Getting in the Gameness

Note: A briefer version of this story was going to be told on the Jay Jack Uncensored podcast when they talked about the need for gameness in women and how society typically squelched that trait. But, between my accident and the podcast’s “squirrel!” attention span for topics, I decided that I’d go ahead and publish this anyways. Maybe we’ll still go over the idea on a future JJU episode. But I needed to tell my story while the last bit was still fresh in my mind.

This all starts with a foolish summer fling in 2001. I met a guy working security at a concert, we hit off, we spent the summer having some fun together. I made it clear from the beginning that this was just going to be a summer thing, I was headed back to Ithaca in the fall for my junior year of college. I like to think that I ignored any signs that he was a little “off” because it was just a summer thing so it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t looking for a life partner. He was sweet, he was fun, and that was all that mattered at the time.

When fall came, it turned out he didn’t get it. I was back in Ithaca and had broken things off and he didn’t take the hint. I tried to be friendly about it but just wasn’t getting through to him. When he started to become a nuisance, I tried to cut off all communications. And that is when things really went downhill.

I always feel like calling him a stalker is a little bit of an overstatement. … Short side note or maybe it’s the point. If this is a post about empowerment and gameness then I shouldn’t qualify, downplay, or imply that my stalker was my overreaction rather than this person. Isn’t part of being empowered allowing yourself to consider your feelings valid?

He wasn’t in the same state, he wasn’t any sort of tech genius that was monitoring what I did online. But he was certainly harassing me. I blocked him on Instant Messenger, and he started using other people’s usernames to try to contact me. He used friend’s email addresses. The real tipping point was one night when he alternated calling my landline and my cell phone… 39 times in an hour. I reported it to the local police and included a print out of one of his more upsetting emails. Rather than threatening to be violent, he was “offering” to be too friendly, if I’d only just talk to him. The officer told me that there wasn’t anything he could do for me, but to let him know if this guy ever showed up around town because the Ithaca PD would be happy to have a word with him.

Maybe I overreacted For the next year or two, I was very anxious about seeing him. The next summer, he walked by a doorway at my job and I became lightheaded and had to grab a table and take time to collect myself. I wasn’t visible to him, thankfully, so the incident ended there. I started dating (my now ex-husband) Aaron a month or so after the initial harassment and Aaron had to really work against my resistance to let another guy into my life. By the time I graduated college, I had started to get over the anxiety. I was living with Aaron in NY and he usually came with me on my visits to Maine, so I had a sort of built-in layer of protection. I was with someone who was physically imposing, I was pretty sure the stalker wasn’t going to mess with me when Aaron was around.

In 2012, I moved back to Maine. At this point I was married to Aaron so the layer of protection was still in place. But the chances of encountering this guy increased now that I lived in the area full-time and the chances I would be alone at the time went way up too. Still, I felt like my wedding band held a certain level of deterrent power. We saw him at the very first concert we attended at the State Theater (which was Halestorm, btw). He was way up front in the crowd and I pointed him out to Aaron so he’d know what the guy looked like.

In late 2013, I had my first near-miss encounters with him sans Aaron. I had begun working a job in downtown Portland and decided to pop by Reny’s for a snack when my packed lunch wasn’t enough. I turned down an isle and found myself about 6′ away from him. He was on the phone but it looked like he saw me as I turned and nearly ran from the store. I spent the next hour or so trying to get my heartrate back down. I told my teammate, Tammy, the short version of what had me so wound up and told her I’d be keeping my eyes pealed from now on.

A while later (months?) one random morning that Tammy and I hit up Starbucks for a little caffeine. As we turned to the cream and sugar station, I spotted him sitting in the corner on a laptop. Again, I think he spotted me as I whispered to my teammate “That’s him!” and rushed out of the shop without my usual dose of sugar.

The third sighting wasn’t too long afterwards and this time I knew he saw me. Once again, Tammy and I were at the Starbucks cream and sugar station when I spotted him. We locked eyes. He smiled and started to stand up to move towards me. Tammy and I were finished adding to our drinks this time so I whispered again and tugged her towards the door. She saw him this time and said she’d keep her eyes open for any future encounters. About a week later she suddenly started walking into me, pushing me to cross the street. When we got to the opposite sidewalk, I asked her what it was about and she had thought she’d spotted him. The guy was a ginger, but otherwise bore very little resemblance to the creep. At that point I decided to Google his name to see if I could find a photo for her and my other teammate, so they’d both know who to watch for. I found a mug shot from Arizona for drunk and disorderly or some similar type of charge. Having a creep in my past was bad enough, showing people who he was via mugshot felt embarrassing. I would preface showing the photo with a reminder that I was young and foolish when I met him.

