Friday, June 10, 2016

The Time I said No by Felice Stevens


It was the summer of 1982 and I'd just graduated college. My best friend and I had planned and saved for years to go wander through Europe and Israel; we'd stay with her relatives in London and my friend in Jerusalem. We left at the end of June and planned to come home in mid-August.

It was the trip of a lifetime for us middle class, public school kids; first time out of the country for me and I was so excited. We were going to London then Paris, take the Eurail to Venice, Florence and Rome, then a ferry from Brindisi, Italy to Athens, Greece then Israel.

I was heading to law school and she to medical school. We knew our paths would be long and difficult and we wanted to have the best summer ever. The trip of a lifetime.

We arrived in Athens, checked into the hostel and immediately set out for the sights. This city was a treasure trove. I couldn't get enough of the Parthenon, the Acroplis...EVERYTHING. It was Greece. I was a huge Mary Stewart fan and read every book she wrote, loving the ones she set in Greece. She wrote about the places I was now in the midst of. I couldn't believe it.

We ended up in a little cafe where I was persuaded to try my first taste of grape leaves, (not a fan) and some ouzo. Later, we went to a club and were surrounded by so many gorgeous Greek men, who were happy to pay attention to "the girls from NY." It turns out, they told us, that young Greek women weren't allowed on the streets without a chaperone and they rarely came to the clubs. Were they telling us the truth? What did we know? This was the days before the internet, cellphones...anything. We had Frommers and that was it. It was pre-9/11. We thought we were safe...invincible.

I still remember the song playing in the club was Sailing by Christopher Cross. A young, good-looking guy named Stelios ( I can't believe I remember his name) asked me to dance and his friend, John, asked my friend. We spent the rest of the evening dancing and drinking with them. At midnight, they asked if we wanted to go on a motorbike ride to the center of the city and look at the stars. We figured it would be an adventure and said sure, although I had never been on a motorbike and was scared to death.

The wind rushed through my hair and scared but laughing, I held onto Stelios's waist. After about fifteen minutes, we arrived at a park and his friend walked off with my girlfriend and Stelios took my hand and we walked into the park and sat down against a tree. He told me how he wanted to come to America and see the sights; The Empire State Building, the Grand Canyon, Disney World. "Everything!" he said his teeth glinting in the moonlight. "And meet beautiful girls, but none as beautiful as you."

I rolled my eyes, but, hey, I was 21 and a gorgeous guy wanted to kiss me in the moonlight; I wasn't about to say no. Trip of a lifetime, after all. The kisses turned a bit more forceful and he told me to enjoy it. I wasn't enjoying it. I asked him to please stop.

He laughed at me. Said I was a tease; that everyone knew New York girls liked sex. "After all, you came here with me. You wanted it."

I pulled away from him but he grabbed me and held me tighter. He was, obviously, much stronger than I was. I tasted fear; my eyes filled with tears and I kept asking him to take me back to the city, but he said, "No. You leave when I say so."

I looked around for my friend but I didn't see her. (Unbeknownst to me, she had left after a little while; the guy she was with took a cab back to town with her and saw her back to the hostel. He assured her Stelios would bring me home safely. She told me when she saw us kiss, she figured I was okay.) 

In my life, I'd never felt so alone; I was in a park in Athens at almost 1 in the morning with a strange man. I didn't speak the language and I had no idea how to get back to my friend. He grabbed me and pushed me down and pulled at my shirt. I kicked at him, anywhere I could and tore away from his grip, scrambling to my feet and running to the street. A cab was at the curb, the driver sat smoking a smelly, unfiltered cigarette out of the window. I wrenched open the door and slammed it shut behind me. 

"How many drachmas to get back to.." I gave him the name of the hostel. He took off through the street and I thought I was safe, until I looked behind me and saw Stelios on his motor bike, following us. "Please," I asked the cabbie."I need to get rid of him." I jerked my thumb to the back window.

