I am sitting outside a skate park at the east end of Lyon, watching a boy on a bike try the same trick for the fourth time. He pedals up the side of a halfpipe and soars into the air, jerking his body around in an attempt at a 180. Like the last three times, he overshoots and skids across the platform.
Suddenly there is a body next to mine.
I keep my eyes fixed on the biker. He stands and shakes out his limbs, obviously gearing up for another run.
The body slides a heavy hand across my back. I flinch and rise to my feet. The body rises too. He has weak posture and an ugly smile. “You and me, baby?” I back away. He edges closer.
The biker pushes off and slides down the halfpipe, muscles tensed for a fifth run, but I have already left and I don’t see how it ends.
Granted, I saw it begin. My presence in this park—this country, this job—is the product of an extraordinary quantity of luck and privilege. Should I just be grateful?
It is 2 a.m. in Cannes and I am alone on a dark boardwalk. Well—not alone. The street, though quiet, is dotted with men. They sit in groups of three and four, on benches and curbs, drinking from small glass bottles. I hear the soft rustle of voices, the clink of glass, the hollow tap-tap of my pink H&M pumps.
The street stretches beautiful and long, two miles of moonlit eyes.
“Lost, baby?” says a figure coiled around one of the city’s iconic blue benches.
“Let me show you something, baby,” says a body hunched against the concrete seawall.
“Why so sad, baby?” says a shadow.
I walk quickly, pink heels a blur to my eyes, arms folded across my chest though it would be easier to swing them at my sides. I am chased only once (a little later in the evening, a little farther down the pier) but I run and he quits and I am fine.
I am fine. Nobody hurt me. I’m coming out of this summer (tired, bitter, afraid) completely unscathed. Should I be talking about this at all?
The sun in Provence is bright, and at first I don’t see him at all.
Then—a thin voice. “Hey, bay-bee.”
My first instinct is to laugh, a quick hard burst. What? It’s the voice of a child. I break my own rule and turn my head.
He leans against a lamp post, only barely pubescent, bony wrists tucked into the pockets of his wide-leg carpenter jeans. His forehead is spattered with acne. The flesh above his upper lip is smooth and hairless. For a moment, I feel something that verges on compassion.
But he meets my gaze, watery eyes firm, and I realize suddenly that he means it, he’s harassing me. I cede the plaza.
What point am I trying to make here, with my fancy European adventure and my lingering anger and my belated unoriginal epiphany that the world is a scary place? “Stop harassing women,” the cis white woman preaches to the world at large. “It’s wrong.” The world nods in bored assent.
Summer is over and I’m back in the U.S., in Chicago. Three friends and I are loitering near Navy Pier. Two of my friends are female; one is male. We’re all a little tired.
A man walks down the street toward us. “Beautiful,” he says, distinctly.
“Thanks,” one of my female friends mumbles, looking away.
The man stops. A beat passes. “Just one?” he says. The silence stretches on, and he steps closer. “Didn’t anybody ever teach you any fucking manners?”
Too shocked to react, I stay quiet. The others do, too. Finally, the man swears and stalks off, leaving us in heavy silence.
I win, I guess.