Thursday was a day that will live in infamy, even though it happened 71 years and 5 months later and Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn’t around to DECLARE it a day that would live in infamy. But it was.
You have to understand. I expect a certain amount of scorched-earth holiday shenanigans at my cousin K.’s house. She’s fabulous, but her husband’s family distinguishes itself with its love of vicious purebred Akitas and phrases like “impactful leadership style.” Last year, when I dripped a little coffee on the living room rug, one of them asked me, “Do you know how much that rug cost?”
“Well, no,” I replied.
“More than you make in a year,” he said.
So, yeah! I was ready for anything when I walked in the door, except for what I saw: My 26-year-old relative, Daniel, happily injecting a vial of testosterone at the Crate & Barrel’ed-out kitchen table. This is dick move #2,749 on Dan’s part, coming, as it does, after three arrests and a $60,000 stint in rehab and that’s just the shit we know about. This a person who should not (is not allowed to, according to the great state of Arizona) drink or use drugs, but there he was, tapping a vial of T right in front of our parents on Thanksgiving Day. Mine, appalled, left the room . His pretended nothing was afoot. Their older son died years ago; Danny is all they have left. My cousin K. would walk over fire and broken glass for this child; would turn herself inside out for him. She has. His legal bills read like the defense budget. She’s talked herself hoarse; cried herself dry.
“The fuck, little buddy?” I asked when the adults were out of earshot.
“I’m seeing a nature-o-path,” he said. “Gonna trim off that last layer of fat! Also, he’s got me on some amphetamines and HGH. I have a boner all the time! I have to” (here he tried to shoot me an impish grin but succeeded only in looking demented) “park the car in the garage constantly, if you know what I mean.”
“Um,” I said. Fought an unbidden image of changing his diaper 25 years ago.
“LET’S GO TO THE GYM!” he suggested, so we did. After 90 minutes of stair-stepping, I went out to the pool to find Dan. He had three women sort of cornered in the hot tub, talking at them hard and fast. I recognized the expressions on their faces: This guy is making us uncomfortable. We wish he’d go away.
I walked up and telegraphed them with my eyes: Sorry. He’s annoying, but not dangerous.
They telegraphed back: He’s with you?
Yeah, I replied silently. I got him. I’ll be taking this male gazer with me.
We were hardly in the car before he was rhapsodizing about two of the women. “They’re mother and daughter; can you believe that?” he asked. “I could have done ’em both, right there in the hot tub. The daughter was into it, you could tell. She wanted to motorboard me.”
“I think she just wanted to enjoy the hot tub,” I said. “With her mother. On Thanksgiving.”
Then I stopped, because I remembered: Some people are always spoiling for a fight. They’re like Devil’s Snare; you just have to go limp. Don’t struggle. Don’t betray by word or action that they’re getting to you. Don’t say, “I hate the way you treat women” to such a person, because he’ll reply, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and you’ll say, “Yeah, you do — women are people, not targets and receptacles,” and he’ll say, “She wouldn’t be wearing that bathing suit in public if she didn’t want it,” and then you’ll say “RAPE CULTURE, ASSHOLE” and then dinner is ruined and all you’ve done is sweat up your nice silk cardigan.
He did it again at the grocery store on the way home: Saw a woman, approached her, spoke to her uninvited and unwelcome and refused to read her Go away, creep signals. Then he picked her apart: “Great ass but weird nose. She doesn’t need that cake, either. Hey, check out the picture of this chick on my phone. Would you do her? She knows how to spread her legs.” Grotesquely, he moved his own thighs apart.
“No idea,” I said. “I don’t know her as a person. I don’t know if she’s funny or smart or kind; I don’t know if we’d get each other. And looking at her photo makes me sad.”
Because, I thought, looking at the girl’s mechanical fishlipped selfie sexpot death stare, this pic is a performance. It isn’t desire or joy, it’s thinly-veiled contempt. It’s what she thinks you want, and you’re what she thinks she wants, or at least she wants you to want her because that’s what she thinks she’s supposed to want; what gives her value as a human being, because she doesn’t know any better. She’s never felt her own desire, and in a pornsick world, never will. She can only see herself through the eyes of a guy like you. It’s the only power she thinks she’s got, and that’s shitty, therefore looking at her photo makes me sad.
“It just does,” I said.
“Hey, did you hear what happened to my mom?” he asked, slugging his container of Muscle Milk. “She got robbed by three guys in a parking garage. They snuck up on her and hit her in the face, but she set the car alarm off and they ran away.”
That was his version. My cousin K’s, which I heard after dinner, went like this:
“I knew something was wrong. They were looking at me and then they were following me; they wanted something. I ran as fast as I could but there were three of them. I decided that I wasn’t going to let them get me in the car. If I was going to die, I was going to die on the floor of that garage, not out in the desert, so at least you all would know what happened to me. I thought about Daniel. And I took my keys and shoved them down my pants, and when the men caught me I pretended I’d lost them. One of them hit me in the face; he chipped my tooth. Another one knocked me down. I reached into my pants; hit the panic button on my key ring and the alarm went off. They ran away. I gave the police a false name; I don’t know why. Maybe I thought they might come back. They might find me again.”
That’s just it, yes? A man approaches you, uninvited and unwelcome; it doesn’t feel right. He wants something that’s yours that you don’t want to give him — your car, your body, your attention. It is merely a matter of scale. The continuum starts at “annoying pain in the ass” and ends at “serial rapist;” you better figure out which one so you’ll know whether to unlock your car door and drive away or shove your keys down your pants and run like hell. He might leave you alone; he might find you again. All you know is, he’s some woman’s son.