Today I was put in the position to be a bystander...and I did the right thing.
It’s a 20 minute walk from the gym to my dorm across campus. Most nights that walk goes smoothly, but not tonight. Tonight I was given the option to step up or run away.
My roommate and I were about 3 minutes away from the dorm when we heard a boy screaming at two girls. We figured he was drunk and angry and just kept our heads down and continued on. Then there was a loud bang and we both immediately turned around. He had thrown a bottle at one of the girls and slammed his skateboard on the ground.
We knew one of the girls, we had issues with her last year after being friends first semester, but we knew that she needed us in the moment. We asked if she was hurt and what was going on with the other girl and the boy.
They had been dating for 2 months and he was already showing signs that this relationship was turning south quickly, and the girl had tried to break up with him earlier that day which did not end well.
My roommate and I quickly formed a plan of action to try and remove the girl from the situation without making the boy more aggressive. But, per usual, things don’t always go as planned. I had left my roommate behind to watch our stuff and I followed my acquaintance to the couple. The poor girl had makeup running down her face and her eyes screamed that she was scared and did not want to be held by this boy at this moment.
After trying to directly ask the girl if she was okay and have a verbal response from her, the boyfriend started yelling. He would not allow her to answer, claiming that he knew her well enough to answer for her and knew that she wanted to go back to his dorm. I must have asked a dozen times to speak with the girl alone before he took a step towards me and begun yelling louder asking who the fuck I was and how any of this was my fucking business. I simply, and casually, raised my hands up in a show that I wasn’t going to touch anyone and that I was not going to partisipate in anything physical if he decided to go even closer to me.
One of his comments truly struck me. I mean, the fact that he believes that he can speak for another person was shocking, but the fact that he could look me in the eyes and yell “This is my GIRLFRIEND” and truly believe that that was any sort of comforting remark and valid reason to send me on my way was beyond me. I genuinely replied with “That doesn’t mean shit”, which of course sent him into a frenzy.
He practically shoved the girl in my direction when he finally agreed to let her go across the street and talk to me one on one if it meant that I would shut up and the threat of calling the cops was going to be gone.
She was terrified. As we walked across the street I realized that I had been out in the cold for about 40 minutes at this point and I could not feel my fingers, but frankly I didn’t care. It was past 10:00pm and I was ready to be out there into the morning if need be. I quickly introduced myself and told her that she does not deserve to be treated this way. I told her that by no means does she need to go home with him tonight. I told her to talk to him tomorrow when he was sober and try to work things out then if she wanted to speak with him because his behavior was scary at this point and I’d hate to see something happen to a beautiful girl like her. I told her to put all the blame on me. Blame the stranger for making her go home. Blame the stranger for making a huge deal out of (what he thought) wasn’t a big deal at all. I told her that I will take him spitting in my face for being a nuisance any day over something bad happening to her tonight.
Her reaction was heartbreaking. This boy had such a grip on her, the way that many abusers have on their victims. She was scared to tell him no in fear that he would be angry and not want her anymore. That if he didn’t want her then no one would. She had this idea in her head that this was her future, this is what she deserved out of life. I knew that no matter what I said or how many times I assured her that there are better things out there there was nothing that would instantly change her reality.
Soon enough her other friends had caught wind of what was going on and we had a group of 5 urging her to make the right choice. I was no longer alone, which was a relief in that moment. She decided that she would like to go back to her dorm tonight. I was so proud and so relieved that something I said must have gotten through, that with the support of her friends and even strangers she had the courage to stand up for what she wanted.
She decided that she wanted to say goodnight to him and have a quick conversation before we all walked her back to the dorm. My roommate and I stood with the group of her friends a few feet away giving them space to talk. Within minutes we could hear her sobbing again. We all hoped that she would stand her ground and make the right choice.
After 10 minutes or so, the boy looks my roommate in the eyes and yells “What are you guys still doing here?”. She quickly replied that we were all waiting to bring the girl home because that is what she decided was right to do tonight. He wasn’t taking that as an answer. He argued back that she was still going to come with him and the tears continued to roll down her face.
She was silenced once again. We talked directly to her and he was answering for her again. We were 10 steps forward and now a million steps back. We asked her directly again if she wanted to go with him tonight and he rolled his eyes and yelled at her to answer us so that we’d go the fuck away. She did as she was told.
We realized that there was nothing more that we could do in that moment. If we grabbed her and forced her with us we would be just as bad as him. My roommate and I agreed to leave in hope that it would allow the situation to die down, but her group of friends stayed and told us that they would update us on the situation. Despite believing that they were not going to leave her alone with him, I could not help breaking down in tears on the walk back to the dorm.
I had tried my hardest to protect someone from a threat, from someone abusing them. I tried reasoning with her, telling her stories from my own life and from my friends lives, ensuring her that there was more out there. I had spent well over an hour in the freezing cold trying to protect a stranger from a situation that she should not have been put in. I felt powerless. I felt defeated. I felt that no matter what I did I could not protect this sweet girl. I had given it my all, and I had failed.
But- the thing is, I did try. I spent over an hour in the freezing cold for a stranger because I felt that it was the right thing to do. I could have kept my head down and continued walking. I could have been just like everyone else on the road that night. I could have walked away and said screw it when I had a boy screaming in my face that this was not my business and that I should just leave, but I didn’t. I put myself in danger over someone that I did not know. And honestly, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
A RATHER GRIM REGGAE LYRIC ONCE PROCLAIMED: “There’s six million ways to die—choose one.” Well, there’s even more ways than that in which you can annihilate yourself on a skateboard. In fact, you don’t have to choose. The trauma lottery never sleeps, and it’s waiting for you the moment you step on the grip. From curbs to waist-high rails, or from flatground to hill bombs, each slam is unique and it’s only a matter of time until this blood debt needs to be reckoned. And whether you’re supernaturally talented or staring down your first drop-in: Everyone pays. The skate/slam covenant is so assured it makes you wonder if there’s dark forces at work, beyond the naked eye, maintaining the sacred oath. Perhaps these invisible entities, Slam Demons if you will, operate something like this…