Don’t Touch Me

The other day Nikola and I were in the center. I went to wait in line for a breakfast roll while he looked up where we were supposed to be going on my tablet. When I got to the shop it was packed, with a line snaking around in its small hallway. There was an older man, possibly mentally ill, possibly drunk, walking with the assistance of a cane. He was talking loudly to the man in front of me, obviously making everyone in the room uncomfortable. As I entered and took my place in line this man’s focus shifted to me. He started reciting some traditional Bulgarian line about red and white cheeks on a young maiden, that I have heard all too often from older men. The entire time I was having the usual mixed emotions- the feeling of responsibility to listen when another person talks, the defiant wish to ignore him so he goes away, and a slightly panicked plea to the others in the small area to say something so he would stop.

When it comes to people I don’t know approaching me on the street, for attention, for money, for anything, I tend to be cold and ignore them. It makes me feel quite guilty. I remember a friend of mine once saying that they are people too, and everyone just wants to be recognized, and part of me wants to take the time out of my day and the fear out of my heart and just recognize them. Partake in their delusions, ask them how they are… but they don’t want a conversation… they just talk and talk, with no respect for me. Why, then, do I owe them respect? It is a never-ending circle of guilt I have in my heart.

But then he crossed a line. His old, wrinkled hand, thick and heavy, came down and rested on mine. I recoiled. I tried to end the conversation with a curt, “okay.” I looked desperately to the other people in the room to just say, “Move along, leave the girl alone.” No one did, and his thick leathery hands stayed on top of mine as I struggled to find a polite way to move them away. Polite. I didn’t want anyone there to think I was a monster, not giving proper respect to a poor old man. Polite. Luckily the line moved forward and he was separated from me. I was saved by a technicality.

When I went out to meet Nikola I told him what had happened, and how I am so frustrated with people touching me. He has learned to accommodate my needs when I am frustrated, and instead of trying to fix it, or tell me I was overreacting, he allowed my emotions to flow. I asked him how many times in the past year someone he didn’t know had invaded his personal space and touched him.

“They talk to me.”

“Yes, they talk to everyone. How many of them touched you?”

“I dunno. None, maybe.”

“I dunno how many have touched me either, but it is definitely a lot more than none.”

It was such a simple interaction. It was almost meaningless, but it wasn’t. For me it was nearing the final straw that makes me snap- that women are allowed to be touched and men are not… that not only individuals think this, but groups of people will allow that discomfort to continue in front of them, and they expect the woman to deal with it with grace and poise and politeness, even as the man (or woman) clearly follows no social rules. They expect a woman to accommodate. Always, always allow.

When I came home a friend of mine had posted on her facebook wall,

“A woman is not written in braille – You don’t have to touch her to know her.” 

And I wondered what had happened to her that day… 

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