Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Winning the Lottery

I walk to the convenience store.

I go there for wine, sometimes, to go with pasta and marinara, and I go there for diet cokes from their fountains on hot days, and I go there to get lottery tickets which I know will not win, but which fill me with a pleasure like cigars and scotch on New Year' Eve.

As I walk, I traverse an ever-changing strip of street. What once was a quiet half-block of grass and industrial buildings is now home to white signs sprayed with cobalt graffiti, bits of refuse like beer bottles and the occasional sanitary product, cigarette butts and candy wrappers. When I get to the shop, a group of young men hover at the end of the strip mall, eating slices of pizza and smoking, cursing like mother's milk. This week, a handsome fellow with a quick grin asked me, "You walked all this way, for wine?" I grimaced, held up my power ball tickets, and said, "I'm going to win the lottery."

And I thought about rape.

I never really thought about it, before - before I saw the graffiti, before I noticed the kids on bikes who were never in school, before I found a used tampon in the grass. I saw that fiercely attractive young man and knew that he noticed me. He was friendly, charming, a bit inquisitive but mostly young and harmless.

And I had been so much a fool.

I don't need to go over the Steubenville rape case - I'm sure that anyone who reads this blog is well aware of what happened in a small town in Ohio, which could have been, and most likely is, every town in the world. But I think that the visibility of this case has made America a little bit more aware, a bit more cautious, certainly more disgusted and horrified and pained.

We've seen coverage of those young men - football heroes, good students, attractive in an almost unthreatening way - as they've cried at their just (but limited) punishment. News aggregates have commented on the tragedy of two kids who made a mistake. Who didn't know that what they were doing was wrong. Who were frequently exculpated by their parents, coaches, teachers. Who shoved their childishness and hate and rape and sex and power in a girl's face as she vomited and forgot their dirty hands. We've seen it all.

For rape survivors - they've lived it.

For potential victims of assault - we live it.

I don't want to think about it, and I didn't. I never imagined that it could happen to me, to anyone a I knew, because of location or race or age or gender identity or any of the million reasons why women. Shouldn't. Be. Raped. I thought, instead, about the small playground behind my condo, and the path between trees and brackish water to the gym, and the rows of neat, affordable houses, untouched by any blemish of fear. And then I walked to the minimart, and someone noticed me, and I noticed the climb of smoke spirals from the mouths of smiling idleness; I thought about the graffiti, and I thought about Steubenville and their hall of heroes.

And - pardon my language - it has to fucking stop.

Why is it okay for me to be afraid of my neighbors? Why does the news tell me to urinate or vomit in case of attack? Why is the blame placed on me, a young woman out for lotto tickets and a brisk walk in the sun? Why is a girl - why is anyone - blamed for rape or simply ignored because she was incapacitated and unable to say no? Why do I have to look at a handsome fellow with a cheeky grin as a man who may assault me?

And why did it take so long for everyone to see, for everyone to notice, that rape happens every day, all the time, to everyone and anyone in this culture of victim-blaming and rape-apologists? Why was the stupid trash in my neighborhood the selling point of me thinking that I might be raped? Why did Steubenville have to be the catalyst for a larger discussion of rape in our society?

And why does it have to happen? That's the real question, of course.

Why is not being raped akin to winning the lottery?

I, like many women, am not going to stop. I've got lotto tickets to buy, wine to sniff, diet coke to slurp, and many sunny days ahead of cropped skirts and ballet flats. But, I swear to God, this rape culture - and this mindset of always being scared and never knowing what a young man may think is right - needs to stop. It's not about the soft-edged spray of paint, or the kids on the corner, or the sound of laughter as I enter the one convenience store I can walk to. It's about human decency. It's about the boys and girls which made what should have been a fun night in Ohio into an evening of nonconsensual sadism and humiliation.

I'm going to keep going to my corner store. I'm going to read the news, and I'm going to be terrified.

And I'm going to know that at any moment, for any reason, my body could not be my own.

And God, I wish I could have looked that beautiful young man in the face, and smiled.

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