This story is gross and upsetting and I have long been embarrassed about it. I could have sworn that I wrote a post about the incident, but searching “Chris” and “gross” didn’t produce any results.
Even now, many years later, I feel uncomfortable typing the words. But the story is timely and in sharing it, maybe I can help someone feel less alone while they consider their own #MeToo moments.
I was young and broke and living in NYC. My first job after college graduation paid just $25,000* and my rent was $950 per month. If I’d had any common sense at all at twenty-two years old, I would have realized that living alone wasn’t a viable option. But I was stubborn and wanted to feel independent, even as I accepted subsidies from my parents.
Recognizing that I was locked into a year-long lease, my mother didn’t give me too much grief when I called home crying poverty. But she did suggest I get a second job for some hours outside of my 9-5 gig.
*At some point, I will write many blog posts about the importance of negotiation and the many mistakes I made in this realm before waking up.
I probably groaned, thinking of how it would get in the way of my social life, but at some point, I opted to give a part-time job a try.
My application was accepted at the Gramercy location of Equinox. I took a job checking in members at the front desk and answering the phone for minimum wage. The part I liked about the job was encountering celebrity members like Daniel Day Lewis and Michael J. Fox. The part I hated was working until 11 pm.
When my mother asked how the job was going, I whined about having to walk home – two whole blocks through a super-safe neighborhood – at that hour. I think most mothers would issue a ‘suck it up, buttercup’ edict. Mine worried about safety and discouraged me from continuing to work nights.
Keep in mind that my nights out with friends routinely ended at 4 am or later. Also keep in mind that my mother did this when I worked in a grocery store.
My job at Equinox backfired though. Employment meant access to a discounted (but still not cheap) gym membership and personal training sessions, plus cute Equinox workout gear. Soon I was spending more than my minimum wage job was paying me.
It was the personal training discount that led me to Chris.
Picture if you will a gorilla in human white male form. Add a shock of heavily-bleached platinum blond hair and you had Chris. I didn’t find him particularly attractive, but lots of women did.
We started working out together. I liked having someone to push me past my lazy-person workouts that consisted of ten minutes of cardio, ten minutes of weights and twenty minutes of stretching.
It felt good to get stronger, but part of me felt an awkwardness that I could not name. I was uneasy and didn’t know why.
Whether it’s a result of growing up an only child or just my nature, people sometimes just make me anxious. I worry that I’m Doing It Wrong and that other people are far better at building relationships of all kinds than I will ever be. This anxiety has pushed me not only to jump into friendships and romantic relationships too quickly and too aggressively, but also to hide from them in an effort to avoid my discomfort. Whenever an interpersonal situation went wrong, you could count on me to blame myself. I still do sometimes although I am much better about trusting my instincts now.
In spite of my uneasiness (and my broke-ness), I continued to work out with Chris. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was an incident before The Incident and it occurred during a workout. While Chris was coaching me through a leg press exercise, the conversation had somehow turned to shoes. Yes, shoes.
Chris was positioned near my head, somewhat behind me, with a view of my legs and feet doing the exercise. We talked about shopping for new shoes, including my need for new sneakers now that I was working out more frequently.
Then Chris abruptly excused himself, rushing toward the nearby men’s room. His gait was awkward, like that of a penguin. I remained seated on the machine, confused.
When Chris returned a few minutes later, he was flustered and breathless. He tried to resume our session like nothing had happened, but if I recall correctly, we finished the workout early.
I couldn’t shake the notion that something inappropriate had happened, but part of my brain would say “that’s a stretch, Jen.”
This is the part of the story when I begin to blame myself in earnest.
When this was all transpiring, cell phones were still pretty new as far as broad usage. Texting didn’t yet exist, as far as I know.
I was out one night with friends. They wanted to go home; I wasn’t ready for the night to end. The guy I was seeing did not have a cell phone. For whatever reason, I called Chris.
When I reached him, he was up for going out for more drinks and suggested I come to get him at the apartment on West 34th Street he shared with his girlfriend. Maybe that’s why I thought I would be safe.
When I arrived at Chris’ apartment, he wasn’t ready to leave which annoyed me. I think I threatened to leave but he persuaded me to have a seat on the couch while he finished getting ready.
The apartment was a large studio with the couch set to face a television and beyond that, the apartment door. Behind me, there was the couple’s bed and off to the side, a bathroom.
Already mildly intoxicated, I jibber-jabbered about something. I assumed he was putting on new clothes or putting product in his fried blond hair. But then I heard his breathing and turned to look at him.
Imagine my surprise – and my horror – to find Chris masturbating behind me. I clumsily bolted for the door which, in true New York style, had multiple locks. As I fumbled to open them, Chris started to protest and walked after me, his penis still exposed. He actually had the nerve to say “don’t leave! We’ll go out.”
He followed me to the elevator (penis now put away) but stopped short of getting in with me, thank goodness.
Chris and I never worked out together again. The only times I saw him after the incident were at a distance. I quit working at Equinox. I exercised less until I moved out of the neighborhood and could rejoin a different location. I told no one. Too embarrassing.
I didn’t tell Equinox because surely this was all my fault: I was drinking. I called him. I went to his apartment at 1 am. I wasn’t paying attention until it was too late.
But through the years I have wondered about him. Did he even have a girlfriend? Did he do this to other women? Am I a bad person for not warning people? Where is he now and is he still a scumbag? Could he be in jail?
I googled him recently as stories of sexual assault and harassment have dominated the news. Chris has a somewhat unusual last name, but my casual search didn’t turn up the man I knew. I don’t plan to look again.
I like to think I will handle problematic men differently in the future. I believe I am stronger and more confident now, but I could easily be vulnerable all over again. But I am comforted by the existence those of you who have already bravely said #MeToo.