This story is going to make my mum so worried.
He looked like a semi-pro soccer player, all cheekbones and glow in the way guys in their early 20s often are. He pulled me away from my friends to the bar, where he bought me a shot. Spun me around until I felt the sambuca sticky between our fingers. Aniseed and mint on his lips when we kissed. “Stand up straight,” he said afterwards, putting his hands on either side of my torso. “Why are you sticking your bum out all the time?”
I told him it’s how I naturally stand, that I have an anterior pelvic tilt which makes the curve in my back super deep. One eye open, one eye closed, and the phone held at arm’s length, I tried to find one of the many memes about it to show him, like, “Ask yourself is she really thick or is she suffering from lumbar lordosis,” or, “Is she a bad b or does she just have an anterior pelvic tilt?”
“I believe you,” he replied, palming my phone down.
Our interactions wavered between this sort of mild disinterest and an extreme, almost overwhelming praise, like when minutes earlier he—incorrectly—told me I looked like Margot Robbie. I knew I was above this lazy game-playing, but it didn’t matter because this summer I made a pact with myself to be crazy, to walk on the wild side, to live life, wrap my legs all the way around it, let desire bloom in me as round as peaches, drink it all up, orange juice dribbling down my chin, cold water hitting my stomach as I wade into a river. So I said yes when he asked me to come and party with him and his friend in their hotel room, grabbing the wrist of my girl and pulling her with me out into the night.
There were no taxis, so the four of us climbed onto a rickshaw with me on the guy’s knee to make extra room. I looked out at the city from under a border of pink fluff, the high rises gloomy and gray except for the occasional yellow square puncturing through it like a Mondrian painting. Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” blasted through the speakers. Ubers whooshed past us to pick up girls with sore feet from clubs they didn’t want to be at anymore. It felt as if the city belonged to us. The ramen bars, the crumbling churches, the luxury apartments. I turned to look at my friend’s shiny eyes, wet with excitement, and I gripped onto her as we sped down a hill and laughed, and then laughed again, each time almost embarrassed by how guttural it was, how it cracked through my throat like lightning, like when you’re coming and those soft choreographed moans give way to a groan. But I didn’t take it back, just let more of it out, laughing, laughing, laughing like a girl in a film scene, the one who’s standing up in the open roof of a moving car, screaming the lyrics to their favorite song or running through the city to tell someone they love them. A line from Self Esteem’s “I Do This All the Time” came into my head: “Stop trying to have so many friends/ Don’t be intimidated by all the babies they have/ Don’t be embarrassed that all you’ve had is fun.”
I was disappointed when I saw the hotel. It was the sort of place where there are lots of prints on canvases that look like Windows screensavers, and people justify their booking by saying, “We’re going to be out all the time anyway.” The disappointment increased when we worked out that they got the room for free because they worked there. But we were having fun so we stayed, long enough to have to open the mini fridge because we’d run out of booze, long enough that white light started to bleed out of the side of the curtains, until the wildest thing that’s ever happened to me happened.
Two middle-aged women burst through the door, screaming and shouting, grabbed me and my friend by the scruffs of our necks and clip-in extensions, and dragged us down a flight of stairs. The guys we were with just sat there watching, occasionally trying to placate the women by saying something like “leave it out” or “come on.” They looked scared but not shocked, as if they’d watched this happen a number of times before. I’m being sex trafficked was my first thought, these guys lured us to a hotel and now we’re getting sex trafficked, or at least I did until the women threw us out onto the street, where me and my friend stood frantically trying to book a taxi with the last of her phone battery.
“They must have been their girlfriends,” said friends when I explained the story to them. Others suggested it was their mums.
Or they asked: “Had you done anything wrong? Was it security?”
But they were too old to be the guy’s girlfriends; they had different ethnicities, so I doubt they were their mums either; and we hadn’t done anything wrong. My only explanation was some dodgy work situation that This American Life should definitely look into.
My friend was visibly shaken on the way home, her eyes vacant and a slight waver rippling through her voice. “They just grabbed us and dragged us out onto the street?” she said, repeating the simple facts as if it might help them to sink in. “They were calling us stuff.”
I nodded along, told her, “Yeah I’m really shaken up.”
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But the truth is, I wasn’t shaken, I felt fine. All I thought about was how much I couldn’t wait to tell people about this, how I would gently mold the anecdote into the perfect shape, emphasizing the loudness of the thump as they kicked the door, the sting on my scalp as my hair came out, the whole experience wrapped and boxed up so precisely that it no longer felt as if it happened to me, but to someone else entirely. I thought it was funny—a good way to spend a Saturday night, an experience, like we’d bungee jumped off a plane or something, swam with sharks. But that’s weird, isn’t it? That’s not how you’re meant to feel. That’s when I realized that the only thing I was scared of was how not scared I was. How nonplussed I felt about being assaulted.
I’m like this with a lot of stuff. I walk home in the dark, jump into rivers with strong tides, leave my bag at the side of the club, and I don’t ever listen to people who tell me that it will end badly. I think it’s because the idea that I have to curtail my fun in order to be safe is too painful to accept; that I have to relinquish experiences for something that may or may not happen—and I’m not talking about the river or my phone anymore. I’m talking about how when women have fun, there always seems to be a price for it, one that can really, really hurt.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself, perhaps it is good that I don’t let the world get me down? That I get to know strangers, that I climb onto rickshaws with them and smile as I feel the warm summer breeze against my skin, laugh instead of cry. I feel like I’m invincible, and that probably makes me stupid, but being clever feels like too much of a loss.