags non-paying passengers. While my spread legs are an invitation, a man’s spread legs are intimidation. I wish I had your courage, but the people I would like to ask that same question to are usually a foot taller than me and twice my weight, and dignity is the sacrifice I make for my safety.
I didn’t understand, so you continued. You told me, “Yes, you. You’re taking up too much space.”
If you were visibly homeless or mentally ill, your words would not have impacted me because I would have been the one with the privilege. But you were wearing your wealth and your status, and though I know it’s not true, for a moment I thought, “Maybe I am taking up too much space.” I looked to make sure and there was enough space between us for another person to stand.
Finally, you said, “You won’t survive a day in this city.”
To the nicely dressed white guy who bullied me on the bus: Let me tell you about survival and taking up space.
I am surviving. I am a survivor.
Let me tell you about the way someone I should have been able to trust at such a young age exploited my innocence, cutting down the size of my soul to nothing so it would not take up any space. Let me tell you about the high school boyfriend who called me crazy, so I shrank not only in spirit, but in dress size, carving carving carving away at my body until I was nothing but a literal zero. Let me tell you about the college frat boy who raped me, under whose weight I shrank into the mattress. Let me tell you about the news I’ve received this week, that has awakened my demons who scream at me that I am nothing and worthless. Let me tell you about everyday of my life, walking down the street and enduring the leers and catcalls of men, each comment hacking away at me. Let me tell you about all the times people have tried to make me smaller than I already am, and let me tell you about how I survived them.
My camel’s back is weak. We’ve been wandering this desert for forty days and forty nights with not a drop of water to drink nor a crumb of sustenance to eat. The oasis on the horizon was just a mirage, wavering in the heat. You, sir, roped me into your life — I don’t know why — so you could beat this dead horse. You raised your fist because you thought I was dead. My camel’s back is weak, but some of us are desert-hardy and faith-defying. Your straw broke my camel’s back, but not mine.
So I confronted you. I raised my voice while you muttered. I raised my voice so everyone would turn to look at you. I called you out for your sense of entitlement, your spinelessness, and your unnecessary aggression toward me. I told you you disgusted me, and that, as a white person, you had no business telling me — a woman of color — how much space I should fill nor how to survive. The seat next to me opened up, and I invited you to sit, but you would not. You stood back and cowered, and muttered in low voices, while everyone watched me raise my voice at you.
You responded by calling me crazy, by telling me I have a problem, and that my anger is indicative of it. When you realized I would not shrink before you, you tried another way to make me smaller.
When you stepped off the bus at Van Ness, launching one last snide remark at me over your shoulder, I would like you to know that everyone around me called you what you are — an asshole. I would like you to know that I started crying, ruining my eyeliner, but that I wasn’t scared. I asked the cute guy across from me if it would be all right if I talked to him, and I connected with a stranger — made an ally — while you chose to push me away. I would like you to know that I have compassion for you, because I know in my secret heart that people who hurt other people are people who have been hurt by others, and that your malice springs from a dark fountain of anguish deep inside you that will not be stopped no matter how you drown in it.
I want you to know that I love you. I want you to know that I know you actually felt threatened by my size because someone else made you feel small, and that you were taking it out on me because you’ve already taken it out on yourself a hundred times over. Even as you hurt me, you must have sensed that I was bigger and stronger than you, and that I could absorb your barbs without them piercing the flesh of my true spirit.
And I want you to know that my love and my compassion and my forgiveness make me ever bigger — expands my soul like light — growing and growing and growing until an entire universe is filled with my energy. I want you to know that I am a small woman with a heart big enough for even someone like you.