Anonymous Story: A Story of a Bus

Anonymous Story: A Story of a Bus

You feel it start in your gut — deep inside your stomach. You have to shut your eyes as the tingling begins again. First, you feel it in your fingers. It snakes up your arms, then through your breasts before traveling down your legs. You feel it in your most intimate parts.
You shudder. You clench your fingers. You pull your arms tightly against your sides. You can still feel the path his hands took, even on your best days. You feel him everywhere. You roll your shoulders, scratch your head, your neck, your knees, your back. You can’t stop the discomfort that overtakes your body every so often. It’s just something that is.

———-

On October 6th, I got on a Greyhound bus. I was really sad that day.
I had purchased a black Moleskine journal with a soft leather cover earlier that week. I ran my fingers over it many times that morning, using the texture to calm my nerves as I fluttered around my New York apartment, mindlessly packing various clothes in my navy Vera Bradley. I collected all my black clothing — dress pants, leggings, dress tops, tank tops, and dresses. I had no idea what I would need. What does one wear to a seventeen-year-old boy’s funeral? I settled on a black sundress with white trim from Anthropologie and yellow heels. It was warm for October, and the dress with a simple levi’s denim jacket would suffice. That jacket was one of my favorite pieces of clothing. It belonged to my dad before I started wearing it, the wide arms and spacious middle shielding me from the outside world, protecting me from any unseen dangers I might encounter.
I was about to leave for Port Authority Bus Station, where I would get on a bus to Wilmington, Delaware. From there, my mother would pick me up, and take me and my sister to my alma mater for the funeral of a schoolmate. I began drawing in my Bullet Journal, the trendy D.I.Y. Moleskine planner my roommate had recently introduced to me, in hopes of calming my nerves. I had decided to give it a try after hearing about my schoolmate’s hospitalization, right before his death. The day I heard about his accident, I felt like I was choking. The feeling stuck, leaving me gasping for air for the days to follow. I didn’t even know him that well, but he was a fellow student, a teenager, that I knew, that died. The stress from the past few days seemed to flow through the pen in my hand right onto the paper. I sketched the front of a greeting card I had purchased with the Moleskine. The word Hello was written in large, loopy cursive, surrounded by a ring of various flowers in various stages of bloom. It looked warm and welcoming, the exact opposite of how I was feeling in those moments. This sketch is on the second page of my journal, right after the High School Prayer I had copied onto the previous page. I look at it almost every day. Finally it was time to gather my bags, my books, my jacket, and begin the trek to the bus station almost directly uptown from my apartment. I hugged my friends goodbye, and left my building as though I was leaving for battle.
The ‘journey’ was challenging. I hadn’t used the metro more than a handful of times at that point, and had certainly never taken it uptown, or with baggage. People were unforgiving, complaining as I ran into them with my backpack, or hit them with my swinging purse. I dropped things, I went the wrong way, I entered the Subway three times before arriving at the correct platform. Then I walked. It was only a few blocks, but I felt burdened by the weight of my bags, the height of my heels, and the sweat pooling in my jacket. The building looked nothing like I thought it would. It was huge, and the first floor seemed more like a lemonade stand than a massive transportation hub. I sheepishly asked the woman for my gate number, too tired to find it on my own. She directed me to a large screen, which did not list my bus. I found a nicer worker on the lower level who escorted me to my destination. Even after he dropped me off, I still questioned if I was in the correct spot. It was my first time taking a bus in the States, and I didn’t realize that they made multiple stops, just like a local bus. The people waiting for this one didn’t look familiar. They didn’t look like they were on their way to a boy’s funeral. I kept trying to steal glances at the tickets in line with me. They were for places up and down the east coast..I can’t really remember the various destinations. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about that detail. Just when I was about to get out of line, the bus workers to load. One scanned my printed ticket, keeping it rather than handing it back to me — something different from a plane or a train.
As I stepped up onto the bus, my eyes scanned for an empty row. I don’t like sitting with people — it calls for awkward conversation and courteous behavior. I would much rather sit alone, at peace with my thoughts. I found a seat towards the back without anyone sitting nearby. I sat by the window and placed my backpack on the seat next to me, hoping I wouldn’t have to move it. Sure enough, a young man came along and smiled down at me from behind his glasses. Begrudgingly, I slid my bag between my legs, draped my jacket over my lap and shifted to face my neighbour. We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, traded itineraries. He was very friendly, smiled often, and seemed interesting. He told me about his previous experiences with the buses in America. He had taken them many times before, and has seen a lot of the country by traveling this way– either on a Greyhound, or a competing company, depending on the associated costs. We really didn’t extend the conversation any farther than that. As our voices died down, the bus left my city and I settled in with a friends borrowed book, When Breath Becomes Air. I drifted off to the rhythmic movement of the bus before I could finish a page.
After some time I felt a warmth spread through my still sleepy body, almost a tingling that echoed through me. I felt something soft brushing against my arm, right above my elbow. It would gently rub back and forth in quick motions, slowly and carefully moving farther and farther up my arm each time. Eventually, I felt it move along the underside of my arm, against my side and along the front of my thin, lacy bra. That’s when I realized what was moving along the right side of my body. It was my neighbor’s hand. I was suddenly aware of his other hand delicately holding mine in his lap, stretching my arm away from my body. The alarm bells started going off in my head and I began to panic silently. I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn’t. I felt frozen in that moment. I still do. He slipped his hand into my bra and roughly fondled me. After a few moments he found his target. I felt his finger circle around it for what felt like ages before roughly pinching it, sending a sharp chill up my spine. Still, I could not muster the courage to move. His gentle touch terrified me in a way sheer violence never has. His touch lingered forever as I tried to stay calm. He slipped his fingers back over my bra, leaving my breast bulging uncomfortably over the top of the cup, and began rubbing his hand along my side, then my upper arm, then back down to my elbow. For a moment, I thought he was done. Then I felt his fingers trail over my dress, which he bunched up around my thighs.
