I was 19 and working as a bartender at a dive bar in Toronto. 

I worked by myself at a small upstairs lounge. From about 1-2 AM, I’d be alone up there, cleaning up and closing out my cash.

I don’t remember the first time my manager harassed me. It was almost right away, maybe one week after I started. 

He did it pretty much every night, and it was always the same. He’d come up to the lounge towards the end of my shift, after the last customer had left, and tease or joke with me, then chase me around and pin me against a wall or table, grabbing my waist and tickling me and breathing against my neck.

I hated it so much.

We weren’t friends. It was obvious I didn’t like him. He was at least 25 years older than me, he was badly-dressed, he smelled. The fact that he knew I didn’t like him, and didn’t care, and did it anyway, made me so angry. 

And I was scared that maybe one night he would rape me. I used to spend hours thinking about him, trying to figure out whether he was the kind of person who might actually rape someone.

I never told anybody what was happening. There was an older bartender downstairs who I would call when customers got out of hand. But expecting him to stand up for me against the boss seemed like way too much to ask, so I didn’t.

And I didn’t want to quit. I was a full-time student and it was hard to find a job that fit my school schedule.

So I decided to stay and make the best of it.

I had little strategies. By the time he arrived I’d be wiping down tables in the open area, near the door, with my coat on a nearby table ready to go. I’d stay away from anywhere where he could really trap me, like behind the bar.  I had a little stock of lines I’d use to get away: that somebody downstairs needed me, that I had promised to take something down, that I was late to meet a friend, that I was going to miss my bus.

Every night was the same. He’d come up and joke and chase and pin and tickle and breathe against me. I would flail and protest and squirm. I’d laugh too, which made me hate myself. And then eventually he’d let me go.

This went on for three or four months, and then he fired me. He told me it was because the lounge wasn’t getting enough customers, and so they were going to shut it down until summer. I felt like that was probably true. 

Because there was really no other reason for him to fire me. I felt like he was getting exactly what he wanted. He didn’t expect to actually have sex with me. I think he just wanted to grab me and grope me. And the fact that I didn’t like it was either meaningless, or maybe even good. (I don’t think he liked me any more than I liked him.) 

What I learned from it was how vulnerable I was. I was young and small. I needed the money. I didn’t have anyone to protect me. 

My father used to tell me all the time not to expect life to be fair. But I think that was the first time I actually felt it, for real. This man was doing stuff to me that he wasn’t supposed to be allowed to do. It was not supposed to happen, and if it did happen, someone was supposed to stop it. But it happened, and there was nothing I could do about it, and then he fired me and that’s how it ended.