About 10 years ago I was at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. I can’t remember what kind of vegetable or fruit or flower I was looking at. I know that I was talking to a woman that I am no longer friends with because she got mad at me for leaving my husband, which is really weird since she wasn’t even friends with him and was barely friends with me. When you get divorced you find out that there are people who are actually just categorically against divorce and it’s rather shocking but it is a good way of no longer being friends with people who are against divorce. But on this day this woman was not my enemy. No no I was about to meet my enemy, at least for that day, or, more accurately for about 10 years because that is the amount of time I have remained mad about this.
So there I was blueberry shopping or whatever talking to my soon to be ex-friend when I must’ve made some sort of gesture that placed my elbows behind my body or stretched them out to the side and maybe I made this gesture for longer than 10 seconds. I don’t know. I didn’t think I was doing anything noteworthy. Suddenly I found someone’s fingers on my bent elbow.
I really want you to feel what I felt. Bare one elbow. Place the point of your elbow inside the palm of your free hand. Now close your fingers lightly around the elbow. Slide them back and forth. It feels pretty disgusting, right? Like even if you’re doing it to yourself?
At first I thought it was someone I knew saying hello to me. I had very much not enjoyed the feeling of fingers sort of tickling/squeezing/jerking off my elbow and I hate surprise touching more than perhaps most people but I was willing to forgive if this person were someone with whom I was actually fucking acquainted.
But no. I turned around to find myself looking into the face of a white woman, about my age, smaller than me, very westside in messy bun, big sunglasses, yoga tank top, skinny jeans, cloth bag, and I said, “Do I know you?”
And in this very cooey soft “what me cause problems” voice that I must admit I associate with straight women from Los Angeles’s westside, fairly or unfairly, she said the following words, imprinted forever on my brain, “I’m just saying hi to your elbow.”
Now that I knew for certain I didn’t know her and that she had touched me anyway I could not stop feeling those fingers on me. I wanted to rend my garments. I wanted to cut off my elbow and throw it into the street. I also wanted to punch her so bad.
I couldn’t speak, and the woman was kind enough to expand upon her reasons for her unsolicited and prolonged caress of a part of my body I just assume no one, ever, for any reason, should ever touch. “I was just letting you know other people were in your space,” she said, with an innocent shrug. “Maybe opening up a little space for myself.”
Now I felt enraged and guilty, which made me feel more enraged. I didn’t remember having been terribly physically expansive. Also this woman was really small, and I am really not small, and I felt some shame – familiar – for just not being small. But this woman couldn’t have known about that. I mean, she must have legitimately felt that she had been encroached upon, to the point where she had felt it necessary to encroach upon me. And now I started to get even madder. Whatever I had done had been accidental. She had actually made a choice to bother me. Couldn’t she have just said, “Hey, behind you?” Or backed away from me? Or maybe not have gone to the Santa Monica Farmers Market at all, since she seemed to have some issues with what I saw as normal human behavior. “Ok,” I said. “I really don’t like being touched by people I don’t know so, maybe next time just a ‘hey watch it,’ would suffice,” I said.
“Well,” she said. “I guess if you don’t like it you should just watch where you put your elbows.”
She walked away. A few seconds later she was cooing over some pears or mangoes or whatever and how sweet they were.
Look, I don’t know if I made a gesture in this crowd that threatened this woman or seriously invaded her space. But the idea that she felt she needed to teach me a lesson and do it in this way that was physically violating but could be easily argued as not physically violating just made me think she was a terrible person. I have forgotten her face, but I have never forgotten the sound of her fake innocent, gooey voice. To this day I get chills, and feel nauseated, thinking about the way she touched me.