Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Grope

It probably should have startled me, but it didn’t. I was standing on the sidewalk a year or so back, watching for Tracy’s car to come around the corner and listening to some political podcast on my iPhone when a hand gently caressed my butt. It lingered there for a moment in a familiar way and I didn’t even jump.

My brain performed several functions at once. How nice, I thought. I was usually the one with butt issues, being genetically predisposed to inappropriate slapping and fondling. My grandpa was a famous butt slapper from way back and my grandma has resorted to it in recent years. Not too long ago, she mortified my mom by slapping a stranger’s butt as my mom was wheeling her past.

I often find myself having to resist the urge to slap tempting butts that are presented to me in just the right place. Brian doesn’t usually reciprocate, but he puts up with my slapping and groping as a good husband should, only growing irritated when my fondling is too public—like when we’re at the mall being followed by a family with small children when my grabby urges overtake me. So it was nice that he had come outside in the cold to see me off to my brunch by giving me a special little butt fondle of a farewell.

But it really wasn’t like him. Not even a little bit. He would only have come outside if I had forgotten something. It was more like him to shoot me a text than to go outside to get me. So…

If not Brian…? All this came in a flash as I became aware of a young man in a hoodie letting go of me and walking by, glancing at me over his shoulder to see my reaction. He was no taller than me, probably even shorter, and all I saw of his face was dark skin and an eye before he faced forward and proceeded down the street.

“Hey!” I yelled at his retreating back. “Excuse me! That is not okay.”

But he didn’t make any reaction at all and suddenly, just as he was turning the corner, Tracy was there.

I told her what had happened as we drove off to our previously-scheduled breakfast. Both of our husbands were appalled that we hadn’t rushed straight to the police to file a report. It just didn’t occur to us. We were hungry. We agreed this guy was probably very dangerous and was building his way up to actually harming women, but for some reason it just didn’t seem like something we could do anything about at that moment on empty stomachs.

Brian lectured me about it, chastising me for not snapping a photo of him as he left so his clothing could help to identify him, but I still didn’t call the police. Tracy’s husband lectured me and said it was never too late to report it. I thought about it, but it just didn’t happen. I hadn’t been harmed at all and, while this guy was pretty creepy, it was difficult for me to feel like a victim over it. A couple of months later, Tracy showed me an article.

Two young women in their twenties had been groped just as I had been. One of the gropings had taken place at approximately the same place as mine and the other was very near by. The only difference was that this young man in the hoodie had pretended to tie his shoe and had then groped these women as they were running past him.

So he had a thing for joggers in their twenties and had also groped me as I had stood perfectly still while edging toward forty. On some level, I was flattered.

Now I had no choice. He had struck again and it was my responsibility to add whatever I could to the investigation already taking place. I did and had a few conversations by phone and was told it had undoubtedly been the same guy. The other women had described him as being African American. While that had also been my impression of him, I was reluctant to say it because I didn’t remember seeing enough of him to be sure and I didn’t want to assign a race to him if it wasn’t the right one. But they seemed to have had a better look.

I was very helpful, I was told. Soon, a police cruiser could be seen across the street from time to time, just sitting smack in the middle of Butt Groper Central, the new name of my neighborhood. It occurred to me to tell Mandy about it, since she lived in the area. I figured she should be alerted to the presence of a grabber in a hoodie who had been drawn to my butt and had been groping local joggers.

“You’re kidding,” Mandy said after a long pause. It was there in her voice. Disbelief. She sounded floored by what she was hearing and I hoped I hadn’t scared her too much.

“Wow,” she muttered, sounding like she was finally starting to process my words. “You were JOGGING?”