The last few days I’ve thought about events that preceded me having a complete breakdown. I told about an unpleasant encounter that definitely was one of the ingredients into the perfect storm in Is it my fault?. There were two unpleasant people that entered my life in those last months before I got really ill.
That was the first. This is the second.
I met this man when I was waiting for my train to go on a day trip. We got talking because he was reading an article I had written. It turned out that he was a former high-ranked police officer in the local force. After a few minutes’ chat we found out that we were going into the same city and when the train came, he invited me to sit with him.
Any journalist will tell you that your address book equals your worth. The contacts you make are what you take with you from one job to the next. Having a good relationship with the local police is invaluable. I got into the conversation purely from a professional point of view. As a recently retired high-ranking officer he was extremely well-connected. A useful addition to my address book.
My favourite bit about my job is the interviewing. He was able to tell me some insider’s tips and we had a genuinely interesting conversation about interviewing, micro expressions and open-ended questions. As I found out that both of us were going to be taking the same train back, I thought nothing of exchanging numbers and agreeing to sit together the way back as well. He had a lot of interesting stories and I was keen to pick his brain.
At the end of the day when we reached the home station, he offered me a lift home. I had spent the last couple of hours talking about this man’s family, his wife’s small business, his daughter and son who were my age. Also he was a former policeman. I didn’t feel at all unease about accepting a lift. As I got out of the car he kissed my cheek, which didn’t alarm me. My friends’ dads would do that too. I just assumed it’s a British custom.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks after that first meeting that things started getting weird. We had agreed to get a coffee at some point but at least on my part it was just one of those ‘oh yeah, we’ll have coffee’ – type of things. It turned out that he was keen to have coffee with me.
I had thought of this man as a business contact, maybe a bit of a mentor. He had decades of service behind him and could give me useful information about how to keep up a respectful working relationship with police officers, as the police needs journalists just as much as we need them. He had also suggested I could mention his name the next time I’d get in touch with his former colleagues.
I want to make absolutely crystal clear that even though I’m always personable and friendly with everyone I meet, I always conducted myself in a professional manner and my intentions towards this person were purely professional. Against this background the tone of his texts would soon start to stir an uncomfortable feeling in me.
‘Have you been working very hard in the paper?’ he’d text one evening soon after we met. ‘Are you going to be relaxing now with a cup of coffee, a glass of wine perhaps?’
First I thought nothing of it. Maybe he was just being friendly, but the familiar tone of the texts were making me uncomfortable. He’d approach the subject of getting together for coffee several times and I would keep making excuses. There was just something in his choices of words that made me feel uncomfortable. If I didn’t respond, he would send me another message, claiming that he wasn’t sure if his phone was working.
One day I ran into him in town, and I can’t properly describe what was it in his expression when he saw me that made me so comfortable. He was too happy to see me. Like that kid in the playground who hadn’t quite figured social tact and would declare his love to you from top of the swing set. Unfortunately it was at traffic lights and the light had just changed so I was stuck with him for what seemed like hours. The moment the light went green I escaped. Luckily I was working so had an excuse.
This brief encounter spurred him on to send further texts, pestering me to have coffee with him. Then he said that he had a potential story and was looking to pick my brain. At this point I felt really uncomfortable but it was too good of an opportunity to turn down. He hadn’t really done or even said anything inappropriate. He had been familiar, sure, but that could’ve just been his personality.
So I agreed to meet him. I was travelling to meet some friends, so I had an excuse to leave early. We met at a cafe where he insisted on buying me food. I felt quite proud of myself at that moment. Here I was, networking. My tutors would’ve been proud of me. I was doing exactly what I’ve been taught. This was my chance to have something none of the other young reporters at my office had. A proper working relationship with the local police.
At first I let the conversation go to other topics but when twenty minutes later he hadn’t mentioned why he wanted to meet me, so I raised it with him.
‘Oh. Yeah’, he replied and started talking about a friend of his who played in some sports team and was looking to find out who he should get in touch with about doing a sports story.
I felt like someone had poured icy water into my stomach. That’s it? All he had to do was to pick up a paper. My colleague who does the sports pages has his contact details clearly visible on more than one page of the paper. I realised that this so called story had just been a trick to get me to meet him. My legs felt heavy. My cheeks were burning.
I’m proud of my profession. I’m proud of the way I conduct myself. Sitting in that table as a young journalist and realising that this man had taken advantage of it filled me with something that had been slowly, horrifyingly building up like a cancer of the mind. I felt so humiliated that a black ball of cry was building up in my throat. I quickly made my excuses and left.
At 11pm that night I got a text from him, asking whether I was out partying and did I have fun. I thought about my dad. I thought about my dad texting something like that to a woman my age at 11pm. I thought about his daughter and I felt sorry for her. I can’t imagine how ashamed I’d be if I knew that my dad had done something like that.
I didn’t reply. That was the last I heard of him.
The whole experience left me deeply uncomfortable. As this was now a second significantly older man who was being inappropriate with me, ironically they operated at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling that it was somehow my fault. First my driving instructor, now this.
What’s wrong with me?
Then one night when I was walking home from the office I was solicited as a prostitute and called a whore by not one but two separate men. I tried not to care but it just all added into the black fog that was already starting to cover my field of vision.
What is about me that makes these men think that they can do this to me? What is it that I’m doing? Is it the way I dress? What am I doing wrong?
I had already been sexually assaulted. Was this my part in life? Have these disgusting dirty old men acting this way towards me when I’m only trying to be friendly or professional?
This wasn’t the reason why I headed for the train tracks a few months later. But I realise now that there were things that took place one weeks and weeks before, one after another, that led to these feelings of disgust and worthlessness, further emphasising the point that I was better off dead. They were just some of the components that condensed into an abyss inside me.
I never want to speak to this person again but if I could I would ask me:
“What possessed you into thinking that kind of behaviour was OK?”