A final blow to the head and he was out cold, face down, glistening drool seeping from his cracked, nicotine-stained lips. And I was the one who did it. I warned him that I would. That I could. But he didn't listen. He should have.
When we arrived at the hot springs in the Nevada desert, we were dusty and tired. My friend Amanda, her teenage daughter and I had planned this 6-hour road trip months ago. Recovering from a particularly hard break-up, I was emotionally vacant, like a burnt-out building. This hot spring was to be my rebirth, my scalding baptism.
When we completed the mile-long trek to the hot spring, I dropped by backpack and gasped with joy. What beauty. Several sizable hot springs, all adjoining. A majestic view overlooking a green valley. Yes! This will do the trick. It has to.
There were a few others who had made the journey, but no matter. Of course, I wanted the springs entirely to my friends and myself, but I knew that others needed their spiritual cleansing too. We'd share in the experience together.
My friend and her daughter quickly undressed and made their way into the magical waters. I took my time, drinking in the ritual to its fullest. I undressed and with each article of clothing I dropped, I felt as if I was letting go of another "drag me down" element in my life.
When I finally placed my foot in the hot liquid, I felt instantly changed, as if the magic flew through my foot and up my naked body. As I submerged, it was all I could do not to cry. The goodness hurt my poor, aching heart. I closed my eyes and let the healing begin.
Then I heard him. A gruff, asthmatic laugh.
I opened my eyes and saw a man on the other side of the pool, staring at me in that unwanted, lascivious way. No, no...not this now. Please, God, not this now.
I returned his stare aggressively, as if to say, "Stop. Leave me the fuck alone." But he wouldn't be dissuaded. I couldn't let him ruin this for me. Closing my eyes again, I tried desperately to block him out but every time I'd open them, his eyes burned my flesh.
"Can you stop staring at me?"
"I said stop staring at me."
"Fuck you. I'll look at what I want."
I looked over at my friend and her daughter. Their look of relaxation had quickly turned into concern.
"It's just rude and I'm trying to relax."
"That's your problem."
"She's got a hot body, man. I can't help it," he jokingly tells his friend.
What a scrawny fuck of a man. Yellowed teeth, broken face, greasy hair, glossy red eyes. I could smell the stale cigarette smoke and cheap booze emanating from the steam and drifting my way. I approximated his size so I could make my decision. He was at least an inch or two smaller than me.
I'm a woman who fights. I studied martial arts for years and have sparred men considerably bigger than me. This guy was an easy take-down, especially because he was drunk. For years, I've argued with men (predominantly) who insist that a woman can never beat a man in any physical altercation. Well, I have. But obviously, many factors come into play.
The most pressing concern is size. If a man is much bigger than me, then yes, there's a good chance he'll beat me. (Or honestly, I'd get out of the situation before I'd allow that to happen. One good disarming hit and I'd run.) But if a man is my size or smaller, then the odds shift. I stand a chance. After years of fighting in competitions, I stand a better chance.
But it's not just size; it's mindset. If someone is really angry, for instance, and you are not, you could be at a serious disadvantage, regardless of the size. They have the force of their rage coming at you and you're not at their pitch level of volatility yet.
In the same breath, if you're a practiced fighter, calm serves you. A relaxed, focused fighter can always beat an angry one, who tends to be wild and sloppy.
I could have taken him. In my mind, when I go back in time, I do. I ask him to step outside of the pool. I put on my clothes and kick his ass resoundingly. He lie face-down in a puddle of his own blood and spit while I grab my friends and leave.
But I can't go back. And that's not what I did. Instead I got up and went to an adjacent pool and fumed instead of "cleansed." And the rest of the trip was slightly tainted by this man's need to dominate me with visual harassment.
I hope that little runt of a methhead is dead, rotting in a worm-ridden cardboard box somewhere. I hope no one shed a tear for him. I hope that men everywhere realize that unwanted stares can feel as invasive as an unwanted touch. I hope my friend's daughter, in the future, sees a woman check a man like that so thoroughly that she vows to never tolerate such harassment.
This wasn't some horny lowlife, but a violent man. Those stares weren't sexual; they were an act of dominance and aggression. He spit on my spirit during a time when I desperately needed the world to envelop and comfort me. And of course, this kind of thing goes on all the time. A sick man's desire to invade trumps a woman's need for peace of mind. And it's a spiritual crime, one that can't be undone, ever.
In my mind, I still go back to those hot springs and hurt that man. Badly. Oh, you did the right thing, everyone says. Fuck the right thing. I still live with that experience. I should have kicked his ass or died trying.
There was no justice that day. There was no baptism.