My flight to San Francisco was delayed several hours and I contentedly sat in my seat in the airport, charging my phone, and checking off my “to do” list while we waited. I’m always happy to get something done.
The man next to me talked loudly on his cell phone. I’m from San Francisco, so I am used to overhearing the best and strangest conversations. I smiled to myself, entertained, until I heard him say to the person on the other line: “I think I’ll get a hooker tonight. And I hope she only has two teeth (you know, to avoid the biting.) Or maybe I’ll knock out the rest too.”
All I can say is that my whole body clenched. I imagined my own teeth being knocked out and flinched. I imagined her teeth knocked out. I imagined the countless women whose teeth have ever been knocked out. My stomach churned, furious that I needed to sit here and listen to this.
I rolled my eyes a few times and gave him a look, but my angle was off. I turned to the woman next to me to gauge my obnoxious-tolerance level. Hers was triggered too. I wanted to say something to him. I texted my friend who was waiting to pick me up once I got into SFO. “I want to say something to him, but all I can think of is ‘You’re disgusting.'” Her response was “say fuck you.” Then no, report him. But I didn’t want to move and lose my seat. And I knew neither of those things would produce the end-result I wanted: a listening heart, a recognition of my own humanity as a woman.
So, heart totally stuck in my throat, throbbing red and fast through my whole body, I looked at the back of his head and contemplated how I would feel about myself if I simply let it go, and slunk away. I could rationalize and figure a way to forgive myself. I was being too sensitive anyway. I would say something next time.
But I decided I wanted to be a stronger person, a more direct person. So, heart thumping at this point I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “I think next time you decide to talk about hookers in an airport you should think of those around you.”
He turned bright red. He was embarrassed. I was embarrassed. If not a little amused at his face. “I’m so sorry,” he stammered. “I tried to say it quietly. It was a joke.” Locker room talk. We’ve heard it before, especially this year. And though no matter who was around him or how I phrased it or the fact that he should never speak or think like this no matter where he is, I was still glad I said something. We both sat in the raw nerve that hovered around us.
But maybe next time he’ll think twice. Maybe someone else won’t have to listen to the violence I listened to. And regardless of the outcome, I took a stand. I could walk away and feel strong in my body, proud of my courage. I walked down the aisle of the plane and I felt my heart drop back down into my chest, my stomach, grounded in my feet. I was able to return to myself.
I am in awe of this voice, that has returned me to my feet.