Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Alone on a crowded train...

I shouldn’t have held the door.

Back in 2006, I went back to college to complete my Bachelor’s Degree. I’d spent my early twenties having fun, but after the loss of a beloved family member, I’d had a quarter life crisis, and decided to buckle down and finish what I’d started.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

I was accepted to DePaul University, where I decided to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication. I lived in a near west suburb with my fiancĂ© (now he’s my husband), and I decided to commute via public transportation to DePaul. I took the Metra Milwaukee District West Line to Union Station, and then the Brown Line CTA train to Fullerton.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

One bright and sunny afternoon on my commute home, as I went up the stairs to the train platform, I sensed someone behind me, and I held the door.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

The man followed me onto the platform, and was speaking to me. He was in dirty clothes, had a smell of alcohol on his breath, and was speaking in rambling sentences. I tried to give short, non-committal responses to his ramblings. To anyone else standing on the platform, I was clearly uncomfortable.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

The train arrived, the doors opened on the nearest car, and I stepped in. The man followed close on my heels. I found a seat, of which there were only pairs of seats available. No single seats were open. The man sat down next to me, continuing to ramble.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

He asked my name. I told him my name was Beth. He told me his name was Cross. Then he took his finger and drew a cross on the flat of my chest (above my breasts), and said, “Like a Cross.”

I shouldn’t have held the door.

I looked around the train, at my fellow passengers. No one was looking at me. Everyone was staring down at their books, newspapers, and MP3 players (it was before the smart phone revolution). Others were visibly uncomfortable, but not meeting my eyes.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

I was alone in a crowded train. I was being harassed by mad man. I didn’t know if he had a weapon. He was mentally unstable. He probably had a pocket knife. He might have had a knife. He probably had a knife. Why wasn’t anyone looking at me? Why was I alone on crowded train? Why was this man touching me without my permission? WHY AM I ALONE ON A CROWDED TRAIN? The adrenaline roared through my head. My hearing was sharper than usual, but there were no sounds from the other people in my train car. I was alone. I was abandoned by my fellow humans.

The message was clear. I was on my own. I needed to escape.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

The train doors opened at Merchandise Mart. This was not my stop, but it was a busy platform. Right before the doors closed, I ran off the train. I looked behind me, and the man had not been able to follow.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

Two trains went by before my panic attack abated. I finally got on a train and went to my stop at Quincy.

A night went by with restless sleep.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

The next day I took the Metra to Union Station, and got onto the Brown Line at Quincy. When I exited at the Fullerton platform, I approached a CTA worker (let’s call him Tom). I told him what had happened the previous day.

He was stunned for a moment. “Weren’t there other people on the train?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Why didn’t anyone help you?”

“They were too busy being relieved that it wasn’t them,” I said, as this was the only explanation I had come up with for why I’d been left to fend for myself.

“You were assaulted. Why would no one help you?”

I was silent. I hadn’t assigned the word “assault” to what had happened to me until Tom had used the label.

Tom spoke again, “If this ever happens again, go to the largest man you can see on the train and tell him that you need him to stand between you and the other guy.”

But it was obvious I’d been alone on a crowded train car, I thought. How do I even know I can trust another man after this?

“Then,” Tom continued, “when the train stops, slap the emergency blue button. Don’t respond to the voice that comes through. The conductor must then get out of the lead car and see who hit the button.”

But the man might have had a knife.

I’ve carried pepper spray since this incident.

The next academic year I mostly drove to campus. I couldn’t muster up the courage to get back on the el.

I am a warrior.

I am a coward.

I am strong.

I am vulnerable.

I can defend myself.

I need to be defended.

I am one among many.

I am alone.

I shouldn’t have held the door.

I will hold the door again.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Where the passage of time does not diminish the truth...

Photo Credit: Me, then.
I want to share a story from my past:

When I was 16 or 17, and working my first job at a McDonald's, I was pushed up against the wall of the drive thru booth by a male coworker. He was pressed up against me, with his leg between mine, and he was making suggestive statements.

