Trigger warning: This article contains details about sexual assault which may be triggering to survivors.
I found myself shouldering his shame as though it was my burden to carry.
And shame flows through your body like an electric current – electron by electron. Yet it only takes seconds before you feel its impact all at once. My body was being electrocuted; it felt as though it would combust at any moment.
This fiery sensation… I’d felt it before. A familiar tension I had felt in the past too. My mind flashes back to a bus. A school bus, and a bus conductor who lacked the concept of personal boundaries.
He’s uncomfortably close to me.
I try to push this memory away.
As my parents sat beside me, asking my siblings and myself if we’d fancy being treated to a tub of popcorn before the interval, I was busy trying to focus my energies on reaching into my soul and grabbing onto one page, any page, to find the vocabulary to speak up.
After quite a bit of rummaging and soul-searching, I found that the only two phrases that had been etched into my vocabulary by careful observation were – “stop overreacting” and “stop overthinking”. So naturally, that’s what I clasped on to.
It was just a hand. One hand under my thigh. My thigh, which had not yet been subjected to the blistering heat of wax – I’d considered it for a brief moment when a concerned youth had cautioned me that I was embarking on a path where I’d eventually become indistinguishable from the historically dominant sex. But Mumma told me I wasn’t old enough.
The moment in the movie hall mocked my mother’s words as the man in his late twenties continued to dig his hand deeper and further under my thigh. I guess no one told him I wasn’t old enough.
The movie was two hours and 50 minutes long. I wasn’t factoring in the ten-minute interval break. Ten minutes of being free from bondage seemed fair, right? I was clearly overthinking this. I was clearly overreacting. It didn’t have to be made into a big deal. Maybe he did it accidentally. Not once, not twice, but throughout the course of the movie. Maybe he had trouble comprehending my words when I specifically asked him to get his hand out from under my thigh.
Now typically, in situations where one is threatened, the body’s sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of adrenaline in response to acute stress, which preps the body for a fight-or-flight reaction. This means that you either face the threat head on, or make an attempt to flee the situation.
Yet there I was, immobile and numb – which is also a hormonal reaction many women have in the face of sexual assault, essentially shutting down energy to the body, as studies have shown.
I wished the concerned youth who had felt so threatened by my body hair had taken it upon him to warn me about this too – that for my sex, growth was a process of shrinking. You’re taught to take up as little space as possible. Don’t spread your legs (unless you’re asked to); the gentleman to your right needs three seats worth of space to rest his. Suck your tummy in, shrink yourself into sizes that flatter the opposite sex better. Shrink yourself to fit into the narrow fissures of conventional beauty norms.
You simply don’t know how to take up space. Not because you’re incapable or undeserving of it, but because sometimes you forget that you’re allowed to. That you’re supposed to. It’s basic physics – ‘matter is anything that has mass and takes up space’ .It’s brilliant how women have been repeatedly taught how to defy the basic principles of science.
And so, I did what I knew best. I shrank.
As the shock waves passed through my body, I just sat there, still as a rock, squeezed onto the other side of my seat – my Mum’s side. I shifted my entire body weight onto my left thigh and rested my head on Mum’s shoulder. My left thigh was turning numb, while my right quietly dissipated into ashes.
To date, I have no idea as to how the story of Rockstar unfolds; all I remember is wanting it to end. I remember it ending. I remember staggering to my feet, clutching my Mum’s hand tightly, and desperately shoving my way through the blissfully oblivious crowd.
I can’t remember what he looked like. Darkness protected him with its shroud and I was too scared to get a proper look. I prefer my monsters under my bed and not seated beside me in a movie hall.
I was 13.
Komal Srivastava is a 22-year-old klutz, who hangs on to words and metaphors in an attempt to Tarzan her way through life, one face-down fall at a time.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty