Now that I’m sober, I didn’t think I would gaslight my creep detector until I recently found myself in an uncomfortable and vulnerable situation in the privacy of my own backyard. This is something I needed to discuss in counseling, because it was a traumatizing experience.
No matter how much I think I set boundaries, someone always proves me wrong. Assuming people of a certain age are respectful of other people’s property and privacy is where I went wrong. I must stop trusting people based solely on their relation to someone that I do trust; I must remind myself that other people may not have good judgement when choosing friends; and I must stop gaslighting myself by making excuses for other people’s shitty behavior.
Being a friendly person can be my undoing, because some people take it as consent to cross boundaries. This is where it gets confusing, because how can I be my authentic self without being taken advantage of? Taking advantage of my kindness is going to piss me off and halt my friendliness altogether. But in this situation, I’m not sure being nice or indifferent would’ve mattered either way.
Some men take a woman’s general friendliness as flirtation, which makes it difficult to determine whether to be my authentic self or to react to everything with resting bitch face and surround myself with barricades. But I never expected anything to happen in my own backyard, uninvited.
I need to learn to take off my authentic hat early in the game and put on my drill sergeant hat. This seems to be very effective in warding off predatory men, because it’s the only posture they understand. (However, most of them interpret the stance that I must be a lesbian, since I’m not interested in them; or, I want to be a man, since I’m standing like one. There is so much to say about this, it will be an entirely separate post.)
This is my eighth year living on shared property, with a large yard and invisible boundaries. I’ve grown plants to form privacy barricades on each side of my patio, but one side is still growing. My former neighbors were all I knew since I moved in until recently. I’m used to having friendly neighbors, especially ones in my direct vicinity. We watch out for each other, and in emergency situations, we help one another if we can. With the landlords being extremely strict who they rent to, and with my lease clearly defining rules and boundaries of each party’s “side” of the property, it hasn’t been an issue.
In all the time I’ve lived here, I’ve never once complained to my landlords about anything. The new couple, quiet conservative Christians who are here temporarily, have friendly pets that like to visit when I’m outside. They both seemed like nice people when I spoke with them. However, every time I went to use my private patio area, the husband let the dogs run all over the place. They wouldn’t leave me alone until he came into my patio space to retrieve them. At first it was cute seeing the dogs, but it became an annoying habit. Twice, I had female friends over, and he allowed the dogs all over us. He even introduced himself to one of my guests. Around the time, I started feeling like he was a weirdo. It was entirely too much invasion of my privacy!
At first, I thought the situation was the dogs getting used to a new place, but they never stopped barging into my space while I was reading or working on my laptop. They dragged yard scraps all over my patio, knocked things over, and left a mess for me to clean. The husband would apologize, take the animals away, go inside, and never clean up after his dogs! I literally barricaded the section they were entering with more plants and patio items, but that did no good.
The husband was on my side of the area excessively with his dogs, and the wife barely came out or spoke unless I initiated. (I found out later, she was allowing them to wander and pee all over my patio area at night while I was asleep. So much for loving thy neighbor!) I was getting the impression her husband enjoyed female attention. The last thing I want is a strange man in my space at all, much less just about every day. Gross. Go home to your wife. Neither do I want to clean up after dogs. He kept apologizing, but still allowed it to happen, which I conveyed as not being sorry at all.
One afternoon, I was reading in my hammock, minding my business, as usual. My hammock wraps around me like a cocoon, so I can hide. I didn’t want to be bothered, except the dog spotted me and ran over, nearly knocking over my drink, disturbing my peace. My clothing was not for visitors, especially not for unwelcome men in my space. I was wearing a short dress I only wear around the house. When I grabbed things off of the table, away from the dogs, it put me in an awkward twisted position, causing my dress to ride up.
Again, the husband made no effort to yell or command his dogs to his side of the property or bother to leash them. Attempting to be as modest as possible, I held my dress down, still lying in the hammock and balancing my things away from the dogs. This time, I had an authentic resting bitch face.
He walked over, put himself in a 15-inch space between the hammock and a planter, so he was standing next to and above me wrangling his dogs. I looked for an escape route, which was a tight space on the other side of the hammock, but I couldn’t just swing my legs over without my dress fully lifting. Every time I attempted to scoot upwards even a little, I kept sliding, because I had nothing to hold on to. Between navigating that, it crept me out that this man was so close, and my mind couldn’t figure out what to do. I remember looking around for an escape at any moment. It was pretty clear I was struggling, because I kept sinking in the hammock. I felt he was sticking around for far too long and enjoying being above me too much.
(I’m so fucking grossed out and angry typing this….)
This man, almost my father’s age, was standing above me while I’m lying in a supine position in the hammock. After getting one dog situated, he then reaches OVER me to pick up the dog on the other side of the hammock. The same way a woman might cross her arms over her body if she were caught naked—I put one hand across my breasts and one hand over my pelvic area to hold down my dress. The hammock’s cocoon also gave me some protection.
His body was literally inches from my face, and it paralyzed me with fear and defenselessness. While he was bent over me to pick up his dog, it felt like I was being suffocated with an enormous amount of suppression. I literally wanted to vomit.
With no time to react, I felt violated, even though he hadn’t physically touched me. Also, my health issues don’t exactly have me prepared for something when I’m supposed to be safe at home. At the same time, I was still trying to figure out how the fuck this happened. Women should not be forced to constantly protect ourselves against sick, entitled men without boundaries.
If you’ve ever been unexpectedly slapped in the face, that’s what this experience felt like emotionally. It’s taken me days to fully process this. Why did I not say something??? Why did I not tell him he was too close, to get away??? I am mad at myself.
During the incident, I told myself, maybe he had a stroke, like his wife thinks, and something is wrong with him. I gaslighted myself while this man was violating my space and privacy, because that is what I have conditioned to do. Now, I realize he knew exactly what he was doing. And I am furious that this happened!!!
While I’m writing this, I remembered another time, prior to the hammock incident. As usual, I was reading in my patio chair, when his dogs came to disturb me. When he came over to pick one of them up, his hand brushed against my leg. I thought little of it, because it felt like an accident. Now, I wonder if I was gaslighting myself that time, too.
Shortly after they moved in, the creep told me I was so nice to him, not like their last neighbor. At the time, I didn’t catch on, but I thought the way he said it was strange. Now it all makes sense.
His story: The neighbor at their last residence would frequently yell and scream at him inches from his face. She was crazy, because he never did anything to provoke her.
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