Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In A Moment...

I have been quiet.  I have been so very quiet recently.  It’s not really like me but I suppose I haven’t exactly felt like myself recently.  I’d apologize but I can’t.  While I feel guilty for being absent the fact is…I lost my voice, my words, my nerve.  I have been engaged in a serious internal debate about my next steps.  Things happened and are happening.  Some I can’t wait to tell you about it…another I’ve been struggling with.  This is a dating blog.  I’m here to tell you about all these seriously hot men vying for my attention (I wish) and all the adventures we have and not all the other nonsense and bullshit that goes through my mind or happens in my life.  After taking some time to think about it I’ve decided that the incident I’m going to write about today is something I should tell for myself, for you and for any individual that may come across this post even though its not about a date. 

It’s amazing that at any moment in time, whether you choose for it to or not, your entire life can change forever.  We see this every day…people who take a different route to work and meet the love of their life.  Someone who puts a quarter into a slot machine and wins the jackpot.  A person who looks away for a split second and ends up in an accident.  Life is a series of moments.  What you choose to do with each moment has the potential to completely change your life.  Most of the time moments seem fleeting and lets be serious, they kind of are, but fleeting or not within each moment you are making a choice…what to say, what to do, how to act…and so on.  So long as you are alive, well and competent you are acting on your own free will…living life as you see fit.  Then there are those moments when your decisions, your choices affect someone else.  It’s in these moments you become bigger than yourself…your taking control of someone else’s moment and depending on the situation the results could be anywhere from inconsequential or life changing.  For example…you step on a person’s foot; painful but inconsequential (unless you’re a whale and manage to break it)…on the flip side…you end a relationship and break a person’s heart, could be life changing.  Or in my case…your sexually harassed at work…completely life changing.

Even though this incident happened a week ago today it still seems surreal.  The idea that something like this happened to me just doesn’t want to click.  The fact that I am part of a statistic and labeled as a victim is disturbing and unnatural.  How could this happen to me?  I’m not this person.  This is not my life.  I don’t want to know this pain.  I could have done without this experience.  No matter how much I want to push it out of my mind the truth remains the same…I am NOW this person…this is NOW my life…and NOW I know this pain.  This person took that moment from me and changed my life forever.  Selfish bastard.

I am fortunate that things didn’t escalate to a level you hear some of these sexual harassment cases go to but that doesn’t make it any better or any easier to deal with.  I am praying there are no long term, lasting effects as a result of this experience.  I have been pointed in the direction of counselors as a resource I can use if I need.

You see, I work in an extremely male dominated industry…so much so it’s almost guaranteed I am the only female (with the exception of an admin) on a project site.  I knew this was going to be the case going into college when I was picking my major and I was going to be one of, if not the only, girl in my classes.  It’s a path I chose and something I was prepared to handle.  I make certain to carry myself in an extremely professional manner, dress appropriately and keep my personal life personal not because the idea that I’d ever encounter a situation like this crossed my mind but because I wanted to be respected and taken seriously.  I can honestly say that between college, my internship and my professional career never have I experienced this or even heard about something like this taking place.  All the men I have encountered, until now, treated me no different and I appreciated that immensely.

As they always tend to say, things are always clearer in hindsight so as I look back at all the things that have occurred over time between myself and this guy I see them in a very different light.  Naturally at the time I found them weird but made a joke of it more than a concern.  My mistake?  He was someone I had to work with every single day in some capacity or another.  He was superior to me due to more experience and time in the industry but was not my boss…we had the same boss actually.  Even still, he was able to give me assignments and was a guy I had to run a lot of questions, concerns and issues by.  I actually came to really respect him because he was extremely intelligent and I figured I’d be able to learn a lot by working with him.  On the other hand, he was someone I would never consider being friends with as we are cut from two very different cloths so a working relationship was where things ended.  Frankly, that’s how I conduct myself almost 100% of the time.  Work stays at work and home stays home. 

