Unsafe People: What I Wish I Had Known
Nice is Different Than Good
When I was a kid in elementary, a piano tuner guy came over to tune our piano one afternoon and I remember my stepmother saying “Well, he sure wanted to get his hands on Elaine. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her today.” I don’t remember even talking to him —and I didn’t know exactly what my stepmother meant—but I remember feeling excited that I was “wanted” by someone.
I was desperate for attention from any parent figure at the time… there was a part of me that felt excited and a little scared to receive attention, even if I didn’t understand fully what it all meant. Looking back, I wish my stepmom or my dad had tried to explain that the piano tuner was not a safe or good guy, and that there were certain types of people to steer clear of or that if I felt creepy or weird, I should leave immediately.
It all reminds me of Sondheim’s Into the Woods. I played Little Red, and the following lyrics she sings about her encounter with the Wolf are brilliant and so true:
“And I know things now.
Many valuable things.
That I hadn’t known before.
Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood.
They will not protect you the way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers
Even flowers have their dangers
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.”
I wish we all learned this one in pre-school.
Listen to Your Gut!
When I was 14 or 15, we moved to a rental house in north Dallas while we waited to close on the next house, and so we didn’t yet know our new neighbors. I needed to practice a song for my piano lesson and my stepmom suggested that I go next door to borrow their piano for just a second.
I knocked on the door, and I felt a chill. My gut told me to turn around, but I was sort of frozen.
You should always listen to your gut!
“Hi, we just moved in next door and I was wondering if I could practice on our piano for just a minute. My stepmom met you last week and you’d mentioned you had a piano.” My voice was high and tight.
The mom said: “Sure, come on in. It’s right there in the dining room.” She went back in the other room to watch TV with her son and the dad came over and sat next to me on the piano bench just as I had started to practice my song.
My gut told me to move, but I was frozen. My hands could not stop playing the keys on the piano.
The dad slid his hand inside my shirt and then into my bra. He was cupping my bare breast, sitting next to me on the piano bench with his wife and kids in the next room. I was horrified and shocked. Luckily I was able to unfreeze myself and I jumped up and said I’d better go home.
I ran in the door crying, telling my stepmom what had happened.
She chuckled and told me I was being dramatic and to go fix her another scotch.
What I Wish I Had Known… Unsafe People
After working with assault survivors and with families of assault survivors, I’ve learned so much. Often, when a person has been assaulted, it is not the first time that they have been violated. It’s almost like predators have a special homing device… Many things worse than that happened to me later on, but that memory has always stuck out for me. Obviously, things were not always handled well in my household, but I’ve often wondered how many other times that had happened with that man.
I wish I had known about personal space and that touching by a stranger was not okay.
I wish I had known what personal boundaries were.
I wish I had known ways to get out of weird situations.
We need to keep having conversations about predators and just messed up people and that boundaries and personal space are super important, so that no one else needs to say “Wish I had known.”
Spread the word. It’s easy to get influenced by some cultural myths.
When we think of creepy, dangerous people, we think of the crazy guy who kept those women in a basement in Ohio, or of the guy in the film, Room.
But often times, the truly creepy people are the ones next door (as in my case) who seem like a nice guy. Like Bill Cosby. Predators can be charming and nice. That’s part of why they’re so dangerous.
If you get a weird feeling, trust it.
If you are not sure about a new person, you can excuse yourself to take a call.
Honor your gut.
I sure wish I had.
Have you or someone you love been assaulted? Elaine wants to talk with you. She’s hosting a very small group virtual session to discuss how to heal from a trauma like sexual assault.
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