In 1975 I was 22 years old and a first-year student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. I lived by myself in a tiny Spanish-style house in Van Nuys. The time and place are etched in my brain forever, as this was when I became the target of another law student’s obsession. “I really don’t have time to see anyone,” I said to the young man after the gazillionth invitation to do something — anything — with him. I’ll call him Clive.
“I have to study for finals. My study group is meeting here over Christmas break, and I’m making Norwegian cookies.” “I can come over and help,” he said. “No, it’s dangerous, and I have to focus,” I said. Clive laughed. The notion of cookie making being perilous struck him as absurd. “I’m not kidding.” He laughed again. I had zero attraction for him, but evidently I was his dream gal. How much kinder and safer it would have been for me if I’d just ripped his attachment away like a stubborn Band-Aid.
A few days later, I hear a knock at my door while I’m making rosettes. The process involves boiling hot oil, dipping a star-shaped “branding” iron tool into the batter, and deep-fat frying the crispy treats. I open the door and see Clive.
“I told you I’m making cookies and I can’t stop.” “Can I stay for a little while? I’ll leave you alone until you’re done,” he says. “OK, but you’ve got to go into the living room. Seriously. I can’t talk until this is done.” He laughs. I went into my modestly furnished living room and turned on the TV. How I wish I’d had the ovaries to tell him to leave, to say, “I’m not interested in you, Clive. Leave. Now.” But noooooo, I had to be nice no matter what.
I go back to the kettle of boiling, melted Crisco, wondering why I didn’t ask him how the hell he found out where I live. Stalking didn’t yet have a name in the mid-’70s. I start dipping another rosette when, suddenly, from behind me, I hear “boo!” Startled, I hit the iron handle, which causes the bubbling fat to splash all over my right arm. This instantly cooks the synthetic fabric sleeve of my shirt to my arm, from wrist to elbow. Smelling my own cooked flesh, I scream like a furious jungle cat. Clueless Clive grabs a kitchen towel and attempts to wipe my arm. He chases me as I scream, “Get out! Get out! Leave me alone!” Clive runs, ripped from my side at last. I then pass out.
In what I can only describe as a bona fide miracle, Wendy — another friend — also stops by uninvited but very much needed. She’s part of my study group. She knocks, and when I don’t answer, she looks through the windows and sees me sprawled on the floor. Luckily, I hadn’t locked the door when Clive skedaddled. She manages to get me loaded into her Range Rover and drives me to the ER. They cut off my cooked turtleneck, give me a pain killer and send me home. Apparently, quality health care for women also hadn’t yet been invented.
When I wake up the next day, my arm is the size of my leg. I am probably still in shock, but somehow, I managed to drive my unsafe-at-any-speed cherry red Corvair down to Loyola to join my finals study group. As I walk into the student lounge, Wendy takes one look at me and drives me to the Sherman Oaks Burn Ward, where I spend the next 10 days, including Christmas, undergoing advanced therapy for third-degree burns. Had this incident happened even 10 years earlier, my right arm would have been so shriveled it would have been difficult to use. Thankfully, I barely have a physical scar.
What I do have is an unshakable commitment to teaching boundaries. I don’t blame Clive for my injury. I blame a culture that teaches that a male’s ego is so fragile, females dare not be straightforward with them lest those egos shatter… or worse. Gavin de Becker, author of “The Gift of Fear,” recommends in Chapter 11 — “I Was Trying to Let Him Down Easy” — that we learn to say: “No matter what you may have assumed till now, and no matter for what reason you assumed it, I have no romantic interest in you whatsoever. I am certain I never will. I expect that, knowing this, you’ll put your attention elsewhere, which I understand, because that’s what I intend to do.”
Poor Clive. Poor me. Gavin de Becker wrote the foreword to my book, “Beauty Bites Beast,” because we are both committed to sorting out this gender communication mess. Although Clive was clueless, I was, too. My vagueness kept his hope alive, which landed me in the hospital. I have no idea what happened to Clive. I do know he left me alone after that. I do not recommend hospitalization as a rejection technique!
Ellen Snortland has been writing a gender column — and baking Scandinavian treats — for decades. Contact her at