Travel Diary #4: #MeToo

Venice, Los Angeles

THURSDAY 26th October 3:26 am

__________________________________

Please don’t touch me. Dear God, please don’t let him touch me. I can’t breathe, what if he touches me?

“Sara, I’m getting into your bed.” His hot breath trickles down my cheek. The thick European accent that once seemed so harmless is now centimetres from my face.

I can’t breathe.

“Sara?” He shines his blinding torch light directly onto my closed eyes.

Don’t move. Do not move, just pretend to be asleep…

All this time I’d been worried about someone stealing my Mac or my phone or my camera. I never thought about what I’d do if they stole the one thing I can’t replace. And suddenly I feel so weak. Because he is going to touch me.

Jesus help me, I don’t want him to touch me

He starts to climb onto my bed…

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Venice, Los Angeles

WEDNESDAY 25th October 11:26 am

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‘Staying in today, Sara?’ The European guy who’s name I can’t remember has just walked into the mixed dorm room. He’s tall, and skinny with slightly sunken cheeks. His hair is a dirty short blonde with scantily spread stubble that I think he hopes will one day mature into a beard. His white vest has a picture of a girl with big boobs on it. I’ve always wondered why men buy tops with naked women on them. What is the intention? I can’t remember his name but seeing as I met this guy yesterday, I can’t really ask his name again.

“Haha, yeah… I’ll head out a bit later.’ I say politely. I’m sat crossed legged on my top bunk bed. Thanks to jet lag, I’ve been awake since 4am doing a work out, life admin and reading my Bible. This is actually my idea of an incredibly relaxing day. I don’t want to socialise or talk or be a tourist today. But he won’t understand and I don’t particularly care to explain, so I pretend that I have plans. He smiles, this European guy, and tells me that I’m ‘too beautiful to stay inside’.

“I’ve just been out playing basket ball..” he begins to start a conversation. I’m polite, but keen to end this newly started conversation. He eventually allows it to die out and says his goodbyes, giving me a weird look as he leaves the room. I can’t tell if it’s a failed wink, suggestive eyes or just a ‘European thing’. He looked at me that way yesterday. I don’t really like the way he looks at me. But at least he’s gone, and I’m indifferent.

I stay in the room for hours, wasting a sunny day and doing absolutely nothing because it’s exactly what I wanted to do. Before I leave to watch the sunset, I make sure that I lock up my laptop. Safety is important and I don’t want it to get stolen.

___________________

Venice, Los Angeles

THURSDAY 26th October 3:26 am

__________________________________

“Sara! Sara!” 

I wake up startled as I hear someone shouting my name. It’s my European hostel roommate. Why on earth is he waking me up? I check my phone and it’s 3 am.

“Sara Wake up! I’m getting into your bed”

“NO!” I shout, before my mind can stop me.

Silence.

I freeze. I am frozen. I am so, so incredibly confused. I pinch my leg to check if I’m awake, because I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams in my time. It hurts.

Ah sh*t. I’m awake.

And I’m naked? Good Lord I’m naked. I am absolutely stark naked because it was really hot last night and I must have taken my night shirt off in an exasperated sweat somewhere around the 1am mark. My heart starts pounding. He’s there. It’s pitch black. And Jesus help me I am naked.

Silence.

I wriggle my feet in a feeble attempt to slip my nightie back up over my body. As I do this, I remember my mother telling me as a child to never sleep naked. I had never  understood why she told me that. I hadn’t understood until now. The realisation of this terrifies me even more. I don’t know what’s going on but what I do know terrifies me. I recite the facts in a breathless whisper, because I am too afraid to breathe.

It is silent.

It is dark.

I am scared.

I am naked.

“I want you Sara, I’m getting into your bed!” His European accent sends chills down my spine.

