“You think some other man is going to want you?”
It was only one of the things I heard him say to her from across the mahogany that evening. He was fit and tall and tan—mid thirties, maybe—as if he’d stepped out of a look book from Charleston, and she, tiny and petite, with porcelain skin and long flowing brown hair.
They were traveling by yacht, and had to dock here in Costa Rica for a few days because of the storm. When they first walked in to the marina grill, where I sat having dinner and a glass of wine with my mother-in-law, I noticed something was off—there was a skittishness in her eyes. I couldn’t place it, but when I tried to ask how their trip had been, she glanced around nervously and, instead of responding, nudged Charleston, indicating that a question had been asked. I thought for a moment that perhaps she didn’t speak English.
It wasn’t until the middle of their meal when I began to hear him say things to her that I wished I’d imagined. It was hard not to hear; it was a quiet evening, with hardly any patrons.
“Don’t get me wrong, you’re great at sucking cock,” he spat. “But that’s all you got going for you, so don’t you dare…”
She seemed crestfallen, but remained mostly silent, as if she were a wounded dog. Mind you, in the back of my head, I’m sitting there thinking, “Is this guy for fucking real?” I was waiting for her to defend herself; to stand up for herself; to get up and walk out, at the very least.
And then he continued. And continued.
Verbal assaults on her character, inappropriate comments about her sexual performance, for all of us to hear. She made what appeared to be a quiet statement or two, but nothing that seemed to help. This wasn’t just a couple’s quarrel; this was a full-on attack. And finally, I could not hold my tongue.
“Enough,” I boomed from across the restaurant.
“What did you say to me?” he looked up, challenging my eyes.
“I said that’s enough.”
“Oh yeah, and who are you?” he said with disgust.
“Someone who doesn’t like the way you’re talking to that girl.”
The words came out as if I were in a bad, totally predictable Western movie, with a straw of wheat hanging out the side of my mouth, and a pistol ready to draw.
“What, do you like her?” he spat back, unexpectedly.
I hadn’t seen that one coming, but I simply raised my eyebrows in and bore back into his, unwaveringly.
“What are you, a lesbian?”
My heart began to race. Low and slow, I thought to myself—it was the same advice I give to business owners for speaking with presence and authority.
“What were you, listening in on our private conversation, you loser?” he continued, blaring belligerence in my direction, trying to turn the spotlight away from himself.
“One that, might I add, is incredibly unflattering,” I replied. “Take your things and get out of here.”
“Let me repeat—WHO ARE YOU?????”
And this was the moment when being the CEO of The Middle Finger Project would have really come in handy.
Instead, however, I held his gaze and refused to look away. I knew he wasn’t going to come and attack me. And I thought that if I could at least divert some of the attention away from that poor girl, maybe she’d have a chance.
He continued cannonballing me with insults—at one point interrogating a staff member if I was his girlfriend, to which Brian replied, “No, but she is my friend”—and that’s when I looked at the girl and saw her, from behind his back, with big helpless eyes, mouthing two little words to me:
I nodded at her in solidarity as he paid the bill and, just to show off his wealth, left a $100 tip, telling the staff to get their dog under control. As they walked out of the marina, the girl mouthed it to me two more times.
I wished I could ask if she was in trouble; offer her a bedroom; tell her not to re-board the ship if she was in danger. I should have. I didn’t. But I should have. I thought about that girl all weekend. Wondered if she’d be safe. Wondered if money had made him that way, or something else. How does one become a monster?
Brian said to me, after they left: “You were right, but that was probably not wise.” And I told him what I believe to be true with anything: “Not doing anything makes you an accomplice.” Everyone always wonders how Hitler murdered six million Jewish citizens, and the answer is simple: Because everyone was trying to mind their own business, not draw any attention to themselves, let someone else handle it, not cause a scene.
But we must cause scenes.
Not only in these types of situations, but in all of them. In our businesses and in our industries and in the way people are being treated, and business is being done. It is not just your right to say something; it is your responsibility.
Because that guy will probably never change.
But that girl might just get a little more courageous.
And maybe that’s the real goal: not to cause a scene, but cause a stir.
Because you never know who needs your strength, when they’ve lost all of their own.