Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of riding in the car with me knows that I am a TERRIBLE driver! I am a daydreamer, I am always either going too fast or too slow—and driving anywhere in Washington, DC I am a confused mess of a person. I am not perfect, and neither is anyone else. I get bullied on a daily basis in my tiny Honda Civic and people speed up and NEVER let me over whenever I put on my turning signal. Driving in the DC area is a dog eat dog world. It is frustrating and infuriating but I accept it and I move on.
The other day, after a VERY long weekend spent running errands with my nine and four year old, it was time to leave the grocery store, get some gas and go the FUCK home! As I was exiting the shopping center there was a bus to my right on the main road picking up passengers and obscuring my view of traffic in the opposite direction. Like a true asshole DMV area driver I didn’t simply wait until the bus moved so I could see, I chose to dart across traffic because I am impatient, a little stupid and #YOLO. As I completed my left turn accelerating at full speed because I didn’t know what was behind me, I noticed that in my little misadventure I cut off a minivan innocently traveling along his path. It wasn’t a heart stopping near miss that would make me re-evaluate my life or at least rethink my driving habits but it was enough of a close call for me to feel guilty about cutting the vehicle off. But alas, we were all safe—perhaps the other driver butt hurt but no love lost.
Already on to the next thing, I pulled into the nearest cheapie gas station (you know, the kind with 4 lone pumps on a darkened semi-paved side street that screams “YOU WILL BE MURDERED HERE!” but you go anyway because the gas is 14 cents a gallon…) and as I am leaving my car to pay who pulls up but the minivan I just cut off less than a minute ago. The van pulls around and I get a good look at the driver, a man in his early 50s complete with scowling face and angry stare. Immediately I know that HE knows that I am the douchebag that pulled the risky traffic move at his expense. I feign confidence while walking to the cashier’s window but I’m nervous. Is this a coincidence or is this about to be a road rage incident taken way too far? I pay at the cashier’s window and as I am walking back to the car the guy is already out of his and making his way toward the window. I couldn’t mistake the antagonism in his voice as he spoke at me, “You were in that much of a rush just to get some gas?!”
The cloud of fear that hovered around me now settled onto me and began to seep in. And I get it—I did a stupid, dangerous thing and I could have seriously harmed us both—but is that what this was about? Was he here to harm me or to teach me a lesson? I walk over to my car and start pumping gas praying this was the end of our interaction. I crossed my arms trying to look tough but frightened out of my yoga pants that something sinister was about to pop off. He was parked at the pump directly on the other side of mine and as he walked back to his minivan I wished on everything holy that his lecture was over. He fixed the gas pump into his tank then he moved over to come closer to me, peered at the kids in the back seat and shook his head. “And you have kids in the car?! Why would you do something like that? Just to get gas? Really?!”
I didn’t know where this is going. The day was long, my pockets were empty I had just moved out of an expensive rental house I couldn’t afford with a landlord from the pit of hell, I was running on little time and no sleep and I didn’t NEED this! He didn’t know my story, he was not my father or a police officer I didn’t understand why he couldn’t let this go. People screw me over on the road every single day but I would never think to confront them about their transgressions—on the streets we are supposed to be anonymous. I felt intimidated but I wasn’t trying to show it so I decided to do my best to stay calm and be as direct as possible. “Sir, would you like me to apologize? I can apologize. What do you want to get out of this?”
He immediately says no, he did not want an apology and goes back into his rant basically calling me an idiot and irresponsible for my actions. I wasn’t scared because he was a black man, I was scared because he was a man here with me and my children in this darkened place trying to escalate a situation that was already over. It was subtle and clever and more power to him but I felt I was being bullied, I didn’t like it or invite it and I was helpless in the situation.
I asked him point blank if he was going to hurt me and he looked at me slightly taken aback by my reaction. I tell him, “You have me here in this darkened gas station at night, you are yelling at me in anger in front of my little girls, you don’t want my apology—what do you want? For me to listen to your verbal abuse or to punish me for what I did? I am at your mercy I am exposed and you are accosting me I don’t know you. You could have a gun, I don’t know what you want me to do?” I was feeling the same emotion I feel whenever I’m walking in public and a man makes a lewd comment and I have to be polite and laugh it off because people are crazy nowadays and rejecting a man’s advances can lead to the ending of your life. Or when I am on the inside seat of a nearly empty metro car train and a man sits next to me, traps me into conversation and asks me for my number, or even at work listening to sexist comments and choosing to ignore it because I don’t want to cause a shitstorm. I have no power in these situations, I feel trapped and at a clear disadvantage. Perhaps some may call it extreme language but I view it as an abuse of power. Men should always be subconsciously aware of their physical power over women and never misuse it to bully women into acquiescence—this is NOT ok!
About a year ago I came home to two of my brother’s friends in my living room. I had no problem with their presence, they were drinking buddies and it was Friday so the more the merrier. My girls were engaged in what look like a delightful pillow fight with one of the guys so I poured myself a glass of wine and watched them at play while chatting with the other friend. Suddenly, the friend playing with the children began to taunt me about being uptight and requesting that I join the pillow fight. I laughed it off and made it clear that I’d had a long day and I just wanted to drink and relax. My answer wasn’t enough for him, he kept up the teasing and next thing I know he was hitting me with the pillow. My response, “No, I am not going to play, don’t include me in this.” His response—another hit with the pillow. Three more hits with the pillow and my fury had boiled over. I am in my own house, in my own living room telling a guest NO, why was my NO not enough? And would a grown man do the same this same thing to another grown ass man? I doubt it. I jumped out of my seat and screamed for him to get the fuck out of my house because no means no and if I don’t want to you hit me in the face with a pillow repeatedly then DON’T!
My power had been revoked from me. His other friend hopped up to back him away from me because I was hysterical. My brother came from downstairs to see what all the fuss and commotion was about and the way they all looked at me was as if I was a crazy black woman being all crazy and black again…popping off at the slightest provocation. But few men will understand what it is to lose your voice in that way. I was looked upon as disrespectful for kicking out house guests that were not mine but for me, anyone in your presence, let alone your house, cannot be around you if they can’t follow basic instructions to respect you and your space. The friend has since apologized and this is water under the bridge but this incident sticks with me—the powerlessness and the frustration of my wishes being so irrelevant to a person more physically powerful than me.
I lament about this a lot and I know it might make feminists hate me but I reiterate: men take care of us! If you feel no obligation to protect us at least don’t bully us or flaunt your physical power and control over us in these types of situations. I want my voice to matter just like any other human being (that pays taxes and rent and works and EXISTS ON THE PLANET) and I understand elevated emotional situations but even then there is a way to communicate and reason with people without manipulation.
There is a good chance I could be alone in these sentiments—but at least I feel better having gotten it off my chest.