I stop wriggling my foot and freeze. I’m so confused. I’m scared and confused. It’s the tall dirty blonde haired basketball guy from earlier today. The weird one that gives me weird looks every time he passes me in the hallway, the looks that linger too long. I wonder if anyone else will say something, tell him to stop and leave me alone. Then I realise something that makes me feel even more vulnerable than my nudity.

All the other hostel room mates are gone.

The brother and sister from Liverpool that were on the two bottom bed bunks are staying in downtown LA for the night. The London guy I met last night has now moved to the hostel across the road meaning it’s just me, European guy and his European friend.

My heart beats faster.

It is silent.

It is dark.

I am scared.

I am naked.

I am alone with two men I do not know.

Sick scenario after sick scenario runs through my mind. I hear his friend speak to him in a different language. They are now both speaking in their native tongue. Why aren’t they speaking English? I try to decipher their language. God help me I don’t even know what language it is.

My heart beats faster and I think I am panicking.

Suddenly, they both retreat into the bathroom. Why are they in the bathroom together? I’m trembling now. I want to cry, but I can’t. I took a breath and I’m scared it was too loud but oh my God I want to cry. This is my chance. I have anything from three seconds to five minutes to get dressed and get out of here. I form a bizarre, unthought out plan in my head. I’ll get my phone, text my mum and ring the police, then I’ll put on my clothes and leave the room.

You can do this Sara.

I reach for my phone. I’m pretty sure it’s under my pillow.

Slowly, Sara… they can still hear you.

My sweaty fingertips search desperately for the screen. I can’t see a thing and I’m too afraid to roll over to look. I turn my hand in every direction.

Where on earth is my phone?!

I hear them fumble with the door and start to panic. I jerk my hand in a desperate attempt to find it. I hit the edge of the silky samsung screen and send it slipping down the side of the bed. I hear a thud as it falls from the top bunk to the floor, firmly out of my reach. The bathroom door opens and I am too late. The two men come back to my bedside.

It is silent.

It is dark.

I am scared.

I am naked.

I am alone with two men I do not know.

I have no phone.

One stands at the end of the bed, while dirty blonde haired guy walks up to the head of my bed.

He shines his torch light directly on my face and I close my eyes just in time to pretend to be asleep. He says nothing and his face comes closer to mine. I can feel his breath. He smells like sweat and alcohol. I can hear him smile. I didn’t know that was possible, but I can literally hear him smile. I start to pray without eloquence. All I can think is, dear God help me.

And I lie there. A picture of beautiful vulnerability, eyes closed, not a single twitch. Breath controlled to a perfect sleeping rhythm.

He shines his light on my face and whispers my name in an affected moan. I feel sick. For another 3 – 5 minutes he stands there, light on my face whispering ‘Sara’, saying things I’ll never forget, over and over again. And I lay there, weaker than I’ve ever been.

After a moment and a thousand moments more, he turns off his torch and gets into his top bunk bed that is directly opposite mine. My ears have never been more alert as I follow his every move with vibration tracking GPS that I did not know I had. He’s  lying in his bed now.

A minute passes. Then another. Then 10 more minutes.

I hear his breaths increase and I think he has fallen asleep. I count to three.

One…

two…

But I can’t wait. I throw off my duvet and feel the room air hit my bare chest as I scramble for my over sized sleeping shirt and put it on. I think it’s inside out. My heart is pounding as I jump up out of bed. I climb down so fast that my sweaty hands slip on the cold metal bed frame and I smack my shin against the bar. It is loud and painful, but I do not feel a thing. I’ve woken them up now. So I run.

I run to the reception desk. On the way, I catch a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror. Is that what I look like?

What used to be a strong, confident female doctor is now nothing but a skinny, weak little girl with her shirt inside out. I suddenly feel dirty. So dirty that I want to scratch it all off.

Why do I feel so dirty?

I look away and walk down the corridor to the reception desk. What was once a warm and loving hostel now feels like a death trap. There is a young black man on the desk.

“Hi,” I whisper. “Please can I move rooms? A guy just tried to get into my bed.” I tell him, more calmly than I knew I could.

