On Predators…and Refusing to be Prey

I went to St. Petersburg, Florida in November for a business trip. Snow was on the radar for Ohio, and 70’s and sunny was where I was headed.

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I was going to go swimming.

Once we got there, my coworkers and I were busy from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. most days. We had a great time, but I was sort of missing my alone time — my time to straighten my thoughts and regroup. We usually had a two-hour break after lunch, and I would spend that time walking by the bay, shopping in the touristy stores or rereading “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” One very hot day, I decided to hurry back to the hotel during break, throw on my bathing suit and jump in that pool. I had never seen more than one or two people there at a time, so I was really hoping I’d be the only one this time.

I opened the pool gate and stepped inside to find one middle-aged man sitting on an orange lounge chair, yapping away on the phone. I was a little bummed, but still very jazzed to swim a few laps.

I sat in a chair a few rows behind his and started getting settled. He rotated his head around and peered at me over the rim of his sunglasses, making eye contact with me. My gut did a flip and I knew something was off-kilter here. But I wasn’t going back up to that hotel room. I was going to swim, dammit.

So when he seemed preoccupied with his phone call, I disrobed and nearly sprinted to the edge of the pool and plopped in, hoping he didn’t notice. The water was bathwater-warm, and the little Florida lizards were skittering around the edge of the pool. I forgot about the man as I took a few laps and floated, eyes closed.

But the ecstasy didn’t last long. With my ears underwater, I heard his phone conversation growing louder. I stood up and heard this:

“Yeah, I got a hooker last night. Yeah, man, she was hot. I was wasted.”

Now that my alone time was officially soiled, my brain began racing.

My thoughts went like this:

“How clear is this water?”

“Why don’t I own a god damn one-piece?”

“How am I going to get out of this pool and into that towel in the shortest time possible?”

I swam over to the hot, silver ladder and on the count of three, sprung out and was in my towel in three bounds. But it wasn’t fast enough. His head craned back again and he stared at me as he told his friend, “Gotta go. Real pretty lady in a bikini I need to talk to.”

“No you FUCKING don’t,” I hissed, as angry tears welled up.

“I wasn’t talking about you,” the man said, obviously shocked that I had turned his unwelcome advance down.

There was no one else at the pool.

I furiously grabbed all of my stuff and ran back into the hotel. The sobbing started in the elevator as I called Nick.

I told him what happened and he was quiet for a minute. I knew he wished he could have some choice words with that pervert who was probably twice my age. He told me to breathe and forget about that asshole.

I didn’t stop shaking for a while after that. And the feeling of being totally and completely violated, called out and objectified hung around for the rest of the day.

I told my coworker I didn’t want to go to the pool again. Other people around me told me to travel in groups to avoid further situations like that.

But I didn’t want to travel in groups. I wanted to enjoy my alone time in Florida. And I wasn’t going to let that man take it away from me.

Two days later, I went swimming alone again. No one was there. And it felt amazing.

St. Pete Pool

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