His arm slipped under the denim jacket I had so carelessly draped over my legs, and began to methodically rub along my thigh. His touch reminded me of that of a snake– methodical, calculating, slow. Consistent. I tried to shift away from him while appearing to be asleep, my body finally starting to react. As I began to roll away from him, I felt his left hand tightly grip my inner thigh, prying my legs far apart. Although he wasn’t holding my hand anymore, I could still feel it draped over his lap, his denim warm on my wrist. His hold on my leg was strong, his fingers wrapped right above my knee, keeping me from moving. My mind started going fuzzy, the panic becoming too much. My toes started tingling, and I couldn’t feel my legs. Looking back, I think my mind was trying to protect me in the only way it could. The numbness didn’t last long though, and soon enough I felt his hand wiggling into my underwear all the way up to his wrist. He wrapped his hand around me, his fingers spread so he could touch both my legs at the same time while his middle fingers rubbed inside. I felt another chill go through my body. I needed to react. He needed to know this wasn’t okay. I didn’t say yes– I wasn’t capable of saying no.
I felt something surge through my heart as his fingers continued to explore, and I was finally able to open my eyes. I stared down at his arm as it quickly slithered away from my dress before meeting his stare. His dark eyes filled with the panic that had been echoing through my body for the past eternity. I returned his glare forcefully. I was furious. “What do you think you’re doing? Do you really think this is okay? How dare you. How dare you. How dare you.” I kept repeating it in a whisper, his mouth opening and closing again and again. “I’m sorry..I’m so sorry..sorry. Sorry.” I had no idea what to do. I felt what he was doing. That entire time I could feel every single thing he did, yet I couldn’t stop it. I was completely and utterly frozen. “You need to move. Right now.” He pleaded with me, “I’ll get off at the next stop. I promise. I’m sorry.” Eventually he got up, used the bathroom, collected his things, and moved to the seat directly in front of me.
For a moment, I just sat there in shock. I didn’t fully understand what had just happened. I knew what he did was wrong, I knew it wasn’t ‘allowed,’ but I had no idea what I could do about it. This was the real world — there weren’t any teachers to tell. Hell, there wasn’t even anywhere to go. I was sitting on a Greyhound bus, on a busy highway, all by myself somewhere between NYC and Wilmington. I did the only thing I could think of — I googled. There wasn’t much there, so I texted my roommate. She called me immediately. “You need to tell someone.”
I felt like I was going to pass out as I wobbled up to the front of the bus. My legs felt strange. I knew I was a mess. When I reached the driver, he yelled at me to get behind the ‘yellow line.’ I begged for him to let me move forward, saying that I needed to talk to him. By this point I could feel the knot forming in my throat. He kept insisting I raise my voice and speak up so he could hear me from my current spot. Telling him what happened would mean telling everyone around me. They would all know the shameful thing that was just done to me. They would all know how his fingers explored my sleeping body without permission. How would I even phrase something like that? Mustering up what courage I had, I crouched down so my face was against the clear wall separating the driver from any danger that may in the back of his bus. “I fell asleep and I woke up with the man next to me’s fingers inside me.” Silence. I waited for his reaction, any reaction. Finally, the woman sitting in the first row gasped and ushered me to sit down next to her. She asked if I was hurt, or if I needed anything. I suddenly felt safe with this stranger. Her investment in my well being helped me stay together in a moment when I needed to the most. “What do you want to do?” the bus driver asked roughly. We were already being schedule, and he knew this would take time. “What can I do?” “We can report it…if you want.” “Okay.” He sighed, whipped out his phone, and died the number. He relayed my narrative to the operator on the other end of the call before pulling over. “They’re sending officers now.”
We sat forever. I had gotten my bag from the back of the bus and took a picture of my perpetrator on my way back to the front. Just in case the police need it. For the most part, the bus was silent. I felt like everyone knew what had happened. At one point, a man in his early 20’s came up to the bus driver and demanded to know what was going on. “We are already running late. Some of us have places we have to be.” The bus driver didn’t respond. Clearly, not everyone knew what was going on.
The sirens sounded, the lights flashed. The men in blue escorted me off the bus, listened to me tell this story, then led me back onto the bus to identify the man who hurt me in such an intimate way. They handcuffed his hands behind his back, grabbed his bag and roughly pulled him off the bus. There were gasps from all around us. People started recording on their phones. I just stood there, feeling somewhat useless in the whole process. I gathered my bags, my books, my jacket, and began moving off the bus towards the police vehicle parked nearby. I called my mom, told her to meet us at the station in northern New Jersey, and prepared myself for the long night to come.
This was just the beginning.
Today is April 5th. I can still picture my parents faces when they picked me up. I can still remember falling asleep in my Anthropologie dress, incapable of doing anything but falling into bed. I can still remember waking up with my mom next to me, screaming for her to get out, to stop touching me. At first, I felt okay. Then, I felt uncomfortable. By the time I returned to New York the next day I felt like I was dying. I never got to attend the funeral.
The girl I am now is a shattered version of the one she once was. She doesn’t know how to control the emotions flowing through her body, nor does she know how to get out of bed in the morning. She can’t fall asleep at night and she can’t walk outside at night without holding someone’s hand. She takes medicine to fight against the monster inside her, making her feel physically ill all day. She has no idea how to live for more than a day at a time, and even that is sometimes too much. She is forever changed because of October 6th, yet no one seems to be paying the price except her.

Author

WYR

WYR

When You're Ready.org is a community for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories.

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