He glances at me. “Yep sure, what room were you in?” He starts doing something on the computer.

“301” I say, as a silent tear rolls down my cheek. At this moment the man on the desk looks at me. He looks me in the eye.

Pause.

“There you go! Here’s your new key. You’re now in 401, an all female dorm.” He holds up the key for me to take.

Pause.

“Th.. thankyou.” I mumble. I reach out to take the key but drop it, because my hands are sweaty and trembling. There’s a pause as he looks at me. I’m so desperate for him to say something. Anything. I want to say something but I can’t breath. Suddenly I feel dirty again and I feel bad for making him feel awkward, so I take the key and turn away.

I enter the 4 bed room and lock the door behind me. I check the outline of the sleeping bodies on each bed – they all look like women.

I lie down on the only free bed and finally allow myself to cry.

I cry so silently and yet my body is trembling. I clench my fist and hold myself as my self pity turns to anger. I focus on the anger because it’s better than shame and Lord have mercy I am so incredibly angry. My body trembles with rage as I hyper ventilate. I want to scream and cry and run and fight and do everything that I didn’t do. But of course I don’t. Instead I lay there, from 4 am to 8am, with my eyes wide open.

I think of the dirty blonde haired skinny basketball man and the fear he has caused me.
I think of how I would have always backed myself to physically fight if needed.
I think of how when it came down to it, all I did was lay there and pray.
I think of the way he looked at me with a smirk.
I think of his breath and the way it smelt.
I think of the indifferent apathy with which the the guy at the reception desk responded to my plea.

Later that day someone asks me why I moved rooms, but I don’t tell them because I am scared.

Later that day, and the day after that, I pass by the dirty haired European guy on the stairs, in the kitchen and at the beach. He continues to look at me the same way.

Later that evening, the guy at the reception desk sees me and says “Sorry about last night, I’ll report it to management”.

A few days later I finally pluck up the courage to tell a new friend what happened. At the end of the story, the friend responds “Oh.. so he didn’t actually get in your bed?”

Two days later while I walk down the street alone at 11am, I am stalked by a scary looking man who walks two steps behind me for a block, asking me to come home with him, while telling me the things he’d do to me.

Throughout my time in LA I am ‘objectified’ more times than I can recall, shouted at and physically grabbed. I feel like that weak and trembling reflection, over and over again. A friend recommends I go on a walking tour of a certain town to feel the “vibe of the city”. But little girls don’t go on walks alone. A week later I find I’ve stopped wearing make up.

As the trip goes on and the pattern ensues, I think of all the arguments to defend these incidents. I try hard, really hard, to justify it all and blame myself.

I wonder if it’s my fault because of the way I dress. But it happens irrelevant of my outfit.

I wonder if I am simply ‘too attractive’. But my delusion is not that strong. Furthermore, I think of all the men I’ve found attractive and immediately realise that there is no such thing as an attraction so powerful that it rids you of all accountability.

I wonder if I should learn to ‘take a compliment’, but I don’t think  that compliments should make me feel afraid.

And last of all, I can’t stop thinking of all the women and men, girls and boys who have been raped and sexually abused. I wonder if I am too weak to deserve a voice. Because Lord help me, I cannot even begin to fathom their strength.

I stay in all female dorms and solo rooms for the rest of my trip, I wear so many clothes to sleep that I sweat until I drip and I hold my phone in my hand as I do so.

A month later, as I type out the details of the event from the safety of my home in Cardiff, tears stream down my face.

I remind myself that I am not a weak and vulnerable little girl. I am more than a sexual object. I am a strong, intelligent young woman with a voice.

I breathe in, breathe out, and press post.

Because it happened to #MeToo.

 

One thought on “Travel Diary #4: #MeToo”

  1. Thank you for sharing. This is such a horrible thing you had to experience. I can only hope that at least you made some positive memories in LA.

    Like

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