Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I think that's the Egyptian. I've seen him here twice, at my favorite downtown coffee place, the one I stop at on the way home from meetings with my Dayjob Project partner and her team. Meetings start early and run long. I'm tired by the end, every time, but excited. Things are going so, so well. On the bike ride home I stop for coffee to balance my thrill out with my exhaustion.

I've seen him here twice now. I think that's him. He's quite distinctive. Tall, with a ridiculous, matinee idol face. Dark eyes and Rudolph Valentino lips. So nicely dressed, too. Lovely shirts, expensive belts and shoes. We met at the old club, when I'd been dancing for a couple of months. He doesn't look any different out here in the light. I wonder if I do.

"You should be called Layla," he used to tell me, and his accent reminded me of heavy perfume. "Layla means night. Not just any night, but a night in the desert, under the sky. A beautiful night. A romantic night." He really talked like this.

His fingers were always digging into my crevices, trying to creep between my thighs, or my ass cheeks, or my armpits even. Like he was going to put his hand right into me, the way you thrust your hand up in the warm guts of a freshly-killed chicken and neatly twist them out. He didn't stop when I asked him to stop. He didn't even stop when I would grab his wrists and try to force his hands off of me. He was stronger than I was, much.

He would come in in the middle of the afternoon lull when there had been no customers in the doors for an hour or more, and it was sit with him and make money or sit by myself in the dressing room and go home broke. I sat with him every time. And I didn't scream. I didn't go and get the manager. I didn't do the things that I'd tell any other girl to someone else to do if they were me. I stayed and silently fought his hands, and then I took the money and went back to the dressing room and folded and straightened all the bills and put them in my locker. I took his money, and so, I am sometimes reminded by voices in my head and commenters here, I have no right to complain.

Who's complaining? I'm just remembering. I sit here at my table with my coffee and remember. I remember everything. I remember pulling at his fingers and saying please stop, and I remember the obnoxious strength of him and the hairs on his wrist like black wires. He was a big man, with big arms. It was one of the things you would find attractive about him, if you met him somewhere.

"Baby, you're beautiful," he would say. "Your face is a doll face." And he would brush his hand across my cheeks, finger-tips jabbing lightly at the openings of my ears and eyes. "I love you so much, you know that? Run away with me, darling." Then he would laugh fondly. He had a wife. He told me he had a wife. But there was...something. Some real or imaginary problem. I don't remember, if I ever really knew. Then he would dart for my crevices again.

I took the money. I sold my right to be shocked. Some people would say it wasn't worth it, but those people put a higher price on innocence than I do. I'm not sorry I know the things I know now. I'm not sorry I know that there are people out there who will touch you even if they know you don't want to be touched, and that some of those people are attractive, well-spoken, wealthy, and nicely dressed. I always had my suspicions that this was true.

I sold my right to be angry, too, and that's OK. What I feel now isn't anger, anyway, just a great and unbridgeable distance. Such distance that I don't care if he sees me or not, if that curl of lip is recognition of me in particular, or just of the woman-shaped thing I also am, with eyes and hair and a mouth.

I don't care.

I don't care. He is just a shape. There's nothing he could say or do to me now that would matter to me at all. He could stand in front of me and block my way and I would walk right through him, because he isn't really there.


Kurt said...

Hey Grace.
I just found your blog a little while ago and have been reading avidly since.

You probably don't need anyone else to tell you that you write beautifully. write beautifully.

I don't have any specific thing to say about this blog in particular, other than it's got a great haunting feel to it.

FAU5TU5 said...

I disagree strongly with some of your commenters and some of the voices in your head.

But I'm warmed by the beauty of your Romantic Pragmatism.

You possess a rare strength.
And you share it well.

Anonymous said...

I think you still had a right to be angry. You took his money, but you were selling time and company, he thought that gave him a right to something different.

tay my said...

i think your insights due to what you know are gold; heavier than innocence and worth having. very pretty, pretty lady.

Mark for Cabernet and Chocolate said...


I do enjoy reading your blog. As I have followed along, you encourage me to stay in touch, not give up and to keep moving.

I watched Castaway the other day with Tom Hanks. After he has come back and met with his ex-fiance he thinks about being on the Island and the trouble and work it was. When it does work out exactly as one plans to keep at it and to keep going.

Keep going you are doing well!!

Mark for Cabernet and Chocolate said...

Worth a second look!

Anonymous said...

Also just found your blog and am really enjoying it. Looking forward to reading more. . . .

Kiki said...

"... there are people out there who will touch you even if they know you don't want to be touched, and that some of those people are attractive, well-spoken, and nicely dressed."

Unfortunately, most of us women find this out at some point in time or another. But you've stated it much more eloquently and with a lot less cussing then I ever have.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of a weird idea, if you think about it, that anybody would be able to tell somebody else what rights they have and don't have to their own emotions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Grace.

