A little over 20 years ago, I was physically assaulted by the owner of a restaurant I worked for. He had a history of anger issues, some violent, and even though we all knew it we chalked it up to pressure and “allowed it”. One night he drank a lot and aggressively came on to me. I didn’t want to kiss him so I turned him down. This rejection was not accepted by him, so his aggressive advances went from sloppy and inappropriate to threatening. Within a few minutes, what appeared to be a negotiation for him became a sudden trap for me. How do I get out of here without this getting worse? I was in a room with one exit and that exit was behind him. I’ll never understand what it is that triggers in a man, what happens in that moment, when they decide to strike…or choke…or throw around…or rape…or carry out other types of horrific physical acts on a woman. What psychology tips in that moment.
I’m going to skip the details, as they don’t matter. This next part is pretty important, I think: I got up the next day and I went to work. I walked in, put my purse away, and started cutting limes. I remember it was definitely limes. I was a bartender. There was a feeling of fear and curiosity and tension in the air; those that had come in before me saw that the office door had been kicked in and knew that the restaurant had been left open all night. The owner’s father was there, also a violent man, yelling at people wondering whose fault it was (certainly not his son’s). A waiter walked up to me and after a quick glance said, “What’s that on your face?”. I froze. I didn’t know. I also didn’t want to find out, I just wanted to cut my limes. I reluctantly went to the rest room to see what he meant and I saw this girl in the mirror that had bruises on her jaw…her cheek…her neck. And it looked like make up was trying to cover them up. I stared in silence, mesmerized by this person’s face. If I had bruises on my face, that meant last night happened. And if last night happened, then what was I going to do about it? ….. Life shift. I walked out of the rest room, grabbed my things and quit.
Many people don’t understand why it’s so hard to speak up. Even worse, I’ve heard many people in my life dismiss someone’s claim because they didn’t speak up in a certain timeline (a timeline that suites other people’s comprehension of the unimaginable). I do understand it. My brain couldn’t process the trauma by my shift the next day, it wasn’t working in accordance to my work schedule. It’s already too much to absorb the magnitude of the experience itself; enduring the process of holding someone accountable and inviting a continued open wound…well, that’s quite a deterrent, isn’t it?
Thankfully I was blessed with a supportive mother and a couple of really close friends that helped me understand what had to be done, **or I may not have done it**. It took me several days, but I called the police and filed charges. We went to court, he pled guilty and was charged with ‘assault on a female’. A reporter happened to be in court that day doing an article on domestic violence, so overnight it spread across our local news channels, thankfully before the internet. One local bar mocked the incident by naming a drink after the restaurant. I became almost agoraphobic for a while, was diagnosed with PTSD. Even though the incident happened in a restaurant, for the better part of a year when returning home I had to check under my bed, all my closets, behind the shower curtains. To this day, I live with a pretty keen sense of awareness. It broke my basic sense of safety.
I lost some of my good friends at the restaurant, for a period of time anyway. They were young and didn’t know what to do, didn’t want to lose their cool job. It may have taken a few years, but they all eventually woke up. I’m friends with them now.
I don’t talk about this often, but there is a perfect storm a-brewin’… women are speaking up, we are getting loud, we are saying NO MORE to the silence that perpetuates abuse and inequality of women. I bet most people reading this have found at least a few relatable points in this story, so I share this to say: SPEAK UP. Say no. Do not turn a blind eye whether it is you or someone else you know. Understand that small dismissals of inappropriate behavior can lead to worse behavior (this is a tough one, I still have to push myself here). Get involved. Help someone. Inconvenience yourselves. And if you want my help: ask.