I don’t socialize with my coworkers and I don’t bring my social life to work.  It’s just much more comfortable for me that way.  So when this guy started sending me emails or asking me in person or over the phone to hang out after work I was really annoyed.  I always politely declined and began to wonder how many times I had to say no before he got the hint.  I started to realize that after a while when I would decline his invitations he seemed to get annoyed which I felt was weird because we had never hung out before, never discussed hanging out and we’re not even remotely friendly…its always just business.  On one occasion we were out on the project site together and he ran his fingers through my hair and declared “You have really beautiful hair.”  Ok, fucking creepy.  I immediately dismissed the comment and swiftly started walking the other direction trying not to make a big deal of what just happened.  It was too awkward to address and given the capacity in which we had to work together I figured not making a big deal of it would be the best route to take to avoid an unpleasant situation.  Even as I type this I can see that cookie cutter behavior…the one being harassed stays quiet in an attempt to prevent things from becoming uncomfortable.  The fact I was quiet makes me feel weak because I should have stood up for myself and should have told him how fucking disgusting that was and put him in his place regardless of the outcome. 

But you see the outcome is the thing that stops you in your tracks…fears of what would people say, what would they think, would I lose my job, would he, would no one believe me and I’m forced to continue working with someone under these conditions?  So I told a couple of my coworkers who were already aware of the emails I was getting, about the hair incident and we all continued poking fun of this guy as we always had.  Then on a separate occasion while I was out on the site with him he started poking for information on whether or not I had a boyfriend.  Now, given my aforementioned preference to keep my personal life to myself I quickly dismissed his questions because frankly, I found them obnoxious and out of line.

And finally we arrive at the day I wish never happened.  Once again we are out on the site and it’s just the two of us which is something I’ve never questioned before.  I go out to the site with the guys all the time and never think twice about it.  We were surveying a building and when I thought we were finished I turned around, turned off the light and proceeded towards the door.  The next thing I know he grabbed my wrist so I turned around and asked “Oh did we forget something?” thinking we may have more work to complete.  While still holding my wrist he then proceeds to stand very close to me and say while stroking the hair that had fallen over my shoulder “I just wanted to tell you I think you are so beautiful.”  I immediately freaked and felt extremely uncomfortable…flashbacks from the previous hair incident were streaking through my head and all I wanted to do was diffuse the situation.  I muttered a quick and nervous “um thanks” and turned to leave…he still had my wrist and before I knew it he grabbed the other and was moving closer to me.  All I can remember was repeating “No” over and over while struggling to get out of his grasp.  I kept thinking of course this is the one fucking day I forget a radio and how since the building was closed and the contractors were gone for the day if I screamed no one would hear me.  Thankfully I freed my wrists and started walking away as fast as I could with my cell phone in hand trying to figure out what I should do.  I was shaking more than I can ever remember I have before and my mind was racing. 

Next thing I know this guy was driving along side of me (he had driven us down to the other end of the site) and was trying to get me to get in his car.  He kept saying he was sorry, that was inappropriate, can we please talk about this and he doesn’t know how it happened.  First of all your only sorry because I’m upset and your saying its inappropriate because I didn’t reciprocate and no we cannot talk about it and don’t even sit there with some stupid bullshit about you don’t know how it happened.  You know EXACTLY how it happened.  You made a conscious decision in that moment to make that move and say those things.  You don’t have a history of mental illness and some excuse where you blackout and don’t know who you are.  You were there, sober, conscious and focused on the decisions you were making.  There is NO EXCUSE.  I kept begging him to just leave me alone because I’m walking back to the trailer and he kept arguing that it would “look weird if we go back separately since we left together”.  Well guess what jackass…not my fucking problem.  I cried the whole walk back.

When I was finally back at my desk he approached me to try and talk.  I didn’t even look up at him because if I did I would have beat the ever living shit out of him.  The next thing I know he walked away and I got an email.  His version of an “apology” once again saying he didn’t know how it happened and he wants to talk to me to make sure it never happens again.  I’m sorry but we should not have to have a conversation to make sure something that never should have happened in the first place doesn’t happen again!!!! 

