Violation Among the Stacks

I never did like libraries. The one we frequented in high school was okay. The one we visited when I was a kid had a very distinct scent. I always checked out The Lorax.

I usually only go to the library if I have to. This practice will not be changing in the foreseeable future because of what happened today.

Maybe I have bad luck. Maybe there is just something about me that drives people crazy. But that does not give someone the right to stalk me while I’m trying to study.

I was seated at a desk by the window on the second floor of the Fairfax City Library on Chain Bridge Road, minding my own business. Reading, highlighting, etc.–the regular grad school stuff. A guy sits down in the aisle behind me and off to the right. Peripherally, I see him look in my direction, but he seems to be looking through the books.

A few moments pass. He comes to browse the shelves on the wall immediately to my right. He sits back down on the floor with a book. I continue to ignore him in hopes he will soon be finished with his business there. Instead, he moves closer. So I turn my back, continue reading, highlighting.

He brings a book to the desk on my left, sits and looks at me for awhile, but I turn back toward the window. Now I’m really hoping he will leave. He does get up, but only to move back to his position immediately to my right, where political biographies occupy the shelves.

Question: Has a political biography ever made you whisper, “oh God…”?

I thought, perhaps I did not just hear that. Perhaps there was something startling in whatever text he’s skimming through. But then, he sighed. And then he groaned.

And then I got the hell out of there.

And as I finished packing up my bookbag, he sauntered off down the aisle away from me. Creep city.

Now, as I was leaving and driving home, I though to myself, “Why didn’t I just say something? Ask him to leave? Ask what he was doing?” But I know that while I was there in the moment and considering such an act, it seemed impossible. Because while it could have put a halt to the discomfort, it also could have made things worse. And he never did touch me, I was braced for that. So what do you do?

This experience got me considering victimhood. I tried to examine the reasons behind NOT saying or doing anything. Was it fear? Confusion? Paralysis? In my opinion, the confusion seemed to be the main factor. Because although I was slightly fearful, I think at the heart of that fear is a misunderstanding of sorts. Confusion as to why a man like that (average looking twenty-something, could have been a fellow student) would act the way he was acting in a library. And because I lack the ability to comprehend those motives, I was put in a compromising position.

I would like to think that I learned something today, and that if such a thing were to happen again, I would not be the deer in the headlights. I would like to think I will say something. I hope I can say something, and I hope I can feel more comfortable in libraries in the future.


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