I’m at a hotel bar in a small Colorado ski town. I’m 21, and entering any bar I please is still thrilling. My two friends and I drove to the mountains for the night seeking thesis stress relief. We’re at the bar just long enough to order drinks before a man approaches us. He is very drunk despite it being very early. He stands, swaying, much too close in the empty bar. He’s barely able to mumble ‘Ladies, you hanging tonight?’ I try to make meaningful eye contact with the bartender who refills the guy’s drink with a friendly nod. Okay, so no help there. After a while, I turn to face him straight on.
“Hey, my friends and I are having a conversation. Would you mind giving us a little space?”
He mutters and wanders off.
“Wow,” my friend says, ‘that was so bitchy.”
I feel ashamed.
Four years later. It’s summer in New York City and my friend and I are drinking enthusiastically at a scuzzy Upper East Side dive. I was just let out early from a catering gig (which never happens) with a big cash tip (which never, ever happens) and I’m in an excellent mood. We’re talking, talking, talking completely absorbed in each other. A man passing by stops and pivots toward us just the word ‘bisexual’ leaves my lips.
“Hey, ladies.” He is young, professional looking in a blue button down. He looks at us expectantly as if waiting to be filled in on our conversation, given some context for what he’s overheard.
“Hey.’ We both say. My friend is southern and burdened with impeccable manners. She indulges the conversation politely while I simmer, resenting being interrupted.
My friend reaches the end of her polite chitchat and he is still there, standing squarely between us, waiting for something more.
“Well, so nice meeting you! See you around,” I say, impressed with how chipper I’ve made myself sound.
“Wow, no need to be a bitch.” He looks me in the eyes.
My friend and I lose our cool at the exact same moment and to the exact same degree-- a rare and beautiful thing. I’m used to being the only angry one. Not this time, she is right there with me while we rip this guy a much needed fucking new one.
“Well, fuck you.”
“Leave us the fuck alone.”
“You should go fuck yourself.”
“You entitled fucking prick.”
“Hey, bartender, this guy is bothering us.”
“We’re leaving and it’s because of this guy.”
We are loud. Everyone turns and stares. The guy looks shocked, almost scared, but not sorry.
We pay our bill and giggle as we half-run down the street, adrenaline surging through us. God, that felt good. Telling him off felt good, but what felt better was having a friend at my side, not telling me to calm down, not telling me I’m over-reacting.
We go to another bar. Drink another pitcher. Go through the entire interaction blow by blow. We never drink together on the Upper East Side again.
A year later, I’m slumped over at high top bar table in midtown. I’m not drunk, just sad. I’m convinced my apartment has bed bugs, again. The exterminator is scheduled to come for an inspection the next morning, and in the meantime all I can do is stress, stress, stress. I drop my forehead to the table as my friend tries to soothe me. A man stumbles our way. He stands there, drunkenly swaying between us, trying to engage us in conversation with enticing nuggets like, ‘What’s up, ladies?’ ‘My friends told me I had to come to say hi.’ ‘What? You don’t want to talk? Come onnnnnnn.” He too wears a blue button down.
My annoyance that this guy won’t leave us the alone is actually a relief from my bed bug panic, but I’m too tired to tell this guy to fuck off. I don’t have the fight in me tonight. I trot out a well worn tactic.
“This is actually my old friend, um, Cassandra. We haven’t seen each other in seven years. We’re catching up tonight.”
“Oh, okay, whatever.” I’m foolish enough to think I’ve successfully deflected him as he turned to walk away. But then...
“Lesbians.” He spits it over his shoulder like a slur and he lurches back to friends.
The word hits me in the spine. Suddenly, I am sitting up very straight and ready for action.
“Grab your stuff,” I tell my friend. “We are leaving.” I pick up the still full pitcher of beer from our table and stride over to the guy and his friends.
“Hiiiiiii,” I say with a wide grin. He looks bewildered. “Remember, a second ago when you were a homophobic asshole?”
I wait a beat for the words to sink in. I look him in the eyes. Then I cock back my arm and throw the pitcher at his head. I wish I could have stayed to see him soaked and sputtering, but the second it leaves my fingertips I turn on my heel and sprint out of the bar. Behind me, I hear my friend having the last word, ‘FUCK YOUUUUUUU’ before she runs after me.
We run as fast as we can, weaving between pedestrians until we’re down the block and around the corner. Only then do we stop and turn around. They haven’t followed us.
We laugh, but keep looking over our shoulders all the to the subway.
Two months later. An old friend and I are seated at a crowded bar on a Saturday night. We’re having a conversation spanning grad school, depression and cockroaches.
A man leans across the bar and says to us, “Wow, you two are beautiful.”
We turn to see who is addressing us. He continues, “Your face,” he says pointing, “is better than her face.”
Your face is better than her face.
That is what he said to us.
Am I surprised? At this point, I should be used to this. I should understand that as a woman I cannot have a reasonable expectation of control over my time and space. The second a man interrupts, that is the only conversation I am having. I’ve tried being straight forward, being polite, weaving elaborate back stories to justify continuing to talk to my friend in peace. At this point, I should be used it.
But this surprises me. This is new. ‘Your face is better than her face.’ It makes my ears ring. What the actual fuck are we supposed to do with that? It’s so mean, it’s so unwelcome, it’s so insulting on every imaginable level. Your face is better than her face.
I engage him. I lean across the bar.
“What did you just say to us?” I demand.
Apparently, this response is wildly different from the one he expected. He turns to his phone and tries to ignore me.
“Excuse me, I want you to repeat what you just said to us.”
He continues trying to ignore me.
“Well, fuck you!”
A man steps between us. I don’t know if he’s his buddy or what. I don’t know if he’s heard the beginning of this exchange. All I know is now he’s the man interrupting the conversation I’m trying to have. “Woah, woah, calm down," he says.
I lose it. I throw one glass. And then another. I aim so the glass barely misses their heads and shatters on the wall the behind them. They crouch and cower. I hook the heel of my boots on the first rung of my stool, stand up and scream FUCK YOU so loud everyone is the bar stops, turns and stares. The female bartender is yelling at me that I have to leave. I turn around and there’s the security guard. A huge man. His glasses fogged up on his way in from the frigid night to the warm bar. I stifle the urge to giggle at this very big man in the fogged up glasses. This is not the right time to giggle at a man. How does that saying go? Women’s number one fear of men is getting murdered. Men’s number one fear of women is getting laughed at. I suck in my breath, steady myself and hold my head up as he escorts me out of bar.
As I walk out, I hear one of the men behind me mutter “Psychotic.”
My first thought: “Maaaaaaaybe.”
I do feel crazy. It feels terrible to feel crazy.
My friend joins me on the sidewalk. She looks pale. Those glasses whizzed by her head, too. I apologize.
At first, I tell no one about this encounter. And then slowly, I start telling my female friends. Their response is unanimous, some variation upon, “Gin - that’s badass. You showed him.” What I can’t explain to them is it does not feel badass. It feels very, very bad. I didn’t show anyone anything. I spend a lot of time in bed.
I try explaining it to male friends They unanimously need clarity on one key detail, “Whose face was he saying was better?” I can’t get them to understand is that it was not a compliment. I spend more time in bed.
The next week, I’m back in my hometown for the holidays. At the local bar, a man my father’s age approaches me from behind and puts both his hands on my shoulders. I whirl around so fast I scare him.
“Good,” I think, “you should be fucking scared of me.” I’m scared of me.