One week ago, a man stopped traffic to talk to me. It was nothing; it meant everything. It was a moment that made me realize how angry I am over this election, and why.
I was sitting in my car. This car is the first new car I’ve ever owned. My husband and I bought it together. Buying this car was a really stressful moment—we didn’t think we could afford it, but we needed reliable transportation and we realized we no longer wanted to buy junkers off Craigslist. I was proud of the car, but also a little scared of it. It was shiny and new and still wearing its temporary plates, and I was—I still am—a little wary of having something so nice that I didn’t own outright.
I was sitting at an intersection on a busy thoroughfare in Portland, worrying. I had just left an intense interview and I was still feeling the roiling emotions that flow from one person to another (that strange thing that happens when you talk about something real and an unexpected wall breaks down and your interview subject cries because they care so, so much about what you’re talking about and you didn’t before but now, when you see them like this, you suddenly really, really do). I was letting that feeling dissipate slowly. I was gripping the steering wheel with both hands, staring at the red light, zoning out, trying to be quiet and come back into myself when I heard a noise.
It was a knock on my window.
My mind flew to the worst-case scenario. There was something wrong with my new car. I had left my purse on the top of the car. No, wait, my purse was on the seat beside me. Okay, I had done something wrong. I must have done something wrong. I just got a speeding ticket. I forget a lot of things. I had done something wrong. I pushed the button and my window went down.
“Yes? Is everything okay?” I asked.
The man at my window was in his fifties or sixties, as far as I could tell. He was white, blonde-ish, balding, medium build and height, and okay looking, I guess (small nose, big eyes). He was wearing a suit. He left his car door open, and he was parked in front of me. As he stood there, the light turned green. He smiled at me, and I think he expected his expression to be charming or disarming. It wasn’t; it was off-kilter and off-center, a moment of absurdity that fell like chips of ice into my stomach.
“Do you work at Unum?” he asked.
I told him no. I smiled. I felt shaky and strange. The cars around us began to blare their horns as he stood there. His car door hung open like a jawbone, tailpipe leaking exhaust into the air.
“Do you want to come with me to get some fudge?” he asked. “I work at Unum, and I think I’ve seen you around.”
“I don’t work there,” I told him numbly.
“I’d like you to come with me,” he told me. “I am going to get some peanut butter fudge, and I hope you will join me.” He said something else then about what I looked like or what he wanted. He mumbled it, and I stared at him. I don’t want to remember what he said and I definitely don’t want to write it down. Besides, I’m not interested in his words, and I never was.
I just looked at him. My face, I think, was blank and anxious. I kept my hands on the wheel, as though he were a policeman. As though I had done something wrong.
And then he looked at my hand. As the drivers around us began to drive around us, giving our cars a wide space for his body, so as to not hurt him while he did his business, he took a quick moment to look at my ring finger. Only then, in the middle of a busy street, did he stop.
“Oh, you’re married?” he asked, amused.
“Yes, I have to go now,” I said. I looked at my ring. It’s silver and topaz and a little dinged up from dishes and such. It’s reasonable and pretty and modern and I love it. And I hated it just then. I hated it because that was the only thing that mattered to this man. He cared about my ring. He didn’t care about traffic, or the people he was stopping at rush hour. He didn’t care about their needs or their families. He didn’t care about how uncomfortable I was. He didn’t care if I didn’t want candy or didn’t like him or if I didn’t like being made into a curiosity in public. He didn’t care if I was embarrassed or scared.
He cared if I was married.
“He’s a lucky guy,” he told me. He smiled. I smiled. (I didn’t smile because I was happy, but because that’s what you do when you’re a girl or a woman or a person who is just generally sort of unsure. You smile.)
“I have to go now,” I said again.
He walked back to his car. The light had turned red. He sat there, and then he drove off. So did I.
None of this matters, not really. This minor and degrading incident won’t change my life, nor will it change his. Nothing will come of this encounter.
Except this: When I think about a Trump presidency, I think about the men who feel entitled to act this way. I think about the asshole that stopped rush hour traffic on a busy street and thought nothing of it. I think about how words mean something. How words turn so easily into actions. How the joke about “grab her by the pussy” turns into the reality of women who are hurt, grabbed, and violated. How when we normalize these words, we normalize the behavior.
I think about feeling afraid when I should just be driving home. I should be safe in my car. I should feel safe.
And I fucking hate fudge.