When I discussed the issue with a counselor, they suggested simply putting my hand up like a stop sign next time I saw him. Don’t run away, just put out a very strong visual signal that should deter him. And if that didn’t work, tell him to stop or I’ll involve the police. It’s very similar to the type of advice I’ve gotten in women’s self defense before. Definitely more about defense than offense and avoiding or removing yourself from physical engagement. The coaching in that class was focused on getting away by either freeing yourself or hurting them enough to stall them (the groin kick I could see myself doing, I had a hard time imagining I’d ever eye gouge).

When my wedding ring came off in early 2015, I felt more vulnerable and anxious about what the next encounter would bring. I felt unprepared and unsatisfied with the suggestions I had been given.

So where does gameness come into play? If you haven’t already guessed – Jiu Jitsu. First, let me tell you a little something about the community. I’ve already said it’s welcoming and wonderful, but one thing that really amused me when I started was this: A guy would ask why I decided to try out the sport, I’d say I was about to be living single for the first time in my adult life, so I wanted to learn it for self defense. They would smile and get this gleam in their eye, usually saying something like “That dude would be so fucked.” The idea of a woman not only standing up for herself but actually dominating was a great thing to these guys. Women who aren’t just empowered – women who are “game” for the fight. This wasn’t something they only felt “in theory,” either. Jay’s wife is a former fighter who is a vital part of the gym and several of the men have partners who have trained at the gym (or still do). Cole, who I mentioned previously here, once enthusiastically talked about how awesome it would be when I got a chance to roll with his wife. I said “Isn’t she pregnant? It’ll probably be a while before she’s thinking about coming back to the gym.” To which he happily replied “Yeah, but it’ll be great when you guys get to work together!” (Bonus gremmie points to Cole that he assumed I’d be around when his wife was ready to come back. At the time he said it, she wasn’t even close to her due date.)

One of the obstacles I’ve had to face whenever I attend open grappling sessions (aka “rolling” where you pick a partner, slap hands, and just start trying stuff) was actually engaging. I never know how to “start” and usually wait for the other person to do something so I was in a position of reacting. Being the one to “start something” was difficult. In fact, my first move frequently put me in someone’s guard (a bad thing) with them working towards a tap while I scrambled to get myself out of the disadvantage I’d created. But I am getting better. The last grappling session I attended, my training partner – Tony, a girl who is more empowered and game at 15 years old than I have been in my entire life – commented that I was getting good. I wasn’t able to accept the compliment unqualified, but agreed that I’d shown some improvement. I proudly noted that I had stopped moving into her guard all the time, which was one of her main critiques when we rolled. And by critique I mean the supportive yet eye-rolling grumbles of “Stop jumping into my guard!” said as only a teenager can say.  Given her lack of hesitation to tell you when you’re screwing up, I took Tony’s compliment that last session to heart. I recognized that, at least within the safe confines of the Academy, I was beginning to find my gameness.

The Friday night before my accident, Dave and I went out to see a show at the Asylum. While we were sitting in the back being underwhelmed by the opening act, I thought I spotted the creep in the crowd. Once he moved under the light a little, I was certain. I leaned in to tell Dave and point him out. Just in case. My heart rate didn’t spike like it had previously, but I did keep an eye on him. We stood up and joined the sparse crowd for the second opening act. Again, not freaking out but still checking his position periodically. At one point he happened to “accidentally” end up very close to us. Dave and I casually walked to the other side of our friend and the creep moved back to his spot in the far corner.

It was about then that something funny happened. Instead of planning how I’d avoid him if he tried anything, I started wondering if I could use any of the moves I’d learned against him. Thinking that maybe if I made a physical move against his advances, maybe he’d get the point. Engage him in a way that told him I was not only uninterested, I would act against any of his unwanted attention. What standing positions or techniques might be useful? Was there a way I could turn an attempted hug into a rear naked choke?

I didn’t end up interacting with him at all that night. I didn’t even see him after the main act took the stage. But I felt something that left me smiling. Calmness with a spark. Confidence outside of my “safe places.”

I have started to claim my gameness. Bad dudes beware.

Middle finger in black and white
Attitude? Check. Gameness? Getting there.

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