"Okay." With a screech of tires, he took off and with a sigh of relief, I watched the angry face of Stelios recede in the background, as we increased speed. I arrived back at the hostel, where my friend was waiting at the window for me.

That was 34 years ago and I still remember it vividly—the cab ride, Stelios yelling after me in the cab as it pulled away, my pounding heart. I don't think I slept the rest of the two days we spent in Athens; I was afraid Stelios would come after me, find me. I only kept thinking, what if I hadn't gotten away? What if he hit me, knocked me out and raped me? What would I do? It was my fault, I thought. I shouldn't have flirted with him, danced with him, drank with him. I was wrong to take a ride with him, to kiss him. After all, what did I expect? 

I've never spoken of this since; because I was ashamed and embarrassed by my own stupidity. In light of the Stanford rape case, though maybe it was time. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. It doesn't discriminate by age, race or religion. When my daughter graduated high school and she and her friends went to Europe, I agonized that everything would be all right. Five young women traipsing through Europe-a recipe for disaster, It all turned out well, and they were able to send us daily photos of all of them, but I think I got grayer until she came home.

When she went to college I taught her to be aware, to walk in groups and never accept a drink from anyone. She thought she knew everything; after all, she was a kid from NYC. She had street smarts. But she saw things that shocked and upset her and she couldn't control. She assured me she was careful. But for four years I worried.

I know this was a long, rambling post, having nothing to do with books and I'm sorry. I thank you for sticking with me. As this past week has taught us, nothing really has changed much since 1982, when I was that frightened 21 year old running from an angry man I said no to. Judges, defense attorneys and rapists tear the victim apart in hopes of "breaking her." Blaming the victim remains the way to defend a rapist. Woman still wonder if they did anything wrong.

 And that may be the saddest story of all.


29 comments:

  1. Eleanor OllilaFriday, June 10, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can't believe how hard it is for some people to respect the word "no". I'm glad you got away <3

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    1. <3 Thank you, Eleanor. It seems like an easy word to understand doens't it?

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  2. Thank you for sharing your story! I'm sending you a big hug!! I'm the mother of six sons. I told them when they were young, before they started to date, that no means no! I didn't care if he was about to penatrate & the girl or boy says no, you stop! If you have penatrated & they say no, you stop, get up, get dressed, console, and leave! You do not try to get them to change their minds or continue!!

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    1. <3 Six sons!! You deserve a medal. And you are exactly right

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  3. Powerful and scary, Felice. I think the guilt women feel because they got themselves into these situations is saddening. I've pushed things further than I should and came to my senses and stopped. And I'm thankful that the men I was with were respectful and listened. What happened to you and what happened to that poor girl at Stanford can happen to any of us. No, means no. Even if maybe you wait a little longer than you wanted to say it.

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    1. <3 Thanks. By no means do I equate my situation to hers. Its just scary to think what might have been. And how it happens every day still

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  4. Thanks for sharing Felice. And kudos to you for great parenting. It's amazing how mamy people don't understand no means no. Doesn't matter what preceded the "no"! Humans are intelligent, so what is it that makes so many not understand a simple word. Men of the world, you can do better. And dare I say parents of the world can do better in raising their kids.

    Like you, I put myself in some scary situations when I was younger, without thinking so at the time. Luckily I was never forced upon. There is something to be said for keeping one's self safe, but we also shouldn't feel the need to blame ourselves for the despicable actions of others.

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    1. <3 Thanks. Yes. It was a different time back then, but sadly not that different. And parents can do so much better. I am proud of both of my kids, my daughter for being strong and my son for respecting the women around him

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  5. I can't believe reading this I recalled traveling to Spain with my high school class and a group of boys (men?) calling to me as I walked down the street. I wandered up to them and one of them pulled me close, said hello and kissed me with his tongue in my mouth. I pushed him away and they laughed, saying they knew all American girls were easy. I was 17 years old.

