His smell engulfed me. His stale breath gushed against my ear in a hot torrent across my skin. I tried to scream but all that came out was a high-pitched, moaning wail. I wanted to struggle but suddenly my body was too heavy even for me to hold. My arms wouldn’t obey when I said strike. My legs wouldn’t listen when I said kick. My mind couldn’t focus on the word FIGHT. The whole ordeal having already played out in my imagination, it was as if I was forced to follow the actions of my predecessor and suffer her plight.
He reached down with one arm while holding me tight against him with the other and tugged up my dress. Never had I felt so weak as I stood there balling while he sought to ravage me. With his face next to mine, his hand fumbled upwards between my legs. I tried to pull away, backing up and stomping my feet meekly to thwart his seeking hand.
During the struggle I had unintentionally switched my phone to loud speaker and my dad’s enraged voice suddenly filled the narrow street.
“#$%*! She’s gonna get raped! #@&$!”
Hearing him yelling profanities and screaming the same truth I felt drew stinging lines of pain down my conscience. Not only was I going to be raped on a dark Italian street by a dirty, sadistic man, but my dad was going to play witness to it all from 6,000 miles away. We were both going to be violated irreparably tonight and I was too weak, too petrified, and too pathetic to do anything about it. I couldn’t protect either of us from this future I had inadvertently chosen. As this perverted creep felt up my body with his greedy, foul hands, I loathed myself more and more for the pain I was causing.
When he pressed his groin against me, I realized he was straddling me in a way: I had my legs together, my feet still pumping up and down in my own feeble way of fighting back and he was standing with his legs shoulder width apart. On the next step of my right foot, I lifted my knee until it connected with his unprotected groin. It was a frail jab with none of the power I thought I once possessed, but it hit its mark. Whether it was my knee, my dad’s voice, or the fact that he decided he had taken enough of this poor little American girl, that sick degenerate released me and jogged away in the direction we had come.
I stood where I was, shaking and weeping uncontrollable tears with all my clothes still in place. My dad’s horrified voice continued emanating from my phone, but it sounded distant now, not like the overpowering voice of an enraged father as it had before. The only sound I heard clearly was the ragged, gasping sobs choking out of me. I still smelled the odorous beast whose arms had been wrapped about me; I could still feel that sweaty grip on my sides and the covetous hand groping at my legs.
“He’s gone,” I said to my dad’s fading voice around wheezing breaths and gut-wrenching sobs. “He’s gone… He’s gone… He’s gone…”
The tension seemed to have leaked from my muscles, leaving me a weeping, blundering mess as I ran the rest of the way down the empty street to my hostel. Before I reached the entrance gates, a group of four young adults came around the corner, laughing and talking. I recognized two of them as fellow residents of my hostel. The sight of friendly faces and English-speakers was so beautiful it hurt. I stumbled up to them, still bawling and holding my phone next to my ear despite it being on speaker.
They watched me careen towards them until I fell under the illumination of one of the two street lights on Via Burrigozo. Their faces were smiling and amiable at first, but when they saw my red face smeared with mascara and snot and heard the tortured sobs emitting from my mouth, the tortured sound as alien to me as it was shocking to them, all cheer vanished.
“What the-?” One of them said as they stopped walking and allowed me to stumble into their midst. There were four of them total: the man and woman from New Zealand I had recognized, each with dark, reddish-brown hair and pale complexions, and two other men I wasn’t familiar with: one shorter and Asian and the other slightly taller with dark brown skin that suggested Indian descent. Four pairs of wide eyes gaped at me, alarm and concerned curiosity warring in their depths.
“Are you okay?” Someone else speaking this time. I shook my head and just kept crying and sniveling. It felt wrong to cry so openly in front of people, especially people I barely knew, but the floodgates had been opened and now all I could do was watch the water fall.
I told them in as many words as I could form around my sobs and gasps for breath about the lecher who had followed me home, the monster who had assaulted me in the dark.
“Where’d he go?” The man from New Zealand asked, looking in the direction I had come.
“He… He went that way,” I blubbered, pointing behind me.
“Want me to go beat him up for you?” He was trying to make me feel better – to make me feel safe, but nothing he could do would make me feel anything but tortured and hurt. Not his kind words or well-intentioned jokes, nor his arms wrapped around me in a protective hug.
When I had regained a precarious sense of composure, I remembered my dad on the line and told him I was safe with people now and I would call him back soon. Nothing had happened. I’d be okay.
We walked into the hostel together, me desperately trying to staunch the tears and them desperately trying to make this situation less tense and awkward. Neither of our efforts had much effect, and I think we were all glad when we were forced to go our separate ways.
My room was dark and full of sleeping women. I slipped into the bathroom and turned on the light. With my back to the mirror, I stripped off my clothes and climbed into the shower. Alone again, I couldn’t stop the tears from returning with a vengeance. I collapsed into a squat on the floor and wrapped my shaking arms about my clenched legs.
I wept well into the night, rocking back and forth and biting my hand to stifle my sobs. Crying for the invasion of my body I could never undo, for the sense of security that iniquitous, aberrant predator had stolen from me, for my wrecked emotional stability and devastated sense of independence. I couldn’t regard myself as the same any longer. I was supposed to be stronger than that. Before now, I never wavered in my belief that were I to be confronted with such a situation I would fight to my last breath. But I hadn’t fought. I had cried.
Shame and trauma fought a ravaging battle inside me. All I could think was how easily it would have been for him to do whatever he desired. He could have raped me and I would have been powerless to stop him. No fight instinct had kicked in and his bulk and strength had ensured that flight was not an option. Anything could have happened. Perhaps I should have felt thankful that nothing more had, but images of what could have been flowed in an endless reel across my mind, so vivid and imaginable as to easily masquerade as memories. He could have raped me and I couldn’t have saved myself.
As I huddled on the floor of the shower, the water streaming down my face, pounding against my hunched shoulders, coursing over my rounded, heaving back, it all sank in: Not more than an hour ago, I had been smiling.