I’m Still Learning How To Say No
Warning: The following article contains possible triggers for victims of sexual assault.
I’ve never been good at confrontation.
When I’m alone, I argue like a pro. When there’s nobody to cut me off, I put everybody in their place. When I’m lying in bed, thinking about what I wish I’d said, I make flawless points that win every argument. I’m great at saying no… after the fact, when it’s not to your face.
In real life, though, I’m the worst pushover ever.
I’ve been having weekly staring contests with a boy in class. Finally, he introduces himself to me. I repeat the name in my head and look him up on Facebook later: “In a relationship.”
“Who cares?” says my friend. “He’s only dating her because he hasn’t fallen for you yet.”
She’s so right. So when he runs into me the following week (by chance or on purpose, I wonder) and asks me if I want to take a ride to Walmart with him to get a part for his car, I say yes.
Mistake number one.
What do you do with your hands when you’re in a guy’s car? He keeps looking over at me like he’s trying to read my face. All I feel is nervous, but I hope he can’t tell.
In the store, he keeps smacking my butt, playfully. He stands really close to me. He puts his face right next to mine when he talks, forcing eye contact. I feel weird, but I don’t say anything.
Mistake number two.
Driving back, we pull up to the town’s only stoplight. I hope he’ll turn right and bring me back to campus. Turn right, let’s go back. Please turn right….
He turns left.
As he winds up and down our little side streets, my mind is focused on when I’ll be able to get out of his car. He drives past my house, and I point it out to him.
Mistake number three.
“Wanna stop? I’d like to see your place.”
A twinge of nerves pokes at my chest, but I laugh it off. “I’ve got class soon. Actually, I should get back….”
But he just keeps driving.
He leans over and kisses me. Please watch the road!
He kisses me again. He keeps kissing me, and I don’t pull away. I can’t pull away. I’m in his car. I’m at his mercy. He’s got me in here, he’s got the wheel. If I try to stop him, he could get angry. I invited this. I got into his car willingly.
I don’t stop him from kissing me. I don’t stop him from pulling down a dirt road and parking the car. I don’t stop him from touching me. And I don’t stop his hand when he unbuttons his pants, grabs my wrist, and makes me touch him. My brain says no. But my mouth says shut up to myself. You don’t know what he’ll do.
Mistake numbers four through seven.
In my head, I work through the problem. I fight with myself. If I get through this encounter, I never have to see him again. He could do anything. He could take me anywhere. He could hurt me if I try to leave. I could get out of the car, but where would I go?
He has the advantage, and I can’t think of a way out. As I sit there, I try to think back to a time when I’d said, “Alright, that’s enough.” But, I can’t. I’ve never been how-dare-you-hit-on-me girl. I’m accept-unwanted-advances-to-avoid-conflict girl. I’m not confrontational.
Mistake number eight.
I finish what he wants me to do. I honestly feel like I have to. He keeps driving. He keeps talking to me, totally calm and normal. Like nothing happened. And then, he pauses. Looks at me. Tells me he has a girlfriend. So “despite what we just did,” he says with a smirk, he’s not looking for someone to date.
I can’t believe his scumminess. And yet, I still avoid confronting him. I laugh and say “fine by me.” What is WRONG with me?!
He leans over to make out with me, again and again. And I still don’t stop him. I feel like I’ve been in this car for seven straight hours. I’ve never wanted to go to class more than I do at this moment.
Finally, he pulls up to my building, grabs my arm and kisses me again. Oh my god, I hope nobody I know can see us.
I’m out of the car.
I walk to the bathroom, lock myself in a stall, and wait for my breathing to return to normal. In the mirror, I notice the red stubble-burn around my mouth. It makes me sick.
I splash cold water. I change my clothes. I get a cup of tea, but I can’t drink it. I walk to my classroom, 20 minutes early. And I sit, and I wait. And I feel disgusting.
But I’m offended, too. I tried to tell him to take me back, and he ignored me. He never said, “Let me know when you need to be to class.” He never checked that I even wanted to kiss him. He just did what he wanted to do.
I skip the next class we have together. I’m at my computer at home.
[Knock knock knock knock.]
It’s him at my door, I know it. My stomach flips over. His broad shoulders cast a shadow through the window onto the floor. Thank god I locked the door last night and drew the curtains. I slip out of my chair and hide under my desk. Did I just CRAWL UNDER MY DESK TO HIDE?!
[Knock knock knock knock.] My chest is pounding.
[Knock knock knock.] Please just go away.
[Knock knock knock.] Please. Go away.
The doorknob jiggles, and my heart is about to explode. He’s not going to leave. What do I do?
Finally, I hear him walk away. I run into my bedroom, and I cry. Please, can I go back in time and say “no thanks” to the Walmart run? Why couldn’t I have just said no?
Class ends in a few weeks, and I don’t see him. I’ve almost forgotten about it all. Then, there he is. Smiling that skeezy smile. Looking at me. Walking toward me….
And I’m pissed. I stare back at him, disgusted and furious. I stare, and I shake my head NO.
I finally do something right.
As he walks away, my head fills up with all the things I wish I could’ve done. Punching him in the mouth comes to mind. Or sending his girlfriend a nice message explaining the horrible person she’s dating. Maybe I should have asked him what the hell he was thinking, treating me like that. Or, I don’t know, maybe I should have said no to him any one of the times I’d thought it.
If I’d denied him and he had hit me, would that have been better or worse than what happened? The thoughts pile up.
But, I let him walk away.
I forgive myself eventually. And I promise myself that the next time a guy I barely know asks me to get in his car, I’ll say, “I can’t today. I have to meet with a professor before class.”
Not exactly NO. But, I’m working on it.