Vegas Indulgences by Noriko Nakada
Mojave desert sunlight travels with intense heat and clarity, but the AC and blackout curtains in this Vegas room work beautifully. It’s a Friday and my only requirement for the weekend is to sleep in, eat and drink well, and relax by the pool. I am in Vegas with two girlfriends for a concert, and savor every indulgent moment. No kids climb into bed. No work to-do-list seeps into my mind. There is nothing I have to do today.
When I roll out of bed, I go for a run. It is spring and still early enough I hope it won’t be hot outside. I’m wrong. The sun bakes the desert, and even though the dry air drifts easily in and out of my lungs, my legs feel heavy. My outdoor run only lasts about a mile before I decide to forget it. I’m on vacation: no kids, no work, no responsibilities.
I walk back into the casino and toward my room. My friends are at the elevator, heading to the gym, so we agree to meet at the room before heading to the pool together. I shower, change, and when the two women return from the gym, they are both out of breath.
“We ran down the hall,” my friend explains. “It’s a long hallway.” We laugh. Like the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, in Vegas, the scale of everything is off.
We make our way to the pool, find a couple of chairs, and once we’re finally relaxing, my friend says, “Oh, and some dude groped me in the lobby!”
I squint into the bright light reflecting off the hotel windows and sit up straight. “What?”
On the way back from the gym, my friends encountered a group of men who’d started partying early. They were handing out high fives, and my friend humored them, holding up her hand. A man high-fived her, and then cupped his hand around her breast. She was shocked, turned and asked our other friend, “Did that guy just grope me?”
“Yes. Yes, he did.”
But it isn’t until we are at the pool, after a long sprint down a hallway and a trek back through the casino that she tells me. My repulsion is physical. I want to take a swing, to hurt this guy, but I also know moments like this happen quickly. I would have been just as shocked as my friend. I imagine what I might have done had I been there with her: I grasp that dude's wrist and twist it as he contorts in pain, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he squeals, but only when he falls to his knees do I let go.
But I wasn’t there, and who knows what I might have done. Instead of responding to the harassment with my hands, I might have been shocked into a similar question : “Did that really just happen?”
"This has never happened to me before,” my friend confesses. “I don’t even know how to feel or what to do.”
I don’t know how to feel or what to do, either. It’s happened to me, but not since middle school when boys used to cop feels in the hallways or during my younger clubbing days when things got sloppy on the dance floor. Back then, I was ill-equipped to deal with classmates/gropers, but now? I’m a grown woman. Why am I unsure how to handle this?
We examine the power behind the incident: a group of young, white men brushing up against two Asian American women. How do race and gender influence these kinds of incidents? We have been taught play nice, stay quiet, play coy to men’s desires, or subject ourselves to even more problems: a violent response from a fragile male ego, a barrage of questions about our motives, victim blaming and shaming.
As we stare into a blue sky and dip our feet in the pool, we hate that this happened, that it is a sour lick on our day, a taste we can’t quite get rid of in the backs of our throats.
We discuss the things we might hear: “When did it happen? What were you wearing? I mean, it’s Vegas; that type of thing happens there,” but we correct our imagined interrogators immediately, “No outfit or time of day or place makes this ok.” We have watched women navigate badly behaved men for so long, we know the script. People will ask what she was wearing. People will wonder what she did to bring this on. People will wonder why she didn’t react right away. We remind ourselves: it doesn’t matter. None of that matters. It happened, and that’s what matters. We try not to let the scale of Vegas distort our perception.
After our afternoon at the pool, my friend decides to report what happened. With cameras all over the casino, we figure they could identify the guy.
We retrace her steps, and my friend realizes it happened right around the hotel concierge, so we tell him first. The young man reacts appropriately. He is appalled and directs us to report it to security. At security, after hearing our story, the woman assures us this will be taken care of. She thanks us for reporting the event and says they will make sure this doesn’t happen again. We are skeptical of this assurance, but carry on with our weekend, thankful that even in Vegas, where pleasure is principle, no one approves of this guy’s idea of a good time. My friend doesn’t want to pursue the matter further, so that is it. We never hear back from security. We never view grainy security camera footage. We try to let it go and enjoy the rest of our weekend.
I don’t sleep well that night. I wake up to voices in the halls and imagine all of the bad behavior, all of the possible hurts in the nightclubs and casinos, hotel rooms and homes. I wonder if my friend’s groper is still in Vegas, unaware that we reported his behavior, or if on this fight weekend, he continues to assault others as he walks through Sin City. I try to fall back asleep but keep asking myself if we should do more. Should we go back to security again? Should we make certain we shine a light on this badly behaved man? My mind spinning around these questions keeps me from sleeping in the next morning. I wake up early, but don’t even attempt to go for a run. There is still a sour taste to the weekend, and this man is to blame.
As we make our way back home, we tell friends and partners about the groping. It shocks and doesn’t shock our friends and family. Mostly, conversations about what happened clarify how much work there is to do. In casinos and schools, in bars and nightclubs, in homes and in politics.
We need to talk about the pain, the hurt, and the discomfort inflicted when men behave badly. How will things change if we accept sexual harassment from micro-aggressions to assaults, wherever they take place, even in Vegas? Even when we aren’t sure how big or small the scale.
We return to our lives at home: to our kids and responsibilities and we don’t talk about what happened in Vegas. We don’t talk about how powerless it can feel to be a woman in America or how exhausting it can be to demand to be treated with respect and dignity.
My Vegas indulgences left me with a hangover, a few extra pounds, and a slight sunburn, but what I did in Vegas did no harm to anyone else. I also came home with a sour a taste in my mouth. I need to wash it out, so I’m talking about it. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, and one man’s indulgences don’t trump mine.
Noriko Nakada writes and teaches middle school in Los Angeles. She is committed to writing thought-provoking creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. Publications include her memoir series: Through Eyes Like Mine. Through Eyes Like Mine was shortlisted for the 2040 Book Award. Overdue Apologies and I Tried complete the trilogy. Excerpts, essays, and poetry have appeared in Catapult, Meridian, Kartika, Hippocampus, Compose, Linden Avenue and elsewhere.