Poem originally published in “Your One Phone Call”. TW: sexual assault.
Please, it’s not you,
She curls, turns away.
He slips his shirt around her shoulders.
It’s not really me.
He pulls the bedcovers over.
There’s more to tenderness than touch.
It’s wrong it’s like this
He waits for her to turn and let him in,
let him help her move from victim into survivor.
Please, it’s not you.
Someone, browsing through photos of bands playing live, asked me if I felt safe when I’d gone to review live bands.
I hesitated. The expected answer was “Yes.” But my answer wasn’t going to be “Yes.” In fact, the question itself struck me as strange. Giving an unexpected answer would mean having to give an explanation and giving the explanation meant delving into compartments I keep shut. Opening those compartments gets messy. As various songs suggest, anger is an energy and energy doesn’t die. The smart way to deal with anger is to turn it into something positive, a campaign or a poem, which takes effort. Right then, I didn’t feel like making that effort. I knew if I said, “No,” the unexpected answer, the next question would be “Why?”
Why wouldn’t you feel safe amongst a community of music fans?
I reviewed bands playing smaller venues with audiences from 50 to 500. It wasn’t about being the only woman (which wasn’t unusual), it was knowing I was the only one in the venue who deliberately picked a spot to stand which gave a view of all potential exit points. Of the zines I reviewed for, I was the only one who’d turn up to a venue, tell the band’s personnel I was reviewing and be accused of wanting to sleep with the band. The other reviewers on the team didn’t get that. The other reviewers were male. I’d be the only one at the venue who watched the band during the encore, alert to signals that would mean they would be another encore or this was absolutely the last song, so, while the final chord was still reverberating, I could duck out of the venue and get clear of the crowds. I’m not particularly tall so being in a crowd limits my vision. It was a mistake I made once. Once.
Don’t you feel safe amongst other music fans?
I used to walk home. Home was 20 minutes away and not only does a taxi fare feel like a tax on going out, anyone who suggests I should have got a taxi has clearly never heard of John Worboys, the “Black Cab Rapist” and the way his first victims were brushed off and disbelieved. That’s the problem: there was no safe route home. How many of you have learnt not to alter your speed when passing cat-callers and wolf-whistlers? How many of you have learnt to counter your instincts and not run? The problem isn’t the first cat-call, the wolf-whistle or the proposition; the problem is you can’t predict what will happen next: will a cat-call become a grab by someone bigger and heavier than you, will a cat-call become a grab and then a grope and then what?
Don’t you feel safe?
I stuck to the better-lit streets, always alert. Even once you’ve moved past the cat-callers, wolf-whistlers and those who think it’s OK to proposition any woman they see on her own after dark “because she’s up for it, right?” Never mind that it gets dark at 3pm in the winter and women have bills to pay too. There have been times where I’ve had to walk past my home and round the block to be certain that I’ve got rid of one pest before I can return to my home so I can reassure myself the jerk doesn’t know where I live.
Every journey took me past a certain street. A street where the body of a woman was found. She’d been garroted by electrical wire, stuffed in the boot of her own car which her husband had driven and abandoned on this street because he wanted to be with his lover but didn’t want the stigma of a divorce. The car’s long since gone, he’s in jail. But the memory lingers: a woman wasn’t safe in her own home with the person she should have been able to trust.
Was I supposed to feel safe?