A Desire to Speak Out
I wouldn’t say I was bullied throughout my life. But, from a young age, people were more than willing to let me know how abnormal I was.
Was it because I talked to trees? Spoke in tongues? Ran around in circles until I collapsed? No, it was none of this. People found me abnormal because I spoke my mind.
Injustice has always really bothered me, whether it was happening to me or someone else. Now, of course, it’s all the rage to speak out against it. When I was doing it for most of my life, it wasn’t in fashion. Growing up, I was a weirdo for being so impassioned.
This is the first time I’ve spoken these thoughts out loud because I tend to like to play it cool. Growing up being called abnormal by others? It hurt. I was told to act like a lady and keep my thoughts to myself. I was always asked by people, “why can’t you be normal? Why can’t you just shut up?”
I did kickline (dance team) in high school. One year, I spoke out to some teammates about an unfairness I had witnessed, I don’t even remember what it was entirely. Anyway, at the end of every year the seniors give “gag gifts” to the rest of the girls. My gag gfit? A diary, so that I could write my thoughts down instead of speaking them aloud because “nobody cared.” A room full of people laughed. Not just my peers, people who should have known better. My coach, parents of the other girls, and friends.
Thankfully, as is often the case in young adulthood, I found my tribe. I found other women like me, and men who were not intimidated by my having opinions on matters. However, society’s message of “act like a lady” stuck with me. In this case, acting like a lady means always being polite, agreeable, meek, and likeable. Don’t discuss politics or society. Agree with whatever the popular opinion happens to be. Smile, always.
So, what does this anecdote have to do with travel? This type of acquiescence, of keeping one’s mouth shut, put me in potential danger.
Driven by Hunger
My best friend (Amanda) and I traveled to St Lucia for a long weekend. The hotel and flight deal was an unreal steal, lowest price I’d ever seen. I’d always wanted to see St Lucia, and figured what better time than now! However, our hotel was in a BEAUTIFUL yet isolated part of the island – Marigot Bay. The only way to get to and from our hotel was a one minute ferry. Many of the the restaurants in the area required use of ferry or boat to get back and forth. By the way, “ferry” in this case is a very small pontoon type boat. I didn’t want anyone to have the image of us sailing to the new world on the Titanic.
One evening, we were at a loss as to where to go for dinner. We left our hotel and were met with a group of three local men sitting at a makeshift and rustic bar. “Can we get food here?” we asked hopefully. The bartender smiled and shook his head. “No, I’m sorry, we only serve beer here. However, if you wait at the end of the dock over there, there is boat service to a great place to eat. We thanked them. I’d be wrong to not mention that as we conversed, a giant flying cockroach flew into my face and landed in my hair. I panicked and screamed off the top of my lungs sending the men into confusion. It was dark out, and apparently no one saw the roach except me, so I just looked like a weirdo.
We took their suggestion and hopped on the boat to be taken to the restaurant. I enjoyed the cool breeze whipping through my hair as it had been a very warm evening. The houses and hotels along the bay were lit up, high in the hills around us. I remember being surprised that even with so much light, it was very dark on the water.
We thanked our driver, and stepped onto the VERY small island. The restaurant was entirely outdoors and small. It was rustic, but had a nice tropical vibe. It felt so exclusive as the only way to and from the place was by boat.
We were the only ones there, and being as it was low season, we presumed that maybe it was closed. We didn’t even see a worker. After looking around and being unsure of how to proceed, a very tall man came out from the kitchen. He welcomed us, seated us right along the water, and handed us menus.
Amanda and I combed the menus over. The restaurant was lit nicely with Christmas type lights of all colors and types. What a contrast to looking out to the very dark water, I couldn’t see more than a few feet out that way. The chef took our orders. I got some mussels and couldn’t wait to eat one of my favorite seafoods beside the water.
Aside from some light music, it was deadly quiet. That’s why I remember the sound so well. At first faint, but it grew louder and louder. The motor from a small boat gunning toward the restaurant. Even before we ever saw who was onboard, I remember being disturbed. The sound was raucous and didn’t fit in with the serene ambiance around us. The boat that drove us over had not been nearly as loud.
When the boat docked at the restaurant, I started to sweat profusely. Four loud and rowdy men jumped out of the boat and began yelling, stomping, and speaking French Creole very quickly and loudly. The behavior was so inappropriate for where we were. Also, most of the bay seemed to be asleep – there was no partying or celebration going on, so I Immediately dismissed the notion that they were just drunk and happy.
My heart pounded in my chest as they began yelling to us in French Creole. I looked around and realized that there was no escape from the island, we couldn’t just walk away. Everything inside of me told me to get out of there, to run into the kitchen, to hide. I have been in many a plenty precarious situation, none evoked such a primal fear inside of me. I took the butter knife given to me at the start of the meal, and tucked it under my shirt. We were two foreign girls alone on an island surrounded by strange men. I remember looking at Amanda, both of our eyes filled with terror and confusion. “Are we about to be kidnapped?” I asked quietly. Before I could hear a response, the raucous men sat at our table.
