I didn’t suspect anything when I stepped into the elevator.
I couldn’t have done anything more ordinary that day, just moving from one part of the ship to another. The elevator was empty and I was distracted, thinking about the shoot I had just completed and the film that needed to be developed.
It was just another day of my charmed life, working as a photographer on a cruise-ship.
I didn’t suspect anything when he stepped in after me and the doors shut.
I was young and free, travelling the world without a care, just lots of curiosity and the desire for adventure. I wasn’t particularly interested in making money, I just wanted to see the world and experience life. This was the perfect place.
Work hours were long and grueling at times. At the hiring interview I was asked if I had ever worked hard before. It seemed a strange question and of course I answered ‘yes’. This job redefined the concept of ‘working hard’. We did an average of about 80 hours a week. No days off.
But there was great company and a different Caribbean island to explore every time I got the rare free few hours to myself.
Remember the movie, ‘Dirty Dancing’? Well, life was a bit like that. The ship staff worked hard and played hard. It felt exciting and sometimes dangerous. Mostly just fascinating and lots of fun!
There were staff members from all over the world. Every country seemed to be represented; each person was there for a different reason. Some wanted to make money because in their country the measly pay and reasonable tips went a very long way. Some were escaping something; either the drudgery of a ‘normal’ job or something more sinister.
I guess it was quite often something more sinister, I didn’t like to ask.
He was a Senior Manager; my boss’s boss. He was always quite friendly. Today was no exception.
The elevator doors shut and he immediately made his move. He shoved me against the wall and held me tight with the weight of his body, his hands moving up and down mine. He smiled broadly, trying to kiss me.
I pushed him away, gently at first. Don’t you like me, he asked with that wicked grin playing in his eyes. It’s not that, I mumbled…it’s just….I just…my mouth was dry, I had no words, no way out.
The truth is, this story ended reasonably well. He backed off, the elevator door opened and I walked away, somewhat shaken.
I wondered what I had done to attract this kind of attention. If it was my fault and who would believe me anyway?
He was very senior in the company so that when he continued to harass me my boss just told me that if I didn’t want to get fired they should move me to another ship. So I got as far away as possible. I never spoke about it. I never told anyone.
But you know, the story was still there, hiding away for all those years. There was no real harm done, and yet I could never forget it.
Years later my gorgeous, sweet partner would get frustrated that I never wanted to take elevators. Then I told him the story.
And he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t sit next to a man on a bus or in the cinema. Then I told him those stories.
And he grieved for me and for the guilt he felt for his part in it, simply by being a man; and the terrible injustice of that.
But here’s the thing, it was telling the story that made it okay.
It still moves me to tell this story, so many years later.
But I know that the telling is what it’s about.
To tell the story is to connect with others, because it is such a universal experience.
To tell the story is to inspire and support others.
To tell the story is to let go.
Stories need to be told. When we tell them, we are free.
Is there a story that you need to tell?
What’s stopping you from telling it?
Is there a story that can set you free?
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