I was terrified.

I kneed him in the nuts. I was in trouble with male manager, until I told him what preceded it. He then fell silent.

I later went to upper management, who in this case was a woman, to complain about what this guy did to me. She “investigated” and told me that he was just joking.

Word spread around that I'd reported him, and I was harassed by my fellow employees (the male ones) until I quit and told them all to go fuck themselves in front of a restaurant full of customers.

This shit happens all the time and we live in a society where it is explained away as boys being boys, locker room talk, and jokes. Women are taught that this is a normal way to be treated, and that we should ignore it, or even go along with it. Many times women are called liars, are blamed for bringing it upon themselves, or are discredited by the person they're accusing (or even by the person they're reporting it to).

Apparently, the word of the accused is more valuable than the word of the accuser.

I'm sure that if the guy who did this to me 20 years ago was asked about it today, he'd say I was lying and that it never happened. But that doesn't change the fact that it did really happen, and that I still remember it vividly.

This was the earliest lesson I received about what to expect when you accuse a man of assault or harassment. I understand why many choose not to step forward right away. I believe that time does not diminish the veracity of their claims. It should never be asked why they waited so long to step forward, as I know the answer: fear. Fear of facing their assailant, fear of doubt, fear of blame, fear of retaliation, and shame.This is no joke, no exaggeration, no locker room talk, and no lie. It's sexual assault, and it's time for it to be taken seriously. It's sad that most women in this day and age (and in this country) have a story like this.

I am fine now, and I have moved on. However, I will always remember what happened to me. I will always remember the names of the people involved, and I will always remember my anger at what happened, and my anger at how my experience was belittled and brushed off.

Most importantly - The fact that I have waited 20 years to publicly share my story does not diminish the truth of what happened. I know what happened that night, and I will not be told differently.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Instead of saying how much you hated your fourth grade teacher, why don't you stop to consider how big of an asshole YOU were in fourth grade?

So I saw something on Facebook that got my gears grinding.

A friend of mine posted a Throwback Thursday photo from grade school. It was a 4th grade class picture. This is not the grade school that I went to, but it was a grade school that fed into my high school, and this is how I know the person who posted the photo.

I posted a pithy comment about a girl in the picture who was wearing a delightfully '80s poofy and pink dress. That was pretty much where I meant to leave things, particularly since I really only knew about two people in the photograph.

But then a classmate in the picture (whom I don't know) made the following comment, in reference to the teacher who taught their class: "Anyone remember when she yelled at us for not playing with Xxxx?" (I'm removing the names of people here, with respect to those involved.)

Now, I happen to know Xxxx. He's one of the two people I recognize in the photo. And Xxxx is a great person. I was friends with Xxxx in high school, after high school, and to this present day, despite a great geographic distance. Xxxx comes back to town every now and again, and Xxxx is always a delight to see!

More commentators mentioned how mean and awful the teacher was. For instance, calling one kid a little jerk. Now, that might not be appropriate for a teacher to tell a kid, but since he was 9 or 10, I bet he was being a little jerk.

But I digress.

Going back to Xxxx.

The commentators go on at some length about how their teacher was a horrible person. Made them hate math, was a "crusty bitch" who hated her job and the kids... I can't speak to any of this personally, as I didn't go to that school, and I don't know the teacher.

But the comment that stuck with me was the one about Xxxx, and her yelling at the kids for not playing with Xxxx at recess.

You know what? Maybe she was trying, albeit ineffectively, to combat some bullying that she was seeing going on. If that's the case, then she was trying to do a shit-ton more than what most of my teachers did in grade school and middle school.

Grade school and middle school is pure and utter hell. Kids at that age aren't even human, and they certainly like to pick on other kids that are different or don't fit in. Maybe this teacher was actually trying to do something positive about, rather than just blithely ignore it, like most teachers did back then.

Most of all, this person's comment just drives home a very important idea to me. Bullies never become self-aware enough to acknowledge that they were bullies. That makes me very sad.

