Chris and I are on our annual Mother’s Day vacation, and we’re at our favorite part of it: Our time with our dear friends, Katie and Paul, in Maryland. This is time that we treasure each and every year. We usually try to find a couple of fun or unusual touristy things to do, and Paul will take a day or two off of work to play hooky with us. Katie just finished up her first semester of nursing school, so I’m excited that she was done with her finals by the time we were pulling into their driveway. She kicked ass on her exams, by the way!
This year we took a little trip to Savage Mill to check out the shops, have a pint, and just hang out with our friends. We were in a particularly quaint store that sold only handcrafted items. A place after my own heart! As I looked at handbags and tchotchkes and jewelry I thought about the lovely things that my maker friends produce and how well it would fit in there. I thought about the makers of these products and made a decision to definitely buy a thing or two in order to support them in the best way possible. The shop is made of up three rooms that aren’t necessarily small or isolated, but there were very few shoppers in the mall this Thursday afternoon. As we entered the shop, the four of us split up and we wandered in different directions, towards things we each found to be interesting.
As I glanced at some too cute little signs on a wall, a man, maybe in his late twenties (I’m horrible at guessing ages.) or early thirties commented to me about how nice the artwork is. I smiled, like I do, nodded in agreement, and turned to continue shopping. I’m usually pretty aware of people around me when I’m in public. Not in a paranoid way, but I don’t want to get in anyone’s way. At the grocery, for instance, I like to know who is in front of me and who’s behind me so that I don’t block an aisle or something. I had noticed that this guy had been pretty close to me most of the time I had been shopping in this room, but I didn’t think much of it. He was a little closer than I like a stranger to be to me, so I turned to actively avoid talking to him any longer. When my back was to him I felt the hem of my skirt move. Skirts do that. They move when your butt does. It’s not unusual. What *is* unusual is when you twist around to fix your skirt and you see that the guy who had been next to you is moving into a standing position and is putting something behind his back.
I didn’t immediately realize what had happened. I saw that whatever the guy was putting behind his back had a light at the end of it. I was confused. Why would this stranger have a light of some sort near the hem of my skirt? I’m sure he saw the recognition dawning on my face as my brain put together the clues and formed an idea of what this cretin had done. I was between him and the exit of the shop and I started slowly backing away. I could feel the blood rushing to my face as I raised my finger at him. ‘You… you!!!’ I said, shaking. It was when he immediately got defensive that I *knew* that he had done what I suspected. I called out for my husband. ‘Chris…? Chris! CHRIS!! THIS GUY JUST UPSKIRTED ME!’
At this point a couple of things were going through my head: 1) Don’t let this guy get away, and 2) Let as many people hear the commotion so that they will help detain him. I was not embarassed. I was not going to be quiet. I think those first few moments helped define how I feel about the situation right now, a couple of days later. I think being outspoken about it right then helped me continue to be outspoken about it and not brush it under a rug. And I think that’s a good thing for me.
As Katie and Paul and Chris came to see what was going on, the guy was walking, backing actually, towards the door, talking, saying how he did nothing wrong, using lots of ‘Maams’, ‘No no no’, ‘You don’t understand’, backing away, on his phone, deleting the photos, hurrying to the door, walking, ‘Maam’, ‘It’s not like that’, walking, deleting, ‘I didn’t do anything’, walking. As Katie and Chris blocked his way in an effort to slow him down, Paul began video taping the confrontation on his phone.* Chris and Katie were trying to get the guy to hand over his phone. He would show them a photo or two, but wouldn’t hand the phone to either of them. We were out in the hallway part of the mall by then. The guy was still trying to walk away, still deleting, still defensive. Katie smelled pot on him. Walking. Deleting. ‘I didn’t do anything’.
Chris asked me what I wanted to do. If I wanted to report it. The evidence, if the guy even got a good shot, was gone**, there was no witness, I had somewhat humiliated the guy in public, and I didn’t even know if upskirting is illegal in Maryland.*** I asked Chris to just make sure there were no photos of me on the guy’s phone and that would be enough. Paul was still video taping. I was still confused. I was *so* pissed. I was pacing. Walking towards Chris and Katie and the guy, then walking back to Paul. Back and forth. I just wanted the guy and his phone to go away. The guy finally handed his phone to Chris, and among the seemingly consentual nude pictures of ‘his girl’, Chris found no upskirt photos of me or anyone else remaining. The guy apologized to Chris who in turn made the guy apologize to me. Whatever. Just go away. He did.
Katie had asked the shop-keeper to call security. She kicked it up a notch and was on the phone with 911 by the time we made our way back to towards the store. I told her not to send the cops. She asked if I was ok. A couple of women who had been watching the confontation asked if I was ok. That helped. It somehow helped me feel better that strangers recognized a horrible situation and at least seemed to care. I don’t know why, but it did.
I felt myself start to cry, but I didn’t allow that to come to fruition. Fuck that guy. I didn’t want him to be able to make me cry. In the end, that’s exactly why I didn’t want the cops. I didn’t want this guy to have the power to ruin my day. I get just a couple of days a year to be with these people who I love, and I was not going to spend one of those days dealing with cops and paperwork and statements, let alone take the risk that this horrible thing that happened to me would be downgraded to a ‘Oh, sweetie, just you don’t mind. These things happen when you wear cute little skirts.’ I won’t forgive, and I sure as hell won’t forget, but I really just wanted to have a good day with my friends. Again, I didn’t want to give him the power to ruin my day, let alone my whole vacation, or this place for me.
So did I do the right thing? By not reporting the crime, I have failed the guy’s future victims. But I don’t think calling the cops would have stopped him from doing this next week. But I did do the right thing. I did the thing that was right for me at the time. It’s the decision I will live with, so it has to be the right thing. And if this ever happens to you, you will do the right thing for you at that time. At this point the only thing I can think of that I wish I would have done is this: I wish I would have thought to tell him, ‘For every disgusting act like this that you do, someone is doing this to your mother. Someone is doing this to your daughter. Someone is doing this to your sister.’ I wish I would have had the foresight to make it personal to him. That’s the only way he will realize that what he is doing is wrong.
*Fucking brilliant. That somehow comforted me.
***Even if the shot(s) he got had been crappy, if he hadn’t have had time to delete them, the tattoos on my legs would have positively identified them as being photos of my underskirt.
***It is. I think. Maybe? Frankly, it’s hard to tell.