Something happened to me this morning that I’d like to share here. It was not a huge incident, but the course of events has left me reflecting on various matters.
I had just been walking through the town nearest to where I live. I live very much out of the way, in a comfortably anti-social setting, miles away from the town. So I haven’t been seeing regularly much of the Covid-19 procedures going on internally. It was weird, all the shepherding, but something weirder happened as I was walking away from the town.
Living a pretty anti-social life, I rarely get into any fights with anyone. Even when I was more social, violence encounters with other human individuals where quite inoften, outside of work. I used to have a day job working with some extremely violent individuals, so dealing with aggression and having to defend myself is not totally unusual to me. But for a long enough period, I have not needed to think about it too much.
Today though, I noticed a man and a woman walking the opposite direction to me. He had a very particular look that reminded me immediately of people I had met regularly through my father’s Narcotics Anonymous practice, as a recovering crack and heroin addict. I mean this with absolutely no offense intended, but the name I have for this look is “heroin junkie sickly” – that painfully skinny and sullen look, with an absolutely aggressive energy to the individual. She had a black eye, puffy cheeks and looked as if she had used as a punching bag.
My immediate feeling was “oh shit!”, with a sinking feeling in my chest. I am revolted by patriarchy and by domestic abusers, for both personal and (anti-)political reasons. I looked at her and then to him and then back to her, very quickly, then noticed her looking back at me. She said to me, in a tone full of venom and aggression “what are you staring at?”, which was immediately followed by him shouting something that basically amounted to “you want some!” and taking a step towards me, to start a fight.
The woman’s response to his advance towards me was one of fright. She put her arms around him and pulled him away, to prevent him from moving towards me. Now, I’m not a big guy and I’m not an overly skilled fighter, but with this guys sickly look and lack of physique, I was and am pretty sure that, if I couldn’t have restrained him, a couple of hard shots to his softer areas and a clap on both his ears to disorient him would have been enough to stop him being a threat. I reacted to his advance by stopping walking, looking at him with stone cold indifference and showing no fear or aggression. I had seen that she did not want me to see her as being wounded in the ways that she was and I had seen that he knew that I knew and understood, and I can see that his reaction to my having seen her was because he knew that I knew and understood, and was terrified of being seen for the abusive filth he has clearly been.
As they walked on, I walked on. This lasted only a few seconds, but was an intense moment.
I got to thinking and reflecting on what happened. What was most noticeable for me was how actively she sought to be with him in that moment, as if my noticing her was a threat to their apparently abusive relationship and her seeking to protect him in that moment, either from me or from the consequences of him getting into trouble for having attacked me. If I tried, I could not “save her”, as she wanted to be with him, I do not want to place her in the position of being a victim if she feels that she is surviving and I have no authority to dictate whether or not she should be somewhere safer, regardless of my disgust towards abuse. This is a somewhat saddening feeling, but one that I feel acceptance towards.
What was also noticeable to me was how much power I held as an individual in that space. Just through my sight, I affected that man so intensely that he experienced me as such a threat that he needed to react aggressively. Why? Because abusers hate to be seen for being abusers, as abuse is a cowardly and pathetic act. I’m glad that my sight inspired such anxiety and insecurity in this man.
I am undoubtedly making an assumption here, that her condition was the result of domestic abuse, with his reaction being a reaction to my noticing, but this feels like a reasonable assumption to make, under the circumstances.
My feeling in writing this is to convey this very message – don’t look away, as your sight holds power.