Because deep down, I held onto this hope that the people who made my life hell in middle school hold at least an ounce of regret about it. But now... I just don't know.

I'm 33 years old, and I still randomly think about the abuse I was subjected to, and probably Xxxx does to. It has, at least in small part, shaped who I am.

Worse yet, the person who made this comment about Xxxx and that teacher? She later reveals that she's an educator. That sickens me.

I worry about my son, and for when he enters school. At least back when we were kids, we could go home to a safe place, far away from the bullies. Nowadays, kids can't escape it because of social media.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Where I don't even know what to say...

So, this morning I was telling someone that I never know what’s going to happen each day when I come into work.

"I thought it was a new hamster wheel that runs the computers. Bigger and more efficient. Only requires 1 hamster."

Today, this is what happened to me.

In case you’re wondering, it’s a replica of a Renaissance Book Wheel.

It was one of my bosses who authorized a group of students to build this. He then informed me, just today, that we were going to temporarily store it in my group of offices.

Since this thing is huge, I had it put in my boss's wife's office. Either it will stay there forever... or its location will hasten its removal.

We shall see.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Where my faith in humanity is restored...

So, lately I'd been thinking that I'd done something to seriously mess up my karma, but I couldn't narrow down any one event. I'm a good person, damn it, and I try to treat others the same way that I want to be treated.

I was having a series of ridiculous or stupid things happening to me, in rapid succession.

Such as, going to my parents' house to bring in their mail, and managing to drop my copy of the Volkswagen key into the ONE spot where I can't get it. I mean, the odds of this were just... so slim. But the key somehow came off my key ring (it wasn't even the whole key ring), and drop into the ivy next to the porch. When I went to pick it up, I accidentally brushed it between side of the cement porch, and a gap where my dad had placed a brick to prevent animals from getting under the porch. The brick had moved a bit over time, and there was about an inch and half gap between the brick and the porch. As I tried to reach in there, I managed to knock the key deeper under the porch. And I can't move the brick, because it's frozen into the ground.

The key is still there. Unless, of course, a squirrel sees it, says, "Shiny!" and runs off with it.

And there was overdrawing my checking account, because I'd messed up the online bill pay on our second most expensive payment (the Volkswagen, actually). I'd neglected to change the date, so the payment went out a week and half early.

Then yesterday morning, at about 7:40am, after a particularly rough commute to work, I slipped on a patch of ice on the sidewalk that runs parallel to the Midway, and went crashing to the ground. Chicago has had a couple days of warm weather to thaw out from under all this snow, but it's still cold enough overnight to freeze the melt-off.

This is the sidewalk on the Midway, during the winter. Imagine this, but with frozen melt-off.
I was unhurt, aside from my ego. So I picked myself up, gathered my belongings, and trudged the rest of the way to my office (nearly falling at least one more time).

An hour later, as I was still ruminating on my crappy run of luck, my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I answered anyway.

It was my library, which is out in the Suburbs where I live. The librarian was asking if I'd lost my keys. I was caught off guard. I asked what she meant.

She explained that she'd gotten a call from Juan at the University of Chicago. He'd picked up a set of car keys, and was trying to find the owner. So he'd called the phone number that was on the little tag that served as my library card. She said that while they won't give out my information, she offered to take his name and number, and that she'd call me.

I hadn't even realized that I'd been holding my keys when I fell. I usually beep my car locked, and the drop the keys into my pocket. In this case, I remembered that once I'd crossed the street, I'd been unsure if I'd locked the car, so I beeped it one more time before I started walking through ankle deep snow to get to the sidewalk. I must have not put the keys back into my pocket before I fell, and I wasn't very far from where I'd parked when it happened.

So, had Juan not picked up my keys, and gone above and beyond to find out who they belonged to, I would have gotten to my car that afternoon, and one of two things would have happened:

1) My car would have still been there, but I would have been unable to get in, and likely freaked out trying to find the keys. Ultimately, I would have had to have called Bill at work, and had him drive to the University with the extra key. He would have done it, of course, but he would have made sure that I knew he wasn't happy about it.

