The explosion of women's voices coming to the fore and being heard and being believed is a necessary part of the path toward repair. Repair is needed. The rupture has gone on far too long. But there has not been a conversation on something that has not been voiced, except in terms of "No means no," and that is the mapping of the shifting boundary. The shifting boundary happens on a continuum. It is when something that was previously a "no" is now a "maybe," or something that was previously a "Yes" is now a mealy-mouthed "Maybe" because "No" seemed too harsh. It requires education and acuity on the part of any person in the exchange, be it verbal or non-verbal. This uncomfortable-ness, vulnerability, the fear of being disappointing, and shame are a theme of my book.
In this chapter, a 19-year-old woman is propositioned by her boss, and then a day later, at an optometry shop, she is asked to dinner by the optometrist as payment for two extra sets of glasses he has made for her. She feels kind of weird about how the weekend is going.
The Arc: Part One of 4a
If she were acting the vixen, she had no idea how—she was barely aware of other people as she moved through the world, fixated as she was only on the few people who mattered to her. She clearly was unaware of other people watching her—men, more so than all—and she certainly was unaware that she made any impact on them until she found herself in one of these scenarios.
She says she would rather just pay for the one she had ordered as she hasn’t budgeted for three pairs. He cajoles her into the safety of his simple kindness, and she feels obliged to accept his offer for dinner, but she tells him she would like to follow him in her own car. He replies that she could do so, but that it is only valet at the restaurant, so she reluctantly agrees to go with him in his Porsche after he promises to bring her right back to her car after dinner, or whenever she wants.
It is a gorgeous restaurant over the water and she feels self-conscious in the casual shorts, tank top, and sandals she wore. The view from that restaurant would stay with her forever, the twinkling lights out on the water and the darkness surrounding them, sitting nearly above, but not high above, so that from her seat, she feels like she is on the water herself. The lighting in the restaurant was designed for this view, soft, amber, dimmed. She orders the least expensive salad that is on the menu, but he orders several things and says they can share. She does not want to share. She wants to be nimble, not full, because something in her thinks she should not be lulled into feeling safe, and she should not be full.
He eats with gusto. He enjoys his seafood and butter. Some dribbles into his white-grey beard, a beard that makes him look not a little like Kenny Rogers. She does not feel self-conscious any longer about how she is dressed as he slurps his lobster and drips food on the white table linens as he passes his fork over to her with the jovial command in his baritone voice to “try it.”
He asks about her plans for her life and what she is doing in the Bay Area, and she tells him as little as possible. She does not owe this guy anything, she thinks, even as her actions of the evening show that somehow she thought she did. She did not have the thought process or the language to put it into terms that made sense to her then. She just knew she was uncomfortable.
What she would know in 27 years is that a 63-year-old guy who looks like Kenny Rogers (or anybody else) cajoling a 19-year-old girl to go to dinner with him as payment for two pairs of glasses that she did not order nor would have ordered, that would have cost her $120 each, that she could not afford, that he likely knew she could not afford, was a con just short of solicitation. It was certainly not an ethical transaction on his part because he knew that he expected that she pay him in a manner that would not be rape because he, in his mind, had already paid, and she, in his mind, had agreed to the terms. In her mind, though, he had foisted this transaction upon her. It made her feel like a prostitute, like he had paid for something and she needed to provide the goods, but she was angry that she had not been able to name her terms. The terms she thought she had agreed to was two pairs of ugly glasses for her company and she hoped that he would honor this tacitly made agreement.
During dinner, he carries on about how great his life is, how great his house is, and how he knows the members of the band Pure Prairie League, a matter he thought would be of some interest to her, given that her name is Amy and their big hit was a song titled, “Aimee.” Once they leave the restaurant, she expects to go to San Francisco to check out a couple of sites that she had thought about going to see, but instead of taking her back to the strip mall parking lot to his optometry shop where her car is parked, he says he is taking her to his house because he just wants to show her the view and prove that he knows the Pure Prairie League. She begins to get that feeling she knows from other scenarios—that she will just have to do this so she can be safe and go home, which was another trap door to some angsty otherworldliness, given that home was where the rancher was and “safe” was a word that definitely did not apply to her situation.
The optometrist’s house was likely designed and built in the late 70s to early 80s, with its cedar exterior weathered to a dark grey and the entry straight into a somewhat open floor plan in a sunken living room with probably white or beige carpet. She cannot tell the color because he does not turn on any lights so that she can really take in the view, but she is not taking in the view because she is trying to see what is around to grab in case he has decided to kill her. He lights a candle and brings the sleeve of the vinyl album that has a personal note written on it to him, which she pretends to look at but is instead conscious of how close he is to her and that he is standing a little bit behind her. Plus, she does not care about the Pure Prairie League, or whether he is friends with them or just a sycophant.
He opens the lid to the turntable and slips the vinyl out of its sleeve. He works the needle like every other audiophile douchebag she’s ever seen, and moves her throughout his dark house dancing, so overcome by the song and having his own Amy to dance with is he. When he leans down to kiss her, she turns her head and says she has to go, but he reminds her that it is Saturday night and she told him that the ranchers were out of town. She explains that the man is home and he had planned on moving some steer early the following morning and that she promised to be there to help, but he still asks for just one little kiss.
She knows it is not really asking when the answer is yes, regardless the answer, but she does not know this man and has no idea where she is, so she gives him one little kiss, that “Aimee” set to repeat on his modern late-80s turntable, thinking, “at least his breath isn’t bad like that cow-pie creep.” He dances her into his bedroom and begins taking down his pants and she clutches.
“What are you doing?” she asks him, as though she doesn’t know and as if it is going to make any difference.
“It’s payback time, Beautiful,” and she is sick and pissed.
She stands there as he throws back his covers, hops robustly into his bed and begins playing with himself. She stands there and thinks about where she is and where she’d go and what the outcome of this would look like if she ran out and just made a lot of noise on that dark, heavily tree-lined windy road up to his house, or ran out and simply ran, or what would happen if someone picked her up and how she would tell them about how to get to her car, how ashamed she would feel, and whether they would make her file a bullshit police report where they would ask her why she was so stupid and point out that she willingly got into some old man’s car and let him buy her an expensive dinner that she didn’t order or eat and then went willingly to his house.
Yeah, that was going to be a bullshit police report. So she lays down next to him, but not enthusiastically. She really just lay there and let him do his thing until, grunting and dripping sweat over her, he commands in that same jovial, baritone manner that he used when he commanded her to try bites of things at the restaurant, “Move your ass, baby, this ain’t no free ride.”