On Every Street

There's gotta be a record of you someplace.
You gotta be on somebody's books.
The lowdown - a picture of your face,
Your injured looks.
The sacred and profane,
The pleasure and the pain.
Somewhere your fingerprints remain concrete,
And it's your face I'm looking for on every street.

- Dire Straits, On Every Street

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We were kissing in an Italian art museum. The Galleria Borghese, the sculpture room. He had one hand entwined in mine, the other around my neck. Other tourists were staring, but we were in Rome, and when in Rome, one kissed when one was in love.

We surfaced for air and to admire the art. The museum was a gem. In a daze, we gravitated with the crowd toward the sculpture at the center of the hall.

Bernini had captured two figures mid-action, mid-air. Pluto grabbing, lifting Proserpina. Proserpina fighting back. Every muscle in his body was finely chiseled, contracted, a sense of overwhelming force, clashing with the sheer fear in her eyes, her panicked hand distorting, pushing away his face.

Their bodies were contorted around one another in a struggle unfair from the start. Her hair was flayed out by the jerk of her head, her tears had traced lines down her cheeks. His marble fingernails were carved deep into the porcelain skin of her thigh, each shadowy indentation so distinct the stone was almost screaming out.

Il Ratto di Proserpina was so vivid, so raw, I had to look away. The arm he clasped around her waist felt like it was clenching at my heart. That they were stone silent and clothed did not matter; we were witnessing a rape. I looked down at the hand that so gently held mine. The Rape of Proserpina; the statue made me cry.

The Roman myth of Pluto and Proserpina is millennia old. Bernini's sculpture, centuries. But for twenty people every minute, in this country, domestic violence is very real. One in every three women around the world will be violated at some point, most by someone they know. Think of three women in your life. Think of the last three women you saw.

"There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable."

- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and everyone is concerned. Not just the girl in her Friday night party dress and the boy driving her home. You, the bartender who pours one more drink. Cab driver with the rear mirror view. You, whose friend leaves and hours later, does not pick up her phone. You, the flatmate, the neighbor, on the other side of thin walls. Your eyesight and hearing are fine. Your choice not to see something, say something, do something is costing someone their life.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing." Well, the world is full of good men and women, myopic bystanders on every scary street.

I looked away from the sculpture at the man standing next to me, whose hand in mine feels like home. Every girl in the world deserves to be loved like this, to be held like he holds me.

I was not always this lucky, and I know what it is like to be afraid. I know I failed when once I should have said something instead of looking away. I think the heroes in myths are as scared of the difficult as the rest of us in the real world are, but choose to face dragons and forests of thorns anyway because that is what is right.

I cannot fix the past, never was or will be brave, but I can be responsible now. For my sister, my mother, the girl beside me on the bus. My brother, my father, the son I may have. Myself.

And the fireworks over liberty explode in the heat
And it's your face I'm looking for on every street.

We saw other sculptures at the Galleria Borghese, of other lovers from other myths. We kissed in front of them too, and when the docent coughed at us, ran off like children to another room.

Hours later we lay, exhausted and happy, in a rare shady patch of grass. His hand still in mine, mine safe in his, looking at the people in the street.

For more posts by this author, visit Aristotle at Afternoon Tea.