Mental illness is hard enough to navigate without tacking on the godawful stigma associated with being “mentally ill.” The brain, like any organ, gets sick at times, yet those of us who are unlucky enough to be plagued with such troubles are forced into deeper, darker recesses of shame and humiliation should we be brave enough to reach out and say that we need help. I still find it baffling that I’ve not received a single “Get Well Soon!” card/balloon/bouquet/whatever despite multiple hospitalizations and disability leave. Never have I felt so guilty, mortified, and alone simply because I’m sick.
The management company apolgized profusely. Here’s a small snippet: “Please understand our genuine concern and that this issue has been promptly and emphatically addressed. This man will no longer be involved with the project in any way.”
Good stuff. Thanks to everyone for your concern and understanding.
Something happened to me. Something serious, and something that has happened to too many other women. At first, I was embarrassed. Hell, I still am. However, I am the victim here, and I decided to post this very personal story to my blog for a few reasons, which I’ll discuss as I share my story with you, dear reader. I’m not typically one to unveil lurid details of my life in the hopes of shocking my readers or garnering attention. However, given the significance of what occurred… I know that I have to share my story.
As I’ve posted about previously, I recently moved to Virginia Highlands, and I absolutely love it. I have a Chihuahua, Sandy, that I take outside to use the restroom, get exercise, play, go on walks, the works. Via Sandy, I tend to meet more people because I’m outside more. Makes sense, eh? Well, I have met several of the maintenance workers for the company that manages my building. One of these workers is an older Yugoslavian gentleman who does not speak English. Like many people, he seemed to fall in love with Sandy instantly. He would greet us outside, then try to say things to me, but, because of the language barrier, this mostly proved to be confusing and somewhat annoying. Nevertheless, I was always pleasant.
One day, the man started giving me little gifts. It started out with a pack of gum, then an apple, a diet coke, etc. Whenever he’d see me, he’d wave and try to talk. Often he would give me a little gift. Last week, I met his son when my air conditioning broke. While I was waiting with the man and his son for the a/c repairman to arrive, the man playfully touched my butt. I was a little taken aback, but I shook it off and went on with my business.
Last Friday, he gave me a diet coke and small bottle of rum. I laughed and accepted this gift, as I had in the past… I couldn’t decline the gifts, again, because of the language barrier… and his insistence. This time he gave me a hug, but it seemed to be only friendly, so, again, I shrugged it off.
On Monday, the man gave me another small bottle, this time it was flavoring for coffee, and a $5 bill. I shook my head at this gift and tried to give it back. The idea of taking money did not sit well with me, and I didn’t want any part of it. Again, I couldn’t politely decline the gift because of the language barrier. This time, the man hugged me again, but I was very uncomfortable and tried to pull away. At that point he grabbed my breast, and I quickly got away and was left feeling freaked out. What had I done wrong? I was only nice to this man, and here he is groping me in the parking lot of my apartment complex. I was scared, hurt, confused, and embarrassed. I told no one.
Yesterday, I got home from work and pulled into he parking lot. I tensed up when I saw the man back there. I quickly grabbed my things and made my way to my building. Unfortunately, despite my waving and hurrying on, the man stopped… and tried to hand me another $5 bill. Again, I tried to decline, but this time he forced the money into my hand… and then grabbed my arm and tried to kiss me. There I was, hands full, struggling to get into my building, and this old man is holding onto me, trying to force a kiss on me. He was grabbing at me again, and, again, he grabbed my breast. I was scared, struggling, trying to get free. But he had my arm and wasn’t letting go. I don’t know what he was thinking. Clearly, I was not interested in his advances. At this point, I think the language barrier excuse is a moot point. I was shaking my head, struggling to get away, and trying to push his hands away. That’s rather universal for NO. Eventually, he gave up and let go. I hurried into my apartment, locked the door, and sat down, simply stunned at what had just happened to me.
The emotions that washed over and consumed me were baffling. I felt badly, like somehow I had caused this to happened. I was scared, trying to figure out what I should do to prevent this from happening. I let Sandy use the restroom inside because I was too nervous to go back outside, too afraid of these now escalating incidents with the older Yugoslavian man. This man had touched me… groped me… and I didn’t even know his name. I still don’t. What really hit home is how much I felt like it was MY fault. I’m an intelligent, educated, sensible woman, and here I was doing precisely what I’d always heard women did in such cases… I was blaming myself, feeling bad about myself, shamed at what had occurred. It made no sense to me, but I was consumed by these overpowering emotions. It wasn’t a matter of giving into the emotions, no, they had taken over. Reason be damned, there I was: a victim of sexual harassment, blaming myself for something I did not do.
Heather called and asked if I wanted to get a drink. I graciously accepted her invitation, and we headed up to Hand and Hand. We chatted about random stuff, life, whatever… and eventually I mentioned to her what had happened. However, I wasn’t straightforward with Heather at first. I was too embarrassed. Why the hell was I embarrassed about something someone else did to ME? There’s no reason I can ascribe to this… it’s just how it was, how I felt… just how I’d always heard other victims of similar infractions had felt.
Eventually, I told Heather everything that happened. See, Heather and I live in the same building, and the older Yugoslavian man has recently taken to greeting her when she goes out with her dog, Leo. She’s only had Leo back from her ex-husband (looooong story) for a couple of weeks, so she’s not been greeting the man as long as I have. She was freaked out for me… and for herself.
I contacted the management company for my building today via email. I haven’t heard anything back yet, but I hope to come to some resolution so that I don’t have to be afraid to go home. I had to fight the guilt associated with “turning him in”… because it’s not my fault. This guilt has no basis in reality. This guilt should be HIS, not mine. So I am here, telling my story to the world, in an attempt to process all of this in the healthiest way I know possible. By sharing this story, I am fighting the embarrassment I feel… because I have no reason to feel this embarrassment, this shame, this dirtiness.