2) My car wouldn't have been there, because some asshole would have picked up the keys, pointed them at the line of cars to see which one they belonged to, and stolen my car.

As you can see, I have twelve different tags on there.
Honestly, the library card was Juan's best shot of finding the owner of the keys. Everything else was all retail stuff - including a Jewel card that is so old, that I don't even know what contact information they have on file for me. And heck, Dominick's is now closed. And everything else? He probably wouldn't have even gotten in touch with a real person.

Also, I'd only put that library card on the key ring in the last month, after it languished in my wallet for the better part of half a year.

I ended up calling Juan, who works in IT on the Hospital side of the University. We arranged to meet, and I picked up my keys shortly thereafter. I offered to buy him a cup of coffee, but he already had one!

This whole thing made me realize that my karma isn't totally screwed up after all. There are still good people left in the world, and good things still do happen to good people. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where there's a 5.5 year saga of the parking ticket...

January 30, 2008 - 8:50am
Location: Elmwood Park, IL

I run out to the street to my car. It's Wednesday, and it's "street cleaning" day in Elmwood Park. This means that I must move my car to the other side of the street, and I must do this before 9:00am. Tomorrow, the same will hold true for the other side of the street.

I should be safe. It's ten till nine.

I see a Village of Elmwood Park Police Cruiser pulling away from my red Chrysler Sebring. Slush is kicked up from the road as the cop moves on to his next victim, I mean "revenue-generating-parking-violation."

"What the fuck!" I exclaim, as I pull the ticket out of the slush on my windshield. "It's not 9:00 yet!" The ticket says it was written at 9:40am.

In my pajamas, with messy hair and no makeup, I get in the car and drive the two blocks to the police department.

I march into the station, walk up to the dispatcher and demand, "I'd like to know how the hell your office wrote this ticket at 9:40am, when your clock up there says it's 8:52?"

"Was it written today," the middle-aged man asks.

"It would have had to have been written today or tomorrow," I reply.

He considers the statement for a moment. "Let me get the Deputy Chief," he finally says.

A few minutes pass, as I furiously pace around the waiting room. A large hulk of a man, wearing a uniform, steps into view. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah," I say. "I'll ask the same question of you that I asked your dispatcher. How the hell did your office write this ticket at 9:40, when your clock says it's..." I glace at the clock, "8:56?"

"Was it written today?"

I roll my eyes. "It was written either today or tomorrow. Seeing as how your office can travel forward in time by an hour, I suppose a full day isn't out of the question."

There's a slight pause before the deputy chief replies, "You don't have to pay this ticket."

"Damn right I don't have to pay this ticket! I've given this village enough of my money over the years, for supposedly valid tickets. This one isn't valid."

The deputy chief doesn't say anything. He holds out his hand, and I hand him the ticket.

"Can I get something in writing from you, saying that I don't have to pay this?" I ask.

"No, that isn't necessary."

I stalk out of the police department, and return to my apartment. My boyfriend says, "So... what happened?" I tell him. "Oh, and here I thought I was going to have to pick you up from jail," he says.

Flash forward to November 20, 2013

I've requested a copy of my annual free credit report. I'm looking over the items on it, and it says that in June 2013, the Village of Elmwood Park referred me to a collection agency, concerning a parking ticket in the amount of $50.

I dispute the item, I say that I have no prior knowledge of this debt.

November 22, 2013
A call comes in on my cell phone. I don't recognize the number. Rather than answer it, I google the number, and see that it's the debt collection agency that my parking ticket was referred to.

I get ready for a fight.

I call back the agency, and I'm referred to Steve, the agent who originally called me.

I rail at him about the following items:

1. 5.5 years? Really? This is the first time I've received anything (a phone call, a letter, ANYTHING) about this supposedly unpaid parking ticket. I lived at that address for two more years after the alleged ticket, and NOTHING was ever sent to me from the village. Believe me, they followed up with me on OTHER parking tickets, why not this one?

