I have referred to this incident in the past, now I will share in detail what caused me to learn the harsh life lesson “never fall asleep with your back to a stranger.”
Back over Thanksgiving, I had set my mind that I was going to spend the holiday visiting my family, regardless of the work policy forbidding employees from travelling during the holidays. I figured I could arrange for an overnight bus trip to Buffalo following my shift on Wednesday, arrive in time to help cook and enjoy The Big Meal, spend Friday catching up and leave Saturday night for another seven-hour bus ride back to New York City that would allow me enough time to take my suitcase home, have a shower and breakfast, before going to work on Sunday morning. Phew! Sound tl:dr? Imagine living it!
The bus ride to Buffalo went smoothly enough. On the way back, however, the connecting bus from Toronto was late. It was also full of passengers. Tension was high, but I managed to take a seat next to a middle-aged woman who was taking up 1.3 seats by herself. I tried to be grateful for the .7 seat I had, as we departed 45 minutes late.
Keeping myself in the seat was difficult, being constantly pushed out by my seatmate, who dozed happily curled up in fetal position next to me. This was just plain rude. To prevent myself being pushed into the aisle by her tossing in her sleep, I put the armrest up as a sort of bed rail. Four and a half hours later, it was clear this bus would be running late. As tight as my schedule was, I was too anxious to sleep for most of the ride, but I finally managed to doze off around 5am, facing the bus aisle, holding onto the armrest, with my back to my seatmate.
A short while later, I was roughly awakened by feeling something going down the back of my jeans. It was my seatmate’s hand! While I struggled to figure out what was happening, she thrashed her hand around inside my pants until I was awake enough – mere seconds but what felt like an eternity later – to sit upright and face my molester.
“Sorry,” she smiled. “I wake you?” she asked in innocent, lilting, broken English.
My heart was pounding. I had no idea what to say. Should I be outraged? I felt violated. But her smile made it seem like an innocent misunderstanding. What could I do? On a bus full of sleeping passengers, should I yell? What if I alerted the driver? Would he have to stop the bus on the frozen highway, making me even more late for work than I already was? Or should I politely try to rouse another sleeping passenger and ask to switch seats: “Excuse me, but this nice old lady in an Old Navy hoodie is a perv who just felt me up in my sleep. Care to swap seatmates with me?”
What is the moral of this story? “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover?” “Never let your guard down?” Or maybe, it’s a sad comment on rape culture? Do you think I should have spoken up? What would you have done, if it happened to you?