“Hello, mind if we sit here?” one asked in English. There was an empty restaurant full of tables, and they had to sit with us. Here, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark. It didn’t feel friendly, it felt imposing. It didn’t at all feel like we have an actual choice, as they stood touching our table anyway. Both of us didn’t know what to say, and didn’t want to upset the men. By now, it was obvious that one had been very drunk. “I guess so” we said.
Before any type of conversation occurred, the chef came running out and yelled in French Creole. A weight lifted off of my shoulders. The owner was going to tell these men to get lost, he was coming to protect us, and tell these men what we were too afraid to say. The scolding ensued for what felt like an hour, but was more likely a few minutes.
One of the rowdy mend spoke. “He thinks we’re bothering you. He thinks you might write a poor Tripadvisor review because we’re bothering you. He wants to know if you want us to leave.” My heart sank into my feet.
Let’s unpack that. Two young women are sitting on an isolated and desolate island, nearly in the dark, and a group of strange men invade their privacy and any semblance of safety. The owner is concerned not because of how we might feel, but because of the reputation of his business.
The fact that he even had a doubt that these men were not welcome – to me means he should have kicked them out. Instead, he stood with his arms crossed and asked right in front of everyone if we wanted them to stay or go.
Could I have said, ‘kick them out?’ I could have. But, what’s to say they wouldn’t be waiting for us after dinner and hurt us for getting them kicked out? The safest option was to say, “no, they can stay, they’re not bothering us.”
The Worst Dinner Ever
Some awkward and tense conversation ensued. What were our names? What were their names? What were we doing here? Them speaking and laughing in their language. I tried to make myself small in my seat, hoping if I tried hard enough I would shrink like Alice in Wonderland and could escape. I’m telling you that straight up, I am a weirdo magnet. If there is a weirdo anywhere, that person will find me and talk to me. One man in particular was eyeing me.
“My name is Sniper. Do you know why?” he drew his head back and looked at me cooly. I felt tears well up in my eyes. He made a gun with his fingers and said, “I don’t have any problem shooting someone. I’m good with a shot. There are plenty of people who want me dead, will try to find me, and I’ll be ready for them. My best friend was shot in that house right over there” He pointed up hill. The same hills I had been peacefully admiring only moments before. I could have fainted.
In my entire life, this was the most terrified I had ever been. I didn’t want to be fucking sititng next to someone who just admitted that there were people out to kill him, and that he had plans to kill other people. I didn’t want to be mixed up in this. I remember in that moment thinking that this is literally where I was going to die. I felt my body go hot and my vision go blurry with tears. I really thought I’d gotten mixed up in some bullshit, and was going to wind up shot in the pitch black middle of nowhere because this psycho was sitting next to me.
The guys ordered a round of beer, and our food came out. They didn’t order any – just stared at ours. Great, now I had to choke down my dinner like a prisoner being watched by a captor. I didn’t order any alcohol, I didn’t want my judgement or thinking to be impaired in any capacity.
One of the four men had wandered off, and never came back. Another one seemed different from the other two. His name was Nigel, and he began asking normal questions. Had we been to any other islands? He loved Martinique even more than St Lucia and told us all about it. He told us he worked on boats, he seemed interested in the fact that we only could speak one language, he spoke three.
I let my shoulders down. This was the weirdest fucking paradox of my life. One man, seeming so normal and nice, trying to have a genuine conversation. In the exact opposite, his friends talking about murder and vengeance killings. I feigned politeness and tried to limit my conversation to Nigel while ignoring the other two.
Eventually, I realized that I probably wouldn’t be killed or kidnapped. I tried my best to choke my dinner down and not cause any alarm. I didn’t want to give someone like Sniper a reason to hurt me in any way. I think I even laughed at some points. Mostly because this entire situation was so weird. Eventually, the check came and we wound up paying for their drinks. Shocker.
The owner called us a boat. Let me correct that, a small, fast boat to transport us back to the hotel in the complete pitch black. I was relieved to be heading back to where there was more lighting and more people AKA safety. I felt myself grow angry when the men announced that they would be riding back with us. They knew our hotel and wanted to get drinks at the bar.
You have to be fucking kidding me.
The boat ride was OK. I grew accepting of the fact that I might be killed and thrown overboard into the pitch black. Sniper had obviously been drinking, and kept repeating the same sentiments over and over. It bothered me immensely. I would rather chew hot coal than listen to him, but I acted polite. I didn’t want him to get angry and do anything stupid.
