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I run a Recovery Learning Center for people with mental illness, being in strong recovery from bipolar disorder myself. I got hit on by a full-fledged Dirty Old Man today at work. Complete with chair walker. Mr. Smith has earlier refused to come visit our center (unless I myself am there, which is only part of the time, needing to run about and do director stuff and whatnot). He has also claimed to “be in trouble there” but hasn’t satisfied my curiosity. (I have only been there for five months.) But today he wheeled himself in and was fairly personable. He inquired as to whether I was married? Engaged? Going steady? “No,” I told him, and then with all the iron I could draw, “I prefer it this way.” He desisted.

But then another staffer took the other peers for a walk, leaving me manning the fort. In comes Mr. Smith, asking if he can talk to me. Now, being Talked To is part of my job, seeing as peers either confuse me with a Mental Health Professional (that’s what we call them) or, as do random people in the street, realize that I’m a nice lady who’s a good listener. So I told Mr. Smith that he might do so.

“Can I close the door?”

Uh-oh. But we were in a pretty big room, and I knew I could take him without trying hard, even if he used the walker as a shield.

“Su-uu-re.”

He advanced (sans walker) up to the desk, and I realized my strategic mistake: I was sitting in the reception cubie, and what with the poorly-functioning copier taking up half the space, Mr. Smith now had me barricaded, meaning that at worst I would have to hurt him. (I am a well-muscled fat woman with a stock of normally well-behaved rage issues to use as rocket fuel as needed.)

He re-established that I was single; I re-established that the single state is what I live and breathe for; and then he reached out and patted my elbow. Mr. Smith is missing a fair number of teeth and it was as well that I couldn’t make out what he was saying at the moment.

“DON’T TOUCH. Back away, Mr. Smith.” (I also have a superlative Mommy voice, essential for anybody cursed with looking like a nice lady.) To my relief and some surprise, he did so, mousing off quite nicely.

I explained in Mommy voice that We Don’t Do Things Like That At The Center Because It’s Disrespectful. And besides, Women Don’t Like It. He was abashed, opened the door, and begged me not to tell anybody. (Guess nobody wants to be shot down, even if they always bring an emergency seat to catch themselves.)

I’ve been patted at by naughty old men since I was a then-terrified child and by now I have their number. (It undoubtedly helps that I can make them into cracker crumbs these days.) So I was a little amused and kept on puttering at my email (keeping an eye on him the while). Then something occurred to me.

“Mr. Smith, did you ever offer your interest to Jane?” Now Jane is my predecessor; I am told that being assaulted in her office was a large part of why she left.

Why yes, Mr. Smith admitted. He had asked her for a kiss, and as she had bent down to do it, his hand had brushed her breast. By accident. (Of course.)

Ah. This  explained why Mr. Smith “was in trouble at the Center.” It also explained why one of the reasons I was hired was because of my “strong personality.”

I’ve never talked to Jane about this (“Hey J, who grabbed your boob, anyway?” Awkward much?) but had frankly ascribed it to one of the people my superiors say I must describe as  “peers who have paid their debt to society and are in the recovery process,” who also wander about our large Department of Mental Health building. (The unenlightened campus cops regrettably refer to them as “Level 3 sex offenders.”)  Now, let me be crystal clear about this: I understand triggering and personal boundary limits. Some of mine are just plain random. So I’m not mocking Jane. At all. I mean, yuck.

But for my own sake, I’m just as glad that it was most probably Mr. Smith.

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