Author's note: I wrote this article for my own therapy, to try and exorcise the negative emotional residue left with the experience, and decided to submit it to xoJane for publication. Before submitting, I did a search for "cab" on xoJane to see if anyone had already written anything similar. To my surprise and horror, Emily had a very similar experience with someone who must have been the exact same cab driver six or seven years ago, which means he is probably still out there. The invitation to the front seat, the palm reading, but it was her mention of the word "heavy" that made me 100% certain it was the same man. His use of the word is not mentioned below in my experience, likely because I blocked it out or had too much alcohol still in my system to remember. However, when I read her story, the memory of his use of the word came tumbling back like being hit by an ice-cold ocean wave and knocked me breathless. How can we find and stop this guy?
It was September of 2010. I had just moved to New York and was as exhilarated as I was naive. I made all the classic newbie mistakes; I got ripped off by a broker for an unbearably loud room above several bars. I fooled around with DJs in the meatpacking district. I didn't sleep much that first year.
I had just landed a job in television, an entertainment industry entry-level dream job. My start date was a Monday in mid-September; a few days before that, I flew home to my mother's in Virginia to see her, play with my dog, and get some proper rest before my first day of "real life." (Everything is real life, as we are often harshly reminded.)
It may just be me, but it seems there's something about the night before travel that makes you want to party. Rather than going to bed early like a "good girl," I went to a gay bar around the corner with friends, drank just enough to come home merrily drunk around 2AM, put on a Talking Heads record and write an absurd Facebook love message to my last college fling. I passed out around 3AM.
Around 5AM, my alarm went off. I grudgingly resigned myself to an uncomfortable day of travel, pulled on some leggings and threw my hair into a top knot. There was no time for coffee. I grabbed my bag and wobbled down my six flights of stairs to hail a cab. It was still dark out, but one stopped immediately. The driver was an eccentric, overweight man.
He swung open the front passenger seat door and hollered, "Where to? Hop up front!" Not thinking, I accepted his invitation and got in the front seat.
The driver rambled on about god knows what in a heavy accent as we started toward JFK. He then offered to read my palm, and for some foolish reason I gave him my hand. He started massaging my palm and going on about my future. I think he spoke about how many children I would have. I'm honestly not sure. I was exhausted. I was a wreck. I was probably still drunk. I ignored my tingling female intuition that something was not right.
Somewhere along the way, seatbelt strapped, my hand in his, head rested against the window, I started to doze off, strange anxious dreams mixing with the reality of what was happening. When I snapped to it, we were approaching the JFK airport. He still had his left hand on the wheel, but his right hand was no longer on my palm. Rather, it was down my favorite David Bowie T-shirt, slipped under my bra, massaging my breast.
I squeaked in shock and tried to pull his hand out of my shirt, but he persisted, attempting to coax me into thinking that it was okay in what I can only describe as an almost fatherly-tone. He continued to touch my breasts. I grabbed his hand and yanked it out with all my might, just as we were pulling into JFK. He mumbled a few words as I sat there, stunned. Then I took out my wallet and I paid. I goddamn paid, probably clicking the 20% tip option like I always do.
That's a detail that especially maddens and humiliates me -- I tipped a man for sexually assaulting me. I must have been in shock.
I then grabbed my bag, leapt out of the cab and ran inside to a handicap bathroom stall where I sat in a sort of seated fetal position, hands wrapped around my legs, as I choked back tears and struggled to breathe.
There was a part of me that was grateful, "At least he actually took me to the airport and not some alley, at least it was all above the waist."
It's like the time I was date-raped then felt relieved when I saw condom wrappers scattered around me, thankful I didn't have to worry about STIs.
I pulled myself together and made it to my flight. I gulped down an Ativan and slept the whole way. When I arrived at my mother's I explained I was exhausted and needed a nap, I took another Ativan and slept some more. The weekend at home continued as nothing had happened. I pushed the experience away like an embarrassed child hiding sheets in their closet after she wet the bed.
I eventually told my best friend, someone who has also survived sexual assault, who was furious I hadn't tried to report the guy. She said I should have called the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission and tracked him down. I should have, but I just wanted to forget it.
I love my breasts. They are incredible. My boyfriend loves them, and they are a tremendous source of pleasure for the both of us. I'm not trying to brag by mentioning their glory -- but it's a fact, they're fantastic, and women should be proud of our beautiful anatomy.
Yet even more than two years later as I type this, when I look down at them, I feel shame. I feel dirty. I imagine those selfish, filthy paws squeezing my unknowing, resting chest and I feel sick. Damn you, cabbie, damn you for mentally tarnishing my beloved breasts.
I could ramble on about all the "mistakes" I made that put me in this situation: I drank too much the night before, I dozed off, I got in the front seat, etc. But screw that. While I wouldn't advise another young girl new to New York to handle the events the same way as I did, as Emily has written about many times, it's their fault, not ours, no matter what you tell yourself with the heavy weight of denial and depression pressed upon your shoulders.
If I was a man, I could have gotten blackout drunk the night before, requested to sit in the front seat because I was nauseous, and the guy probably would have kept me awake by chatting about sports, then dropped me off at the airport exchanging no more than a nod.
To this day, I always feel paranoid in a cab alone, especially at night. Men of all professions, from politicians to priests are sexual predators -- please don't interpret this article as an attack or judgment on all cab drivers. I've had far more positive experiences with New York cab drivers than negative. But this happened, it happened to me. I was felt up without consent by a cab driver, and hopefully sharing my story will provide some sort of therapy to help me move on.
If I had read Emily's initial article about her cab driver experience perhaps I wouldn't have gotten in the front seat. After reading this, I hope you won't.
[On that note, if you're in New York City, please share this story with your friends and social networks, so other women will be aware to watch out for this guy. And hopefully the next woman will be aware enough to get his name or driver's license and report him. xoEmily]