“You a bitch?”
This is Ohio University. This is where I live.
They are standing on the corner of a street when I see them. I am hunched over from the heaviness of my backpack. I am supremely self-conscious of the fact that I am the only one uptown with a backpack. But I just finished an assignment at the library, and I like taking the crowded way home just for the possible opportunity of running into someone I know. This night, I don’t. Instead, I run into them.
In my memory, he is wearing a black Ed Hardy t-shirt. But I think I put that on him retroactively. It’s part of his stereotype. When he comes into my line of sight, he is pumping his fists in the air, yelling at his buddy who just passed me, girl in hand: “Brady! Get some!” It is deep and staccato.
I’m not close enough to see her, but I imagine the girl standing next to him (Ed Hardy man) rolls her eyes. She is clearly intoxicated, stumbling as she stands still and hanging onto his arm for balance. She is wearing a dress that is the perfect mix of alluring and modest. I like her. There is something optimistic about her.
When I walk home at night, I try to keep my head down. It’s easier that way. But my curiosity often gets the better of me, and most of the time, I walk around looking like an old-fashioned sprinkler, spinning my head from side to side so that I can see everything that is going on around me. And so as I walk behind this couple, I can’t help but look at them.
I lag behind, not wanting to awkwardly pass them. We cross a street together. We start heading down the hill.
“But she’s my best friend!”
“Fuck that!” the boy answers throwing his hands up in the air. He’s short, probably not much taller than me, but more muscular.
They stand still and argue for a moment. I slow my pace even more. They have a brief discussion about an Olivia whom the girl absolutely adores and whom the boy accuses of being controlling. The boy grabs her hand, and they start walking again. Their voices bounce from decibel to decibel. They cross the street. The girl pulls her hand away every once in a while, but the boy always forcefully takes it back.
We pass house after house. Many people see them. No one says anything. This is Ohio University. This is where they live. This is not unusual.
When they turn down a side street, I decide to follow. I don’t know what I’m thinking. He’s drunk and in a violent mood. He’s bigger than me. If I speak up, I’m probably going to get beat up. I keep waiting for things to escalate, though. I hide behind mailboxes, willing the girl to say “No” or “Stop” or something that would be a call to action.
They turn into Palmer Place, the site of some of the university’s dirtiest laundry. Broken lawn chairs are scattered around the patios. Empty beer cans are everywhere.
I want to say something to them. I want to ask the girl if she’s alright. I want to tell her that she doesn’t have to go home with him. I want to call the police. My phone is dead, but I’m not sure this warrants an emergency call anyway. But there is a crime, here, certainly. Someone is hurting someone else. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. It might just be a boy living out his role in patriarchy, but it’s hard to tell.
I kick at leaves as I pass them, putting my head down for real this time. I am approaching a party. Five large men sit on a patio. They make lewd remarks to two women who go to a side yard to have a private conference.
“Hey man, I like your backpack!” says one of the men to me.
“You a bitch or something?” All of the men laugh. This is Ohio University. This is where I live.