One of my favorite books is The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, a renowned expert in security. It’s a book I think everyone should read, particularly young women. One of his overriding themes is that women, if they feel they are in an uncomfortable or even frightening situation, still feel like they have to be nice, even when their gut says that something is wrong. The point he tries to drill home is to always trust your instincts, regardless of social convention.
I always thought this was really astute advice and since I’m shy and not especially open with strangers anyway, I’ve always assumed that I’d be easily able to heed his pointers should I ever be confronted with a threat. And if something gets to me, even though I’m very much an introvert, I can have a very caustic and sharp tongue and am not afraid to use it.
Not so much tonight.
I just returned from a business trip to Orange County, California. I was marveling at how well things had gone since usually I can count on at least one or two glitches during the course of my travels. Other than having to limp through the airport with wicked blisters on my heel because I’m an idiot and decided to wear a new pair of shoes on this trip, everything was great and I was looking forward to getting home and showering the kids with their Disneyland booty.
I got into the offsite parking shuttle and it was very full. I took the last seat in the back of the bus between a bigger guy and a gray-haired man in a suit. The man in the suit was listening to his headphones and drumming and playing various air instruments on his suitcase. He also had an annoying throat-clearing tic. As we pulled out of the terminal, the driver took a hard right and I lost my balance and sort of slid off the edge of the seat because I wasn’t holding onto anything. As I was trying to straighten myself out I broke a fingernail. I’m not vain about my nails, but it was cut to the quick and it hurt.
As this was all going on, the man in the suit did a weird laugh slash cough and I said something about not being prepared for that sharp turn. The bigger guy next to me said that he was relieved to hear me say that because he thought he’d pushed me over. I was trying to deal with my ripped off fingernail when the man in the suit, in an attempt at humor, I guess, leaned over into me, pushing me to the side.
It was awkward and I did nothing but sort of smile sheepishly. It was barely (and I use “barely” in the sense of “not at all”) funny the first time, but the next two times he did the same thing, it was just creepy. This is where I am extremely frustrated by my reaction. I definitely felt uncomfortable by this. Never like I was in any kind of danger or anything, but I did not like it. At all. So why didn’t I respond? Why did I feel obligated to be polite? I was holding my backpack on my lap. At the very least why didn’t I move it into the space between us and send a clear message that I didn’t appreciate what he was doing?
After a few people had been dropped off at their cars I immediately took the opportunity to move way over to the window. I snapped a picture of him.
I guess my point is, trust your instincts, you don’t have to be nice. In the grand scheme of things, this incident wasn’t that big of a deal, but I’m bothered that I didn’t react differently. I should have conveyed that what he was doing was not okay.
© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2010