Yes men. I know “Not all guys are like that”.
I’m friends with a majority of men and have been my whole life. For that, I was constantly referred to as a lesbian (as if it were an insult) or a man. I asked once why they tried to use this against me. Apparently I was not a woman if I did not have many “feminine qualities” and that either made me some “bra-burning lesbian” or a man. So they men accepted me as “one of the dudes” and we moved on.
Back then, I was alright with it. I felt included with the guys, and that’s what mattered. Feeling included. But when I got into college, I suddenly realized what this strange form of bullying had done to me. I wasn’t prepared to be sexualized when I went off to college in the city. This persona the boys from school had created kept their temptations at bay, and I had my own little safe corner from being your average female, in a way.
It was all new. Cat calls, taunts, men on the street asking “where the nearest bathroom is” and insisting I take them to it… it was so much to consume after being a part of the other side all this time.
My boyfriend at the time had been supportive of me throughout highschool, but when I started hanging out in the city, he immediately insisted I stop wearing short shorts because he didn’t like other men hitting on me, or even looking at me. His insecurities about the matter were hushed quickly by me. I’d never heard of this nonsense. It was hot outside; I wanted to wear short shorts. The end, right? Why was I some sort of prize to be possessed and locked up by someone who claimed to love me? Was that what love was? This form of objectification confused me.
It’s even worse now that I’m on a university campus. I can’t go anywhere without some man shouting and whistling out his car, stopping me on the sidewalk to tell me I look hot “as fuck”, or even harassing me for my number. Or when I’m bent over filling out an application for a tavern and the bartender won’t stop looking at my cleavage, knowing I can see him. Or when my ass is compared, by racial stereotype, to a “black woman’s booty” and then talked about as if it were a piece of savory steak. Or when a man at the bus stop, with a giant boner sticking out of his workout pants, asks IF I CAN HANDLE IT- …AND I CAN ONLY LAUGH.
NO, NOT ALL GUYS ARE LIKE THAT.
The troublesome fact is that any guys are like that at all.
Change the world with us. We’d like to have the same opportunities as you, and without being shamed or put-down or objectified. Thank you.
I was reluctant to walk down the city streets at night with a drifter I had only met once before. But sometimes the risks are worth it. That’s what I always tell myself, anyway.
He said he’d just gotten out of jail for using his brother’s licence after making a faulty left turn and crashing into a car. His friends I’d seen him with last had been everywhere from New York to California in the time he spent there, and in his loneliness, he found love in a girl consumed with her drug addiction.
At first, he said, it seemed like she loved him, but he slowly realized she could never love him more than the drugs.
So he’s alone now, trying to find a place to stay in the city before it gets cold.
We sat on the patio of my favorite local coffee shop and he asked what I’ve been up to.
I told him about my photography projects and showed him my photos. He smiled and recalled, “I used to do that. Used to sign up at a college and get the black room keycard and then refund the tuition and keep the keycard.” It was a distant memory, as if he couldn’t remember how to love it anymore. Nevertheless, he reciprocated my work with some adorable photos of his eight-year-old daughter.
I told him about my writing. He recalled when he used to write and how he doesn’t do it anymore. It was as if every word coming out of his mouth was a recollection of passions now dried up, like worms on hot concrete.
As I was telling him the plot to my newest project, he started to fade. Slouching in the seat, his eyes closed, his sleepy state almost looked painful. I raised my voice and made some awkward noise to wake him up. I mentioned how different he was acting compared to the energy I saw him with last. He replied vaguely, saying he had gotten into some bad stuff. I asked what.
"No… you’ll look at me differently…"
I stared at him dead in the eyes. ”I won’t.”
He struggled with the word before a slight murmur slipped out. ”Heroin.”
My face dropped and I said his name quietly. Shame was written on his face. This man suddenly became a boy, ready to be punished. It was… pitiful. Truly awful to see.
So I asked why.
He paused, realizing how silly it sounded now. ”She did it. I wanted to spend time with her and that was how I did it. I thought we were in it together. I left her and now she’s back with her ex because he can feed her addiction. I’m not like that… I don’t put drugs before my friends…”
"Well she’s out of the picture now, so you should stop." It was a soft command.
"It’s going to kill you."
"I’m gonna get clean. Give me two and a half weeks."
"When I see you next, you’d better be clean; or we’re going to a clinic."
He nodded sadly. In that moment, I felt like I’d known him forever. I wanted to see him energized and passionate and lusting for life, again. I had only met him twice and yet such a powerful empathy drove me to consider him an extension of myself. What did I want someone to tell me when I felt like killing myself was an adequate option? Doesn’t everyone need someone to give a shit?
"If not for yourself, do it for your daughter." You have someone to live for, even if she’s miles away with her mother… you need to be a father.
He nodded again, weakly smiling. ”Thank you… it’s nice to know someone cares.”
We stayed outside the coffee shop for a bit longer before he left for his next adventure. To where, I have no clue. But before he left, we exchanged numbers. He said, “I’ll call you when I’m clean.”
"Please don’t leave me like this."
He said it so clearly as compared to the mumbles and whimpers he blubbered over the phone. Every time it was so much clearer.
"I’m opening up… and it’s killing me.
"I swear to God I can’t take this pain.
"I’m seriously contemplating death because… I just can’t take it…"
I sat carefully sipping my coffee, death grip on the mug as an old Albanian man asked me if I was alright. I could only whisper “no”.
The phone lit up, vibrating my thigh, like his hands were still there, hanging on for dear life- begging for one more kiss, one more embrace. One of none I could spare for him anymore.
I made a mistake. I let him believe forgiving and forgetting are the same.
A guilt boiled in the pit of my stomach.
The coffee tasted of chalk.
The phone continued buzzing.
The sound, a cry for help.
But… I already did all I could. And all he deserved.
"I can’t believe you’d choose coffee over my life."
The voicemail was shaky. Panic.
What’s wrong, asked the Albanian man.
"I’m running from my problems because I can’t save a life."
Something about how sophisticated Albanian ladies don’t drop their problems on other people. Why does he care. I’m not Albanian.
I gulped more coffee, shaking. Shallow breaths.
Remembering seven months previous. A dull steak knife in my fist. Sawing against my forearm like a barbarian, trying to bleed out my internal pain.
"I want to die," I had told him.
"Do it," he had said…
If he wants to kill himself, I can’t stop him.
He never stopped me. I stopped me. My autistic little brother stopped me. My obligations to this life and the people in it stopped me. I believed I had the potential to matter, even if I didn’t matter to him.
But no matter how I told myself he didn’t deserve my attention, my affection, I wanted so bad to give it.
I loved him still.
I wanted so desperately to try to save him, again.
But I knew being a part of his life only made him dependent- deteriorating him, destroying me.
So I sat with my coffee, sobbing to myself.
The phone stopped buzzing.
Maybe it was over.
Maybe I would never know.