I was walking with my mom around Lisbon today without a destination in mind. I’ve been here for nearly two weeks and was soaking up the beautiful sun after experiencing more rainy days here. We have seen so much of the city and beyond that it was fantastic just to connect with the energy, sounds, and sights in a more open ended way. I was in a really good, calm mood without many intense thoughts (rare for me).
We were walking along Liberty Avenue when I saw a coffee shop up ahead. As I paused to squint at the Portuguese menu, I suddenly heard a very loud, very close scream right in my ear.
I could have punched the dude – I nearly did. I thought I was being mugged or someone had been hurt or something absolutely terrible had gone wrong. It shook my soul. As I quickly got a sense of my bearings, I saw a waiter laughing along with 2 other patrons at my misfortune.
What he doesn’t know and the two bystanders don’t know is that I was immediately brought back to being 16 witnessing a horrible car accident which involved a teammate of mine screaming loudly and painfully. Her scream – it’s not something I’ve been able to escape. The screams of others represent the leftovers of my PTSD from that long and painful time in my life.
I walked away dazed and crying – my mom baffled. She thought he hit me because of how rattled I was. My right ear was ringing as my heart pounded and I tried to gather myself. I couldn’t stop the tears. My knees felt weak. I felt like all my reserves for any emotional or mental capacity just got cut in half.
At the same time, I was furious. Who does that?! I didn’t know him. I wasn’t talking to him. I was minding my own business. I was just a form of entertainment for him – not a person with feelings.
The old Anne would have stumbled home tears in her eyes and anger hiding beneath the surface. I’m not that same person. I don’t know when I started doing this but I have started asking men “why did you do that?” when I 1) feel safe enough and 2) feel I’ve been treated inappropriately (groped, hit on, scared, yelled at, etc.). I gathered myself barely enough to go confront him after deciding he can’t treat people like that and I wanted to be sure he knew why.
I stood and waited while this goofball of a guy chatted it up with 2 different folks drinking beer. When he finally turned towards me, I didn’t waste time – “Why did you do that?”. His answer? “For fun”. He grabbed me as he said, “Oh come on, dear! All in good fun. All in good fun.”
I pushed him away. “This was not fun. This was not funny. This scared the shit out of me and it’s not okay to do to someone. I am a person and you chose to treat me like I was entertainment. This really upset me.”
As the tears in my eyes started to expose themselves again and my voice started to shake, he suddenly realized how his actions had impacted me. He tried to keep things light but after I started to walk away with my mom he came running back. He felt bad. He apologized. He offered to buy us anything. My mom finally asked him for a bottle of water which he presented by getting on one knee to offer her. He kissed us both on the cheek too many times to count. We talked and talked – we took time to understand one another before fully parting with well wishes on both sides.
I walked away still feeling so weak as the feelings of PTSD are so very hard to shake. Screams are the one trigger I haven’t been able to get over. They happen so rarely and, when they do, one can seemingly never be prepared. There’s no easy way to be desensitized. Images continued to flash of the accident I saw and my heart ached as I slowly came back to reality – “You’re 25. You’re in Lisbon. You’re safe. It’s okay.”
I left feeling better than I would have if I had not confronted him. I left knowing the person who did that was not a jerk. He wasn’t an asshole as I had so assuredly called him under my breath moments before confronting him. He was another person. As he said when we were talking, “I just try to go through life having fun and spreading positivity. I didn’t mean to make you feel this way. I am doing my best. Sometimes I can do things to another and – boom – sparks. I don’t mean for that to happen though.” Me too, dude.
The best part? I owned how I felt. I didn’t let myself feel small – I let myself be empowered. I didn’t call myself crazy and beat myself up – I accepted how I felt. I expressed how I felt. I didn’t hold a grudge. I just asked why and sought to understand. I created a bridge rather than a wall with another stranger. We left more bonded when we could have left more divided. For that, I am happy a random stranger screamed and scared the shit out of me 🙂