My mother is from Brooklyn. Flatbush, to be exact. She is also a red-head. As a red-headed, freckled little girl in Flatbush between 1971-1994, you can imagine how quickly she learned to toughen up.
She looked over her shoulder as she ran to catch the 2 or the 5, not knowing whether she preferred to be inside the subway or out. Mom called her brother when she was mugged, not the cops; not that they took much. One of five children, anything extra my mother had was either in her belly or on her back. She fought for all she had because she worked like hell for it.
I know nothing of this life. I have lived in a sheltered little Long-Island ranch since I was four years old. If my parents struggled, I didn’t know it. I only know of fighting and mugging and the evils of the world from the news and stories my mother told me. She told me of men who do not like to listen when they hear the word, “no.” Who will grab and kiss and touch and take advantage if I let them.
She taught me to hold my car key in between my index and middle finger. To carry a pocket knife in my purse, to park my car near lights in dark parking lots. She described these men to me in such detail, I could draw a picture if she asked. These are not nice guys. They are not the type of men you bring home for Christmas. They are the type to whistle and trail behind you as you walk down the street. To follow you down an aisle in a store to get a better look at your ass. To honk at you from three lanes over when you’re just minding your own damn business. They’re bad guys. And they don’t like the word, “no.”
Well, guess what, Mom? Nice guys hate to hear “no” too. Nice guys are your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors. Nice guys are your shoulders to cry on, the ones who let you feel vulnerable and safe. And you expect to do the same for them. To be their shoulder, their ear, their confidant. But then, they politely ask to sleep in your bed. And you can’t say no. How can you say no? They’re being so…nice about it. “Is this okay?” they ask. “Are you comfortable with this?” Well, no one has ever asked me if I am. This is refreshing so…I must be comfortable with this. Wait, no I’m not. But, he’s so nice. How can I say no?
And so you don’t. But he leaves and you cry because he was just so…nice. And now he isn’t.
Because when the lights are back on and he emerges from the blankets, he looks different. He looks like the men my mother warned me about. The ones who whistle and honk and holler. He kisses you good-night and you’re holding your breath so you don’t throw up. And you strip the bed and cry in the shower. Because you didn’t say no but you didn’t want to say yes. This gray area of consent and comfortability is so loud now, you can’t hear your heart-beat anymore. And he calls you the next day. You don’t answer. Now, you’re a bitch. Because nice guys hate the word “no” too.