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    1. <3 <3 Yes- Exactly. Im glad you weren't hurt

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  6. Sorry, I have to write this in spanish:
    Como chica joven en los años 80 en España (país muy similar en costumbres a Grecia) tengo que decir que efectivamente, ese era el modo de pensar de los hombres en aquella época. Y tristemente, tengo que seguir diciendo que ES la manera de pensar de los hombres AHORA. Nada ha cambiado, es descorazonador. Puedo recordar a mi madre diciéndome que no usara "esa" ropa, o hablara así con los chicos, o les dejara besarme porque los chicos siempre pensaban que las chicas que se dejaban besar, abrazar, etc, eran todas putas. Y yo no lo entendía, y quería darles el beneficio de la duda, no podía creer que gente de mi edad pudiera pensar así solamente por ser hombres. Afortunadamente yo no tengo ningún incidente terrorífico que contar, pero no me di cuenta hasta mucho más tarde en mi vida de lo bien que me protegí. Un día, cuando ya vivía en un pequeño pueblo y no en Madrid, hablando con mis hijos de cómo se protegía una chica jóven en los años 80 (nunca ir sola, caminar por calles iluminadas, gritar si veías a alguien sospechoso, llevar las llaves de casa en la mano preparadas para herir a alguien en la cara si te atacaban)ellos me miraron asombrados y me dijeron "¡Pero entonces ibas como una ninja por la calle!" y yo les contesté, "era lo normal, todas las chicas lo sabíamos, era un manual básico de instrucciones para protegerse." Es triste que ahora les diga a mis hijas exactamente las mismas instrucciones...
    Mari Cruz la Crucis

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    1. oh, and thank for sharing your story!(my post is about to grown in Spain as a young girl at 80's, trying to understand why men/boys were like pigs and girls had to protect ourselves and our reputation Sadly, after 2 open-minded decades, we are returning to this dirty thought: all the girls are searching for rape. Agghh, it makes me mad.

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  7. Thank you Felice for this, I know it had to take courage to post your story. My youngest daughter had a simular experience with one of her college friends. To this day she has trust issues with men. Its a sad our nation still has yet to right.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your story, Felice, but so very sorry that you went through this.

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  9. Thank you for sharing your story, Felice. It is important you do. I will never accept your apology for the posting it.Because you did nothing wrong to make it happen.Not one thing.

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    1. <3 <3 Thanks, Joan. I appreciate that.

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  10. Thank you for sharing your story, Felice. It is important you do. I will never accept your apology for the posting it.Because you did nothing wrong to make it happen.Not one thing.

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  11. Oh Felice thank you for sharing what must gave been an horrific ordeal for you.... you did nothing wrong.... just saying.

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  12. Oh Felice thank you for sharing what must gave been an horrific ordeal for you.... you did nothing wrong.... just saying.

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  13. Thank you for sharing. It so sad that so many people suffer such fear and indignity, whether it be from strangers , friends, or casual acquaintances. The fear is debilitating, but I think worse than that is the way others treat you, whether from disbelief or just from an inability to know what to say. Even so, allow people to get away with these things is like a silent acceptance, which is absolutely unacceptable, so again, thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. Thanks, Kylia! <3 i appreciate it and you're right

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  14. It is scary, that noting is changing. We are talking, but we aren't listening.
    You can have fun, you are allowed to drink, to dance, to kiss, if you feel: No, thank you, but no, the meaning is clear. And if a woman (or a man) has lost the ability to decide, if she wants that or not, your mind should say loud and clear no.
    Thank you, Felice ♡♡♡

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    1. Thank you , Sabine!! <3 <3 You are ao right

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  15. Thank you for sharing your story, Felice. One of the most powerful thing parents can teach their daughter is the power to say no and feel no sense of guilt or remorse.

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  16. Thank you for sharing that. I'm sorry that you had to go through that. So scary.

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