I've been reading some early Nabokov - this makes me think of it. Please. Continue.

If I could touch your heart and seal this wound I would do it, but I cannot. Be well.

Frank said...

I know this was such a serious post. But. The armpit bandit. That's what I was thinking. What a weirdo. For real? This guy was trying to get into your pits? I mean, belly buttons I understand. I have a weird urge to go in there and find things. Cheerios and whatnot. But what mysteries lurk in the armpit?

Anonymous said...

You know how when people have curly hair, they want straight hair, and when people want straight hair, they have curly?

Well, I have a blog, and I think I write pretty ok, but not like you, and I wish that my writing was more like yours.

This is a touching piece. No pun intended.

Heather said...

I think that I would still be angry. I might even go up to him and tell him what I think about him. I am impressed by your strength to not care. Good for you.

FAU5TU5 said...

This is when you befriend that barista and let them know that he is a wife abuser womanizer who attacked a friend and tip him or her 2 bucks every time he buys coffee there and they put something vile in it. Then just smile and watch his smug demeanor every opportunity you get.

Yeah, yeah, its petty, and not ideal karma,.. but it can be good fun too.

Anonymous said...

great piece of prose grace.

and of course, you did not lose your right to complain.
as you know, if you wanted to you could have hurt him with your shoes, your fingers in his eyes, your words could have cut him in tiny un-mendable pieces..but you didn't, you didn't have to and what good would it have done anyway?

You came away with a great piece of writing.

Adam said...

I was born Egyptian too, you know. In a former life.. not too many years ago, actually. So it was a quite the shock reading this, brings back a lot. The man you are talking about does not understand the things you are discussing here at all. The ordeal is very straight forward to him. Your objections are playfulness more than anything.

Good luck with your day job!

Anna said...

When I worked in Egypt, I once got cornered and stuck in a souk shop by a man I hardly knew. He was the brother of the owner (whom I did know) and minding the shop that day. He did to me in words (ok and a bit of hands) what yours did to you in actions. Except he wasn't trying to be playful, he was proposing marriage and he wouldn't accept "no" for an answer. It was the only time in my life I ever got a bit scared by a man (hulking, 2m tall, 2m across and hands like toilet seats). I was lucky to get out of there unharmed and un-engaged. But word got around about what he'd done and his brother and his brother's boss almost fired him over it. They did not think it was acceptable behaviour and they apologised to me the next time I was in the souk.

So for the first time since I started reading your blog, I could relate a 100% to your piece. You may think it a bit corny, but there it is. And I also think you haven't sold your right to be angry or complain. We all have that right in general and we retain it even if somebody has paid us to do something. If they cross boundaries, we have a right to be angry at them and we sure as hell have a right to complain afterwards. No amount of money can take that away. Because no amount of money can make feelings go away and feelings are, as shrinks all over the world teach us (and I think they're right) never right or wrong, they just are and they have a right to exist in us and be felt.



Anonymous said...

Grace, the issue isn't whether you have a right to feel used and yet take his money. You're trying to be consistent. You can't be. Humans aren't, and it's only social conditioning that makes us try. Every time we are inauthentic or hypocritical in some way, we feel like we have to berate ourselves for it. But in the real life we all live, we do things to survive that we detest, and we hate at the end of it. It's not healthy to keep doing those things indefinitely, but if we have to, we should feel the hatred even as we take the cash. Let the hatred sweep in, as strong as it wants to be, and then sweep out again. It's just an emotion, after all, just a reaction. Hate has no tangible existence. It passes. When you hate, you are not being bad. You are crying inside. Give the hate a place to sob for a while, and it will go.

You are not a bad person. You are a person in pain, and an inconsistent one. Like the rest of us. If I could pass a hug down the wire, I would.

Loren said...

Ugh. I teared up a little reading this, more because the thing you're talking about is so specific and difficult to articulate than because it upset me.

Did you ever see the movie "Waitress?" They use this kind of unwanted digging-at physicality to characterize the protagonist's husband and I was white-knuckled and red-faced in the theater for the entire duration of the film, hating the shit out of him. And yes, angry. It's funny how different it is when it's happening to a made-up stranger from when it's happening to you... and how angry you might allow yourself to become then.

That sounds patronizing or something. When I say "you" I mean "me," as usual.


Anonymous said...

No, you didn't sell your right to be angry.

He paid for the privilege of being in the
presence of an attractive and interesting woman,
sitting near you, talking to you. He didn't pay
for the right to grope you.

Anonymous said...

I just started reading your blogs and I love every post. I sometimes think that you're making everything up,but that just proves that you're an excellent writer. My sister was a "dancer",so I thought I could become one,but you've made me think about it.....