**This story contains one non-graphic depiction of sexual assault, and some themes of depression, please read at your own discretion**
My father used to tell me stories about kind people, about how he'd lost his wallet in a major city and some wandering soul had brought it back, about accidentally walking into one of the worst neighborhoods in town, only to have a nice man escort him home. He told me about people ahead of him in line who bought his customary morning coffee, people who held doors open, people who grabbed the back of his coat as he was about to walk into a busy street, head in a psychology book. Even after all of his stories, I didn't believe there were kind people out there, only people who wanted something, people who wanted to feel good about themselves, people who wanted to be needed, useful, liked. My Dad was just lucky, I thought.
That's why I was more surprised than grateful when a tall, lanky man pulled Terrence off of me.
“When a lady says no, she means no!” the man said. He couldn’t have been that much older than me, mid-twenties maybe, with uninteresting brown hair and glasses that stuck to his bird-like nose with those little clips that always leave uncomfortable red-marks.
“It's consensual,” Terrence said over his shoulder. He looked proud of himself for knowing the word, even as he placed one hand on my hip and another on my lower-back, pulling me close. I pushed him away at his broad shoulders so our bodies made a V, looking over his shoulder at the stranger who I wished was in Terrence’s place. I wished anyone was in Terrence's place.
“C’mon man, she looks terrified, you can’t really expect me to leave,” Lanky put a hand on his hip and glared when Terrence didn’t move. This was the last time I'd let Shauna set me up.
“Fuck off!” Terrence yelled.
“You’re hurting me,” I said, shifting my feet against the sticky floor of the stadium’s bathroom. Beer, wine, soda, urine, blood, anything could have been on that floor. Terrence surely wasn’t the only one to think of a quickie as the late-night traffic cleared. At least they swapped out the black lights for the flickering dimness of the safeties. I hated the eerie blueness of them, only letting you see flashes of teeth or the whites of people’s eyes. It reminded me of the Cheshire cat, people flickering in and out of existence with nothing more than pursed lips and a blink. I wondered many times throughout that night if, in closing my eyes and holding my breath, I could fade out of existence too. That would be nice.
Lanky pulled Terrence away from me yet again, but this time he stepped between us. Out of his back pocket I saw the glint of something that looked like a badge or lanyard of some sort. Not that I was staring at his ass or anything, I was just curious.
“You know what? Fine, she’s not worth this. This is the last time I let Shauna set me up.” Terrence marched away in a huff and I giggled over our first agreement of the evening.
Lanky turned around and gave me a strange look as my muffled giggles turned into laughter and that laughter into cackling. I laughed and laughed and laughed some more, basking in a glorious high that I knew would soon plummet into despair. It kept me peaceful for a while, that laughter. It kept me from thinking too deeply about what would've happened if Lanky hadn’t shown up. Maybe I would have had to lay on the absolutely disgusting bathroom floor, and that thought was almost worse than anything after. I wiped tears from my eyes and shivered though the air was warm and my cheeks too hot.
Lanky had gone to wash his hands when I started giggling, but he kept checking on me in the mirror, letting my adrenaline fade away. I really should have thanked him, but by the time I was done, I didn’t have the energy.
“Look, that was rough, and I’m sorry it happened, but I really have to go. My wife is probably worried. Do you have a way home?” I nodded, but he didn’t look convinced, “Can I give you my number? I want you to call me when you get there.”
With that he was gone, and I found myself disappointed that my knight already had a chosen princess. My mind wandered to how good he would be in bed. A thought that deeply unnerved me. It wasn't that I was especially attracted to him, but he seemed to care, and something about Terrence's absence made me long for a caring partner. It wasn't that I wanted the sex, in fact I really wasn't in the mood, but having someone to hold and care for felt extremely important in those few moments after the men had vanished. I felt out of place without them.
I too left after a few moments of silence, making my way to the concert venue. No one was left except the clean-up crew. I was briefly surprised I was able to get back in, but I didn't think too hard on it as I made my way through the scattered plastic cups and confetti that stirred into glittery dust-devils in the breeze.
The stadium lights were still on and sometimes I could see a whirl of glitter across the way, a flicker of synthetic rainbows dancing on random gusts of wind. Foods like pretzels, popcorn, and gummy-worms turned into crushed soda cans, beer bottles, t-shirts, and the fluid from those weird little glow-sticks.
I hit five rows back and shuffled to the center of the aisle, plopping down and setting my feet on the back of the seat in front of me. I let my body slide down the chair until the underside of my ponytail started to pull, parting my knees -for the first time that night, thankfully- so I could stare at the empty stage.
The band was good, I thought to myself as if the statement could somehow represent the evening I'd had.
That's what people always did though, sum up their experiences for the day, the week, the year, with an "I'm good" or "It was fine", "I'm doing well, how are you?", the band was good. I never liked conversations where I had to lie, but maybe people just didn't have the time or energy to listen to the whole story. My whole story.
“Can I help you ma’am?” I sat up in my seat. The woman was in her sixties, I would say, with brown hair cut to a bob, and a purse clutched in front of her.
“Do I need to leave?” I asked. She didn’t have the orange vest the clean-up crew members wore, but I didn’t want her to call some brute to come and throw me out.
“No.” She turned to the stage. I waited.
“Can I help you?” I asked her, taking my original position in my chair.
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No.” I surprised myself by meaning it. Something about her reminded me of my mother, and more than anything I realized that that’s who I wanted. She used to say:
Figure out what you need and make it happen.
That would require me to know what I need, I’d say.
Only mothers know what people truly need. We’d always laughed because, even then, she rarely did know what I needed, or maybe it was because the joke was one only women could share. It was laughter over the belief that we were caretakers and always knew the best ways to make people feel safe and comforted and loved. I wasn’t sure what I needed until the woman came to me, but what I needed I couldn’t get and what I wanted I couldn’t have. I thought of Lanky, a man who went out of his way to help others. A man who seemed kind in the way my father described all those years ago. Maybe the nature of being a woman is knowing, but never getting what you want, what you need. Maybe the nature of being kind is the same. My father was kind.
“My brother and I came to this band’s first show,” the woman said, “it ended the same way. Shoes sticking to a dirty floor, and broken-hearted young women left behind.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. Was I heartbroken? I didn’t feel like it, maybe a bit forlorn, but not completely lost. That was what heart-broken meant wasn’t it? I asked her as much and she chuckled, “living life is heartbreak, my dear.”
“Were you left behind?” The woman smiled, kindly, gently.
“No, dear, were you?” Her phone lit up and she sighed, “back into the fray, I suppose.” She made her way, shuffling slowly to the end of the aisle before she turned back, “Do you need a ride home?”
“No.” The woman paused.
“Be safe,” she said. It felt like a challenge. It always did. I thought about my dad, about Lanky, and the woman. Were they truly kind? Was I lucky, just as my dad was? I sat there for a long time before the stadium lights flickered off one by one, leaving me in the gooey afterglow of confetti and a night spent with the living.