It’s impossible to attribute me getting ill into one specific reason, person or an event but in the weeks and months leading to my breakdown I had more than one unpleasant experience with men.
I’ve got a driving license but I’m not used to driving on the left side of the road. I had some driving lessons to gain some confidence.
My driving instructor was a middle-aged, recently divorced man. We would chat a lot during the classes. At first I thought nothing of it. I’ve always been chatty and I’m quite personable, because I can’t alter my behaviour with people. I can only be myself. I make jokes, tell stories and ask questions. He would do the same but I just thought he must’ve enjoyed having an older student to chat to instead of teenagers.
Then one time we were driving at the countryside. It was absolutely beautiful autumn day. A completely empty road. I’ve always enjoyed driving, the freedom of the open road. This was the first time I was properly driving on the left, and I was doing a good job. My heart was soaring, I was having the time of my life. Neither of us spoke.
Then he said it.
“Do you consider yourself a romantic person?”
I’ve had my fair share of odd questions, but to this day that one still takes the cake. What in the Lord Buddha’s name am I going to say to that? Has anyone in the history of humanity ever asked anything like that?
And suddenly I felt like someone had turned off the lights and turned the colourful trees black and white. A heavy, black ball of discomfort, sorrow and disgust filled the bottom of my stomach. Bear in mind that I was alone in the car with this man on a long, empty road. After a few seconds of shock I still tried to turn it around and make it into a joke.
I made a snorting sound and just said no. He went on to talk about how he behaves in a relationship.
Odd. Definitely uncomfortable. But he hadn’t touched me. It wasn’t like he had put his hand on my knee or anything. Maybe I had just misread the situation?
I was also in too deep. I couldn’t afford to start my classes all over again with someone else. So I was stuck. I convinced myself that the situation was a one-off.
Of course it wasn’t. The following class I made a stupid mistake while changing gears. I don’t know has anyone changed from a right-hand drive to a left-hand one, but the gear box is a complete mirror image. I could repeat the order to myself as much as I wanted but at times my right-hand drive instinct would just kick in from the base of my skull and I would turn the wrong gear.
The car stalled while we were going up a hill. Nothing too dramatic but that was like the third time it had happened during the class and I just lost it. A bus honked at me angrily and I started crying out of frustration. Once we had managed to get up the hill, my instructor told me to pull over.
Then he took a hold of my hand. With both of his hands, clasping it. That caused me to panic. It wasn’t the fact that he held my hand, that could’ve been just a gesture to comfort me but the fact that he used both of his hands. Everything was going in circles. I felt like I had to physically stop myself from crying so I could get my hand away. We went on driving and I felt like I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t.
Was that normal? Was that inappropriate? It was just him and me in the car. I just didn’t know. Then once we pulled over in a quieter road so I could catch my breath, I would just look ahead, upset and shocked.
He was trying to get me to talk but I felt frozen. All of a sudden he took a hold of my chin and turned my face towards himself.
Nobody touches my face. Not even my parents touch my face. His fingers were dry and the heavy ball was there again. I jerked my head away and said that I have to go to work.
Once I pulled over he asked if he could give me a hug. I don’t know why I agreed. I was so confused by it all, so upset without knowing have I got the right to be upset that I allowed it. At least he asked for a permission this time before touching me. The hug was in an awkward angle because we were sitting down, but it was what he said then that made me freeze.
“I do like seeing you.”
I got out of the car as quickly as I could. I went home to change clothes and to quickly to fix my makeup. I looked at myself, and all of a sudden I was so full of disgust towards myself that I’m surprised the mirror didn’t crack of the sight of me.
What the fuck is wrong with you?
Why do you make it seem that it’s OK to do something like that to you?
I was so horrified with myself, so confused and afraid. And at the same time I was stuck. I was reaching the end of my classes and thought that I could stick it out. I had no choice.
I stopped wearing makeup to my driving classes. I like wearing skirts, and find it more comfortable to drive while wearing one but I started wearing jeans instead. I love having my hair as big as possible with wax and tons of spray but now I wouldn’t even wash my hair. I would make myself as unattractive as possible because maybe it’s me. Maybe I had been giving him signs without realising.
On our last class we went on a motorway. He said that if I needed another class on driving on a motorway, we could go for a coffee afterwards. There was no another class. I never spoke to him again.
Now thinking about this experience makes me so angry. I’m not angry at myself, I’m angry at him because now I know that what happened was inappropriate and not my fault. I was becoming increasingly ill with depression and what happened added to my feelings that I was somehow tainted and a bad person who’d be better off dead.
This person tried to take an advantage of a fragile person and that is never, NEVER, acceptable. Nobody has the right to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or touch you without your permission. And to make things worse this isn’t my only experience of inappropriate behaviour but I’m afraid it’s all too common to have something like this happen.
I wish I had known it then what I know now, but I still I don’t blame myself.
It wasn’t my fault.