I went home scared, devastated and confused.  I had no idea what I was going to do the next day.  How was I supposed to work with this guy?  As I drove up to the site the next morning the tears started flowing again.  The memory of what happened the day before just flooded my mind.  As I sat at my desk and opened my email there is another one from this guy staring me in the face…only this time he wrote to me and our boss.  Basically he said he wasn’t sure if he could continue working for the company because he did something that would change his life forever yesterday.  He never said exactly what happened but just made a lot of babble about how he isn’t like this and respects women blah fucking blah.  I was so overwhelmed.  Not only did he put me in that position but he didn’t even allow me the opportunity to deal with this the way I wanted to.  This was all knocking the wind out of me. 

After a couple of conversations with my boss on site and a phone call with my boss in the office they insist I go home and wait to hear from HR.  I went in to speak with HR the following day and was told as of yesterday morning the guy no longer worked for the company.  They have a zero tolerance policy for this kind of thing and they let him go.  Every single person I dealt with pertaining to this situation was more amazing then I could have expected.  I just can’t even put to words how appreciative I am for everything they have said and done through this whole situation. 

I guess to conclude this post I will say that whether you are a man or woman never allow anyone to make you feel uncomfortable or take advantage of you.  You know what is inappropriate behavior and unfortunately once in a while there will be someone who just doesn’t care.  And please use my story as an example…even the most innocent seeming behavior, which you can make into some of the funniest jokes, should not be taken lightly if they seem a little strange.  You need to look out for yourself first and these days there are laws out there to protect you and companies take this extremely seriously.  You should never be afraid to speak up and if speaking to a superior is too scary or intimidating find someone you can confide in who can be your support.  This way you’re not alone and you have a person in your corner. 

I pray to god no one I know or anyone reading this ever has an experience like this but I can only hope that having heard my story you walk away a little more aware and in tune with this behavior and you can potentially handle or recognize a similar situation with yourself or someone else before it gets to this point.

I know this post is the furthest thing from dating but it deals greatly with the male-female relationship and I felt it was important I write about it.  I hope you agree.  Also, I promise to post about two much more enjoyable topics starting tomorrow.

2 comments:

  1. Wow. What a post. That is some serious stuff. First of all, I think you handled yourself very well. Congrats on staying strong.

    Second, I'm surprised that the guy actually fessed up to what he did to your boss. I can see how that could be frustrating because it took the control away from you. But in some ways it probably made it easier for you as well. You didn't have to decide what the right thing to do was. He did the right thing. While in no way defending him or his actions, at least he did an honorable thing.

    But still, it must be hard for you. I had an experience happen at work - when I was very young and just a summer internt at a hospital while in college - where a guy was harrassing me very badly. In fact, someone else saw it happen and broughg it to the attention of my boss. Thank God - I was a receptionist working alone in a new building without a panic button and the guy who was someone delivering things to the building was harrassing me for a date over and over again telling me that I "owed it" to him for being nice and flirting with him when he came to the building (I'm pretty sure I had just been polite and smiled and had also politely declined dates with him on the previous times he had asked me out). But this time he was aggressive and physically towering over me and wouldn't leave depsite me being very blunt and telling him to leave me alone.

    Everyone dealt with the situation quickly and professionally. But I hated the fact that I had been part of such a "problem." That everyone knew what had happened. That from that day on I was not allowed to wear my own clothes (not that they were in any way revealing) but had to wear hospital scrubs. That I should try to be less "cute and smiley." That I was no longer allowed to work at reception (which actually ended up as a good thing because I got a more interesting job out of it).

    But it totally sucks that some man can ruin things for you or change your life. I think that every woman at some point feels discrimanted against or harrassed for being a woman. In both our cases, as you pointed out we were "lucky." But we were both still affected and I can't help but think about those other women who were not so "lucky" and how they were affected.

    And it's great that you are so strong!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

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  2. Thank you for sharing as well!! Its really astounding how this still happens as much as it does in this day and age. I feel for every person who has ever had an experience like this. You never really know just how much it can affect you until you've been tossed into it yourself.

    While I know this will never go away, I pray that any woman or even man who may find themselves in this type of situation remains strong enough to stand up, speak up and not allow someone else to take advantage of them.

    I truly appreciate you posting your story here as well. Hopefully our stories will make a difference for even just one person.

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