Worst Evening Drinks Ever
Considering the men knew the staff at our hotel, I thought they would leave us and hang out with them. Amanda and I ordered two drinks. Nigel stuck around, and that didn’t bother me. He was nice enough, and kept apologizing for his friends. Sniper on the other hand wouldn’t stop trying to whisper in my ear. I repeatedly said I had a boyfriend and that I wasn’t interested in his flirting. His response? That I would ‘cave in eventually.’
I didn’t even finish my drink. I couldn’t. I was so disgusted.
I told Amanda I wanted to go back to the room, and so we did. We gave a quick goodbye to Nigel and…”Sniper”.
“Well, goodnight.” I said meekly to the tallest of the trio, I forgot his name.. He crossed his arms, and I’ll never forget the death stare I received. He said not a word and stood staring at me angrily. I knew that he was angry because I had not given his friend what he wanted. I shrinked away, and he continued to stare at me before looking past me angrily.
When we got to the room, I felt relieved and sickened. Rather than consider those feelings, my own feelings, my immediate thought was to feel bad for Nigel. He had been very nice, and seemed to only want to get away from his drunken friends and hang out, he seemed normal. That’s the curse of being a woman. Constantly wondering, Am I over-reacting? Even in the face of blatant sexual harassment.
We sat on our balcony listening to music and shooting the shit. At some point, we crawled into bed and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, I felt something drop on my face, and I shot out of bed. I looked down on my sheets, and a purple dress of mine was laying in a crumpled ball. Where had it come from? It felt as if it were thrust at me. My heart pounded so loudly that I could hear it in my ears and my back was drenched with sweat. I lay in silence hearing my heartbeat, in the pitch black.
Time kept moving, and there were no other incidents. I had trouble getting back to sleep and lay staring at the ceiling afraid to move. I don’t remember how or when, but I drifted off to sleep. I held my piss in my bladder until the next morning.
That morning, Amanda and I agreed the incident was weird, but did we think it was a ghost? Not likely. We carried on with our morning ritual of getting ready and lathering up on sunscreen. We even laughed about the weird incident, crumpling the dress up and throwing it at each other. Our giggles were interrupted. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. I opened it cautiously, and it was a female employee of the hotel.
“Ma’am. Are you aware that you left your hotel room key in the door last night?” She dangled our room keys in her hand. You need to be more careful, anyone could have gotten into your room just by turning the knob.” I froze.
There was no doubt in my mind at the time that someone was in our room. The night of Sniper gate we had been sitting on the balcony with our backs turned and swore we heard rummaging in our room as if someone were behind us. Was there really anyone ever there? I’ll never know. The idea that someone came into our room, Sniper or otherwise, and of all things threw a random dress at my face is fucking ridiculous. As much of a douche as he was, I will not falsely accuse him of stooping that low. I have absolutely no proof. But, the fact that the key was in the door is what gives me chills to this day. It means that there is a possibility that he, or someone did come into our room as we slept.
So, why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t this loud mouthed girl from New York say, “Why don’t you FUCK off?” Partly, because I didn’t want to create a heated scenario where we wound up getting hurt. Second? The sad truth? Isn’t it what we just do as women? We grin, smile, and blink our eyes in the face of blatant unwanted advances, harassment, and discomfort. Society tells us that it’s far better to keep our composure than speak out. There are undoubtedly people reading this now, dismissing me as a “hysterical woman” as it is. Imagine if I had actually screamed? Shouted? Took action?
Am I saying men can’t try to flirt with and chat up women? Certainly not. But, sit at your own fucking table. Send us a drink. Or, come over and ask how we’re enjoying the evening or if we’ve heard of any good bars in town.
It’s 2020. Can we please allow women to speak freely?
Please stop telling girls that when they engage in heated discussion it is “mean” or “unbecoming” because when a boy does it, it’s brilliant and admirable. Please stop telling girls who say “no” when they are uncomfortable doing something that they are being stubborn and bitchy. Please stop telling girls not to have an opinion, especially on matters that concern their future and the future of the country and state that they live in.
Please stop equating the bravery of a girl having a voice to a castrating, shrieking, dangerous sound. Please don’t mistake passion for an inability of a girl to control her emotions. For the love of God, please stop telling young girls to be quiet. When the time comes to speak out, when it really matters, they might not find the courage to do so. And then what? I was too afraid to express my feelings in a situation that, at the time given, made me feel as though my safety was compromised.
I spoke out for most of my life because I felt that I had to – it was always within me to do so. On the night I should have spoken up and out, I didn’t. I knew better and I didn’t do it. All I kept hearing in my head was, “don’t overreact, don’t be emotional, don’t be argumentative, and don’t be impolite.”
I speak my mind more than I think I ever have nowadays. I don’t know why, but I feel like it’s my job to stand up for those who can’t find their voice. We all have a calling, maybe that’s mine. Why me? I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about me. I’m just willing to say what I feel because I stopped caring about what people thought. And as the old adage stays, “if not you, then who?”