2. The ticket was a pile of steaming bullshit in the first place, and the deputy chief was supposed to take care of it.

3. I ask for a copy of the ticket. He says he'll get it to me.

Next, I call the village of Elmwood Park, where I'm referred to Wendy. I tell her the whole story. I tell her I remember the ticket well, because of the fact that it was malarkey, and that the deputy chief had agreed to throw it out, because the stupid cop who wrote it had written it ten minutes early.

She tells me that there are no notes in the system to that effect, and that the only two people (aside from traffic court) that can dismiss a ticket are the chief and the deputy chief.

I tell her that it was the deputy chief who said that he'd take care of it, but OF COURSE there's no record of our conversation, so I can't prove that it ever happened.

She suggests that I call the current chief, to set up an appointment to meet with him about the issue. I get the phone number. She agrees to email me a copy of the ticket.

I call the chief. First I get the dispatcher. I tell him the story. He transfers me to the Chief's secretary. I tell her the story. She says the Chief isn't in, but that he makes his own appointments, so can I leave my number so he can call me back. I say sure. Then she asks for the ticket number, I give it her. She starts to look at it and asks if she can place me on hold. I say sure.

She comes back a couple of minutes later.

"I'm going to talk to the current deputy chief about this, and see if we can get this taken care of without you talking to the Chief. Can we call you back? What number can we reach you at?"

I give her two call back numbers.

An hour passes. My cell phone rings.

"Hi, this is Deputy Chief Hock. Is this Elizabeth?"


"Okay, so I've taken care of the ticket in question, and we're notifying the collection agency on this. You shouldn't receive any more letters or calls from them. But if you do, you call me. Okay?"

"Sure, thank you for your help on this."

"So, you're good?"


"Okay, because if you're good, then I'm good," he says. We hang up.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Where I talk about the futility of youth... Is futility even the right word?

I recently discovered that someone I knew back when I was 15 has passed away. I'm not going to name this person, as I don't feel it's respectful to the close friends and family he's left behind. I don't even know the circumstances surrounding his passing. The last time I saw him was in a bar in 2009, and I'm pretty sure he didn't even recognize me, or remember who I was.

But discovering that he has passed away, and is pretty much the same age as me is a pretty sobering thought, and I became quite introspective for a few days, and I'm still feeling that way.

Thinking about this person brought back a flood of memories from 1995-1996 (which I guess tells anyone who is reading my approximate age). These are things that I hadn't thought about for quite a long time. Recalling those events made me think about how important everything seemed back then, in comparison to how it all measures up to my life now.

Do I have regrets from that age? Ehhh... If I knew then what I know now, I would have probably done a number of things differently, made some wiser decisions. But seeing as how I can't change the past, and those decisions are a part of who I am, I would have to say that no, I don't have any regrets. What's happened is done. I learned some important life lessons, and they continue to be applied to my life now.

Everything seemed so urgent back then. Everything was so... in the moment. Every event was earth-shattering. Every setback was devastating. I thought that every moment would impact me for the rest of my life? How could I live without my boyfriend? How could my best friend do that to me?

All of these earth-shattering events are now a distant memory. I've probably forgotten more than I can even still remember. Yet, they're still all a part of me. But it feels like... a different life. A different existence.

Perhaps in another 17 years, I'll look back to today, and think how everything I was thinking then was inconsequential... but then again... I'm at a point in my life where I'm raising a child (he'll be 18 when I look back to this day), I'm trying to find a literary agent, I'm working, I'm negotiating a marriage. I have to think that everything I'm feeling now while continue to be relevant 17 years from now.

I suppose I'm walking away from these feelings with one overriding thought: Knowing that someone from my past, who was just about the same age as me, has passed away, leaving behind grieving family and friends... I'm going to hug my son a little closer, and enjoy every moment I have with him. These are the moments that matter.