By Nicole Capó
Riding the train to my hot-shot production company internship made me feel powerful.
It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college, the first time I’d found a way to stay in D.C. instead of going home where life felt lackluster. I had a boyfriend here, and friends, and I wanted to have fun away from my family even if I was barely making enough money to cover my rent and feed myself.
Riding the train during the morning rush hour was the only part of my two-part-time-jobs-one-unpaid-internship routine that felt normal in any way. I’d usually bring along my earphones and pick up a copy of Express on my way into the metro to catch up on the daily news, feeling somewhat like a real adult in my casual television industry outfits alongside the suited-up Capitol Hill-ers. Every now and then I’d throw on a dress and imagine myself as a successful television producer making serious money instead of a lowly intern building Ikea desks for a transportation allowance that covered maybe half of my actual transportation costs. One day I’d belong in that world, but for the moment, the train was the one place where I wasn’t being judged on how far down the work ladder I found myself—I was just one of the morning rush commuters heading to work, same as everyone else.
The first leg of my journey was always packed, and I frequently found myself fighting for a spot near a pole I could hold on to to avoid falling over. On one particular morning, late for work, I rushed into the first open car I saw and was suddenly engulfed in a crowd of people. I managed to grab a spot on a pole and almost immediately felt dozens of other fingers touching mine, hands overlapping my spot as we all struggled to hold on. Bodies were packed in tightly, so I barely noticed when one body brushed up particularly close to mine, trapping me in my place.
That was when I felt it. The person behind me had a major erection, and he was rubbing it right along my backside. Panicking, I tried to shift positions several times, and each time, the person behind me moved as well. Moving anywhere significant would require getting other people to get out of my way, so I attempted as best I could to turn sideways, to make my ass less accessible as if rubbing up against my thigh would be any better. I felt nauseous and my chest was tight. The air around me was thin. It was ages before I could get off the train and when I did, I shook on the walk to my connecting train. I grabbed a seat and couldn’t stop trembling all the way to work.
I didn’t tell anyone but my boyfriend, and even then all I could manage to say was that someone violated my private space on the train. I spent the entire day feeling furious, frustrated, defeated. I felt like I was not in control of my body anymore, that I had been robbed of that authority. I wanted to scream and cry at the same time, and the feeling stuck around for quite some time. Train rides by myself were never the same after that.
I recognize that feeling of powerlessness every time I see someone eyeing me in the street, every time I walk past someone and hear them talk about how damned sexy I am.
I know you probably feel it, too, and I want you to know that I believe you. That it can happen to any of us, in broad daylight, and that it can make you feel weaker than anything.
It’s not your fault, and your shame is not weakness. It’s the strength that comes from knowing what’s right and what’s wrong and from wanting so desperately to change things.
The fear may never go away, but know that you are not alone. Telling your story is power. Together we’re stronger than we ever could be apart.
- Nicole Capó, age 24