On a sunny late afternoon in NYC, I was on my way home from art school. Exhausted. We’d had a full day at the easel, standing on concrete floors, the instructors particularly nasty all day. As if our not knowing what they were talking about was our fault, somehow, and they were taking it out on every one of us, one by one.
I found it so hard to do the exercises they gave us that I was contemplating quitting school. I felt stupid, thick, hopeless.
I was so upset that I wasn’t walking. I was striding, eyes downcast on the filthy sidewalk, not paying much attention to the world around me.
Right near the entrance to my subway station, a young man dressed all in black came at me from the opposite direction. Fast. Smirking.
Not registering the smirk quite yet, I felt my body swing over to my right, near the fence, to get out of his way, because my portfolio was huge and could easily trip him up if he ran into it. In hindsight, I wish it had.
As he passed by me, he flung out his left hand and pinched/twisted my left nipple so hard I cried out, like a little bark!/huh!/hey! sound. Loud!
I stopped for a second to take a breath, but quickly went on, afraid of missing the train.
I was 17 years old. Fully developed. Long honey blond hair down to my waist. Cute yellow sundress, my favorite. A very easy target, with one hand gripping my portfolio, the other clutching my purse, over-stuffed with brushes and tubes of paint.
I didn’t know what to do. He was long gone, and besides, was I going to chase him and run him down, punch him in the face and demand an apology? Maybe pinch and twist his nipple?
I just kept going. In a hurry, I started down the subway stairs.
I felt a hand on my arm, trying to pull me over so I’d fall.
I was already angry, feeling so helpless and afraid, that the feeling of being toppled over on the hard steps was one ugly feeling too many. It absolutely enraged me.
I swung out with my heavy portfolio, hoping to trip up whoever the hell it was.
It did! It was a young guy, scruffy, dirty, surprised.
I stepped over him as I screamed,”Don’t you ever touch me again!” And ran off to barely catch my train.
As we pulled away from the station, I was able to find a seat under a window. We left the dark tunnel and sunlight flooded the interior. I began to relax. I thought I was home safe.
A big older man whose soft, blimp-sized belly was desperately trying to escape the bounds of buttons and belt planted himself right in front of me, grasping one of the overhead straps.
I had been trying to make my portfolio less obstructive, trying to be the Polite Girl, shuffling it around unsuccessfully. Where could it go? No room! The thing was huge, and full to boot.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the thought came to me: “Why are you trying to be so polite when all these stupid guys want is to knock you over and hurt you somehow?”
My turn to grin. One of those corner-of-the-mouth, ‘I see you and you think you’re going to have one on me, eh? Fuggedabout it’ grins.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of Katie Holmes right before she left Tom Cruise – she’s a master of the one-sided grin.
So I just shoved the portfolio right down in front of my feet, pushing it out towards the guy. No one was going to get to me through that thing!
The man backed off. I wasn’t looking directly at him, but I saw his shoulders slump a bit and shrug, as if to admit defeat. He didn’t bother me after that.
I get to Grand Central Station, get off, get on the train out to Long Island. My portfolio - my burden, my savior - was heavy. I couldn’t wait to grab a window seat and let the thing rest on the floor so I could slide into doze-world for an hour.
That wasn’t meant to be. I had somehow become a magnet for every lecherous guy in New York City that day. Hands swept up to caress or squeeze my butt. Sly grins as I walked past each man. Big bags in both hands, I thought I had no way to stop them.
By the time I was able to sit down, I felt so dirty, so slimed and so disgusting it was an effort to keep from puking on the older gentleman sitting across from me.
I sighed, closed my eyes. One of those almost-in-tears deep on the edge of I-can’t-bear-life-anymore sighs.
The man fake-coughed, cleared his throat. I opened my eyes. He nodded, offered me his handkerchief.
These days, we’d think oh no, it’s probably laced with fentanyl or something. But back then – 1964 – it was still a kind, chivalrous act.
I took it and wiped my eyes, handed it back.
“Keep it,” he said, “I got more.” Smiling gently. “Hard day?”
I just nodded. I couldn’t talk. He let it be.
As the tenements and tennis courts and towns passed by outside the window, the last rays of sun drenching them with deep orange and rosy hues, I went back to my thoughts from earlier.
Why was I trying to be so nice? A thousand thoughts and memories rushed through my head. All the times in my childhood when my father, brothers, friends of same, school mates, and even teachers tickled, teased, taunted or terrorized me.
I never once stood up for myself. Not once.
I was too afraid of them. They were always much bigger or more powerful or more important than I was.
I believed I had no power, no strength even close to be equal to the fight I believed I’d have to put up to stop them.
So they ran all over me.
I thought back to the pinch/twist, and how I had cried out. That was the first time - ever - that I had allowed a sound like that to come out of my mouth!
Always before it was a cry, a whimper, or a whine – please, stop, don’t, no, stop, please – useless, thin, pathetic beggings that only served to make the abuser laugh and carry on more vigorously.
This cry was loud! Strong!
I liked it. Really really really liked it.
I wanted to practice it. Make it into a war cry – STOP IT! So loud it would rend and scrape their ear canals into bloody shreds, rip and tear down their spines and fill them with that same terror I had felt all those years.
The hour ride to my station passed in a flash as I pulled all the thoughts and sensations of past incidences out of my belly and went over them, one at a time. Gaining strength from each one.
For the first time in my life, I felt as if the sun had lit up and come to live in my belly.
When I got home, I changed into my jeans and flannel shirt and blasted out into the woods to my hide-away, and practiced screaming my rage, until the big bell rang calling me into dinner.
My parents asked me why I was so flushed and hoarse, was I OK? Maybe I was coming down with something?
I just grinched my shoulders and told them I had no idea.
But I side-grinned to myself, feeling like I had changed my very Being somehow, like I was a hundred times more powerful.
Funny, isn’t it? Neither my father nor my brothers ever tickled me again after that day.
Someone asked me the other day what one of my best accomplishments in my life was.
At first, I thought about all the things I have seen and experienced and created, and the people I have helped through my art, books and coaching.
But what really stood out was that, no matter what, I kept on.
I kept on. No matter what.
And even if my inner Sun has been attacked, clouded, obscured and even close to being utterly destroyed, it has remained at the center of my being all these years.
Unfailing, ever-lasting, always radiant with power and more-than-love. Even times I forgot it was there, it was unstinting in warmth, welcoming me back when I finally got a grip again.
Remember your inner sun.
Keep on keeping on. No matter what.
Thanks for reading my story! I hope you enjoyed it.
Image: FLYING FEARLESS INTO the LIGHT
Original painting - oils on canvas, 30×40 - sold.
© Angela Treat Lyon 2004
text © Angela Treat Lyon 2023
The Inside Secrets book series: Stories I’ve Never Told Anyone, Volumes I-VI, plus my audio books and a whole slew of free ebooks: https://atlyon.gumroad.com
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