I Saw My Harasser For The First Time In Years

I often write to share stories—but on days like this, I write to remember.

Dear future self, this was what happened to you on July 26, 2018 at 6PM. I sincerely hope that by the time you’re reading this, you’re doing better. But if you’re not, it’s okay. Hang on. The sun will still shine bright tomorrow.

_______________

I thought I was doing fine.

Two years after letting my harassment case go, I’ve moved on to pursue bigger, grander things: happiness, healing, and recovery. Everything was going well: I don’t have nightmares anymore. Going out of the house is also much easier—I am no longer afraid of whatever comes my way.

I’ve completely accepted my past. I write about it. Tweet about it. Talk about it. Even go to universities to talk about it with other victors of harassment.

Everything was okay. But in the snap of a finger, everything crumbled after taking a selfie.

_______________

July 26, 2018

It was a perfect day. I woke up, took a long, hot shower, and then worked on a couple of articles. Afterwards, I headed to the mall to attend an event that I absolutely enjoyed. After the event, my boyfriend picked me up for dinner.

It was a simple day; it was perfect. And I wanted to remember this perfectly normal, perfectly simple day—so I took out my phone and snapped a picture.

But after putting my phone down, I glanced at the table beside me and saw a man wearing a pair of cargo pants with multi-pockets. It was a familiar beige. Then, I saw the v-neck shirt. And then the sports watch. The hair (military cut). The built (medium).

Oh my God, I thought. I saw him—the man I’ve been praying that I would never, ever run into for the rest of my life.

I saw my ex-boyfriend. My harasser.

For the record, as I write this, I am still not sure whether it really was him that I saw at the mall—but in that moment, all I could think of was that I was afraid for my life.

I had a lot of things to say—but words just started jumbling in my head, one after another. What did I want to say?

I’m not afraid?

I hate you?

I forgive you?

Help me?

Run?

 

“Oh my God,” was all I could muster.

“What’s happening, Hersh?” my boyfriend started to worry.

I stared into the distance. My knees felt like jelly. I felt my heart pump blood faster..and faster...and fasterandfasterandfasterandfaste---

“Hersh?”

“Oh my God.”

Tears welled up in my eyes.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.”

My boyfriend held my hand. I was trying not to cry.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God”

I was literally shaking. The whole world was dark. Spinning. Confusing.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God”

I was sobbing like a child.

“Let’s go. Now. Please.”

I picked up my bag, and didn’t even bother to look back to confirm whether or not it was him. It didn’t matter anymore. I was going through something I’ve never felt in ages. Everything was just a blur.

We walked away from the restaurant. Josh was holding me close, leading the way—I was trying to count my breaths.

But again—it came in waves.

First, I remembered the day he followed me around after school. He rode the same van I was in, and got down at the same stop I did. To escape him, I hailed a taxi—but before I could close its door, he opened it and jumped inside. I remembered how he hugged me and kissed me, gently whispering, “I still love you.” And I remembered how I cried, “Please stop.” I also remembered how he brought out a pen and pushed the sharp end against my waist, saying, “Hindi mo ako hahayaan?”. It was the longest taxi ride of my life.

And then, I remembered the day he choked me in public. I remembered the professor who saw us. And the security guards who didn’t intervene sooner. I remembered the way the world started to look hazy. And I remembered people glancing at us while I was shouting for help. I never thought that one could feel so alone and helpless in broad daylight, along a crowded street in Manila.

Next, I remembered the day I filed a complaint at the university’s Office of Student Affairs. And I also remembered being informed that I couldn’t file a case against him, simply because the incident happened outside of the school gate. I realized the irony of life, because while it  happened meters away from the Department of Justice, justice was something hard to find.

I remembered the university’s Office of Sexual Harassment coming to the rescue. Women I didn’t know were trying to help me, and I felt hope. But then there was a lady guard who became a witness for my harasser, claiming that he didn’t choke me—he was just saving me from getting hit by an oncoming car. I remembered walking up to her, crying for justice, asking her, “Pano mo ‘to kayang gawin sa kapwa mo babae?” And I remembered an old professor asking me to stop making a commotion—the university was not a place for that.

I remembered a lot of things, big and small, coming one after another. I remembered being greeted in class with a brown envelope containing a subpoena. The room in Manila City Hall where my harasser and I had to face each other. I remembered fainting in the room, and being brought to the clinic in a squeaky old wheel chair. I remembered my mother who was broken.

I remembered the face of the lady guard. The face of my harasser. The face of his mother weeping, telling me to let go of the case because their son is their only hope. I remembered the face of injustice.

All these images came into my head, abrupt and sudden and bright and clear. I felt dizzy. I wanted to puke. I was hyperventilating, and the next thing I knew, I was crying on the floor, in the middle of the mall.

_______________

“It doesn’t get better,” I whispered.

“But it will,” my boyfriend said.

I refused to listen, drowning the noise with child-like sobbing.

“It doesn’t get better.”

“It will.” he said. Gently.

“It doesn’t get better!” I mouthed. I was inaudible. Speaking was difficult. But I was stubborn.

“It will,” he said—this time, firmly.

“It doesn’t get better,” I cried, staring at the ceiling.

_______________

After all these years—why now?

WHY NOW?

I was doing GREAT. I was HAPPY. I was CONTENT. I had a great job, a loving family, an amazing boyfriend. I even went on a month-long vacation to Europe with my loved ones—a dream come true! I had every reason to be happy. But why did everything start to come back to me? I wanted to move on.

I. WANTED. TO. MOVE. ON.

But then I realized that it wasn’t my harasser stopping me from moving on. No, he lost whatever power he had over me a long time ago.

It’s my wounds trying to hurt me, all over again. But this time, I refused to let it win.

_______________

“It hasn’t gotten better,” I said softly, burying my face in my hand, wiping away my tears.

“But one day, it will,” a voice replied. It was loud and strong and calm and hopeful—all at the same time.

This time, it wasn’t another person’s.

It was mine.

Tomorrow is now yesterday.jpeg

"Tomorrow Is Now. Tomorrow Is Yesterday." 

The day will come when all this hurting will make sense. 

Taken at the Gucci Museum in Florence, Italy last June 2018.