It was her first rental house. She had been couch surfing with friends and family longer then she was willing to think about, and she finally had her own house to rent. She was working two jobs. One as a teacher’s aide and the other as a server in a fine dining restaurant, and she needed them both. To be honest, it was the job as a server that truly paid the rent. There is just no way you can make money like that anywhere else, and, she was good at it! She had always been good with people, and this job fed that social side of her. The problem was that she felt intimidated by her boss.
She was the only female server. The place was small, and there were only seven employees. Two chefs, a bartender, and four servers, and out of all of them she was the only woman there. This meant pretending not to be offended by the jokes they would tell around her, just waiting to see her reaction. It meant ignoring the backhanded remarks they would make about whether she could handle a tray that was too heavy. But there were some things she began to see, that maybe she could not handle.
When bosses day came, and people were giving the owner cards, she felt awful she forgot. “I am sorry”, she said, “I did not realize it was bosses day.”
“That’s OK,” he said and winked at her. “How about a blowjob in the closet instead? Much better than a card wouldn’t you agree?”
She tried to laugh it off, and she hurried away, but it left her rattled all day long.
This continued for weeks. Offhand comments, sexual innuendos, and compliments on her looks and her body. She would go home feeling violated by his words, and she would beat herself up that she had not stood up to him.
She felt stuck. She needed this job. She could not go back to couch surfing. She had to make that money for the rent. She would spend hours in the shower, unaware that there was no amount of water that would wash away his words. Maybe it was her fault. Was she smiling at him too much? Did she flirt without realizing it? Should she not be meeting his eye? Not be spending too much time talking to him?
The problem was; it was about him, not her., and so it just kept happening no matter what she did. Finally one night he did it in front of other staff, and she felt the humiliation in her bones. She slunk out the door at the end of the shift, feeling their eyes boring into her. Her self-recrimination screamed in her ears, and she felt the unbearable weight of shame. She knew she could not go back. She knew she would need to do something else.
And so she sent him a message, too afraid to see him in person, and of course, he wanted to know why she was leaving.
And so she told him that his “jokes” made her uncomfortable. She heaped the blame on herself. “I guess I do not have thick enough skin to work in this environment.” And sadly, of course, he blamed her.
She scrambled and took whatever serving job she could find, the tips would never be as good as at that first place. But she began to heal.
Then one night she was leaving a neighborhood bar and pizza place, one where many servers in that neighborhood would go after work. She did not even think to worry that her former co-workers would be there. As she walked to her car, some of them followed her out. One of the girlfriends of her co-workers, emboldened by alcohol, spit ugly words out to her;
“Hey, you whore! Did you really think that he would hit on you? You are pathetic.”
She pleaded with them to leave her alone. “Go home” She urged, “you are drunk, please just leave me alone.”
“Why would he want someone like you? How dare you accuse him? He is a great man and you are nothing!” The girl continued to taunt her.
She made it to her car. Tears were coming. She got in and was trying to start her car when a hand reached in and grabbed her hair and pulled. The pain was immediate and excruciating.
“Maybe you just need a reminder to keep your slut mouth shut” a voice hissed, and then came the punches to the face.
She must have blacked out. Suddenly no one was there.
Blame the victim. Take responsibility for his behavior. Don’t tell. Don’t say anything. Take it. Be a good girl. Smile. Turn the other way.
Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.
Years have passed. Sometimes she still feels the fear of that hand reaching in without her seeing. Sometimes she still sees him laughing at her. Sometimes…
But now she watches in awe as women in every shape and size are showing up and speaking up. She watched in silence and tears as everyone wore black to the Golden Globes’. She does not even mind it is a Hollywood thing. There is a judge who just sentenced a doctor to 175 years in prison for hurting women. There are women keeping their jobs and bosses losing them. She could be bitter that it had to be so hard for her, but she searches inside herself and instead, she finds profound gratitude that the world will be better for the next woman who is just trying to pay the rent. “speak up” she whispers to the television set, “speak up.”
Karen Cassidy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Karen is a mother of three amazing adult children. She works for a non-profit organization that serves some of the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals. She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told.