It was a clear, full, wonderful afternoon. A day that was warm with the tinge of fall buried itself in the flashes of cool breezes. That morning I had traveled a few hours to do a photoshoot, one of my biggest gigs to date, and has just finished the session followed by an amazing late lunch with a longtime co-worker and friend. The photos, the conversations, the feeling of living into my professional goals… I had gusto! in my heart and an air in my chest. As a bid my friend adieu, I looked up the nearest Starbucks and headed over to back up my photos and get a caffeine boost for the long drive home ahead – and, of course, get my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season.
My newfound confidence emitting proudly from my very being, I quickly found myself in conversation with the barista who started it all with, “You look like you’re having a great day!” This young lady was one of the brightest people I had ever encountered. Literally, I felt like there was a glow about her that whenever one found yourself in her radius, one couldn’t help but stand taller and smile a little bigger. Even in the busy afternoon post-school, mid-afternoon-need-my-coffee-NOW craziness, she treated every customer with a heartfelt concern and respect. She had long blonde hair in a ponytail that bounced as she walked back and forth to prepare coffee creations, and a perfect red lip I will never be able to pull off. She handed me my PSL with a laughy smile and the encouraging words that one day she’d see my photos somewhere big time and be able to say, “I met her!” I’d have jumped over the counter to give her a hug if I wasn’t draped in camera/computer gear.
I made myself cozy at a little table just outside. After a while of getting into my workflow, I get interrupted by a guy dressed very confidently who had loudly pulled up in a bright blue car that obviously was designed to garner attention. He comes over to my table with a friend floating behind him and asks, “Hi, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bother you – but I just have to tell you, you are really beautiful.” “Um, okay, thank you for that.” “Can I get you anything?” “Nope, I’m great, just needing to get some work done here.” “OH, well, excuse ME for trying to do something nice.”
I chose to keep my face buried in my computer and to ignore any further conversation. He persisted.
“You got a man?”
I waved my left hand at him with my shiny, albeit a bit dirty wedding bands, careful to never look up from my computer.
“So, you like d*** then, huh?”
My face started burning with fury and embarrassment, but I wouldn’t stop typing or staring into my inbox.
“Fine. You stupid b***h.”
He and his friend scoff and move past into the cafe. A little pissed and a little shaken up, I wasn’t sure if I should stand my ground and keep working or run to my car and get out of there while I could, knowing he had to come back out.
By this point, a few more patrons, mostly women, had made themselves more comfortable outside around me. I hoped their presence meant he wouldn’t have the gall to come back to say any parting words. Instead, several minutes later, the sweet blonde barista hurriedly came marching out, the bounce in her ponytail now a heavy, forceful swish.
“Did that man harass you?”
“He’s causing problems inside, too. Don’t worry, we’ve asked him to leave and we’ve called the police, they’re on their way. Can I get you anything?” she asked with a cracked smile and a quiver in her voice. Returning the cracked smile, I shook my head silently.
Minutes later, I hear muddled angry tones coming from inside the location, followed by the guy and his friend busting violently through the entrance. As expected, he comes up to my table on his way out:
“You f***ing snitch. You tried to tell on me? You’ll be sorry. You stupid b****, you’re about find out what d*** is good for you.”
Angrily, he stormed off to his car with his friend in tow. No one said a word to me. No one went after him. A crowded coffee shop full of people, and we all watched it go down. We went back to acting like it never happened literally the second he got into his car.
Too shaken up to get any further work done, I packed up my stuff and ran into the bathroom to splash water on my face to cool the burning sensation on my face and blot the pools of angry tears welling in the corners of my eyes. I pulled myself together as quickly as I could and heavily stepped out of the restroom, checking to see if that horrible blue car was still lingering in the parking lot. The blonde barista quietly leaned over the counter, noticing I was wide-eyed and frozen: “He said some really awful things in here,” she said, biting her perfectly red lip. I knew he said them to her. I wanted to jump across the counter even more now, wanting to give her a hug but badly needing one myself. “I’m so sorry,” she winced, no longer able to put on a smile. “Me, too.”
This is by far not the worst I or that blonde barista and I endured in this realm; it’ll be far from the last time, too. I have countless stories and know many other women who do, too. Though it’s been a year since this happened, it’s something I think about often, about how I should’ve handled it better, how no one raised eyebrows or questions. How people think that harassment and abuse only happen in the dark and with strangers and behind closed doors, involving power struggles and alcohol and opportunities for bad decisions to happen. That this guy was just “crazy” or high or not willingly acting in his right mind because, obviously, no one wanting to get away with what he did would ever do something like that in the middle of broad daylight in good conscious…
When I saw there was no evidence of that blue sedan in the parking lot but the lights on the cop car did show up, I bolted to my car. I bolted in hopes that if that guy saw me, he wouldn’t try anything with the cop car in the parking lot. I also bolted because I didn’t want to talk to the cops. I didn’t want to relive the last 15min, I didn’t want to repeat what he’d said. I didn’t want to think about his face and have to describe him.
I think about it more-so because I felt like I had no one to talk to about it. I didn’t want someone to say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you” or “Why didn’t you react _x_?” and have to explain myself. I didn’t want to acknowledge how scared I was, constantly looking over my rearview mirror for the entire 3 hour drive home, sure that the flashy blue car was “crazy” enough to follow me home. I didn’t want to admit how little I let this person made me feel after having one of the best and biggest days of my professional life. I felt like I had let that barista down: I could get in my car and get far, far away. She had to find the resiliency to remain collected through the rest of her shift, probably too scared herself to return to work the next day knowing he could be back at any time.
My story is not unique. It’s not going to move mountains or inspire or infuriate anyone enough spur a major change. It’s not the darkest, most shocking, click-bait story I could tell from my trove of experiences. It’s not suggesting I felt like I –had– to share it or that one is a lesser part of the cause if you choose not to.
But, maybe, my story will spark a conversation. Maybe it’ll be a piece in the larger momentum that does ignite a paradigm shift. Maybe it’ll reveal pockets of peace and safety through friends and communities and families. Maybe, just maybe, we can normalize respect and kindness instead of “joking” or “craziness” or “he was _x_” or “they didn’t mean it like _y_.”
I’m not sure exactly how I feel about the #MeToo movement. It’s a upsetting to see it so prevalent, also to not feel surprised by it… but, oh, how inspired I am to see other women — colleagues, mentors, younger generations — pushing this conversation to the forefront. Sharing so boldly their stories. Asking to make it stop. Asking to be heard. Asking the individuals responsible for the horrible behavior to recognize their actions and demand more action on the true guilty parties. To ask to no more being labeled the “victims” and “survivors.”
Please, let’s keep this conversation going.
Thank you to those who have shared and brought this conversation forward.
To that bright, wonderful young woman at Starbucks: Thank you for sharing your light with me even when you felt scared and defeated, too. I won’t let you down again.
Hugs & High Fives,