I got on the light rail this morning, sat in my usual seat, and began my morning email check. At the next stop a large man boarded. He was wearing a dark coat, carrying a gym bag. He markedly noticed me; I looked down. He turned to the same side of the car I was on, and sat in the seat across and one up from me. Sitting sideways in the seat, legs splayed into the aisle, he was looking right at me. I glanced up, and he smiled at me, big. I looked back down, I could feel him looking. He controlled all my movement, out of fear of catching his eye. Even as I type this, I hear a voice say it is my fault to decide to feel this way. He was just smiling, looking. But all I can think is that I will have to push past him to get off the train, that I cannot look without meeting a leer– meeting his eye is rewarding him, any reaction on my part, and I lose. If I get mad, or frightened, or friendly, any reaction, he wins. My only recourse is to not reward him with my attention at all. Even by looking out the window his stare is in the reflection. I keep my head down.
When my stop comes, I wait to see if he is getting up – he is not. I wonder if he is waiting until I get up, to follow me off the car. I wait to see if other people sitting behind me are getting off at this stop, to make him move his splayed legs aside, so I will not have to try to slip by without being touched. I know he will try to press his leg into mine as I pass. I hope for someone, a man, in the aisle behind me will need to get off at this stop, to make this man move his legs out of the way, so I can scurry behind, to not be touched by this very large man who has been staring at me for the 38 minute ride into town. But no one behind me is getting off here. I set my resolve and put my purse between my leg and his, not giving him my gaze. The purse-block works insofar as he does not touch my leg directly, although I feel the pressure increase from his leg onto mine through my purse. As I wait for the doors to open, I pray he does not get up and follow me onto the platform. I am glad I have on pants today and am wearing sensible shoes. No, I don’t think he will chase me on a crowded train platform, but the thought occurs that I am thankful that I can run if I need to. I still cannot look to the left. He’s shifted forward in his seat, the doors open and I leave.